Small Business Marketing Lessons from a Closed Skating Rink

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Roller skating rinks are part of the childhood memories of generations of Americans – maybe you had your first date at a roller rink, or used to have birthday parties at a skating rink while you were growing up. But in recent years, according to the Chicago Tribune, many roller skating rinks in the Chicago area have been going out of business. There are several small business management and marketing strategy lessons to be learned from the story of a closed skating rink.

Manage Your Costs of Doing Business

According to the Tribune article, one reason why skating rinks are going out of business is that property taxes have kept going up each year at an unsustainable pace. Even though a company might have been in business for decades, its fixed costs keep going up – but revenues might not keep pace. Make sure that before you start or expand a business, you understand the total picture of the costs of doing business – including wages, facility costs, property taxes, and more. Business should not be a labor of love; you’re doing this for the money, of course! So make sure your company is set up to comfortably cover your costs and deliver a solid profit margin, and make sure your business has adequate property/casualty insurance to help recover from disasters or unexpected damage to the building.

Diversify Your Revenue Streams

One of the limitations of a skating rink is that it only makes money by charging people admission. With all the other options out there nowadays for people’s entertainment dollar, lots of people don’t want to pay more than $6 or $7 for an afternoon of skating. If I were advising a skating rink on how to improve their sales, I would recommend that they look for ways to diversify their revenues beyond daily admissions fees. For example: Build relationships with schools, churches and community organizations to rent out the rink for group outings; organize roller hockey or roller derby or competitive speed skating leagues to generate ongoing revenue; get creative with special events like “Date Nights” for adults.

Instead of relying on hundreds of tiny transactions of $7 each, look for ways to book fewer big-ticket transactions that can reliably support your bottom line.

Offer Premium Experiences to Your Best Customers

Not all customers are the same, and you shouldn’t treat all of your customers the same – some customers are much more valuable to your business because of how much they spend and who they can introduce to your business. But many skating rinks (just like movie theaters) still rely on a business model where every customer gets the same treatment for the same admission fee. Why not get creative and offer some premium experiences?

Instead of relying on lots of casual customers, offer memberships or subscriptions or “sponsorships” where your best customers can support your business by spending some extra money. Introduce some better quality items at the concession stand – healthier snacks or organic foods that you can charge extra for; lots of parents will happily spend more money on healthier snacks for their kids, instead of the usual junk food. Offer a limited selection of really nice rental skates that cost a few dollars more than the rest. Some people are willing to pay more for a better experience, and this will help your business do better too!

Brick and Mortar Businesses Face Added Risks

One of the risks of a skating rink or any other brick-and-mortar business is that they rely on foot traffic and in-person transactions: your rink doesn’t make money unless people come to your location at a certain time of day. In the age of the Internet and eCommerce, this is a big risk! Just the fact that you have a location-dependent brick and mortar business means that you’re missing out on the opportunities of online sales, and every minute that your skating rink is sitting empty or underutilized, it’s just costing you money.

Even if you run a big, immobile, location-dependent business like a skating rink, there are ways to be more of an “online business.” For example: use social media to share videos of people having fun at the rink, or share amazing viral videos of people doing skating tricks; keep reminding people at home why they should come out to have a good time at your business. You can sell T-shirts and skates and other merchandise online from your website; become known as a source of high-quality roller skating gear in your community, and sell fun souvenirs to your fans.

Even if you’re in a struggling, declining industry, there are still new things you can try and new strategies to pursue to keep your business afloat. It’s sad to see places like a beloved skating rink go out of business; sometimes it’s inevitable and a business just needs to close. But don’t give up too soon – with the right strategies and passion for your business, you can keep going even in a tough business climate.

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