Robert (Bob) Scott was born and raised in the roller skating business, as was his son, Jeff Scott. Bob’s father, Albert (Scottie) Scott started the business in 1936 when he operated his first rink in an upstairs hall. In 1939 he built a semi-portable rink that he operated in Hamilton, Ill., during the spring and summer months. He later relocated to North 12th Street in Quincy, Ill., where it operated in winter seasons. After a few relocations, the North 12th Street rink remained until Albert and Bob built a new rink on East Broadway in 1979, which they owned and operated as partners for the next 14 years. In addition to the roller rink, the Scott family owned Quincy Raceways, a quarter-mile stock car track that they built in 1975 and operated for 32 years.
Albert sold his partnership in the rink to his son Bob and his wife Jan in 1993. Bob soon realized that stand-alone roller rinks were seeing an overall decline in attendance. “Other rinks were adding laser tag or miniature golf and they were doing well with those additions,” said Bob. “Roller skating is not so cool for teenagers anymore and it is tough for rinks to survive today. There are too many other distractions with video games and such that have replaced skating as a pastime.” In 2001, Scotties received its first makeover with a 5,000-square-foot addition for party rooms, redemption games and an expanded snack bar – taking the rink up to 23,000 square feet.
Bob and Jan ran both the rink and the racetrack until 2006, when they decided it was time to sell the track in order to pursue other interests. Jeff had been the Operations Manager for both the track and the rink during that time. The racetrack took over their lives from March through the end of September each year, tying up all their weekends and holidays.
After the sale of the racetrack, family members had time to attend industry trade shows and educational programs that had previously been unavailable to them due to time constraints. Bob visited Amusement Showcase International (ASI) in 2006. “I had the opportunity to attend a mini-Foundations Entertainment University,” said Bob. “It really got me pumped up realizing what we could do with our facility. I sent Jeff to a full Foundations course and we also attended Fun Expo, IAAPA and several other industry trade shows to learn as much as we could.” Bob, Jan and Jeff also attended a local Business Plan night class where they presented their ideas for the expansion and developed a plan that went on to win a state competition. At that point Bob indicated, “We just wanted to get it done.”
From that time it took about four more years for the project to become a reality. “Finding the necessary funding during a down economy proved to be difficult,” noted Bob. “We had good collateral and good experience, but we were still turned down 12 times before getting a ‘Yes.’ ”
“SBA guaranteed the loan and we received several other low-interest loans from the community,” added Jeff. “We worked with Amusement Entertainment Management (AEM) starting in 2006 to develop our feasibility study and re-work the business plan and then with the Great River Economic Development Foundation (GREDF) to assist us in acquiring the proper funding, which was done entirely at the local level.” (Bob, Jan and Jeff are all owners/partners in Scotties Fun Spot.)
Starting in June 2007, the Scotts began working with AEM’s Frank Seninsky to help finalize the proper size of the expansion and its entrance location, put the cost packages together, right size the combined redemption prize center/service desk, lay out the attractions and games so the traffic flow between the rink and new FEC would be optimized, lay out the electric for the new FEC including the EMBED data line system, and put together the birthday party/group/individual discount package template.
In 2008, the rink had a major facelift that included refinishing the interior walls and skating surface and adding new special effects lighting. Two years later, the family publicly announced their plans for a 15,000-square-foot addition adjacent to the current facility. They expected to have the work complete by November 2010. “Initially we were just looking at adding a laser tag arena, but after talking with AEM, attending various seminars and trade shows and visiting other facilities, we realized we could do so much more,” Bob said.
Construction began in June 2010, with the addition being added in a portion of their parking lot. The rink remained open and the contractors understood the need to get customers in and out of the building each night. “We used local contractors who understood it was still business as usual while the project was under development,” commented Jeff. “We went through a lot of ‘caution’ tape and brooms keeping it clean so guests could get to the front door.”
Scotties Fun Spot opened its doors in December 2010. The 38,000-square-foot complex now includes a 3,700-square-foot, high-tech space-themed laser tag arena (Creative Works) utilizing Zone Laser Tag’s Nexus Generation System, a 2-1/2 story Ballocity play area complete with slides, tubes and Nerf cannons (PrimePlay), two lanes of Highway 66.
