The family entertainment center industry is growing at an ever-increasing pace. In fact, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions estimates the FEC industry has growth of approximately 25 new facilities each and every year – and the roller skating industry is no exception.
In interviews with several roller skating rink owners, we found that there are a variety of new trends on the upswing while Jim McMahon, executive director of the Roller Skating Association International, provides an insightful overview of areas currently trending in the roller skating industry.
Roller skating rinks are setting aside a special room and, through the use of paint and glow-in-the-dark products, are lighting up the area with black lights. Everything from paper plates and napkins to shirts and accessories, rink owners are finding that bringing a room to life through the use of lights is a considerable boon to profits.
“Neon bracelets and glow products are probably more popular in roller skating rink glow rooms than anywhere else. They’re sold at a modest price, which means more sales for the rink and more interactive fun for the kids,” McMahon said.
Bobby Bentley, owner of dreamland Skating Center in Pensacola, Florida (10 years) and three others in Alabama (30 years), Georgia (7 years) and Florida (3 years) has found that by providing a better product, they can increase the price of special events, like glow parties, and they don’t have to offer discounts or free passes to keep customers returning. Keeping up with trends can mean big profits in the roller skating industry.
Birthday, Themed Parties and Facility Add-ons
Birthday and themed parties in roller skating rinks continue to grow through the enhancement of themed events, glow room birthday parties, and using licensed characters from the Roller Skating Association (Roo, Kooky Bird, etc.).
McMahon also noted, “As our own licensed characters, we’ve made it simple for our members to use Roo and Kooky in their marketing plan without the legal issues and costs that are attached to external characters. More importantly, the materials provide a professional, appealing and economical partner to help promote their businesses.”
In fact, the use of the characters is so popular, that rinks often can’t imagine not using them to promote their businesses.
“We use Roo in almost every event we host or are a part of. The visual association in the community is an extremely important part of our identity,” Bentley said.
The hosting of themed parties is bigger than ever. Some rinks now hold skate nights that include reality show characters, such as Duck Dynasty and Gator Boys, complete with beards and camouflage. Chris Hale, manager of Star Skate in Norman, Okla., even created a new food addition called a “Sprittle” or a “Smittle” that consists of a few skittles put into a small cup of Sprite or Sierra Mist and frozen. “We’re even seeing rinks who can’t keep the pickle juice on the shelves, selling small shots of pickle juice or frozen pickle juice called a ‘Picklecicle,’ ” said Hale. Where there is a trending demand, rink owners are quick to answer with a supply.
Bentley has found that chicken wings and pizza with a rolled edge crust instead of flat is proving to be very popular among children, and Big Bass Wheels, Key Masters, Ice Ball, Air Hockey, Driving Games, Plush Games and Basketball Games are the big trend in in-rink games.
This rise in parties has created a need for online party booking software programs, and some companies, such as Party Center Software, have answered the call for a quicker and more user-friendly interaction.
“Many rinks are now taking to utilizing the online party booking options and parents and teens find a more enhanced web experience,” McMahon said.
In addition, many rinks are now working to develop add-ons to make their own rinks dedicated family entertainment centers. A quick search of the Roller Skating Association’s website “locator” feature shows that there are rinks with everything from laser tag and miniature golf to batting cages, arcades, soft play and bounce houses – the list goes on and on.
A number of skating rinks have grown to now include skating lessons. By teaching children and adults the proper way to roller skate and encouraging them to do so safely, rink owners help to create repeat customers. Alan Bacon of Rollarena Skating Center in Richland, Va, started a new 10 and under session from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays with optional free lessons from 10:15 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.
“This lesson is not only for the general public, but is targeted to birthday parties where guests range in ages from 4 – 8 years old and who may not be able to skate. This is in addition to a regular lesson program. The reason for starting this session is that so many young children come to skate but don’t know how. Without some guided instruction they sometimes do not have a good experience,” Bacon said.
By working with young skaters (and even adult skaters), rinks are learning that in order to develop a solid returning customer base, the necessity to teach good skating skills is imperative. In fact, the Roller Skating Association, in coordination with USA Roller Sports, has developed a comprehensive Achievement Program that teaches beginning skaters numerous skills in artistic figure roller skating, speed skating (an increasingly popular sport, according to McMahon), roller hockey and more.
Through the RSA’s Super Skater program, rinks are honing skating skills with children, as well. The Super Skater program is a readymade program meant to teach basic skills. It is a simple, easy and effective way to encourage new skaters. To pass level one of the program and receive a Super Skater pin, the skater must successfully perform three of five basic skills. The skater is required to demonstrate four of six advanced-beginner skills to pass level two of the program. Upon successful completion of level two, skaters receive a Super Skater pin and a certificate recognizing their achievement.
