How to Open a Skate Rink in 14 Steps (In-Depth Guide)

Updated: January 11, 2024

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Roller rinks are on the rise, with a projected compound annual growth rate of 3.2% between now and 2031. Skate rinks remain popular venues for recreation, parties, and competitive sporting events. Though roller skating’s heyday stretched from the 1970s through the 1990s, recent years have seen renewed interest in the nostalgic pastime.

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Indoor skating centers boast year-round operation, weathering even the most frigid winters and scorching summers. Successfully launching your skate center hinges on factors like real estate, customer segmentation, technology integration, and risk management.

This guide will walk you through how to open a skating rink. Topics include market research, competitive analysis, sourcing equipment, opening a business bank account, forming an LLC, obtaining business insurance, and more.

1. Conduct Skate Rink Market Research

Market research is important when looking into roller skating rinks. It offers insight into your target market, specialty services like skating lessons, and local market saturation.

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Some details you’ll learn through your own roller skating rink business market research include:

  • Approximately 1,500 skating rinks are operating across the country.
  • Real estate needs include 10,000 square feet with 18-20 foot ceiling height on a one-acre commercial lot. Zoning codes must allow public assembly/retail.
  • Popular locations are near shopping centers, within metro suburbs, or along major highways for visibility.
  • Common business models bifurcate into recreational and competitive/sport focuses.
  • Family entertainment centers offer public skate sessions, concessions, arcade games, birthday parties, and themed events to drive volume traffic.
  • Sport-centric facilities prioritize hockey leagues, figure skating instruction, speed skating ovals, etcetera.
  • Hybrid models blending both approaches maximize revenue generation.
  • The industry remains fragmented, with many small business owners nearing retirement age in the next decade.
  • Necessary investment runs $2-$5 million including real estate acquisition, facility construction costs, equipment like skate rental fleet/pro shop inventory, plus operating expenses until cash flow stabilizes.

In summary, while risks exist from rising land values, utilities, and insurance, the skating business compares favorably to other entertainment options like movie theaters, bowling alleys, or trampoline parks.

2. Analyze the Competition

Skate rink operators should thoroughly analyze their competition during the planning and ongoing operations.

Key assessments include:

  • Geographic proximity – Map the nearest rinks within a 20-mile radius. Estimate drive time accessibility catching the most area households. Adjust projections if significantly overlap.
  • Facility details – Compare sizes, skater capacities, and amenities like snack bars, game arcades, and skate shops. Visit incognito as a mystery shopper to evaluate conditions, cleanliness, and service quality.
  • Business model differences – Determine recreational vs competitive focuses. Break down participation rates for open skate sessions, hockey leagues, and lessons. Group by age segments served.
  • Pricing analysis – Research and compile current admission, rental, membership, and party room rates. Uncover seasonal adjustments or bundling strategies. Identify best value positioning opportunities.
  • Customer satisfaction – Search online reviews on Google, Facebook, and Yelp highlighting subjective commentary. Pay attention to staffing, program, or facility complaints.
  • Website and social media activity – Check Google search visibility rankings for relevant industry keywords. Benchmark website traffic using SimilarWeb. Compare social media follower counts, and engagement levels.

Ongoing competitive analysis helps skate center owners react to local threats, and exploit competitor weaknesses. Customization and specialization provide differentiation as niche community assets.

3. Costs to Start a Skate Rink Business

The upfront investment required to launch a skating facility ranges widely from $2 million to over $5 million including real estate acquisition, construction/renovation, equipment purchases, initial payroll, marketing, opening inventories, and working capital reserves until daily revenue covers recurring expenses.

Start-up Costs

  • Purchasing land & existing building ($750k – $2 million+)
  • New construction approx $200 – $300 per sq ft ($2 million+ for 10,000 sq ft)
  • Offices, lobby/box area, snack bar, party rooms, restrooms ($350k+)
  • Sprung floor system install ($400k)
  • Rink boards/glass, sound system, lighting ($250k+)
  • HVAC system & dehumidifiers ($350k+)
  • Decor, furnishings, point of sale setup ($150k+)
  • 400-600 Skates in various sizes ($60k – $100k)
  • Skate sharpener, dolly carts ($20k)
  • Zamboni ice resurfacer ($75k+)
  • First aid, cleaning equipment ($10k
  • Incorporation fees ($500)
  • Accounting software, computer setup ($5k)
  • Payroll for staff 3 months out ($60k)
  • Insurance policy downpayments ($40k)
  • Marketing materials and advertising ($30k+)
  • 2 months working capital reserve ($200k+)

Ongoing Costs

Ongoing operational budgets stabilize once a consistent customer base is established. Monthly fixed costs average $60k – $150k depending greatly on payroll size, debt payments associated with facility loans plus utilities which fluctuate by climate/season.