Mini-Bowling (QubicaAMF through Bowling Equipment), a Lazer Frenzy laser maze (Creative Works), Spin Zone Bumper Cars (Amusement Products), the Winner’s Grill, an upgraded snack bar and a 65-game arcade (the biggest in the area).
The number of employees more than doubled after opening the new center. At peak season, there were 65 people on payroll. As they moved into summer, the number of employees dropped to about 35, but Jeff indicated that they will soon start hiring again for the winter, bringing that number back up for their busiest time of the year. Other family members who make up the staff are Jeff’s fiancée, Rachael LeClair, who acts as the office manager/bookkeeper, and Jeff’s sister, Becky Scott, who handles the redemption area, including ordering, stocking and displaying.
When asked how they have addressed marketing the new facility, Jeff responded, “Being a skating rink first, we skate a lot of schools. (Eighty percent of all local schools have a skating party throughout the year.) Having those schools come and in and roller skate is easy marketing. We also use standard marketing mediums from cable TV to local news, newspaper, radio and social media. We have a Facebook page, send email blasts and pretty much use everything we can.” The skating center had done a lot of promotions over the years. In the past they offered $1 skating admission over the Labor Day holiday. This year they offered the skating promotion along with a $1 Ballocity admission. The community is not large enough to participate in ‘Groupon’ or ‘Living Social’ so the center provides a lot of coupons in the local paper, in their email blasts and on their website. Pepsi just worked a deal on their behalf with a local gas station that allows a customer to bring in their gas receipt for free admission to one attraction.
With Scotties Fun Spot opening in the winter, the family was thrilled to see attendance coming in well above projections. Once summer got underway, attendance leveled off at the projected numbers and have held steady through the summer. “We are looking forward to cold weather and our winter season starting,” said Jeff. “We expect our attendance numbers to exceed projections again; especially since we will have been open a year and more people know we are here.”
When asked how the center has affected their customer demographics, Jeff noted that most of the birthday parties are still the same age group, but over the summer he noticed a lot of grandparents coming in with their grandchildren, which hadn’t been the case with the roller rink. They are seeing more high school-age kids as well. This year they hosted four after-prom parties that lasted all night. “We have definitely expanded who we can cater to,” said Jeff. “We will start promoting to the corporate groups as well and, in fact, have several Christmas parties lined up for this year.”
Even though they are now open for business, the Scotts continue to learn all they can about the industry and how to increase their bottom line. Last month Bob attended the Randy Fromm/Frank Seninsky “CRT/LCD Video, Redemption and Crane Game Repair Class” to improve his technical skills and, when Jan was put in charge of birthday parties, they brought Frank Price of Birthday University into the center to provide one-on-one training for the staff. “Having Frank Price come in made a big difference in how we do parties now,” said Bob. “Instead of doing so many parties, we try to do a better quality party. Before that, we were just running ourselves crazy trying to do too many parties and not doing them justice. Now we are doing a lot better job and have upgraded the parties significantly.”
Part of the original project included an outdoor go-kart track, but they could not fit it into the initial budget. “We thought not building the track could hurt the summer attendance,” said Jeff. “Looking back at this summer where we had a month of rain and another month of temperatures averaging 100 degrees, it may have been better not having the track this year.”
The second phase to the expansion will include the go-karts as well as a miniature golf course and bumper boats. There are 12 acres to build upon adjacent to the facility. Jeff noted that the family would like to get at least a year under their belts with the new facility before setting a time frame for the next phase. In the meantime, the family continues to improve upon those things they can within the center. After one month, and seeing long lines for laser tag, they added four more vests to their laser tag system to bring them up to 24 vests. They also added seven more games in the arcade and installed Party Center Software to manage their birthday parties. “I wish we had the room to add two more lanes of Highway 66,” said Jeff. “There are always people lined up to play, but often walk away due to the wait.”
Family fun runs three generations deep in the Scott family. “We have been in the business of kids for over 75 years,” said Bob.
“We would like to see Scotties Fun Spot become a ‘destination’ for families in and outside the area for many years to come” added Jeff.
(Reach Contributing Editor Frank Seninsky at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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