Starting a Roller Skating Rink – 009

Steps for Opening a Roller Rink

On today’s episode, I give you a basic primer for starting a roller skating rink.

More specifically, we discuss:

  • A high-level overview of The Roller Skating Business Resource Manual that covers how to start a roller rink.
  • A few of the steps in the manual in more detail – namely demographics, rink size & the building.
  • And finally, additional resources I’ve found for starting a rink.

Show Notes

Here are a few of the items I mentioned during the show.

Episode 9 Transcript

Jeff Stone: 00:03 Hey everybody. Welcome to the Roller Skate Dad podcast. This is episode number nine. Let’s get started.

Announcer: 00:21 Welcome to the Roller Skate Dad Podcast. The show that covers everything and anything in the wonderful world of roller skating. Now here’s your host though. The Roller Skate Dad himself, Jeff Stone.

Jeff Stone: 00:36 All right. Hey everybody. Welcome to the Roller Skate Dad podcast. I want to thank you guys so much for being here. Today, I want to share with you a subject that I’ve daydreamed a lot about and done a whole lot of research on and that is opening a roller skating rink.

Jeff Stone: 00:54 Now I’ve never owned a roller skating rink before but I’ve certainly worked at one in the past. And, I’ve also gotten a number of emails from those of you out there about starting your own rink. So I thought this would be a good show to cover. Now I’m by no means an expert in this subject, but I have done a lot of research about it and I thought I would share that research with you. And, just covering the material that I’ve researched so far is enough for multiple shows. But for now we’ll cover as much as we can in this episode. I’ll give you a nice high level overview with a bunch of resources that you can dig into if you’re interested in learning more. In the future, I’m sure I’ll have a couple more episodes on this subject as well. I’ll also be bringing roller skating rink owners onto the show in the near future to dig deeper into this topic.

Jeff Stone: 01:43 So for today’s show we’re going to be talking about starting a roller skating rink. More specifically, at a high level, we’re going to go over the steps that are required to start a roller skating rink. I have this really nice guide that I got a couple of years ago and I’m going to go over some of the steps that it details about starting a roller skating rink. Then after we cover a few of those steps at a high level, I’m going to dig deep into a few of them and tell you how you can get a copy of this guide for yourself. And finally we’ll talk about all the resources I’ve found on starting a skating rink so that you can check them out. All right. We’ve got a lot to cover. Let’s go.

Expand To View Full Transcript

Jeff Stone: 02:25 I bought a manual about four or five years ago called The Roller Skating Business Resource Manual. It’s written by a number of people in the roller skating industry, including existing rink owners. Now this manual was written like 25 years ago. It was actually published in 1995 so I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the most current literature out there. However, at the same time, roller skating rinks really haven’t changed that drastically either in my lifetime, so I do believe that a lot of the information is still relevant.

Jeff Stone: 02:56 With my time working at a roller skating rink during my teenage years, I know that most of the information that’s in the guide is still correct. Minus the machinery in the guide not necessarily being updated and costs not necessarily being accurate due to inflation, the rest of the guide is pretty good. It’s certainly the most thorough guide I’ve personally seen to date on the subject. It’s about 75 pages long and it looks like a magazine. So first I thought I’d give you a high level overview of what’s in the guide, then I’m going to go a little bit deeper into a few details on a few of the important ones.

Jeff Stone: 03:34 There are 16 chapters in this guide, and the chapters are really more just like kind of short articles. They’re about two to four pages long at most. So we’re not talking about a huge amount of detail on each of these subjects.

Jeff Stone: 03:50 All right, so let’s go over the chapters that the guide covers. This will give you a good high level understanding of all the things that go into opening a rink. It’s a big investment both of time and money, so it’s definitely not something that you would want to take lightly. There are a number of areas to think about, so let’s dig in.

