Feature Article - July 2007
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Skating Into the Black

Solid strategies to build revenue

By Jessica Royer Ocken

his is a difficult industry,” said Tom Hillgrove, president of Rink Management Services Corp. in Mechanicsville, Va., about running an ice arena. "There's lots of seasonality, and a historically low margin of profit. That's a struggle."

He estimates that most rinks bring in 70 percent of their annual revenue between September and March. Peter Martell, executive director of the Ice Skating Institute in Dallas, Texas, agrees.

"I've been in this business 30 years, and [finances] are always a problem. Ice skating facilities are not cheap to build, and they're not cheap to operate," he said. "Consequently it takes a tremendous amount of revenue to be self-sustaining, much less profitable."

So if you find your facility on a bit of thin ice (sorry...), you should know you're not alone. And not only have experts like Hillgrove and Martell determined what's difficult about running an ice arena, they've identified some strategies for success. If you need more revenue, at the most basic level, you need more skaters on the ice—and you need the right kind of skaters on the ice.

An ice arena's mission should be "to create and train skaters," Hillgrove said, and to that end, Rink Management taught 900,000 skating lessons last year at their facilities around the country.

"Set up your programs and schedules at convenient, logical times," he said.

But even this is not the end of the line. "When people come in to try your product, you've got to deliver," he said. This could be a person coming in on an impulse for public skating, a birthday party, a school field trip or some other activity.

"We've got to hook them there on the fact that—hey, this is fun! 'I came here and had a blast, and I want to come back again,'" Martell said. "If you can get them back two or three times, you can hook them on the idea of signing up to take classes and learning to do things properly."

Because classes are where things really begin.