Laced up for Success
November 2, 2013
Operational Tips from Roller Skating Centers
When you run a roller skating facility, your goal is to keep the families coming and ensure that a new generation grows up loving to skate.
The roots of Skate Daze in Omaha, Neb., go back to the 1940s when the father of current owner Scott Cernik, traveled the Midwest with a portable rink. Now Scott and his wife run one of the top facilities in the industry. Cernik said there’s lots of competition but they are doing fine by listening to their customers and showing them a good time.
During the day when the older kids are in school, Skate Daze offers a Mom’s Club. Mom can bring in the younger kids who aren’t in school yet and they can play with trucks and riding toys on the skate floor. Mom’s admission includes coffee and pastry and this is particularly appealing when the weather is bad and mom is looking for someplace the little ones can let off steam. This is the second year for the program and it’s growing.
Cernik said, “The roller skating business is a tough business, very community based, so you really have to be involved in the community. The mom and pop places are probably struggling but the innovative places are doing fine. You can’t stand still but have to do something innovative every year and keep putting money back in.” He has invested in a giant play structure, rock wall, bumper cars, laser tag and a small roller coaster. He has separate birthday rooms. Roller skating, the play structure and laser tag are probably the most popular activities but he tries to appeal to everyone. As Cernik said, “This business is all about entertainment. You have to show them a good time so they talk to their friends.”
Skate Daze also has about 100 play stations using a swipe card system for prize redemptions and Cernik said they do really well with smaller items.
Cernik and most of the other managers pointed out that even though the facility might be open mostly nights, weekends and school holidays, you still need the daytime hours to do your own business like going to the accountant so the job has very long hours. Many owners are looking for ways to bring in business during the daytime as he has done with the Mom’s Club.
Bob Sietsema, general manager of Great Skate (part of the United Skates of America family) in Glendale, Ariz., said he’s always looking for ways to use their resources other than just nights, weekends and school holidays. Echoing Cernik’s view about being part of the community, Sietsema said they learned that school district rules on field trips had changed so they would not be approved unless there was an educational component. Great Skate now brings in certified teachers who coordinate with the classroom teacher to present a grade level appropriate lesson before the skating. A very simple example might be a math lesson where the class measures the circumference of a skate wheel and measures the perimeter of the rink and then has to determine the number of revolutions of the wheel to go around the perimeter.
The biggest revenue center at Great Skate is the redemption game and prize center. They don’t give away electronics but they do have some prizes that might retail for over $50 including Disney and Despicable Me branded items. Lava lamps are a perennial favorite in the prize center and they do big business in glow items like necklaces or glasses that look cool when you skate. Their selection of glow items is so well known that they even have walk-up traffic just for those. They also have video or entertainment centers.
Sietsema said that he tries to create an environment with specialty themes using decorations, having the staff dress up in keeping with the theme and he’ll have related items to buy. They bring in a live DJ for each skating program, like a host. They will often have clusters of latex balloons with slips of paper inside naming a prize and kids buy a balloon for $1 and win the prize. As Sietsema said, “This business is more than come in, skate around in a circle and go home.”
Stephanie Morin, co-manager of Playland Skate Center in Austin, Texas, grew up in the business since her parents have owned Playland for 11 years. As she said, she wants to stay in the business so they are always looking for new ways to bring people in and get kids in the habit of coming. Morin points out that the rink owners she’s met “have a real passion for what they do; they grew up skating.”
Playland offers a “Kids Skate Free” program where kids 12 and under get two free passes a week to encourage the habit. They make sure they offer a clean, safe environment for kids and family fun. As many of the facilities do, they offer free Wi-Fi for the parents who are there with their kids. On Sundays, they have free skate lessons from 11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. for all ages. To keep the younger brothers and sisters who may have a hard time skating happy, they offer a PlayScape for those 52 inches and shorter. During the summer Thursdays are Family Skate Night and everyone skates for $5 a person, including skates. Playland also has an arcade with redemption games with prizes that run the gamut from little things like bracelets and rings to headphones and small backpacks. For the grownups, every Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. is Adult Night.
Morin said that they are close with the owners of Vanilla Skates who make jam skates (Morin described jam skating as “like break dancing on skates”) and Vanilla Skates even sponsors some of their skaters. Morin said that roller derby has come on big in Austin in the last 10 years and the health-conscious city looks for fun ways to exercise.
Morin reiterated the need to be community minded. She said, “We do lots of fundraisers for schools – private parties for the whole school and a portion of the proceeds goes back to the school.” They get lots of corporate parties, team building activities and holiday parties. They also do theme nights with cash prizes.
“Skating is coming back,” Morin said. “Just look at that Dr. Pepper commercial with roller derby.”
Gary Wiser, the new general manager at Cache Valley Fun Park in Logan, Utah, did not grow up in the business but described himself as “a big kid at heart.” Cache Valley offers an arcade, laser tag, a Soft Play indoor playground, snack bar, billiards and bowling. He says that the arcade is probably the number one moneymaker. They give away stuffed animals, candy and trinkets but “I did give away a Wii recently in the BarBerCut machine.”
Wiser is also very supportive of the community and the facility hosts corporate functions, school fundraisers and other charity events such as the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
They have all sorts of special events so that anyone will find something to appeal. On Monday nights you get unlimited play with all attractions for one low fee. On $2 Tuesdays you can skate for 3-4 hours. Wiser pointed out that “this makes it more affordable for large families.” Tuesday nights from 9-midnight are Old School Skate Night where they play disco music and the college kids from nearby Utah State dress up. On Monday and Wednesday nights, they close to skating and have country swing dance on the floor in association with a club at Utah State. On Friday and Saturday nights they have Cosmic Bowling with black lights and that also attracts a lot of college kids. They have no league play in their bowling center so it’s open all the time. “Families really like that,” Wiser said. They also do occasional Family Night specials, an “all you can play” for one fee for everything except arcade games.
Moonlight Rollerway Skating Rink in Glendale, Calif., takes a completely different approach from most skating facilities. Note the use of the word “rink” in their name. Office Manager Adrienne Van Houten said, “We are the epitome of the old-time roller rink. That’s our attraction.” They have only five video games – no redemption, no tickets. Their place has such a classic feel that it has been used in TV shows like ‘The Goldbergs’ and ‘Modern Family’ and movies have been shot there. Van Houten said, “People want to come because it’s like the 70s or 80s.”
They’re not completely stuck in the past; they did put in free Wi-Fi so that parents can work while their kids play in a safe environment. They offer classes for kids to establish new skaters and have a costume contest before Halloween and periodic theme nights like country and western, Harry Potter, leather night, Michael Jackson and more. They play games like the Hokey-Pokey and Red Light, Green Light on the floor.
One of their most popular special events is on Tuesday nights when Moonlight owner Dominic Cangelosi gets his 1930s Hammond organ and plays live skating music for a session. Some people don’t skate but just come for the music and it’s surprisingly popular with 20-somethings.
Moonlight is not family owned – Cangelosi has no family – but it is family run. Van Houten has only been there a year but her daughter started at 16 in her first job and now has her two children skating there and Van Houten’s husband is also involved in the business. Van Houten asserted, “Roller skating is coming back; it’s not just part of bygone decades.”
Whether they run centers, facilities or rinks, these managers and owners are working hard to bring in the families to clean fun and encourage a new generation to get the skating habit. –Back