20 Questions from Future Roller Skating Rink Owners...Answered!
By Corrie Pelc September 22, 2023
We know future roller rink owners have many questions, and all of our current rink owners understand as they’ve been where you are now. We polled several future rink owner members of the RSA for the biggest questions they would like answered, and we’ve asked longtime rink owners and industry consultants for their answers.
We will do more of these interviews in future issues of Rinksider, so if you’re a rink owner who would like to offer your expertise, please let us know. Please know that every rink owner’s answer might be a little different based on their own experience, but we hope this helps give some insight that you’ve been looking for.
Our industry experts for this article are:
- Jim & Cindy Anderson, owners of Consulting For Fun
- Jeff Couey, president of Sparkles Family Entertainment Center in Hiram and Kennesaw, Georgia
- Tammy Johnson, owner of Wheels and Thrills in Owasso, Oklahoma
- Chris Maganias, owner of Astro Skating Centers with six locations in Florida
- Billy Thompson, owner of Kate’s Skating Rink in Gastonia, North Carolina
Funding & Income
What are some of the best places for a future owner, who is not currently in the business, to look for funding to open a brand-new rink?
Anderson: Unfortunately, financing is probably the most difficult part of a new operator opening a facility. This is the biggest issue we face when working with future operators. Most banks require a feasibility and business plan showing usually three years of projected profit and loss. Banks usually require the feasibility study and business plan to be done by a third party knowledgeable in the roller skating business to give it credibility.
Business Management & Operations
Do you feel it is necessary to have worked at a rink prior to opening and operating one?
Johnson: Not necessarily, but it sure helps! It gives you a perspective or know-how on the operations so that you can focus on the business side of things. If you already know the games and music system, or the safety procedures – then you can focus on the business side of things instead of trying to learn everything at once.
Is it realistic to think, “I can work a full-time job and operate a rink when first starting out?”
Maganias: No – if you want to be successful, you got to jump on that rink, and you got to work beyond full time. You can’t say, ‘I’ll work my regular job 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and then come in on weekends and at night’ because you’re going to stunt your ability to grow your business.
What was the hardest part of starting your business? What was the easiest?
Couey: I think the hardest issue facing today’s new owners would be financing. Without having prior skating or FEC experience, it is much harder to get financing. Banks like to see experience in the industry in order to loan you money. I think the rising cost of building would be a big factor today, also. I am a second-generation skating center owner/operator, so therefore I did not have to start from scratch.
As the owner of your rink, do you work your rink sessions?
Anderson: Unless you are strictly an investing owner with a full management team in place to operate the facility, I feel it is important for you to be involved with the operation, including overseeing different sessions. The most successful centers usually have owners/operators involved in the day-to-day operations. With today’s technologies, an owner can be much more aware of their operation without physically being in the building every day. If you do not plan to be on-site operating the business, you would want to invest in a secure POS system and a really good camera system.
We are having trouble finding a location that would be large enough to house a rink. Do current owners suggest building a rink or continuing to search for a pre-existing building?
Maganias: I think it’s really difficult to build from scratch. The problem you have to build new is construction costs are insane. And then you have impact fees and it’s going to take you a year and a half from the time you put in the shovel to the time to get it built. I think your best bet is to get a pre-existing roller rink that’s been neglected, where you get a decent price on it, fix it up, and then all of a sudden you got people skating, and you’re not waiting a year and a half.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone brand new to the industry in their business planning phase?
Thompson: Get out and visit as many rinks and other FECs as possible. You need to look at how locations are presenting themselves. Look at design, logistics, pricing, etc. When you do this, try to be outside of the area that you are thinking of operating, as well, to open yourself to more ideas. Attending the RSA National Convention and Sk8 Expo are a must! Sometimes the best ideas and information are obtained from intimate conversations at these events after seminars. Don’t be afraid to ask to visit a location or shadow a manager, as well. Many operators are more than willing, especially if you’re not in their area.
Safety & Liability
What is the average cost per year for liability insurance?
Couey: The average national cost of liability insurance is 3% of gross sales. For a new facility, they will probably look at projected sales and then, depending on the owner/operator experience, adjust the percentage.
Do skaters need to sign a liability form?
Johnson: It depends on state laws if you would want to do this or not, be sure and contact your lawyer to assist you in making a decision.
Find a complete list of attorneys who are familiar with the roller skating industry at www.ialda.org/members.
What is the formula for a safe number of skaters based on rink size?
Johnson: Each facility will be different. I do not know of a formula. We offer more than just skating at our facilities.
Contact your local fire marshal for building occupancy limits.
Is a wood floor worth the investment?
Anderson: This is usually a matter of choice. Concrete floors need to be installed by a company with experience in special use concrete. A properly installed concrete floor will have less maintenance than a wood floor.
We encourage you to check out the chapter on wood flooring in the Roller Skating Industry Guide or contact one of our flooring experts in the back of this magazine – they can provide you with considerable info you might need.
When purchasing skates what is the formula for selecting sizes of skates?
Anderson: See the chart in this article.
What is needed to maintain the safety of rental skates?
Maganias: We use a program from the RSA and JBL (the My Skate Repair Skate Maintenance Program), which has a complete list of what you’re supposed to look at and inspect on each skate. We have full-time people that work in our skate rooms – they just start from one end and go to the other. Document everything so you have it for lawsuits. You got to put a pair of eyes on those things at least once a month to inspect them and make sure everything’s up to par.