Jeff Stone: 04:09 So chapter one talks all about capital investment. You know, money. And skating rinks can cost a lot of money to get started. It’s not unheard of for a brand new rink to cost upwards of $1 million. Yeah, $1 million. You know, this guide talks about it typically costing around $800,000 to start a new rink, but that was in 1995. If you adjust for inflation, you’re looking at about $1.6 million. And that $800,000 figure doesn’t include equipment that was just for the land and the building and the initial build out of the rink with a floor. So you’re talking about a lot of money. We’ll talk about that in a little bit more detail here in just a minute.

Jeff Stone: 04:52 So chapter two talks all about the building. It talks about building a rink from the ground up or converting an existing building into a rink. Chapter three goes over the skate floor. You know, it talks about hardwood floors, roller board systems, concrete and asphalt floors. It also goes into cleaning those floors. You know, and just as an aside, it’s not unheard of for a large roller skating rink floor to cost over a $100,000 just for the hardwood floor on the rink surface. That’s a lot of money, $100,000 just to build the rink floor. That’s more than some people’s houses.

Jeff Stone: 05:29 Chapter four talks all about rental skates. You know those awesome brown/tan boots with orange wheels and toe stops that we all love? Yeah, good stuff. It talks about keeping rental skates and making sure that they’re kept up and maintained well so that you can prevent injuries and hopefully prevent lawsuits. They also go over roller skate racks for storage. I didn’t realize until I read this guide just how much roller skating rinks actually spend on rental skates. Just the regular tan skates with orange wheels can run tens of thousands of dollars to buy the number of roller skates that you need to actually be able to supply an entire rink. That’s not to mention the specialty skates like the roller blades and the special quad speed skates that most rinks also carry, which costs even more money. Then you have to think about buying all those different skates and all those different sizes to be able to serve everyone.

Jeff Stone: 06:26 The next chapter, chapter five, talked all about sound and lighting systems and how both are important to attracting people into your rink. Next, chapter six, talked all about the second biggest profit center in the roller skating rink next to skate admissions – and that’s the snack bar. It covers some of the equipment that you see in a snack bar, you know like a popcorn machine and you know, cotton candy machine and all that good stuff. But it also covers the most profitable thing inside the snack bar, which is the fountain drinks, the soda machines. It also talks about how to lay out the snack bar from a seating perspective, as well as, handle birthday parties and whether they should be in a separate room or in an open area.

Jeff Stone: 07:14 Chapter seven talked all about carpet and seating around the rink. You know, most rinks have a lot of carpet and until you really dissect a rink and look at it, you know, piece by piece, it wasn’t something that I realized right from the start. You know, most rinks have a lot of carpet, even carpet up the walls. I didn’t realize that there was actually a purpose to all that carpet going up the walls until I read this guide and after I read it, it makes sense. The carpet going up the walls actually helps the sound system in a really large skating rink. It helps to actually make that sound coming out of the speakers sound less hollow. It dampens it so that you don’t get so much auditory reverberation or an echo.

Jeff Stone: 07:58 The next chapter, chapter eight, was all about roller skating restrooms. I still have flashbacks to cleaning up overflowing toilets and having trash on the bathroom floor of the skating rink that I used to work in. I think that’s all I got to say about that.

Jeff Stone: 08:14 The next chapter, chapter nine, talked all about the retail showroom. So, this is another profit center for some rinks is selling custom skates and you know other skating novelty items to people that visit the skating rink – glow stick anyone?

Jeff Stone: 08:30 Chapter 10 went into safety and security, so it talked all about insurance and how you have to have insurance in this business if you want to survive. It also talked all about having security guards and about putting up the proper warning signage across the rink to help give patrons the feeling of security while they’re inside the skating rink. It also talked about keeping the outside of the skating rink litter free and safe as well so that patrons felt safe to park their car there and to skate at the rink.

Jeff Stone: 09:04 Chapter 11 talked all about vending machines and lockers and video games and other non-skating attractions that can make the rink money. I know at the skating rink that I frequent, they also have, you know a giant jungle gym that kids can play on, as well as, they rent out skate mates. Obviously all of these things are put in place by the rink to try to make more money and to allow those patrons that may not like to skate to have some fun.

