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Author Topic: How to advertise a rink?  (Read 598 times)

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Offline Query

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How to advertise a rink?
« on: July 15, 2017, 08:07:33 PM »
The rink where I work has had trouble filling public sessions. Even on weekends, we often get a dozen skaters or less at peak time. Sometimes we have more employees on duty than skaters on the ice. I gather this is a generic problem that affects a lot of rinks, especially in the summer. What are some cheap ways of advertising?

We often get more people on our freestyle sessions, and on hockey stuff, and they earn much more money. It is very hard to convince management that advertising public sessions is worth it.

Realistically, all the serious local skaters know about all the local ice rinks already, though some of them don't know how few people come to our public sessions. We should want to reach the people who don't know, or haven't thought about it in a while.

One needs a way to advertise that pays back the advertising costs in increased business.

U.S. mail (e.g., Every Door Direct) costs about $0.50 - $1.00 per address to advertise - and there are many thousands or tens of thousands of reasonably close addresses. It was tried. Only a couple customers were attracted.

I tried to use Facebook to advertise a math tutoring business. I got about 100 likes for $0.50 - $1 / like - but no actual calls or emails. Still, you can target by geographic area, age, having school-aged children... I tried to convince a manager this was a good idea, but think I haven't succeeded.

I suggested we set up a mailing list that people can sign up for, that would advertise changes in session schedules. I guess no one agreed that was a good idea either. Or that the cost of setting it up through the web-site service the rink has chosen to use (which probably charges a lot, and makes pretty web-pages, but which aren't always up to date or useful) was more expensive than it was worth. I'm thinking of offering to do it for free (for a while) to demonstrate it would work - though I'm not sure how effective it would be. It still only gets the people who already know about us.

I suppose we could sell cool-looking tee-shirts that advertise the rink - at cost. Then, other people would see the tee-shirt. But that would compete with pro-shop concession, which sells various shirts.

The big search engines (Google/Yahoo/Bing) are incredibly expensive to advertise through. Realistically, they are out of the price range of most businesses.

Some small businesses advertise by leaving notes on car windshields, and by leaving signs out on the road or on telephone poles. That is pretty cheap. But almost everywhere, including here, that is illegal, can lead to fines, and annoys a lot of people. (But: the bigger tutoring companies, and some new businesses, do it anyway. They apparently view paying the fines as a cost of doing business.)

Because we are a private business, we cannot legally advertise through public schools, and we cannot advertise in government recreation flyers, such as the local county recreation flyers that are mailed to everyone in the county. (The government-run rinks can and some of them do.)




Offline AgnesNitt

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Re: How to advertise a rink?
« Reply #1 on: July 15, 2017, 08:52:03 PM »
My rink has an email list. It works pretty well. Also it has presence on facebook so you get updates--if you've signed up for the email list.

But as to everything else, Rinks need to stop acting as if the fact that it's there and has services is a state secret.

Rinks also need to have its schedule on a mobile compatible site. I've been at two rinks that had mobile compatible schedules who dropped them. ARE THEY INSANE? Living in the 90's? What?

There are services that will publish the schedules for the rink, and they look like they're designed by 12 year olds who rolled their own code with all the design sense you'd expect out of a 12 year old (tiny print, open source images--or watermarked images!). Not to mention weirdly placed drop down menus, URLs that lead no where, important links in tiny print at the bottom of the page, no explanation of how LTS and LTP work, no recommendation on how to dress, or even how to tie your laces.  Jeeze people, spend the couple of K and get a graphic designer to do a pro job.

Rinks need to have brochures advertising Learn to Skate and Learn to Play right on the front desk, right next to the register.  >:(  This isn't rocket science people!

Every rink has schedules posted in various kinds of document  displays. And where are they displayed? Across the lobby on the wall. Down the lobby in the last place you'd look for them. UNMARKED as to what is in each display holder. 

At least my home rink has an adult on duty as a manager at all times. I skated at a rink that was run by teenagers half the time. I had my suspicions on why it 'lost' money.
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Offline nicklaszlo

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Re: How to advertise a rink?
« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2017, 09:58:27 PM »
Hire a marketing professional.  Most marketing is done by professionals.

The big search engines (Google/Yahoo/Bing) are incredibly expensive to advertise through. Realistically, they are out of the price range of most businesses.

