Emotion, attitude drive skatepark growth

Skateboarding and in-line skating are "lifestyle sports." When developing and operating venues for these activities, you have to get it right and it has to be cool, or it's not going to work. If it is done right, skateparks -- rising in popularity across the country -- can generate big profits, according to industry officials at Fun Expo in Las Vegas.

However, "Money is a poor motivator for skateparks," said Martin Ramos, who believes he is the only second-generation skatepark owner in the country right now. "You'll go broke if you're in it for the money. This business is not run by basic business principals -- it's based on emotion," Ramos said. "That's a tough thing when you have $1 million invested." http://skateszone.com/how-to-assemblebuild-a-skateboard-6-easy-steps/

Ramos' parents purchased what is now Kona USA in Florida in the late 1970s when a sudden boom in skateparks became a bust as parks closed down due to mounting injuries.

"We have been here before, so to think it's here to stay and the kids are going to come is a fallacy," Ramos said. He finds the attention given skateparks recently "exciting." "For the very first time, people are recognizing that you need to go out there and get some information."

Skatepark patrons have unique attitudes and perceptions, said Ramos, who is also executive director of the Independent Skatepark Assn. "They want something of their own. They don't want to share," he said.

A subscription to Transworld Skateboarding Business is a must, but so are culture magazines such as Juice, Happy and Thrasher.

The patrons have tons of 'tude. "It would scare you to look at them, but they're the best kids in the world," said Heidi Lemmon, executive director of the Skate Park Assn. of the USA.

"Keep in the back of your minds that this is a unique industry you're thinking of becoming involved in," Ramos said. If the patrons don't think the skatepark owners understand them, they won't come to the park. "I've got 12-year-olds telling me my business," he said. "You can't fluff their feathers. They're going to know."

One example of this is that the Gravity Games and X Games, which were invented to cater to this market, are not covered in the culture magazines because the participants feel like they're getting ripped off, Ramos said.

"Word-of-mouth can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It's a fickle, unique environment," Ramos said.

This attitude can make it difficult to combine skateboarding with similar activities, such as BMX biking and inline skating. Although the kids may look the same to adults, there is a subtle rivalry.


The target age range should be 8 to 14, Ramos said. The park will serve older patrons, but the customers must be made at that age, he said. "Even though it's tempting to go after an older market, 8 to 14 is where it's at," he said. "That develops their lifestyle." By age 15, drivers licenses and hormones tend to distract the market, he said.

The long-term relationship developed with these kids will have them bringing their own children on down the line, Ramos said. "With a $450,000 to sometimes $2 million investment, you need 10 years of solid customer relationships to survive.

Although it is attractive to bring professional skaters to the park for publicity, these events are expensive and risky; the focus needs to remain on the locals, Ramos said. Don't pay for contests and demonstrations -- that should be done by a sponsor. The same goes for personalities. "That's a tough 'no' to say, but there are rewards. Every single time they've always turned around and said, 'OK, we'll go anyway,'" Ramos said.

The kids will like to skate with the pros, the panelists said.


Centers need to be designed for profitability, Ramos stressed. Admission has to be affordable, the cost of a movie in the same area is a good measuring stick, but food and beverage and retail are key profit centers. The pro-shop and workbench can generate 50% of profits. "You have a guaranteed specific market walking in front of the place," Ramon said. http://skateszone.com/how-to-buy-choose-a-skateboard/

General admission is probably a better tack than holding sessions because letting people in and out at specified times breaks that sense of spontaneity, Ramos said.

Private skateparks should not look to retail chains, such as Vans Skateparks, for direction since these are mainly retail driven. They have a different business model, Ramos noted.

Layout should safely hold a large number of participants and flow should be unidirectional (back and forth), with different areas for different skill levels. "If they don't succeed, they're going to stop. So have areas they can build up to," Ramos said.

Observation areas are extremely important to hold families and friends, Ramos said. "Definitely go and tour some skate facilities, both public and private. Learn from their mistakes."

Multi-million dollar free skateparks that are starting to go up in cities such as Upland, Calif., and Louisville, Ky., will provide hefty competition if the private parks do not differentiate, Lemmon said. In 1976 there were three public skateparks in the United States, now there are more than 1,000, and another 2,000 are planned for the next 18 months, she said.

"If you're going to charge kids to come, it has to be unique," Lemmon said. "You can't charge for what is free down the street."


Skatecamps are a huge trend right now. Parents drop off their kids during the day and the kids take classes, kind of an "extreme day camp," Ramos said. "Every parent is searching for something for their children to do."

"It seems to be great in keeping skateparks going," agreed Blaze Anderson, deputy director of the Pa'ia Youth Council in Hawaii. Skating clinics and youth skate park assistants are other successful programs Anderson has headed up. "The kids take so much more responsibility when they are part of it."

Contests are hard but they are what patrons are looking for, Anderson said. "The first thing they say when you open the door is, 'When do we have contests?'" This is going to take three to four months of prep, including entry fees, T-shirts, prizes, registration staffing, judges, pictures, food and promotional goods. "These are pretty big monsters to tackle."

Successful social events require loud music and an emcee, cold drinks, hot food, shade to rest in, and wild skating.

Skate leagues, teams and school programs are popular, Anderson said. One always successful event is a Media Day, where the park invites local media to come down and photograph the kids. The park can also hire its own photographers and video cameras to capture the kids. "They want glamour -- to be recognized."

One way to accomplish this is to put the park on community access cable.

Disc jockeys and graffiti artists are popular with this demographic, Lemmon said. "If you make too many rules and tell the kids if they don't like it go back to the streets, they will," she said.

The supervision aspect can be a key seller when competing with free municipal parks, the panelists stressed. Lemmon said private park members have not had any lawsuits, and have had an injury rate of .03%, which actually went down without protective padding.

Ramos invented an orientation video that has received high praise from pros, he said.

It sets the rules and etiquette, such as to be sure to yell "Dropping!" when entering the arena and "Loose board!" when their skateboards get away from them.

Safety is an issue with skateboarding, but compared to football, gymnastics, skiing and team sports, the risk is not higher. "Society learned to accept the inherent dangers of other sports," Ramos said. "That's what happened in the '70s -- they didn't understand."

In order to defend against the lawsuits that took the 1970s skateparks down, operators need to keep detailed incident and accident reports.

"Don't be scared of injuries," Ramos said. "They're coming, no question about it. Especially in the first month." See more information here: http://skateszone.com/home-dogtown-catherine-hardwicke-directs-skateboardings-seminal-tale/

A liability waiver is less important than proof that the park was run responsibly with safety in mind. "The first thing a lawyer will say is, 'Was the park designed by a professional?'" Lemmon said.

"It's not easy," Ramos said. "It's a lot of work, blood, sweat and tears, but there are huge rewards, both in money and personal rewards."