Variable costs tied to sales volumes include:

  • Cost of goods sold – concession supplies & pro shop inventory averaging 25% of related receipts
  • Credit card processing fees around 2.5% of sales
  • Staffing incentives/bonuses at 5-10% of payroll
  • Ongoing marketing costs at 2-4% of revenue
  • Repair & maintenance estimated at 1% of building value
  • Insurance premiums – General liability ($15k+) plus property coverage
  • Income/payroll tax payments
  • Zamboni, floor resurfacing every 1-5 years ($100k+)
  • Computer and AV equipment upgrades ($10k)
  • Furnishings replacement reserve ($25k)

With diligent operational controls and effective customer acquisition and retention programs, successful skate centers generate over $1 million in annual gross revenues, supporting strong profit margins of around 15-20% on average.

4. Form a Legal Business Entity

To start a roller skating business, you must form a legal business entity. There are four main options for forming an entity in the United States. Let’s break these down and see which best fits a roller rink.

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Sole Proprietorship

Sole proprietorships offer the easiest setup with no formal registration requirements beyond standard business licenses. Income and losses pass directly to the individual owner’s tax return. However, this exposes personal assets to any rink lawsuits or debts.

Partnership

General partnerships enable multiple owners to combine resources and split profits. A written agreement governs rights and responsibilities. All partners remain jointly liable for business obligations, amplified risk compared to sole proprietors.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

Forming a limited liability company (LLC) better shields personal assets like houses or investment accounts. Simply file articles of organization and operating agreement in the state where located. Costs roughly $100+ depending on location. LLCs limit potential court judgments to business assets only for acts of the company or employees.

Corporation

C-corporations require the most complex formation process involving articles of incorporation, stocks issued to shareholders, annual meetings, and separate business tax returns. Owners enjoy limited liability like LLC members. Disadvantages include double taxation of profits and lots of paperwork.

5. Register Your Business For Taxes

Opening a skating rink legally requires registering for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This unique nine-digit number identifies your business for tax and reporting purposes at both federal and state levels.

Here is the step-by-step process to apply online:

  1. Gather your personal information including name, Social Security Number, address, and phone number. Also, prepare your LLC or corporate documents if already formed. Then go to IRS.gov EIN Assistant.
  2. Answer a short eligibility questionnaire. When validated, select the type of legal entity you have like LLC or Sole Proprietor. Specify the reason for applying to Start New Business.
  3. Enter basic data about the skating rink including legal name, address, county, and responsible party. Specify the Start Date or when you expect to open for business.
  4. Carefully review all entries for accuracy before submitting. Print confirmation containing your new EIN for permanent records.

The entire online application takes less than 15 minutes and instantly assigns your number. Save confirmation to also show banks or other financial institutions.

6. Setup Your Accounting

Operating a skating rink generates extensive financial paperwork tied to daily admissions and concession sales, vendor invoices, payroll, insurance bills, and financing statements. Proper accounting right from the start helps track income/expenses.

Accounting Software

Implementing small business accounting software like QuickBooks greatly simplifies managing cash flow and generating key financial reports. Integrations with bank/credit card accounts facilitate transaction imports rather than manual data entry. User permissions allow secure access for both owners and bookkeepers. Plans start around $25/month.

Hire an Accountant

Hiring an experienced accountant remains highly recommended to set up your ledger and teach you the software. Expect to invest $100 – $150 per month for ongoing bookkeeping assistance including reconciling bank/credit card accounts, recording payroll, producing profit/loss statements, and sales tax filings.

Open a Business Bank Account

Always maintain separate business bank accounts and credit cards solely for skate rink operating activity. Personal household expenses should never come with company finances. Employer identification numbers from the IRS and your state department of revenue connect required tax payments to the proper legal entity.

Apply for a Business Credit Card

Applying for a small business credit card allows you to earn points/miles on large purchases like equipment, vendor supplies, and maintenance bills. Issuers evaluate company revenue, time in business, and owner credit scores to set approval limits, typically $5,000+ to start. Apply with EIN and income documentation.

7. Obtain Licenses and Permits

Opening and operating a skating rink requires securing various licenses and permits beforehand. Find federal license information through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA also offers a local search tool for state and city requirements.

Common skate center permits cover facility construction, occupancy loads, snack bar kitchen equipment plus fire and safety systems. Building permits ensure that approved engineering plans adhere to commercial structural codes. Expect fees around $8,000.