I don't think this is true.  The cost of internet ads has been plummeting, and very many businesses do buy them.  I would advertise on maps and tourism websites.

Because we are a private business, ... we cannot advertise in government recreation flyers,

Are you sure?  I have seen private businesses doing it.  Often with nothing to distinguish between city and private programs.

Offline Bill_S

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Re: How to advertise a rink?
« Reply #3 on: July 16, 2017, 07:26:56 AM »
Is there a way to target groups of people, like church groups, Boy and Girl Scouts, athletic boosters, etc? I know that our rink does that sort of thing when it is open, and they have a meeting space for birthday parties and other medium sized groups. If you work it so that the groups can get a "kickback" by inviting their friends, it could be win-win. They could offer it as a fund raiser in the right situations. I think it would be more fun for a high school cheerleading team to do that rather than wash cars for a donation like they do here.

Having groups through would certainly help with word-of-mouth promotion.

Can skaters do jumps and spins on public ice? Periodically "seed" a public session with a talented figure skater to get bystanders interested. Perhaps offer a free 5-minute lesson to anyone interested on special days. Our rink does something like that in the first week of operation after summer to get skaters interested in LTS, but it could benefit public session attendance too.
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Offline LunarSkater

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Re: How to advertise a rink?
« Reply #4 on: July 16, 2017, 07:55:22 AM »
Groupons. Groupons for LTS. Groupons for public skate. My rink gets calls about old groupons even when they're not running a promotion.

My rink has themed nights on the weekends. On Friday evenings, they have a live DJ and disco lighting. Sunday evenings are themed - we have a regularly scheduled Latin Dance night, ones that go with holidays (the next one is Christmas in July), ones that fundraise for charities, etc.

There is a homeschool group that skates the mid-day public every third Thursday of the month. Reach out to your homeschool communities - they are always looking for somewhere to drag the kids to for socialization. Skating can be on the cheaper side than some other options and it's unique.

As usual, the social media stuff. We're also a true tourist rink - we're the closest one to Disney and we get people from out of town showing up. Mostly figure skaters, but sometimes not. There's a set of siblings from France in LTS right now for as long as they're here on vacation. They hear about us because we advertise as the closest rink to the tourist areas of town.

The rink also has a mailing list.


How current is your website? Is your address easy to locate? How about your phone number? Are the public session times easy to locate? Does it have a mobile version? And related, does your rink have free wi-fi?

Does your rink run summer camps? Birthday parties? Broomball? Wheelchair accessible skating? Do you have a large minority population in the area and do you have someone on staff that can speak that language?

What does your public skate session look like? Do you have evening times? Mid-day? Having a range helps, especially during the school year when some sessions will be dead.


And seconding nicklaszlo, hire a marketing professional. My rink did. It made a difference.

Offline Bill_S

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Re: How to advertise a rink?
« Reply #5 on: July 16, 2017, 09:30:32 AM »

How current is your website? Is your address easy to locate? How about your phone number? Are the public session times easy to locate? Does it have a mobile version? And related, does your rink have free wi-fi?


Great suggestion about the website. The rink in Columbus to which I travel has a fantastic web site. This might be a little unfair comparison because the Chillers have 3 rinks of 2 sheets each, plus the rink downtown (my fave). It's a big entity so they can afford the promotion, but check it out for a listing all the action going on in any given week. There may be some ideas in there.

https://www.thechiller.com/
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Offline tstop4me

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Re: How to advertise a rink?
« Reply #6 on: July 16, 2017, 05:05:19 PM »
The rink where I work has had trouble filling public sessions. Even on weekends, we often get a dozen skaters or less at peak time. Sometimes we have more employees on duty than skaters on the ice. I gather this is a generic problem that affects a lot of rinks, especially in the summer. What are some cheap ways of advertising?
During the summer, in my area, we have the opposite problem.  Many rinks cut way back on public sessions to accommodate additional LTS or hockey lessons or summer camps sponsored by the rinks (these camps include skating activities as well as non-skating activities).  The public sessions that remain during weekday mornings and afternoons often get packed with busloads of kids from local Y's and local summer camps.  That leaves only a few weekday evening plus weekend public sessions.  These then get filled up by birthday parties and skaters who normally would skate during weekday morn and aft. 

