If you grew up ice skating, then chances are you had a favorite skating rink that you headed to as a child or teen. Maybe your figure skating or hockey lessons took place at that same rink. Ice skating rinks offer entertainment and a safe training location to their local communities, fostering athleticism and a love of ice sports in kids, teens, and adults. While starting a skating rink of your own is a big venture, rinks can also be highly profitable and enhance their communities.
Ice skating rinks provide both professionals and casual skating enthusiasts with a safe place to enjoy figure skating, hockey, and other ice sports. Indoor rinks are accessible year-round, while outdoor rinks are usable only in the winter months when temperatures drop below freezing. Rinks may vary in size, but they’re usually large enough to accommodate hockey games and figure skating competitions, two valuable sources of income.
Skating rinks offer a variety of activities. Free skating sessions allow the public to come and enjoy themselves, but rinks have busy schedules that may include competitions, skating and hockey practices, lessons, and even birthday parties. Most rinks offer skate rental, skate sharpening, and a concession stand.
According to IBIS World, the ice rink industry grew by an annualized 2.6% from 2014 through 2019. While ice activities are usually more expensive than other sports, an increase in per capita disposable income meant there was plenty of participation in ice sports. That five-year period also saw an increased interest in ice hockey, which led to increased demand for ice time and larger rinks. As more people grew aware of the link between health and physical activity, it led to more people seeking out sports and physical activity opportunities, too.
By 2019, the ice rink industry was an 883,000-million-dollar market. A total of 1,714 businesses employed 40,748 staff. IBIS World predicts that the industry will continue to grow from 2019 to 2024, though that growth will be slightly slower. Per capita disposable income should continue to increase, allowing more people to participate in ice sports. The continued awareness of the health benefits of athletics will also probably encourage more people to take part in sports like ice hockey and ice skating.
Many trends are shaping the ice rink industry. According to Recreation Management, most rinks need to attract a broad base of recreational users. This customer base may include families looking to book birthday parties, recreational skaters interested in free-skate sessions, skaters who are signed up for figure skating or hockey lessons, and more. By focusing on recreational skaters instead of relying on elite skaters to make up the bulk of the customers, a rink can better schedule its time and maximize its profits. In recent years, there’s been increased demand for leisure ice and free skating time.
Ice rinks are also embracing green practices in both construction and maintenance. Rinks are using more recycled products, and floors made out of recycled rubber have become popular options. Facilities are being built to use natural lighting to reduce energy usage and costs. Many rinks are transitioning from Freon R-22 refrigerant to ammonia, instead, which is more economical and efficient. Some facilities are even using fuel-cell energy to replace most of their electrical power usage. Lighting can lead to tremendous energy usage, so LED lighting systems have increased in popularity.
Even rink layouts and designs are changing. Many rinks are being built to have higher roofs so that they can double for other activities like concerts and lacrosse competitions. The use of flex changing rooms, accommodating up to 10 users, plus traditional changing rooms gives facilities more versatility. Those flex rooms can be a larger referee room, but they’re also ideal for figure skaters.
Skating rinks often have multiple target markets. A single rink may market to elite skaters and athletes as well as to recreational skaters including kids, families, and local athletics groups. Figure skating competitions and hockey leagues are also frequently a large part of a skating rink’s target market.
Skills, experience, and education useful in running a skating rink
Starting a skating rink doesn’t require a business degree, but certain skills and advantages can be beneficial in this field.
Skating experience. A rink owner who has experience in figure skating, hockey, or another ice sport will be prepared with a more detailed understanding of these sports and what they require of a skating rink.
Experience working at a rink. Experience working in this industry will give a business owner knowledge of everything that goes into running a rink.
Management experience. Rinks require multiple staff, so experience hiring, training, and managing employees is a valuable asset.
Customer service skills. Repeat customers make up a large portion of a rink’s customer base. An owner who has great customer service skills can build rapport with customers, encouraging them to return again and again.
Finance and business knowledge. Because rinks are expensive to build, most will require investors and/or outside funding. Knowledge of finances and even some previous business courses can help a rink owner to prepare a sound business plan and make a strong presentation to potential investors.
Problem-solving skills. From solving scheduling problems to sorting out issues and conflicts that crop up each day, a business owner will benefit from strong problem-solving skills and the ability to think on their feet.
