Feature Article - July 2007
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Skating Into the Black

Solid strategies to build revenue

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Party Power

Over the past four years, the San Diego Ice Arena, a private indoor ice-skating facility in Southern California, has carved out a niche as the ultimate birthday party location. And it's not just that they love a festive atmosphere. They've found that creating a fantastic party experience can open the door to attracting new skaters.

"If a child chooses to have a birthday party in our facility, that automatically brings in 10 other families I had no other chance to bring in," explained Gaston Larios, the rink's general manager. "It's a 'forced participation' program," he added with a laugh. "I'm a parent myself, and I get forced to go to the wackiest places on earth that I would never go to, except that my children have been invited."

But getting these children and their families through the door is not enough. The San Diego Ice Arena's goal is to provide an "amazing, remarkable" experience so that word-of-mouth from satisfied customers will help attract more business.

"It's not about spending advertising money," Larios said. "It's about spending money on the experience. We concentrate on training employees and making this a fun place to work," Employees having a good time are more likely to promote that experience among facility guests.

The birthday party package offered at the ice arena is all-inclusive—from cake and pizza to goodie bags to a "skate hero," which is a combination rink guard and playmate who spends the entire party dedicated to the birthday child and his or her guests. "They're responsible for taking control in a fun way," Larios said. The skate hero helps kids get their skates on, gives them skating lessons and leads games on the ice, all the while making the birthday boy or girl feel like a superstar.

Rather than just skating in a circle, birthday parties play games with the rink's mascot, enjoy an activity with a giant parachute, see how low they can go with the limbo, and do the chicken dance or cha-cha slide.

"Most kids have done these things before in another place, but now they're on the ice," Larios said. "Most kids [at birthday parties] are first-timers, so they feel better just standing on the ice participating [in a game] than trying to skate. When we play games we start seeing that kids stay longer on the ice, and the longer they stay, the more comfortable they feel. They're actually skating by the end of the party," he noted. "That's when we're successful and have a chance to hook a child into skating."

If the party goes well, Larios can expect three to five of the participating families to return to the rink and perhaps sign their children up for skating lessons. "From there they may go into figure skating or hockey," Larios said. "Then we have a customer for 10 to 15 years."

For more information, visit www.sdice.com.