While birthday parties are still an important revenue source, roller skating rinks from the Rockaways to Venice Beach are finding innovative methods to draw unusual events to their locations. For example, at Portland’s Oaks Park Amusement Park and Roller Rink, Emily MacKay, the promotions and events manager, is taking advantage of Washington State’s new marriage equality laws for same-sex couples. Not only is she positioning the venue as a unique place to host a wedding, she’s finding innovative ways of wooing a whole new customer base.
“We had a Steampunk-themed wedding for a lesbian couple that combined their Jewish and Wiccan faiths into the ceremony,” said MacKay. Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that usually features steam-powered machinery. MacKay also hosts many events for local cultural associations, like the Tibetan Festival, Slavic Association and Zeitgeist Northwest. “They bring their food, their music, their culture to share with Portland in a fun, family atmosphere,” she said.
And while a few naysayers may sometimes think that roller skating is about as antiquated as bellbottoms and leisure suits, in-line skates and high-tech additions to facilities are making today’s roller rink both family-friendly (by day) and sophisticated (by night) as a fun, retro-infused alternative to the nightclub scene in many cities.
With 43 acres and a dedicated roller rink at this, the country’s oldest, continually operating amusement park, Oaks Park’s own rink is flexible for both small and large events. The venue relies primarily on traditional print advertising to attract skaters to public events, while word of mouth and online advertising seems to work for private parties.
“Mainly [people find out about the space through] word of mouth, social media and web searches,” said MacKay. “For print events, we offer several options. We have picnic areas to rent where we do a lot of company picnics, family reunions and birthday parties. We also have a reception hall on our grounds where we do weddings, quinceaneras, corporate functions and auctions.” With Oaks Park’s proximity to Spring Water Corridor Trail, the site has become popular for walks, runs and benefit fundraisers. “We also rent out our roller skating rink and miniature golf course for private events,” she said.
The facility keeps on top of trends and opens new attractions to generate public interest and no shortage of local press coverage. “We have a new attraction this year,” said MacKay, “the Eureka Mine [that combines the history of prospecting with environmental lessons]. And next year we will be opening a new attraction that’s still very hush hush.”
At Roller King in Roseville, Calif., the event space provides a lot of versatility to the wide scope of special events being hosted. “Obviously, being able to incorporate roller skating into the event sets us apart from other venues,” said Michelle Steinman, the facility’s manager. “We are always updating something. We most recently added $4,000 worth of new disco lighting.”
And while disco may hark back to the glory days of roller rinks, Roller King also attracts skaters to popular, more modern hip-hop-themed events. She admited that like at many venues, word of mouth drives most of the activity at Roller King. She also regularly works with promoters. “Event success usually depends on the promoter more than the event type,” admitted Steinman. “If the promoter is organized and aggressive, it usually works.” The facility also offers incentives, including coupons, online and through special social media promotions.
Roller King has a skating surface of about 180 by 80 feet to work with, in addition to space for parties and private events. The key to this family-owned and operated success since 1977? Always broadening horizons, said Steinman, who keeps the rink involved with community events, including many school and church functions – such as canned food drives, fundraisers, gym classes and Girl Scouts events. The destination is also home to the Sacred City Derby Girls roller derby, which is becoming increasingly popular among a younger generation of skaters and hipsters.
Steinman also markets the facility to the increasingly health-conscious visitor. “Roller skating is equivalent to jogging in terms of health benefits, caloric consumption, reduction of body fat and leg strength development,” she said. “One hour of moderate roller skating burns 330 calories for a 143-pound person. If the same person skates vigorously, they will burn up to 590 calories in just one hour.”
For anyone trying to lose weight or get back in shape in a fun way, it’s the ultimate sell.
“To book more parties, we listen to our customers’ needs,” said Darrin Johnson, owner of Broken Arrow Roller Sports in Broken Arrow, Okla. The rink not only offers group and private parties – complete with roller skating-themed decorations – but also “session” events that start at $120 for 10 skaters (and $6 per each additional skater.)
“We have had events for major businesses for Christmas,” said Johnson, “as well as year-end parties for schools – from pre-school to universities, season-end parties for every sport imaginable and, of course, birthday parties from three to 70.”