Submit detailed floorplans highlighting emergency exit routes, extinguisher placement, and maximum skater capacity to Fire Marshalls. Limits often range from 100 to 500 skaters simultaneously across 10,000 square feet.

Snack bar or restaurant operations also require commercial kitchen equipment installation permits, plus ongoing food handler training certification and adherence to published health codes regarding refrigeration temperatures, ingredient storage procedures, and cleaning protocols.

Finally check specific recreation facility licenses mandated within city, county, or state jurisdictions like skating rink operator certificates costing $50 annually in many regions across America. Staff may need additional age, background, or skills testing documentation depending on where located.

8. Get Business Insurance

Operating a skating rink carries substantial legal liability from customer injuries, employee claims, or property damage. Purchasing tailored insurance helps owners transfer many risks away from the business itself if sued or facing major loss.

Without adequate coverage, a single accident could cripple company finances or worse. Scenarios might include:

  • Slip and fall resulting in head trauma or broken bones, prompting legal action seeking 6 or 7-figure settlement amounts
  • Zamboni malfunction led to carbon monoxide poisoning requiring hospitalization, lost wages, and pain/suffering restitution
  • Burglary/vandalism after hours causing over $100k in flooring destruction, stolen gear plus closure for repairs

Securing protection in advance helps hedge these threats to profitability or survival. Common policies include:

  • General liability insuring against 3rd party bodily injury and property damage claims on-premises or from company operations
  • Professional liability shielding against allegations of improper staff conduct
  • Product liability regarding food poisoning or defective rental skate lawsuits
  • Property insurance covering buildings, equipment, and inventory in case of fire, storms, theft, and more

The best approach is to engage business insurance brokers early when drafting operating budgets and financing terms. Expect detailed questions about operations, staff, security protocols, and more when quoting coverage options. Locking in policies a month before opening day ensures adequate protection.

9. Create an Office Space

Operating a skating rink generates frequent office work from staff scheduling to booking birthday parties, managing rental inventory, purchasing concessions supplies, answering customer questions, and handling daily accounting needs.

Coworking Office

Coworking spaces like WeWork provide shared access to conference rooms, private phone booths, office equipment, kitchens, and networking events for like-minded entrepreneurs across 150+ locations. Memberships average $300 per dedicated desk monthly with private offices up to $900 depending on amenities selected.

Commercial Office

Standalone commercial suites in office plazas or business parks better guarantee consistent privacy and space availability for sales meetings or staff training sessions. Expect to budget $1,000+ per month for 800+ square feet including furnishings, dedicated internet, and parking availability. Multi-year leases and office buildouts factoring $30+ per square foot minimally are common requirements.

On-Site Office

Retail space is a great way to create an on-site office without spending extra or signing more contracts. An office at the rink allows you to keep an eye on operations while maintaining a separate administrative area.

10. Source Your Equipment

Building out a skating rink requires considerable upfront investment in facility construction, floor installation, and equipment purchases before opening the doors. Careful planning helps allocate budgets most efficiently across new, used, or rented gear to balance quality with affordability. Here are some top sources to consider:

Buy New

Buying brand-new professional-grade items from specialty dealers ensures prime condition plus manufacturer warranties, though premium costs strain initial capital outlays. Leading distributors like Riedell and American Athletic offer skate fleets, dasher boards, score clocks, and more customized to suit any space.

Buy Used

Scouring the vibrant second-hand market lets aspiring rink owners save 50% or more by acquiring quality gear at a fraction of retail prices. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist also see occasional Zamboni machines, arcade games, and snack bar equipment available locally.

Rent

Short-term skate/equipment rentals from sites assist with initial opening needs before amassing full inventories. Flexible terms like 6-12 months better match cash flow capabilities in the early stages rather than huge upfront buys. Just expect premium delivery fees and security deposits equal to 30% of rental costs.

Lease

Leasing essential machinery like ice resurfacing and floor installation spreads higher expenses over 3-5 years. Approvals center on business plan strength and owner credit history. Be sure to negotiate fair market end-of-term options whether buying leased gear, returning, or replacing with upgraded models.

11. Establish Your Brand Assets

Crafting a distinctive identity and proactive marketing presence helps emerging centers stand out amid local recreation options vying for consumer spending. Thoughtful branding sets the stage for memorable customer experiences driving referrals and repeat visits.

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Get a Business Phone Number

Acquiring a unique business phone line comes first via providers like RingCentral, enabling a central hub for booking inquiries, customer service, and promoting a professional image. Expect starter plans from $30 monthly including unlimited calls/texts, voicemail, and mobile app integration.

