From the March/April issue of the Rinksider:

Fixing and maintaining skates can pay big dividends

By Connie Evener

A well-equipped tech bench, managed by a knowledgeable technician with a flair for customer service, can turn a rink’s pro-shop into a magnet for service – and sales. That’s because rinks that take pro shop service seriously tend to attract customers who take skates and skating seriously.

Between the two of them, Mickey Ritter and Mike Pattison have close to nine decades of experience working on skates. Ritter, a manager at the Palace Roller Skating and Fun Center near Philadelphia, started as apprentice to an older and more experienced co-worker more than 30 years ago. Pattison, who owns Pattison’s West Family Skate Center near Federal Way, Wash., has been hanging around rinks and tinkering with skates for as long as he can remember. “My grandfather owned a rink, so I’ve been around skating my whole life,” he said.

Pattison’s West has the reputation for being the place to have skates maintained, repaired and adjusted, which also makes it the place to buy skates. “That’s one of our selling points,” said Pattison. “We’ll maintain them and we always have spare parts on hand.” The parts aren’t all that expensive, but it’s important to keep an eagle eye on the inventory, he noted.

Pattison’s West doesn’t have a roller derby team, “but we get a lot of derby girls.” They flock in to get their wheels lathed. Although a good lathe will probably cost between $500 and $600, Pattison considers his a good investment. “Wheels start at about $50, but most of the wheels I turn are more like $80 to $100.” Most customers can’t afford to toss wheels that are grooved or “dinked,” so they figure having their wheels restored to perfect roundness by a pro is a good deal.

“I charge $12.00 to lathe (eight) wheels and it makes them like brand new,” said Pattison. He also uses that lathe to polish up customer relations. When a regular customer needs a lathe job, Pattison sometimes chooses to say “No charge.” When they’re expecting to pay and he does it for free, loyal customers become even more loyal. And that kind of customer satisfaction is well worth the five minutes (once the wheels are off the skates) it takes to do the job.

The well-stocked – and staffed – tech bench can also increase customer satisfaction when they’re renting skates. At The Palace, wheels, boots, and insoles are carefully inspected. Ritter and the tech crew always double check the laces because if the tip is gone, trying to lace up can be pretty frustrating.

Preventing frustration and making the experience positive is key to turning occasional skaters into regulars. “If you don’t adjust a skate properly, the customer won’t be able to control it,” said Ritter. And if he can’t control it, he’s either going to fall or not have a good time because he’s focused on trying to control the skate, rather than enjoying the music, the atmosphere, and just skating.”

Ritter graciously agreed to spread his equipment and tools out, then took photos so RINKSIDER readers can see what’s essential for a well-stocked tech area. Then, of course, he put everything back where it belongs so he’ll be able to find what he needs the next time he’s working on a pair of skates.

Note the transparent fronts on Ritter’s storage compartments and parts bins. And if the contents aren’t readily recognizable, he labels the bin or drawer. Beneath the bins is Ritter’s work surface, where that black ribbed rubber mat helps keep small parts from rolling off onto the floor. The WD-40 is Ritter’s product of choice for removing excess grease and grime from bearings and other metal parts.

That box of latex gloves comes in handy for messy jobs. The yellow auto parts cleaner bucket is the perfect place to soak the gunk off bearings. “Put the bearings in there for a couple of hours,” said Ritter, “then lift them up with the inside strainer, and lay them out on paper towel.”

Some customers seem to have the idea that the more grease or oil they use, the faster their skates will go. But Ritter and Pattison agree. A little bit goes a long way. And too much makes for a big mess. Ritter, who uses Uncle Charlie’s or Lynx Skate Bearing Oil, says “maybe two drops.” For Pattison, who uses motor oil, “any kind of motor oil,” one drop is sufficient. That said, however, Pattison does stock a lighter oil for customers who skate competitively.

As soon as Ritter got his bearing press/puller from Southeastern Skate Supply, he mounted it on a wooden block, to keep it from “flopping all over the place” while he uses it. And the vise, he said, “is always helpful when inserting axels.”

Note how each drawer in the dark metal tool chest is labeled in big white letters: Screwdrivers… Sockets… Allen Wrench… Drill Bits… The shoemaker’s anvil stand has three different sized anvils for mounting and drilling different sized boots.

A good variable speed drill is essential, as is the Snyder boot marking tool and the ruler for double checking markings. Resting just below The Palace’s collection of drill bits is a “y3 tool,” a non-slip grip tool with 9/16” and ½” sockets, plus a 15/16” open wrench. Screw drivers in a range of sizes and heads are a must. And so is the ratchet with a selection of sockets and that collection of open end wrenches, all in the same sizes: 1/4”, 3/8”, ½”, 9/16”, 7/16” and 11/16”.

Many of these tools, like the drill, wrenches, screw drivers, etc. will do double duty in maintaining the rink itself, noted Pattison.

And when you finish a job, always put the tools back where they belong, said Ritter. “Keep organized: a place for everything and everything in its place.” Because just having that good quality open end 11/16” wrench isn’t enough. You need to know where to find it, too.