Another area of trends the roller skating industry is seeing is in floor coatings. Smoother floor coatings with increased grip for better roll and enjoyment for customers are being utilized at an increased rate. The Association recently learned about new methods of concrete leveling, called Abrasive Blasting, from Roll-On Floor Solutions that can take an uneven concrete floor and turn it into a roller skater’s paradise.
In speaking with Bentley, he noted that kids often want to act older than what they really are, so marketing to the tweens and teens crowd seems to provide a bigger area of growth. Surprisingly, kids at the rink spend less time on social media because they’re looking for healthier ways to have fun – and roller skating is the answer to a healthy lifestyle.
As the use of social media has increased, rinks have found great success in the use of instant messaging to create increased attendance and awareness of specials. McMahon noted that rinks are subscribing kids (those under the age of 18 need a parent’s written consent) to text message notifications and are able to get up-to-the-minute discounts, coupons and specials that only they can use just by showing their phone to the staff.
With the increase in word-of-mouth advertising through social media connections, roller skating has seen an incredible trend of parents bringing their children back to the rinks they attended as children.
McMahon provides some insight on the increased attendance, “Prime time sessions have been dedicated solely to family skates, which is a trend moving forward that was never even considered in the past. A flat fee for an entire family, whether it’s for a family of 5 or a family of 10, encourages more skaters to continue to return to the rinks.”
Roller Derby for ALL Ages and Genders
While not a new sport, the ever-increasing trend of roller derby continues to grow.
McMahon noted, “Attending a local bout will show you just how popular this roller skating sport has become. Many rinks now own their own roller derby teams, host their own bouts in both youth and adult (both male and female), inner clubs and even merging with other rinks – there’s even a national roller derby championships!”
Summer Camps and Programs
Roller skating rinks are seeing a rise in summer activity – a time of year once seen as a slow time. Many rinks are now providing summer passes to keep kids active. They’re often sold through schools through their PTA/PTO or through organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters or Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts where they can roller skate several times a week for a small price to help keep kids busy during the non-school season. These summer programs allow rink owners and employees to help with homework, after school programs and mentoring – a free yet invaluable service to families.
An area trending that we are also seeing, and the Roller Skating Association is working to expand, is that of roller skating summer camp programs. Through a strategic partnership with the American Camp Association, the RSA is working to encourage rinks to develop detailed summer programs to combat obesity, as well as teach both the basics and advanced skating techniques to kids, combined with a host of everyday summer camp activities.
ACA accredited camps have a variety of safety requirements, setting guidelines based on state requirements for staff-to-camper ratios, and First Aid/CPR training. By developing these safety guidelines, camps will help both the rink and the camp achieve a fun and safe atmosphere.
According to Cat Sutton at Camp Sonshine in Maryland who partners with a local skating rink for outings, she encourages rinks to begin building relationships with local summer camps for outings, or even planning their own summer camps as soon as feasibly possible. Registration usually takes place at local summer camp fairs, online and through partnerships before late spring even arrives, so timeliness is important.
For rinks looking to start their own camp, they may visit the ACA’s “Start a Camp” web page at www.acacamps.org/startacamp to find everything from risk management to marketing.
Roller skating rink owners are encouraged to list their summer programs through the American Camp Association free of charge, as well as search for a local summer camp fair to attend and work with local parenting magazines to advertise in their February – June issues.
Growth in Roller Skating Rinks
Perhaps it’s the rise in these trends that has supported the growth of roller skating rinks throughout the United States and the world.
“Here at the Roller Skating Association, we have seen a huge increase in people looking to build roller skating rinks, both in new construction, leased buildings and family fun centers adding roller skating to already existing family entertainment centers,” McMahon said.
The Roller Skating Association receives daily calls from future operators looking to build a new rink, existing FECs looking to upgrade their facilities to include roller skating, and previously empty rinks finding new ownership. With this growth in interest comes a new energy and excitement for the sports that encompass roller skating.
Adrienne Van Houten, with Moonlight Roller Rink, has noted a considerable increase in the amount of exposure in terms of filming and photo shoots within the rink. This, along with the numerous other clues provided to the Roller Skating Association can only mean one thing – roller skating is on the upswing and trends play a significant role in its growth.
(Lynette Rowland is the director of Communications for the Roller Skating Association (RSA). Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 317-347-2626 ext. 107.)