Design a Logo

Design an eye-catching logo encapsulating the rink’s personality or competitive positioning strengths. Consider contracting graphic artists on sites like Looka to workshop creative concepts for under $150. Secure logo rights once finalized.

Design Business Cards

Business cards displaying branding elements plus contact info ensure sales staff and managers can easily network with local partners and community events. 500 basic cards from Vistaprint cost below $30. Bonus: hand these out as discounts bringing friends to first-time public skate sessions.

Buy a Domain Name

Stake naming rights early on via domain registrars like Namecheap. Look for dot com availability matching rink identity and location themes. Expect under $20 first-year registration fees. Redirect to coming soon placeholders until the full website launch.

Design a Website

Self-service site builders like Wix facilitate DIY homepage setup with templates, SEO guidance, and e-commerce functionality for online tickets or merchandise. Those lacking tech skills can hire Fiverr freelancers to custom craft pages showcasing lessons and space.

12. Join Associations and Groups

Beyond competitive analysis, networking with industry peers helps skating rink owners trade insights plus jointly promote events drawing participants from across the region. Local associations, trade events, and online forums facilitate sharing of best practices.

Local Associations

For starters connect with state association chapters uniting dozens of regional centers. Membership fees under $150 annually provide marketing resources, group insurance rates, staff training seminars, and unified lobbying efforts.

Local Meetups

Attend annual RINKS conventions compiling hundreds of proprietors and vendors. Chat with fellow attendees to uncover profitable programming or policy ideas to replicate back home. Smaller meetups happen via sites like Meetup.

Facebook Groups

Participating in niche Facebook communities offers 24/7 access to crowdsourced guidance from thousands nationwide facing common. Floor Recovery challenges daily. For instance:

Pose questions to prompt feedback based on varied experiences managing concessions, hosting birthday parties, or coaching hockey practice drills.

13. How to Market a Skate Rink Business

Implementing targeted promotional initiatives is essential from pre-launch planning through ongoing operations to efficiently fill sessions and keep visitors returning frequently. Simply opening the doors expects failure. Smart digital and traditional channels make broad awareness possible.

Personal Networking

Start with friends/family networks plus existing customer bases from any related past businesses. Offer 25% off admission coupons to incent initial visits and word-of-mouth referrals. Satisfied first-timers often praise finds via Facebook posts and colleague conversations.

Digital Options

  • Launch Google/Facebook paid ads geo-targeting nearby households with kids perfect for lessons or parties
  • Create an Instagram account showcasing facility images and videos of roller games played
  • Claim Google Business profile to manage reviews and visibility in local searches
  • Initiate email collector via check-in tablets to nurture signups with class promos
  • Explore TikTok partnering with influencers to produce viral content

Traditional Ideas

  • Print glossy flyers for placement in area schools, youth centers, and churches to promote public skate times
  • Seek little league hockey sponsorships by attaching rink branding on uniforms, dasher boards
  • Negotiate local radio station endorsements via on-air contests awarding free passes
  • Rent prominent highway billboards between competing rinks highlighting your differentiators
  • Mail postcard teasers to households within a 30-minute drive advising the opening date

While modern platforms offer traceable attribution at scalable rates, classic channels still assist in cementing community presence nearby. Just focus on measurable response channels, iteratively optimizing creative and targeting parameters yielding the strongest conversion levels into sales.

14. Focus on the Customer

Operating a successful skating rink hinges on providing welcoming, enjoyable experiences ensuring visitors return frequently while referring family and friends. Thoughtful customer service facilitates lasting community connections.

Staff should undergo proper hospitality training to resolve issues promptly plus guide first-timers through rental procedures or session signup questions knowledgeably. Well-informed floor guards proactively engage young skaters, suggesting fun games to play while monitoring safe conditions.

Exceeding expectations earns loyalty. Surprise repeat teen groups with free slices from the snack bar occasionally. Comp parent’s admission with private lessons for well-behaved tots mastering basics quickly. Follow up on party bookings with handwritten thank-you notes.

The front desk makes first impressions fielding calls and walk-in inquiries. Greet everyone cheerfully, emphasizing affordability and fun for all ages. Recommend ideal public sessions based on their needs. Process payments/waivers efficiently to start participation quickly.

Caring service quality earns referrals validating community reputation. Visitors share experiences whether good or bad in online reviews plus around neighborhood circles. Consistent hospitality focused on safety, value, and engagement drives retention despite nearby competitive options.

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