From the Septmeber/October issue of the Rinksider:

Community involvement helps your rink in myriad ways

By Catherine Bennett

Every roller skating rink has a reputation. Some are known for being the old-school joint that looks the same way it did 50 years ago. Others are known for their memorable birthday parties and fundraisers. Many more are known for their modern technology and décor.

But how does a rink business gain the ideal reputation? The answers are endless. However, there is one obvious answer that may outweigh the rest: get involved in the community. By doing this, a rink business not only reaches thousands of potential customers that they wouldn’t have otherwise, they have the opportunity to market their business and share their company values.

“Rink owners that don’t make community involvement their first priority are missing the boat,” said Brian Cherry, managing partner at United Skates in Seaford, N. Y. “Our rink is fortunate. We’ve been a mainstay here for 56 years. And because of this, we are an important part of the community. We have to be involved. Our reputation is always on the line, so I take great pride in staying involved.”

United Skates hosts discounted skating sessions and events for numerous local and national non-profit organizations. This sort of involvement lets everyone in the community know what United Skates’ mission is, and draws in hundreds of families and social groups from all over the region.

Every month a local organization that supports foster children comes into the rink to celebrate the children whose birthday lands in that particular month, Cherry said. He and other United Skates staff involve grocery stores and other local businesses to gather donations for the birthday event, and the non-profit pays a discounted rate. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America holds a similar event where they receive a lunch buffet, arts and crafts stations and other additions to the expected skating activity, at a discounted rate.

And don’t forget the most important organizations United Skates works with—the 33 local elementary and middle schools. It’s important to have a close relationship with schools’ Parent Teacher Associations, Cherry said, because “the PTA needs us as much as we need them.”

United Skates hosts dozens of school fundraisers each year, giving a fraction of admissions back to the schools on their scheduled fundraising nights. By hosting these fundraisers, Cherry said his rink is captivating a family for at least two hours and promoting family unity.

Chris Maganias, owner of Astro Skate and Fun Centers in Pinellas Park, Tarpon Springs and Bradenton, Fla., is well-known at almost every school in his demographic of about one million people. He makes it a point to take principals, school security officers, cafeteria workers and PTA presidents out to lunch on him, he said.

“If the principals of local schools don’t know you by name, you have a problem,” Maganias said.

Astro Skate sponsors an award ceremony lunch for school security officers as one way of getting the business name into the public. Maganias said he fills his days thinking of new ways to get out in the community, and then he follows through with his ideas. His job is to sustain a successful business, not push a shopping cart and purchase items for the snack bar. There isn’t time for that, he said, and he advises any owners who spend more time thinking about housekeeping items than ways to improve their business need to change their perspectives.

“Not everything is going to work, but you have to keep trying,” Maganias said. “If you stay at home thinking about how business sucks, well, that’s your problem right there. Get out there and try something.”

Astro Skate sports a few eye-catching pink buses around town that are also a staple in 8-10 annual parades. Maganias said people get excited knowing the bus is coming because they often have roller skaters dancing and doing tricks while others throw candy from the buses. Events like this get people interested enough to learn more about what a business has to offer.

“If there are 80,000 people in a parade, when they see the bus with the music booming and 30-40 kids that they know throwing out key chains, it’s exciting,” Maganias said. “We are the big attraction of those parades. Anything having to do with kids, we need to be in the spotlight.

Like Astro Skate, Classic Skating and Fun Center in Sandy, Utah, is a staple in 10 or more city parades in the Salt Lake Valley each year, said Halie Pellegrino, a Classic Skating manager. The center’s jam skaters have a chance to show off their moves while getting thousands of parade watchers excited about Classic Skating. The youth in the area don’t have to attend a parade to see what these jam skaters can do because often times the jam skaters come to them, performing in dozens of school assemblies every year.

“We have a lot of places to compete with, so we need to be in people’s faces quite a bit,” Pellegrino said. “We need to keep up with everyone else and let people know we are here.”

Classic Skating takes their relationships with schools seriously, even offering a tutoring program to kids who come to the rink for jam skating and other activities. Pellegrino said that because Classic Skating is a family-owned business, its management values supporting families and their success.

“Get some nice clothes—a shirt, a tie—and go out there,” Maganias said. “Look people in the eye and say, ‘What’s up.’ Rinks are big in their communities, but most of them don’t know it. When you realize how high your profile is you need to step up and do something to define yourself in the community. This will keep people coming through your doors.”

As a rink owner, Maganias said there is nothing more rewarding than having someone tell him that their family has been skating at his rink for decades. Being in the roller skating business may not make an individual rich, he said, but it’s the realization that his business has helped families and communities make memories that is the real prize.