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Guest Column - November 2005

Securing Supervision

Skateparks

By Aaron Spohn


I have been designing and building skateparks for more than 15 years, but I have been a skater for many more. Really, my business, skatepark manufacturing, grew out of necessity—necessity for bigger, better things to skate. Like many business owners, my business is really just an extension of my life, and I never really thought of it as a business but more as a way to do things the way I wanted them done, the way I thought was right. But after all these years of building vert ramps and the like, I realize being a successful businessman means looking to the future. In order to provide better services and better parks for the kids, we've looked toward a process of vertical integration within our business.

For companies like McDonald's, vertical integration might mean not just making fries but also growing potatoes. For McDonald's, this makes sense. Well, I don't know anything about growing potatoes. What I do know about, however, is skateparks. And vertically integrating in my business means getting involved not only in the designing and building of skateparks but also in the day-to-day functions of them. It was with this idea and the goal of providing a truly turnkey service that prompted me to get involved with a skatepark supervision company.

From a manufacturer's standpoint, there are many benefits of a partnership with skatepark supervision. Many times, so much energy is put into the funding, design and build of a skatepark that frequently key players in the game forget about planning for the day-to-day operation. A skatepark is not a playground—namely, while playground play is overseen most often by parents and guardians, a skatepark is a different animal—with older kids using the facility, skaters often are left unattended in a potentially more hazardous area. While a lot of care and effort goes into making skateparks safe, proper management is a crucial component in maintaining safety standards and equipment. Further, a continuing involvement with skateparks post-construction connects us to the communities that we're improving, which also keeps us in better contact with the end-user—helping us to stay ahead of the learning curve of trends, wish lists and developments in the skateboarding culture.

From a community perspective, the use of a skatepark supervision company also offers many advantages. Namely, contracting with a supervision firm takes the burden of operation, safety and security, and liability out of the community's hands. A professional supervision firm should be well-versed in scheduling sessions for all levels of athleticism and ability and should be able to set appropriate hours of operation, as well as managing knowledgeable staff. A good supervision firm is familiar with the skatepark industry and manufacturing practices and also should be able to perform minor repairs, as well as identify larger potential hazards. Additionally, with contracted supervision, security for skaters and the equipment is not left up to the community. This cuts down on accidents, graffiti and other destructive behavior. Further, some firms offer "parental control" measures that include Web cams (so parents can observe the park in real time from their home computers) and databases with skater information and waivers on file. And because most supervision companies hold general comprehensive liability insurance, the firm serves as an extra layer of protection for the community if something should go wrong.

Often, communities feel that the cost of contracting out for skatepark supervision is too prohibitive, however, in many instances, this is not the case. While some supervision does operate on full community subsidy, there are frequently other options that make a supervision firm cost-effective, and sometimes, even revenue-generating for the community it serves. How? Since it is in the best interests of management companies to yield funds, they are often experts in increasing traffic (for parks that charge admission); running a profitable pro shop/snack bar; adding services such as special events, clinics, and after-school programs; organizing corporate sponsorships; and managing park private rentals. With these features, many skatepark supervision companies (especially those operating in large, dense communities) can operate self-sufficiently and sometimes even in the black. If an appropriate contract is written in the beginning, a community also can benefit financially from the success of its privately run skatepark.

The best time to think about hiring outside supervision is in the planning stages of building a skatepark, since there are many factors that should be considered that would increase the revenue of the facility and make it easier to be managed privately.

Here are just a few:

PRO SHOP: One of the main revenue-generating features of an outside supervision company is a pro shop that offers retail sales of skate equipment and clothing, as well as a snack bar and visitor's lounge.

FLOOD AND SECURITY LIGHTS: Longer hours and increased safety for skaters and employees are big concerns for skatepark management firms. With the inclusion of these features, both can be enhanced.

FENCES AND SIGNAGE: Especially if you and your management company decide to charge admission to the park, proper barriers and signage are crucial.

PARKING AND ACCESS: Parks that are fully public and non-revenue-generating often do not require as much parking or access than parks that are supervised privately. A skatepark management firm will be able to discuss these needs with your community in order to plan accordingly.

The choice to build a skatepark and who should supervise it really should be about the kids and the benefit to the community. I have found that as a manufacturer, private supervision often only maximizes this. An appropriate supervision firm really helps to showcase skateboarding, inline skating, BMX and motocross in communities, allowing kids that aren't involved in traditional school sports a place to shine—and not only in the skatepark. With many firms offering after-school programs and mentoring, as well as traditional operations, these kids sometimes even are offered school credit for participating in clinics—yet another way the skatepark becomes a more active part of the locality it serves. In other words, a skatepark supervision company can make a skatepark a place for safe public recreation instead of just, well, a skatepark. I truly believe that this type of incorporation is the future of the industry—a seamless melding of designing, building and managing—that keeps everyone's interests in mind at every step of the process, making it a win-win-win situation for the manufacturer, the management firm and the community. All in all, vertical integration makes it sound like I'm expanding. But really, I've just come full circle—back from being such a businessman, back to the community and back to skating.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Spohn is president of Spohn Ranch, Inc. For more information, visit www.spohnranch.com.


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