Wholesome business skating on longtime tradition

Filed under: Print,Small Business | Tags:,

Skate City owners Jeff and Terri Ingrum started working at the business in 1981 as a janitor and snack-counter attendant. They now own seven locations in Colorado, and have maintained their place in the market through changing times with the same business model.

Skate City

Owners: Jeff and Terri Ingrum

First Colorado location: 1970 in Aurora

Colorado Springs locations:

• 1920 N. Academy Blvd. built in 1973

• 4575 Austin Bluffs Pkwy. purchased in 1983

Full-time employees: 33

Total employees: 300

Few companies founded on the wholesome family values of the 1960s have been able to succeed through the decades while embracing the same core philosophy.

Skate City is doing just that.

It costs $5 to skate, and most kids pay far less than that when they come with school groups. They get free bus transportation and Skate City kicks 50 cents off steeply discounted $1.50 entrance fees back to schools during fundraisers.

“Once they come, the onus is on us to make sure they have a good time and come back,” said owner Jeff Ingrum.

That’s just one among many tried-and-true marketing tactics the owners learned from Skate City’s founders.

Jeff and Terri Ingrum started working at Littleton’s Skate City in 1981. He was a janitor and she worked at the snack counter. Now they own most of Colorado’s skating rinks, including one they bought this month in Arvada, the state’s seventh Skate City.

They’ve also built a roller hockey center on the north end of town.

They have 33 full-time employees and pay 100 percent of their health care premiums. They have another 300 part-time workers, Jeff Ingrum said.

All of the Ingrums’ store managers and the couples they’ve helped become Skate City owners in other parts of the country started just as they did.

“They’ve worked for us a long time,” Ingrum said. “We’ve vetted them and they understand our concept and know our philosophies.”

Angela Stover, who manages the location at 1920 N. Academy Blvd., grew up roller skating in the rink and then started working at Skate City when her son got into roller hockey in Denver several years ago. She rose quickly through the ranks to manage the same location where she had her 15th birthday party.

“Not a lot has changed,” she said. “It’s still really cheap to skate, and it’s all about having something healthy for the kids to do.”

There’s a big focus on community and giving back, Stover said. The giving back doesn’t stop with fundraising and giving.

Ingrum doesn’t charge the couples who own and operate Skate City locations in Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico any franchise fees, he said. They have the logo, the brand and the Ingrums’ neverending support. They’re part of the Skate City family — not in a cheesy, corporate-slogan way, but in the same way parents don’t charge their adult children rent.

That’s how the Ingrums became Skate City owners themselves. Gladys and Bill Kelly put their faith in the hardworking couple to run their second Colorado Springs location. The Kellys built the Academy Boulevard Skate City in 1973 and bought the one on Austin Bluffs Parkway in 1983.

“We gave Jeff an opportunity to buy in,” Gladys Kelly said. “All he had to do was pay the money as he went along and we gave him a chance to grow it from there.”

And the Ingrums have grown it. While skating is cheap, it’s a volume business and the rinks make good money — enough that the Ingrums were able to buy the business on Academy Boulevard in 1988 and buy both buildings in 1990. They continued acquiring old rinks as the Kellys’ daughters retired and as other unaffiliated rink owners wanted out or fell on hard times.

“Most of the rinks were built in the ‘70s,” Ingrum said.

The cost of new construction today would make it hard to keep costs low enough, he said. But they have kept the facilities up. They spent $500,000 to spruce up the Austin Bluffs location in 2008.

Jeff and Terri Ingrum were 25 with teaching degrees and a young family when they moved to Colorado Springs. It’s been their home ever since. Jeff spent every Friday night for 20 years DJing and skating at the Austin Bluffs Skate City.

Now, their three sons help them run the company just as the Kellys’ daughters helped them.

When Gladys and Bill started “going together” in the late 1950s, one of their favorite dates was to the roller rink in Fremont, Neb.

“We wanted our girls to have the opportunity to skate and love it as much as we did,” Kelly said.

Bill didn’t love his job and they had a chance to buy the old roller rink in Grand Island, Neb., so they took the plunge into business ownership. The rink was pretty beat up.

“It wasn’t long before we wanted a new building worthy of great sport of roller skating,” she said. “So we begged the banker until he gave us the money to build one.”

It was successful, but it was a struggle to get enough people through the door to turn a profit in a city of 35,000. So they decided to look for a larger market and built one of the country’s biggest, most elaborate skating rinks in Aurora in 1970.

“They said it was the roller rink of the future,” Kelly said. “Of course we were concerned — we had a lot of debt on the building. But it was a huge success. The kids would do anything to get in the door.”

There were rules for roller rink guests in those days, reflecting the Kellys’ values and an emphasis on wholesome family fun: “No blue jeans, short-shorts or extreme haircuts.”