In this time of the constant entertainment provided by tablets and smart phones, roller rinks around the country are still drawing in customers with old-fashioned fun. But the centers are also mindful that change is essential to keeping in tune with current thinking regarding how customers are spending their leisure entertainment dollars.
“We have so much fun here,” said Christine Swahn, operations manager at Skate World, in Tampa, Fla. “The kids love playing traditional skating games like the hokey pokey and limbo. Another popular game is ‘Dead Bug,’ which allows kids to do things they can’t do at home, like fall down on the ground and scream as loud as they can. It is so much fun for them that they don’t realize we are actually teaching them skills, like how to get up after falling down on their skates.” Skate World’s DJ always stays up on the latest music trends as well, which keeps the excitement level high. “The kids love all the latest dance crazes, such as Gangnam Style and the Harlem Shake, so we do those a lot,” Swahn said.
“I have been noticing, in many rinks, that it is not always enough to just offer skating,” said Swahn. “People want more and more entertainment options, so we do also have a bounce house, arcade and laser tag.” Swahn said the facility mostly relies on social media and reputation to bring new guests in the door.
Like Swahn, Greg Pearson, owner of Fun Spot Skating Center in Belleville, Ill., jumps on the latest music trends. “Right now you can find a lot of rinks promoting themselves on YouTube doing the Harlem Shake,” Pearson said. “Our interactive DJs keep everyone having fun here and people want to keep coming back because of that. It also helps that we keep the facility neat and clean. It isn’t challenging to keep people entertained once they are here. The challenge is getting them in the door in the first place,” Pearson said.
To that end, Pearson has several programs in place to create new customers. “We have partnered up with local schools by bringing skates for the kids to try out during PE class. This teaches the children to skate and allows them to see what fun it can be. It’s a great way to create new customers,” said Pearson. Additionally, Fun Spot Skating Center participates in the Kids Skate Free program, in which kids can sign up online to receive two free skate passes every week. “The economy is not great right now, so this enables kids to come and skate who might normally not be able to participate. We hope that this program helps people to come in the door and will turn them into skaters who want to keep coming back or even have a birthday party here,” Pearson said.
Wendy Sherman, owner of Skate Zone in Crofton, Md., also participates in the Kids Skate Free program. “It is a wonderful program to provide affordable entertainment to families. We hope it will help new kids develop a love for the sport so they want to come back,” Sherman said.
Both Sherman and Pearson described how the skating industry has recently been supporting the campaign to end childhood obesity. “Skating is a terrific form of exercise and you don’t even realize how hard you are working your body while doing it, because you are having so much fun,” said Pearson. Pearson attends youth health fairs as a vendor to spread the word about how skating can help combat obesity. Sherman said the Kids Skate Free program also focuses on childhood obesity and skating as a way to get kids up and moving while having a good time.
Roller skating birthday parties are the other big trend in the industry right now, with many rinks seeing an increase in the number of parties booked throughout the year. “We are currently seeing anywhere from 800-1,000 parties a year,” said Ken Fontana, general manager of Skate Estate in Vestal, N.Y. Similarly, after over 40 years in the skating business, Randy Waring, owner of Ashland Skateland in Ashland, Va., has recently noted a massive increase in birthday parties. “Parents do not want to have parties at home anymore, so we are seeing the number of parties go up by a lot,” Waring said.
However, business is more than simply doing parties, so Fontana attracts new customers through Facebook and direct mailers. “Once we get them in the door, we do our best to entertain our guests. We have a Stuff Shop where arcade game tickets can be redeemed, or items can be bought with cash. We also play skate games and dances, like the YMCA and the Cha Cha Slide,” said Fontana. Skate Estate also has begun offering Skate Mates as a courtesy to guests. These “walkers on wheels” are great for beginner skaters or those who need a little more support on the rink. “They help many people feel more comfortable skating, so they continue to come back,” Fontana said.
Having a good relationship with local schools and handing out coupons at local festivals is another way to draw in new skaters, according to Waring. “Our new skaters are then turned into regulars, once they see how much fun they are having. We constantly change up our format so it isn’t always the same thing. We play different games and music and host several programs, such as the All-Night Skate from 7:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. Teens come with their sleeping bags and we skate, play games and do the latest dance crazes all through the night,” Waring said.
Aside from playing great skate games and the latest music, there is another aspect of the roller rink that turns new customers into regular skaters, and that is providing a safe and clean environment. “We hammer the concept of safety and cleanliness to our employees constantly,” said Dana Chaput, general manager of Haygood Roller Skating Center in Virginia Beach, Va. “Nobody wants to come skating in the morning and see leftover pizza crust from the night before. We have to clean constantly and repair equipment as needed. Also, the parents want to feel that their kids are being cared for and are safe here, so that is another priority. Providing a good, clean and safe service will keep people coming back,” Chaput said.
As the skate atmosphere has become less about individuals and more about families, Chaput’s facility has expanded to include a pizzeria with an arcade and an indoor playground, and duckpin bowling. “We want to entertain families by offering them an inexpensive night out where they can skate, eat pizza and bowl,” Chaput said. “We send out direct mail pieces, such as coupons in Valpaks, so customers can take advantage of the great value we offer,” said Chaput. Direct mailers work better than social media for Haygood, since business is so geographical. “We really only need to appeal to those in our immediate area, so social media, while great, is not always the best option.” –
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