Offline Query

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Re: How to advertise a rink?
« Reply #7 on: July 18, 2017, 01:22:59 AM »
Size is no excuse. Some of the rinks with just one surface work harder than we do at advertising public sessions and lessons. In the summer we have two open full-size ice surfaces. In the winter we have 3, plus a small outdoor ice surface. That doesn't even count the two ice surfaces (one for curling, one tiny one run by a hockey training business) we don't control, but to which we lease space. That should be enough ice to be worth advertising - but the people in charge are convinced it isn't worth it. For one thing, they think hockey brings in ALL the money. They put a lot of effort into that - our paid staff has organized rink-run hockey leagues, which takes a lot of employee time, and they handle stuff like signing the hockey players up with USA hockey, and such. We also get a lot of outside hockey clubs that don't get enough ice rental time at their own rinks. (They are also convinced we aren't in an upscale enough area to attract figure skaters. To some extent they are right - there are closer rinks to the wealthiest DC suburbs - but there are a few thousand home addresses within a few miles of our facility. And some of the more dedicated skaters would come for the relatively empty sessions, if they knew they existed.)

The only published public skating schedule is on a web site. You have to go to the website, quickly click on a drop down menu for "Skating" (because there is a noisy ad, that most people don't want to hear), then select "Public sessions". There is no paper schedule for public sessions, available or posted. There is a posted schedule for freestyle sessions. Some of the time, the published schedule is out of date. The simple fact is that it is not a priority to management.

Advertising lessons is not a priority either - because they have contracted lessons to a 3rd party firm, that rents the ice (I think) and pays the coaches - and whose office is located at another rink. We don't make any money from them other than the ice rental, whereas many rink make a lot of money from lessons (so I'm told). Unlike some rinks, we don't publish Bios or contact info for the private coaches either. One good thing: we don't charge the coaches for their ice time. But we only let the coaches vetted by that 3rd party firm coach. Coaches with an "open pro" policy are better at attracting coaches and their students. I believe lessons and coaches attract and create repeat customers, and need to be a priority, but that's just me.

A lot of local rinks make Friday evenings a big teen event, complete with DJs, strobes and mirror balls - a very popular event. Our management doesn't think it is worth doing. We have a mirror ball on the ceiling, but it is broken.

I offered to become the person who would take over sharpening the rental skates, when the former sharpener retired a few months back. They gave the job to someone else, who has many other responsibilities - and the blades aren't kept consistently sharp. That makes it hard for rental customers to skate.

So, I'm going very much against the established grain, trying to convince management to spend time, money or effort advertising public sessions. The way they see it, since the public sessions don't bring in much money - in fact they almost certainly lose money - it just isn't worth it. But sometimes you have to spend time, money and effort to bring in money. It's a chicken and egg thing. If you wait for the egg, you never buy the chicken.

:(

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Re: How to advertise a rink?
« Reply #8 on: July 19, 2017, 05:00:21 PM »
The only published public skating schedule is on a web site. You have to go to the website, quickly click on a drop down menu for "Skating" (because there is a noisy ad, that most people don't want to hear), then select "Public sessions". There is no paper schedule for public sessions, available or posted. There is a posted schedule for freestyle sessions. Some of the time, the published schedule is out of date. The simple fact is that it is not a priority to management.

Paper copies of schedules are a waste of trees, especially during the summer, when the schedule at many rinks in my area vary week-to-week.  As you've noted, paper copies often are not up-to-date.  So an accurate on-line schedule is definitely the way to go these days.  But the emphasis is on "accurate".  The admins at several rinks I talked to said I can't count on the on-line schedule, because it needs to be manually updated whenever there is a change; and that isn't always done.  One rink has a great system.  They have one program that has their master schedule, including all events:  the master schedule is the one the rink staff works off of.  Individual schedules, such as public sessions, are auto generated from the master schedule:  no manual transcription needed.

Offline davincisop

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Re: How to advertise a rink?
« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2017, 07:14:07 AM »
My rink is overrun with summer camps right now. So this is all stuff based upon my experience at my old rink that people didn't know existed because Florida.

Groupons for either free skate rental or 50% off admission.

Make small flyer coupons that can go in back to school bags, send them to local schools.