Jeff Stone: 09:31 Chapter 12 was all about music licensing and buying office furniture and facility maintenance and even telephone systems. Though the guide doesn’t discuss it because it was produced in 1995, adding a really nice Internet connection should be on that list, too.

Jeff Stone: 09:50 Chapter 13 talked all about admissions into the skating rink. This is the number one revenue source for any skating rink – which is the admissions they charge for you to get into the rink. It went over details like regular admission price versus discount admission price as well as what you should charge for private parties and large groups.

Jeff Stone: 10:12 Chapter 14 talked all about birthday parties and group parties and private parties and promotions. They even have a section that talks about having costume characters at the rinks to help kids be excited during birthday parties. I know in some of the skating rinks that I’ve attended, I’ve seen costumed characters at the rink before. Nothing like a dude in a duck or a chicken outfit on skates to lighten the mood.

Jeff Stone: 10:37 Chapter 15 talked all about organizing competitive roller skating inside your skating rink. So it started with talking about recreational teaching of new people on how to skate for the first time, all the way to starting an artistic or a hockey or a derby or a speed skating team within your skating rink.

Jeff Stone: 10:59 Finally, last but not least, chapter 16 talked all about trade support and about getting help from other people in the roller skating industry. So it discussed additional resources in the industry, like the Roller Skating Association – also known as the RSA. It talked about USAC and about USARS, the US Roller Sports Association, and even about the roller skating magazines like RinkSider, which is a special magazine made especially for people that are in the roller skating industry.

Jeff Stone: 11:31 So as you can see, I mean that’s 16 chapters, the guide is about 75 pages long there’s a lot to opening up a skating rink. It’s a whole lot more than just building a building and playing some good music and having everybody go out on the skating rink floor and have a good time. It’s a real business and it takes a lot of planning, preparation, and a business plan to get started. And most people don’t have a million plus dollars sitting around. So most people are going to be borrowing money if they decide to open up a skating rink.

Jeff Stone: 12:04 All right, so now that we covered the guide in kind of a higher level of detail, I wanted to dig deep on a few of the items that were in the guide that I think would help you if you’re thinking about opening up a skating rink in your area. So the three areas I want to dig a little bit deeper on are assessing the demographics of the area that you live in, what rink size you should actually build, and then the building itself. I think these three areas are both the most interesting as well as probably the most important areas to focus on when you’re thinking about starting a rink. And again, a lot of this information that I got came from this guide.

Jeff Stone: 12:45 So first, probably the most important question that you should ask yourself when you’re first thinking about opening up a skating rink is whether the area that you want to build the skating rink and can even support one. And so in this area, the guide talks a lot about studying the demographics of your area just as you would with any other small business. You know, if you were opening a Subway or a Starbucks or any other small business out there, you would actually assess the demographics of your area to see if opening up that business in that area made sense.

Jeff Stone: 13:18 Next, the guide gave some estimates around how to determine the demographics of your area based on whether your area is a rural area, suburban or an urban part of town. It talks about how a demographic analysis really needs to be done. So if you’re in an urban area, you would basically be doing a demographic analysis within a one to five mile radius of where you plan to build your skating rink. If you were in a suburban area, that radius would be larger and you could actually go between one and 10 miles. And if you’re in a rural area, then your radius would be between one and 15 miles.

Jeff Stone: 14:00 So if you’re in a rural area, you’d want to have at least about 35,000 people that are within that 15 mile radius. Whereas in an urban area, you’d want to have 100,000 people within that one to five mile radius. Again, these are just estimates and they’re just ballpark figures to kind of get you started in thinking about demographic analysis. It’s by no means the thing that you should use to determine whether or not you should go open a skating rink. In fact, throughout this guide they talk constantly about how you should reach out to a skate distributor or even a roller skating consultant for more information. Yes, just like with any other business, there are roller skating consultants out there that will actually help you build your rink.