Building a skating rink requires a significant initial investment. Arena Watch estimates the construction of a 40,000-square-foot ice skating rink to cost $4,381,021, or approximately $114.53 per square foot. Because this initial cost is so great, most rinks are owned and operated by multiple funders or corporations. Buying and renovating an existing skating rink can be a more affordable option.
Common startup costs for a skating rink include:
- Construction or renovation costs
- Machinery purchases, like ice resurfacers
- Supplies like goals and skates
- Inventory for a snack bar
- Office equipment like cash registers, computers and printers
Steps to Starting an Ice Skating Rink
Step 1. Write your Business Plan
After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write an ice skating rink business plan. Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.
Step 2. Form a Business Entity
A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and LLC. Each type of entity has its own pros and cons such as liability exposure, costs and administrative requirements.
Related: Comparison of Business Entities
Step 3. Select your Location
Due to the size, finding a suitable location can be a challenge, especially one that is convenient to customers. Locating close to other amusement related activities can also help with getting customers to notice your facility.
Rent or mortgage costs will depend on the rink’s size, location, and amenities. If a rink is purchased or built, putting down a large down payment can help to reduce the size of monthly payments.
Related: Choosing a business location
Step 4. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
A skating rink owner will need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. These permits and licenses can vary based on the state and town where the rink is located. If a rink incorporates food service or a bar, then additional food and liquor permits and licenses may be necessary. Rinks that play music during skating events and competitions will need to obtain entertainment and music licensing for the songs played.
Some of the common local, state and federal registrations most businesses need include a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number, Occupancy Permit among others.
Step 5. Find Financing
Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start an ice skating rink is another due to the high cost. In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.
Step 6. Get your Marketing Plan in Place
Skating rinks can market in many different ways. Common marketing techniques include social media marketing, radio advertising, online advertising, print advertising, and more. Marketing costs will vary depending on the type and volume of activity performed. For larger skating rinks, hiring a marketing manager on part-time or full-time may be justified.
Step 7. Get Insurance
A skating rink needs several types of insurance for full coverage:
- General liability insurance protects the rink if a customer is ever hurt while on the property. This type of insurance usually covers expenses like medical bills and legal fees.
- Commercial property insurance helps to protect a business against financial loss if its building, equipment, and inventory are ever damaged or destroyed during an event like a fire.
- Worker’s comp insurance helps to cover expenses like medical bills and legal fees if an employee is ever hurt while working.
Insurance costs will vary depending on factors like the rink’s valuation, the value of its equipment, and the number of employees on staff. To get the most accurate idea of insurance costs, request quotes from multiple providers. When evaluating the quotes, consider how coverage limits, exclusions, premiums, and deductibles compare.
Step 8. Hiring Employees
Skating rinks are large operations and they require multiple full-time and part-time employees to keep them running. PayScale reports the following average salaries for these common ice skating rink staff positions:
- General manager: $42,000
- Restaurant manager: $44,000
- Group sales manager: $34,000
- Finance and administration manager: $57,000
- Administrative assistant: $30,000
- Training coordinator: $30,000
In addition to budgeting for staff salaries, a rink’s budget needs to include employee-related expenses like worker’s comp, paid time off, and vacation time.
Related: Hiring your first employee
How much can you potentially make owning a skating rink?
Skating rink profits will depend on the facility’s size, target market, years in business, and location. Whether a rink is an indoor or an outdoor rink will also affect its profits. An indoor rink can operate year-round, while an outdoor rink can only operate during the winter and may need to rely on other activities, like inline skating, to sustain it for the rest of the year.
Regardless of the type of rink, strong marketing, a well-thought-out schedule, and a focus on the most profitable activities can help to maximize profits.
Things to consider before starting a skating rink
A skating rink is a tremendous investment, so it’s important to do thorough market research before starting this type of business. Start by researching competing facilities to make sure that there’s sufficient local demand for the rink. Consider networking with local leagues and skating instructors to identify the business that a rink could bring in once in business.
Ice rinks can require significant utilities during a single year. According to Ice Skating Resources, rinks use approximately 50,000 gallons of water to form the ice. Heating, lighting, and cooling costs can also lead to high electrical bills, though implementing energy-saving lights and technology can help to minimize this. Exact utility costs will depend on a facility’s size, construction, and usage.
Before drawing up a business plan, connect with other rink owners and ask to meet with them for coffee. Ask them about what running a rink is like, what decisions have contributed to their success, and what they would change about their rinks and operations if they could. These interviews can give you valuable insight into the industry and help to prepare you to successfully open a rink of your own.