-By Carimé Lane
The roller skating business tends to experience up and downswing cycles of roughly five to seven years. At Haygood Skating Center in Virginia Beach, Va., Owner Brandon Stokes said before COVID hit, business was on a giant upswing. And post-COVID, business has been growing steadily. For instance, last month’s Friday night crowd totaled 250 teens, and three weeks later, the head count was 475. This can be attributed to those skaters who took to the streets during COVID taking the activity indoors when the rinks reopened.
Right now, 1990s music is trending at roller rinks, said Stokes. He believes TikTok videos have a lot to do with this trend. They hold 1990s-themed skating parties for attendees in their mid-teens.
Haygood is open seven nights a week. As a roller rink you can’t just open your doors and play Top 40 hits while customers skate, said Stokes. You have to hold events to attract customers night after night. For instance, Haygood holds events like nerf wars and ‘skate with a Disney princess.’
One of the key ways to keep customers coming back is to make it very inexpensive for families to attend, Stokes said. “A family of four can come in for less than $20 in roller skate rentals,” Stokes said of their rink’s prices.
He also believes it’s imperative to ensure customers leave feeling like they’ve had an experience, and give them something to Instagram about. For instance, they’ll ask a little girl what her favorite song is or give a 9-year-old boy a shout out for his birthday. You want them to give them an experience so they can go to church or school and tell their friends about what happened at the rink, explained Stokes.
Starland Roller Rink based in Hagerstown, Md., just entered their 76th year in business – Lori Shillingburg’s grandparents opened the rink back in 1946. Since then, they’ve experienced many up and down swings.
Of late, Shillingburg has noticed many customers purchasing outdoor wheels. She’s also noted that some parents who grew up playing organized sports themselves are now bringing their kids to the rink for some activity and exercise.
Skaters often visit the center from 45 minutes out of their way, even when another rink is closer to home, said Shillingburg. She said this is a testament to their reasonable prices and safe and comfortable atmosphere. Guests can enjoy roller skating while enjoying something to eat at a reasonable price, which may even be cheaper than grabbing something to eat along the way.
They also get to know their customers on a personal level. Guests in their 70s and 80s can drop by for a coffee and reminisce while flipping through old photo albums at the rink.
Kids love the management and also feel safe in an environment where everyone is expected to be on their best behavior and will be held accountable if they don’t follow the rules. Parents feel comfortable enough with the environment there that they drop their kids off and trust in Shillingburg’s watchful eye. Guests always feel comfortable because they know everyone there is watching out for everyone else expressed Shillingburg. “Enter as a stranger, leave as family” is the theme of the rink, Shillingburg said.
Rob Gould, owner/operator of Interskate 91 South in Wilbraham, Mass., indicated that since reopening after the pandemic, they’re seeing an increase in adults getting back into the activity.
When people noticed skating in social and mainstream media and saw it as an alternative to traditional types of exercise, they started buying skates anywhere they could, commented Gould. “There is more focus on fitness that is fun, and roller skating fits that message perfectly,” he said.
“We’re also seeing more upgraded facilities with better options and improvements in areas like food and beverages, Gould said. “We have to stay competitive with other entertainment options that are popping up. Our food operation is seeing great increases in sales per cap. People are happy to go out and enjoy a special treat.”
They make changes to their menu to keep our customers happy. A few years ago, they added an AutoFry machine to speed up their fried foods operation, Gould said.
They can cook everything from french fries and chicken tenders to loaded tater tots and fried pickles in the machine and now they can also offer a larger portion of platters and baskets, mentioned Gould. They also added a soft serve ice cream machine, which is a “big win for birthday parties,” according to Gould.
Teaching participants how to skate is also a focus for rinks across the country now, Gould said. Rinks are adding more skilled instructors to ensure skaters are getting off on the right foot. In their rink, they’re seeing an increased interest in lessons, indicating that roller skating has droves of new fans.
Service is always a high priority in a business where there have always been repeat customers, said Gould. “With those repeat customers and a locally owned small business, it just falls into place that we build relationships with our customers. We get to know them by name, we see them celebrate special moments like birthdays,” said Gould. “We are like a second family sometimes.” They also offer educational field trips for schools that include a STEM lesson combined with physical fitness (roller skating). Additionally, they provide the perfect setting for other community activities, including fundraising, field trips and celebrations, Gould said.
Emily MacKay, marketing and events director of the Oaks Park Roller Rink in Portland, Ore., said roller skating is a hot trend right now. “During the COVID quarantine lots of people re-discovered the old-time pastime of “sidewalk” skating and discovered that roller skating is a fun, versatile, and enjoyable way to stay active,” MacKay said.
Right now, they’re seeing increased equipment sales by those who are purchasing skates or wheels for indoor and outdoor skating. Additionally, they’re witnessing record setting admissions, explained MacKay. Their approximate visitorship for the rink from March 2021-March 2022 was 200,000 guests. “And that’s on the rise thanks to skating’s resurgence in popularity,” said MacKay.
“Thanks to social media – TikTok in particular – more people than ever are being exposed to roller skating as a family activity, as a fitness activity, and as a lifestyle boosting activity that combines physical, emotional, and social health,” expressed MacKay. “I see roller skating growing as an empowering activity for people of all ages.”