Once you get your skates purchased, visit www.rollerskating.com/myskaterepair to learn how to sign up to this program. It is free to members the first year, $50/year thereafter to cover storage fees as you will need to log every inspection and repair of nearly 800 skates.
Services & Programming
For those who have additional entertainment (laser tag, golf, go-kart, etc.), did you plan for those things from the beginning or add them later?
Couey: Laser tag and indoor playground is an excellent mix to go along with roller skating as your anchor. The playground brings the younger siblings, who will be entertained longer playing in the playground than they might be with just roller skating. The laser tag seems to bring in the boys ages 8 to 13 who might not be as interested in roller skating. With roller skating, laser tag, a playground, and a well-equipped game room, you are now catering to the whole family. If you add on a cafe that offers good food, you will bring in more families, and they will stay longer and spend more money.
What are the must-have items and services that you recommend a roller skating rink should provide at a pro shop?
Maganias: I hear people say all the time that we can’t compete with the internet because someone could order a skate, and they get it in two days or a day. And I tell them you absolutely can compete and beat the internet because you can have them in stock. We sell a ton of skates, and it’s because we have them in stock and we have them available. You don’t have to have a million types of skates -- focus on four or five models that sell very well and do a full-size run. It’s going to cost you a little money to keep inventory, but you’ve got to have the stuff to sell stuff.
Do live DJs make a difference in profit/attendance?
Couey: This is always a matter of opinion and what age crowd you are skating. Live DJs play a big part if you are doing an adult night. If it is a weekday session, you can have your DJ multitask as a floorguard while still entertaining the crowd with interactive games during the session.
Is it correct that a STEM instructor does not have to have a teaching degree?
Johnson: A STEM instructor does not have to have a teaching degree. Someone with a great deal of energy and excitement that can make learning a task or skill is what makes it fun for the students, and keeping the students’ attention keeps the teachers happy.
For more information on the STEM Program, contact Lauren Fink at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 516-795-5474.
How many employees per session or per admission are required?
Thompson: Staffing will all depend on how your location is designed. Do you have a functional space that allows employees to jump between stations efficiently? Or do they have to be stationary in a kitchen, ticket window, skate room? This will all determine staffing. On slower nights, you will be able to run a session with 3-4 people; busy weekends will require 10-15 sometimes, but it all depends on how your staff is trained, how they are staffed, and how you want your operation to run. Efficient employees can equal fewer employees required and thus lower payroll percentages. Our locations run between 8% and 14% payroll vs gross sales typically. Some weeks that are really busy can be around 5%, and some slower weeks can be higher, especially in the summer. We reward management with weekly bonuses, as well, if the payroll percentage is kept low. This allows our managers to make more money and keep payroll down!
What is the appropriate Rink Guards/Monitors to skater’s ratio?
Thompson: The RSA guidelines state one floor guard per 200 skaters. I would recommend using the industry guidelines and standards that you get as a member. These are very helpful and have been written by rink owners across the country. Again, these are guidelines, and I can say that the more floor guards the better! No one has ever complained with too many floor guards, but with proper training, one to two guards can safely police a floor during a session, but ALL staff should be taught to have their eyes up at all times.
Are skate instructors staff or private contractors? If contractors, is there a standard rate/split?
Thompson: Our skate instructors are not employees. This limits our liability during classes. We do require those persons taking lessons from them either have a monthly membership with the rink or pay a daily fee. We allow the coach/instructor to collect their own fees (just like a gym would a trainer). This limits our involvement with the payment side of this transaction. We do have a couple of instructors that do floor guard for us during busy Saturdays after the lessons are over; those instructors are on payroll, but only when they are floor guarding. We allow our instructors to set their own private lesson fees, and we give them $10 per person that signs up for the Saturday morning skate lessons. That is a four-pack so that $10 covers all four classes. The instructor is paid when the skater redeems their first class. Every rink is different. Some rinks rent time, they pay more, pay less, etc. I recommend having a very honest conversation with a future instructor, set guidelines, goals, and limitations on what is expected, how you want them to market, and most importantly when they are allowed to use the rink.
DO YOU WANT TO OPEN YOUR OWN ROLLER SKATING RINK?
If you're looking to start your own roller skating rink there are first a few steps you need to take.
- Join the Roller Skating Association as a Future Operator. This will give you everything from access to our members-only Facebook group with nearly 1000 business professionals in the industry, a 500 page industry guide that teaches you exactly what steps you need to take to open your business, discounts on attending events that the RSA holds throughout the year, and much more.
- Join the RSA members only Facebook group found here. This will give you access to mentors in the industry who will help you learn what you need to open your own roller skating rink.
- Put together a business plan with the help of a consultant and lawyer, both of which you can find in our supplier section. We have several industry professionals who can teach you everything you need to know and walk you through what it takes to opening your own rink.
Please call Sharon McMahon at email@example.com
or call her at 317-347-2626 Ext. 108 and she will get you registered.
If you are looking to open your own roller skating rink, make sure to click Join and then Future Owner to learn about all of the benefits of joining the RSA. You'll receive a 500 page book on how to start your own roller skating rink, access to suppliers, Facebook Group of all members and much more!
Corrie Pelc is a journalist, editor, and freelance writer with more than 23 year experience. Her byline can be found in a variety of consumer and trade publications, with past and current clients including IAPPA’s Funworld Magazine, Medical News Today, Hometalk.com, PassportHealth.com, INVISION Magazine, and Sacramento News & Review. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Note: Questions about starting your own rink should be directed to Sharon McMahon, Director of Membership Services, at email@example.com or 317-347-2626 Ext. 108.)
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