Reach out to summer camps that are going on and invite them to do a group session. Comp a few pizzas or offer to have an instructor work with them for 15 minutes on the ice.

Facebook advertising is great, but you have to really hone in on the demographic you want and make sure that you spend about $20 minimum. Make sure the image is enticing, and have some sort of call to action (Visit now! that links to the website), and keep a very active Facebook page.

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Re: How to advertise a rink?
« Reply #10 on: July 20, 2017, 07:58:39 AM »
Groupon and Livingsocial are tricky for businesses that aren't doing well financially.  The percentages might have changed in the last couple of years, but the business only received 25% of their usual revenue from these discount promoters.  The product/service being offered has to be sold to the public at 50% or more, then the marketing firm receives 50% of the remaining monies, thereby deeply discounting the business' receipts. 

It's smart to limit the quantity of deals being sold, too. One of the rinks that offered a groupon had the deal active for months because they overestimated demand.  I think they jacked up their public session price for walk-ins and then offered the groupon at half off.  Their half off was about the same as the other area rinks' public session price but (as I said above) they were only getting half of that.  No one was doing walk-in at that rink until the deal expired and they were able to lower their prices.

In my mind, it's marketing and promotion, so there should be an expense, but telling that to a rink owner/manager who is already in the red is difficult.  Takes a lot of persuasion after the first go-round.  The majority of the customers who use groupon or livingsocial will not make a return trip once they've redeemed their discount purchase.

Fraud is also an issue: people print out multiple copies of documents and present them over and over.  Others forge certificates and still others just ask for the "groupon discount," thereby pressuring the desk clerk.

Avenues of advertising that seem to work best are the parents printed magazines, local sporting group newsletters, local newspaper events calendar, FB promotion (but do follow davincisop's guidelines) and having a presence at local events.


There was a promotion/marketing presentation at the ISI/PSA Conference a few years ago.  I can remember a few of the tips they presented:

1) Start a Google Business account because it will give you search-results priority on Google.
2) Review the school calendars and plan open skating for early release days and teacher workdays.
3) Promote extra/special sessions on your website, FB, and Twitter page.
4) Offer a free trial lesson for group skating lessons.
5) Reach out to scouting groups and offer to help fulfill their badge requirements.  (A special session for Scouts was an option.)
6) Update your website to include the html metadata search terms that search engines use.  (Ex: Skating, Ice Skating, Hockey, Figure Skating, Scouting, etc.)
7) Incorporate "Track out camps" for year-round schools, in addition to summer camps.
8) Offer fun classes that aren't part of the standard curriculum. Ex: "Feel the Need for Speed," aka: Power with fun music.
9) Offer specialty classes.  Ex: a group MIF class.
10) Know your target audience.  During the day, homeschoolers, retirees and stay-at-home parents are your main customers - what can you offer?

Babysitting services help adults with kids.  For young adults, socializing is a great option, so maybe have the snack bar stay open late after the Sat night session.
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Offline Query

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Re: How to advertise a rink?
« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2017, 01:28:02 PM »
Some of those ideas seem really good.

We do, by the way, already do the fund-raising thing. We split the admission price, 50/50, with the fund raising group, and include rental skates (which we usually charge about $4 for) at no extra cost. Many of the fund raising groups bring in a lot of people. Some of the newbies come back. It is probably worth it. But the groups find out about us through word of mouth alone.

Another big thing is birthday parties - but again, all through word-of-mouth. Mostly the birthday kids themselves already skate.

Of course, both of these are problems for us rink guards. Suddenly having a huge crowd of beginners in a session makes a lot of work for us, especially if we are conscientious, and try to show people having trouble what to do, tell them how to tie their shoelaces, etc. And for our existing repeat customers, and coaches giving lessons, such sessions are not very useful. But for the rink, it's a great thing, to have 40 - 300 extra people pile into a session.

BTW, that at our rink, at least, fund raisers and parties are scheduled in advance. You can call ahead to find out whether one is scheduled, and avoid that session for your personal practice and lessons. :) Not sure how common that is at other rinks. But I know an aquatics (pool) center has a note posted that groups of over 10 must schedule in advance (presumably so there will be enough life guards, and not to conflict too much with lessons, though the facility doesn't always get those things right) - maybe advance scheduling of big events is pretty common.