Jeff Stone: 14:50 So the closest skating rink to my house is about 30 miles away and it takes me about an hour, 45 minutes to an hour to get there going one way. So not too bad, as I know I’ve heard a lot of people out there who are driving, you know, 50 miles or even a 100 miles or more to get to their nearest rink. And, I’m no skate consultant, but I think if you’re in an area and there’s not a skating rink within a 100 miles of you, then you’re probably okay with opening a rink in your area. There’s no other competition. Just saying competition is probably going to be pretty low in an area that doesn’t have a skating rink within a 100 miles of it. For someone like me, we have our closest skating rink about 30 miles away and within about a 30 mile radius, there’s three or four other skating rinks. Now they’re not as nice as the main one that I go to, Playland Skate Center, however, there’s still skating rinks and there’s still frequented by a lot of people in this area.

Jeff Stone: 15:49 Next, let’s talk about rink size. You know, a very small rink would be around 10,000 to 12,000 square feet. I know that sounds like a lot of space, but it really isn’t. You know, especially with a skate floor, a snack bar, skate counter, an office, a Dj stand, and then side floor seating on top of that space gets eaten up pretty quick. And you notice, I didn’t even mention video games or vending machines and all the other areas within some skating rinks that exist today. A larger rink would be on the size of 25,000 square feet or more. You know, I should mention in these estimates that were just talking about the building itself. You typically want to have at least double that space for all the parking that you’re going to need as well for your rink.

Jeff Stone: 16:36 That means if you’re building a 25,000 square foot rink, that’s just over a half acre, you’re going to need another half acre just for parking. Unless you plan to tell everybody that they have to take Lyft or Uber to get to your rink. Or maybe you’re going to tell people that they have to roller skate to your rink to actually skate at your rink. If you’re going with a very small rink, you may be able to get away with putting the rink and the parking lot on a half acre, but it would be tight. Also, the guide discusses that you could easily spend 15 to 20% of your total investment just in land cost.

Jeff Stone: 17:11 Now, some of you out there may be thinking, yeah, but I could lease the land or I could lease the building. However, the downside there is that you’re now paying rent and that rent payment is never going to go away. At least with a loan, you’ll eventually own your land and the building. Plus you don’t have to deal with the fear of your rent payments going up. At least with a loan, you’ll eventually own your land and the building, increasing your profits in the long run.

Jeff Stone: 17:39 For those of you really thinking about this, there’s the Small Business Administration, the SBA, and other financial institutions that you can talk to about opening up a rink. You know you’re going to need a full business plan if you decide to go this route to get funding. I actually found a sample roller skating rink business plan online. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes for those of you who are interested.

Jeff Stone: 18:03 Finally, let’s talk about the building. The actual roller skating rink itself. The guide recommends that you build or buy to own. It talks about how leasing property and/or the building is just a bad idea, especially as rents go up traditionally. It also says that most rink owners own their land and building something that I didn’t know. And it did talk a little bit about converting existing buildings into roller skating rinks. You know you can save money by buying an old grocery store or a discount store and then renovating that into a roller skating rink. However, it did caution that you do need to remember that many of those facilities are going to need a major overhaul to be turned into a rink. Some of those buildings have load bearing poles that are right in the middle of the store and a lot of times those can’t be removed easily. So the guide really recommends that you go towards building your own.

Jeff Stone: 18:54 If you are building your own rink, the guide recommends using hard, durable materials. Using concrete blocks for both the outside and inside walls, at least on the lower part of the building. Wood is a bad choice for the lower parts inside walls because skaters sometimes crash into those walls. And with all that crashing into walls, they can do a lot of damage to the rink. So this is the reason why they recommend putting concrete blocks both inside, as well as, outside the skating rink.