The key to attracting organizations, schools, businesses and private events is generally word of mouth. “We also utilize our small advertising budget to maximize ROI,” he said. “By giving away parties to charitable organizations, we get 30 to 50 new visits with each party. This then builds on itself when two or three guests, in turn, book their own parties.”
For Johnson, all parties are profitable. “Birthdays beget more birthdays,” he said. “Long term, birthdays have the best ROI, whereas corporate parties spend more on add-ons, like food, but only return every few years at best.” And with almost 19,000 square feet to work with, multiple events can take place simultaneously – and the rink can be very flexible for big, small and private parties alike, which can equal steady profit.
Being minutes from Tulsa, a city of more than 900,000 and the fourth-largest city in the state, is also a benefit for Broken Arrow Roller Sports. The facility attracts customers from all walks of life – from the budget-minded to the million-plus earners. “Our size and family-oriented atmosphere makes us top of most peoples’ list,” said Johnson, “once they call and find our prices are 40 to 50 percent lower than similar size venues, we win.”
Celebrating in Style
Based in the Keystone State, the Fountainblu Skating Arena in New Cumberland, Pa., uses live deejays, nightclub lighting and fog machines to entertain skaters of all ages. In addition to a main rink, the venue also has a smaller or mini rink for beginners, as well as Skate Mate Trainers to teach the basics of staying upright, said Diane Schiazza, manager at Fountainblu.
Birthday parties are also popular, as well as black light parties and pizza parties – which are both heavily advertised on the arena’s Facebook page. One of the more standout events is a Zumba fitness class that’s admittedly more of a dance party than workout.
The rink also rents its space to soccer and hockey teams, depending on the season.
And at the Aurora Roller Derby Skating Center in Aurora, Ill., – just outside of Chicago – partnering with pro sports teams scores big, really big.
“We have an organist come in who plays with the Chicago Blackhawks,” said Dan Warner, owner. This season, the center celebrated the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup win in a big way with a jersey night, bringing in new fans and regulars to the venue for what could be considered a once-in-a-lifetime party.
When Birthdays are Big
Sports, fitness and celebrity may help sell many of these special events, but at Doc’s Family Fun Center in Middletown, Pa., just outside of Harrisburg, birthday parties are still some of the most popular events each season. “During the winter months last year, we teamed up with the Game Truck to offer customers an added feature,” said Heather Watts, the center’s manager. In addition to skating, guests also had the opportunity to compete in games for all ages. “We have also held special events that do not include skating,” she said.
Watts uses flyers to promote the events at the center, which she says works well to encourage guests to revisit. She also uses the center’s website and Facebook pages to reach her customer base online. “Occasionally we advertise through the local papers,” she said, “but a majority of our events are more successfully promoted by word of mouth.”
Doc’s, with its mid-size skating area, also has a game room, snack bar and three party rooms (two small and one large). But what really sets it apart is the Rock ‘N Roll Malt Shop that’s located off to the side of the rink. Skaters attending Late Skates and other events can roll up to the shop to pick up a milk shake or dessert, a feature that appeals to an older generation who remembers the original shops of their kind in the 50s and 60s, as well as kids and teens craving sweets.
The center also offers Weekend Afternoon Sessions where a family of four can skate for just $20. The fee not only includes admission and skate rentals, but also encourages families in the area to have some fun while getting physically fit together.
“Doc’s is also proud to participate in fundraisers for non-profit organizations,” explained Watts. “We have held food drives and Skating to Save Babies events.” The center has also sponsored book and pajama drives for families in need. “All of the fundraising drives directly benefit the non-profit organizations,” she said. These charitable events also introduce the center to a whole new demographic that may feel good supporting a venue that gives back to the community. The media attention that’s achieved on a local level is akin to free advertising.
“The majority of our events are unique in their own way,” said Watts, “but my personal favorite is our Holiday Home Show called Party with a Purpose. The event combines numerous vendors and home show consultants for an all-in-one holiday shopping experience.”
It’s a win-win for both the vendors and Doc’s as the participants pay a fee to rent a space at the home show. And the added traffic to the center can be counted in purchases of food and beverages, as well as return customers. Each vendor also donates a product or service to be sold to benefit a local nonprofit. “It’s a great way to spread holiday cheer,” said Watts, “while helping raise awareness about a good cause.” –