Pla-Mor Roller Rink (Cleveland) – Open with Cautious Optimism

02/27/2015 § Leave a comment

An update on the “closing/still open” news regarding Pla-Mor Roller Rink in Euclid OH, Friday, February 27, 2015:

According to one of the owners* of the business, the rink was scheduled to close this past Saturday, February 21. The lease was up at the end of February, and it was decided, at that time, that they could not continue to stay in business as it remained unprofitable after six years of operation.  The last two skating sessions that my wife and I would attend were this past Tuesday and yesterday evening.  (This past Tuesday was a good skate session, but it also felt like a wake before a funeral.)

It was not until literally yesterday afternoon when another owner made a comment on his personal Facebook page stating “problem solved…open for business as usual.” From that announcement, word got out to everyone involved with the rink that disaster was averted. The previous preparations for a farewell skating session last night turned into a joyous celebration! I was less optimistic but I never rule out miracles! A lot of people, including me and my wife, were praying for a great outcome, and it happened!

There is a very good reason to celebrate Pla-Mor and its survival to remain open for business. The Pla-Mor name is significant in Cleveland roller skating history. Back in the ’60s, it was the first black-owned roller skating rink in Cleveland, and it was a venue that was supported mostly by blacks when there was a fair amount of “private” segregation from other roller rinks. [1] Today’s reincarnation of the Pla-Mor is the only black-owned rink in the area, as well. It is a resurrection of the old Rollerdrome that closed in 2008. Pla-Mor opened in 2009 and, by all visible accounts, was moving along well. While there were some warning signs that items within the building needed repair (roof, air conditioning and plumbing), everyone wants to see the business succeed and grow. It continues to provide all skaters, young and old, with one of the finest venues for roller skating in the entire area.

After the euphoria of Pla-Mor staying open dies down, there are some significant issues and even criticism that I have with yesterday’s announcement that should hopefully call for some changes by Pla-Mor management going forward.

If the business was unprofitable for six years, then why did it take the threat of closing to marshal some much-needed support for the business? While I admire the candor behind the announcement that the business is struggling, I’m curious as to why nothing was mentioned well before now about where things were headed. Even if it meant doing something as simple as raising admission prices over the past couple of years, I think the vast majority of people would understand–especially if you are effectively communicating with them.  I don’t expect owners to openly tell people that things aren’t going well, but consideration needs to be given to the uniqueness of the roller skating business and its customers.  I note this because skaters make up a very close-knit group of people of all ages. They will drive considerable distances to different rinks just to have a chance to skate and have a good time (even travel together out-of-state). Pla-Mor certainly has this type of following. People who have been loyally supporting them over the years have continued to come out in all types of weather to skate and fellowship together.

In retrospect, I believe that the ownership did not fully understand the loyalty and goodwill that they had with their core group of skaters. It is regrettable that the communication throughout this entire process from the business to its customers was poor to non-existent. When rumors had surfaced that the business would close last week, there was no announcement whatsoever from the owners to address or counter the rumors, and social media was very quiet–except for people who were loyal Pla-Mor skaters who had learned that the business was in serious trouble. They were the ones who were reaching out to others to provide information as to what was going on. The internal communication was also extremely poor. One of the employees who I spoke to did not even know that the business was staying open until just before the evening skating session last night. Others, including my wife and I, had heard the news well before then.

There was some initial skepticism about the timing of these events, but the closing of the rink was a definite possibility.  Pla-Mor’s competition, United Skates of America in Wickliffe, must have known something for them to start up a new roller skating session on Thursday nights (via a post on their own Facebook page) that was to begin last night.  They were previously hosting only private parties on Thursdays. It wasn’t a coincidence. They must have gotten word that Pla-Mor was closing, or at the very least, was on the ropes.

There is now a price increase for admission for the Thursday night skate session from $7 per person to $10 per person. The business is losing money and needs to raise its prices. I get it. It’s tough to make money in the roller skating business. It’s an older building that has good bones but it needs repairs, has high utility and operating costs, and it also requires costly insurance premiums. Most existing rinks, like United Skates of America, use pay-to-play events like laser tag to supplement their income. With that said, what is Pla-Mor going to do to maintain or even improve the present skating environment within its four walls? Skaters enjoy skating, for sure, and we will do it as often as we can as long as the floor remains in very good to excellent condition. Pla-Mor needs a little TLC in spots; however, the most important part of the rink, its floor, has been dirty at times and its quality is slightly removed from the old Rollerdrome floor, which by all accounts was nothing short of pristine. Even with this, it still has, in my opinion, the best floor in town.  If anything needs to be done, it must be to keep the floor and its surface in tip-top condition.  Once the floor starts going bad, everything else will follow it. (As a comparison, Rocky’s in Tallmadge had a horribly buckled floor by the time it closed in early 2013. It was a safety hazard that drove many skaters away.)

The owners stated that they need to buy the existing building in order to reduce their monthly obligation, which makes perfect sense. According to a previous news article about Pla-Mor, it was strongly implied that they were purchasing the building from the former owner. [2] It now appears that this did not happen.

In addition to doing a better overall job with communication, Pla-Mor should revisit its marketing/advertising strategy. It doesn’t need to be anything tremendously expensive, but it needs to happen. Running a rink is more than just having a DJ play music. Up until now, the business has relied strictly on word-of-mouth to bring people in. Sending out flyers is also not going to get people to show up. The rink should absolutely take advantage of radio advertising to reach its demographic audience and even cater special skating sessions to specific audience demographics; for example, have sessions for adults 25 and over.  There should be strong consideration given to operating more open skating sessions and marketing private parties to shore up revenues.

In addition, while social media has its own criticisms for its level of effectiveness, Pla-Mor has not posted anything on their own Facebook page, which is a mistake that is being compounded due to inactivity (Why go to the trouble of starting a page and asking for members of the page to only let it sit idle?). If it wasn’t for the social media outcry that the rink was closing and the desire of many to fight for it to remain open (even with the posting of a GoFundMe page [3] by a skater–astounding!), the rink would likely be silent today. The rink website is now down completely when it was up as recently as a couple of weeks ago. An inexpensive alternative to a website is the use of the Facebook page to market their business. It is reaching its most important group right now.  If you don’t have time to run social media or manage a website, then ask someone to help you.  I’m confident that loyal skaters who are web and social media-savvy will do it for free.  It will require trust to a certain degree, but at this point you don’t have anything to lose and much more to gain.

All of this is under the assumption that the owners are making all of the prudent decisions to run their business. Pla-Mor successfully got past the dreaded 2-3 year window where small businesses fail. The daunting task will be how they can overcome a significant deterrent for some people (higher admission prices) while delivering a quality product for its loyal group of skaters.

I’m really happy they are still open, but it is with a cautious optimism. As long as they’re open for business, my wife and I will be there.

*Owners names withheld.

1 Mark Souther, “Pla-Mor,” Cleveland Historical, accessed February 27, 2015, http:/​/​clevelandhistorical.​org/​items/​show/​621.​

2 Blogpost – Ray Jablonski (2009). Northeast Ohio Media Group. http://blog.cleveland.com/euclidsunjournal/2009/06/euclid_new_owners_hope_skaters.html

3 http://www.gofundme.com/n3epeo

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