Jeff Stone: 19:23 Okay, so enough about the guide. Let’s talk about some other resources that are out there for starting a skating rink. As I said at the beginning of the show, there’s easily days’ worth of material for starting a skating rink out there. Certainly a whole lot more than you could digest in one podcast episode. So if you’re one of those aspiring entrepreneurs out there that wants to start your own rink, where do you start? Well, first I’d look at how many skating rinks you have in your area. Then I’d look at the demographics and see if another rink can be supported where you want to build it

Jeff Stone: 19:55 Next, there are some great resources out there even if they are 20-25 years old in some cases. The Roller Skating Business Resource Manual is where I got information for today’s show. It’s a small 75 page magazine sold by a roller skating distributor. I’ll include a link to it in the show notes if you’re interested in it. You can’t order this on Amazon or download it to your Kindle. You know you’re going to have to actually email the distributor and ask them to send you a copy. It’s $50 plus shipping costs.

Jeff Stone: 20:25 During my research, I also found a few articles on starting a roller skating rink online. They’re nowhere near as good as the guide that I have, but it is additional information. And as I mentioned before, there’s also one sample roller skating rink business plan that I found, too. I’ll put a link to all of those in the show notes.

Jeff Stone: 20:43 Finally, for those of you who are really serious about opening a rink, you definitely want to get in touch with the Roller Skating Association International or RSA. The RSA is the home base organization for all roller skating rink owners. I’m actually working right now to get someone from that organization on a future episode so we can dive into these topics in a whole lot more detail.

Jeff Stone: 21:07 The RSA has a Starting a Business page that talks all about the benefits you’ll get if you become a RSA member. Membership is $460 so it’s not cheap, but it does come with a bunch of benefits. Namely the 500 page RSA industry guide. This guide was written by the association to help potential owners open a rink. Their site says that this book covers everything about opening a rink, including: the scope of the industry, anticipated income, cost of operation, construction costs, how to rehabilitate an existing building, how to get insurance, how to assess the market that you’re in, how to choose the correct site for your rink, how to obtain financing, how to design your skate center and a whole lot more. If you’re looking to spend over a million dollars to build a skating rink, then I guess $460 is really a bargain.

Jeff Stone: 22:05 All right. I know that was a lot to cover and I feel like we just barely skimmed the surface on that topic. We’ll definitely have more shows in the future on this. As I said before, I’ve only ever worked at a rink. I’ve never actually owned one before, so my knowledge in these areas is still really new. You know, with that said, I had a few of you reach out to me on this topic and so I thought I’d share what I already knew about the subject and tell you that we’re going to be looking more and more for other guests who can come onto the show and share their knowledge, too.

Jeff Stone: 22:36 All right, everybody, that’s another episode in the books. And today’s show dovetails nicely into next week’s episode. Next week I’m going to be talking to Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown, the directors of a new HBO documentary that airs on February 18th called United Skates. The show for next week will actually be airing on Monday, February 18th instead of on our typical Thursday. This is so that we can actually interview the directors and have them on the show before their documentary airs on HBO at 8:00 PM Eastern on the 18th.

Jeff Stone: 23:15 The reason why today’s show actually dovetails nicely into next week’s show is that Dyana and Tina’s documentary is all about how roller skating rinks have been closing across the United States. And how that closure of roller skating rinks is affecting those communities where they’re closing. In the documentary, the director’s follow a series of African American families who are traveling sometimes hundreds of miles to continue skating. So as I said, the next episode is going to air on February 18th and the documentary also airs on that same evening on HBO.

Jeff Stone: 23:52 And so to join in the fun, I thought we could have our own watch party. If you have HBO, be sure to watch the show on February 18th at 8:00 PM eastern on HBO and take a picture of yourself and post it on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and use the hashtag #UnitedSkatesDoc “d-o-c”. We don’t get many roller skating movies and even less documentaries on the sport. So I’m excited to see the show and to have Dyana and Tina on the podcast. If you want more information on the United Skates Documentary Watch party, be sure to check out your Roller Skate Dad Club email or you can check out Facebook or Twitter for more information.

Jeff Stone: 24:36 As always, if you want to get more information about this episode, episode number nine you can check out the show notes. The show notes are a great place to get a transcript of this episode as well as get any links that I talked about during this show. To get to the show notes, go to RollerSkateDad.com/9.

Jeff Stone: 24:57 And if you’ve been listening and following the show for these last nine episodes and you haven’t rated or reviewed the Roller Skate Dad podcast on your favorite podcasting platform, what are you waiting for? Rating and reviewing the show is a great way to help me and help the podcast broaden its reach and get out there to more and more skaters. So rate and review the Roller Skate Dad podcast today and thank you.

Jeff Stone: 25:24 Lastly, if you haven’t joined the Roller Skate Dad Club, you’re going to want to join. Sign up is free and easy. All you need is your name and your email address and you’re in. The Roller Skate Dad Club is a great way to stay in touch with me and with the show. I send out a weekly email newsletter that talks all about what’s going on with the Roller Skate Dad website and podcast and you also get early access into every monthly contest that I run giving away free roller skating gear. So if you haven’t signed up yet, head on over to RollerSkateDad.com and join the skate club now.

Jeff Stone: 26:02 All right everybody, that’s another episode in the books. I want to thank you guys so much for being here. So, until the next time, get on out there and skate.

Announcer: 26:12 Thank you for listening to the Roller Skate Dad podcast at www.rollerskatedad.com. If you liked what you heard today, please be sure to subscribe, rate, and review the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you’re listening.

Wrapping Up

Thanks again for rollin’ by. If you have a question about the podcast or just want to leave me a note, please comment below.

I hope you will join me every week for a new episode of The Roller Skate Dad podcast.

Please subscribe to the podcast on whichever podcasting platform you listen on. And, don’t forget to join the Roller Skate Dad Club. You can do that easily with just your first name and email address from any page on this website.

Did you like what you heard? Do you want to hear more? Check out these additional episodes:

Until the next episode, get on out there and skate!

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4 thoughts on “Starting a Roller Skating Rink – 009”

  1. I was the facilitator and editor of the Roller Skating Resource Manual (The Manual). I Presently own and operate Roll-on Floor Systems. My family has owned up to 6 rinks in California. My mother and father are in the roller skating teachers Hall Of Fame (Joe and Irene Nazzaro). My father, brother and myself were leading wholesale suppliers to hundreds of skating rinks in the west and southwestern United States, I introduced roller skating centers to impulse novelty sales and later, redemption prizes through a company called Rebecca’s. My father and I are separate recipients of Lifetime Achievement Awards from The Roller Skating Association. Is there anything I can do to help you.?

    • Hi Joe! Thanks so much for rollin’ by and drop me this comment. I will reach out to you directly. I definitely would love to chat with you more about this (and other) topics.

  2. Sigh. I live in London, Ontario, Canada. We roller skate at a community centre 3 times a week here, & are darn glad to have it, because roller skating in Ontario took a beating in the late 80’s when businessmen realised they could make more money from bingo, & in less than a year the bulk of the 30+ rinks in our province were converted to bingo halls. It has never really recovered since. There is only 1 full time roller rink left, in Mississauga, and 2 other places that don’t look like roller rinks (a dry ice rink & a community centre) where that’s all they do. We occasionally drive 90 minutes+ & cross the border into Michigan to enjoy the many fantastic rinks there.
    I’m tired of skating in dry ice rinks & community centres. I wish a full blown roller rink would open here, where we could have more skating, & where there could be lessons, figure, speed, & dance skating, roller derby & hockey. I & others, including a previous rink owner, have been trying to make it happen for years, but the cost is so high that it just hasn’t been possible. The only way I can see this happening is if an American chain (like United Skates’) would come here, we win the lottery, or an eccentric multi-millionaire comes along.
    There. I’m done whining. For now

    • Thanks for rolling by, Craig. I hold out hope that we will see a resurgence of skating rinks across the US and into Canada. I am very fortunate to have a 1970s rink in my area that is going strong. They can make a profit, just like any other business, if they are marketed, run correctly and you are in a good location. I wish you the best of luck in finding a good place to skate. We certainly need more rinks.

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