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A gripping tale rolls on: How to coat a roller rink?

Rob Sabo
rsabo@nnbw.biz

There’s an old axiom in the roller skating industry when it comes to floor coatings: The better the grip, the faster the roll.

Joe Nazzaro is devoting the final years of his career to creating a new generation of grippiness.

Nazzaro, managing partner of Roll-On Floor Systems LLC of Euless, Texas, knows as much about floor coatings for the roller skating industry than many chemists — his father helped develop the first urethane-based skate-rink coatings in the early 1970s. Since then, Roll-On Floor Systems has become the dominant coating among the nation’s approximately 1,200 commercial roller skating rinks.

Nazzaro and others in the roller skate industry will swap stories and discuss trends in the industry at the annual Roller Skating Association International convention May 5-8 at Silver Legacy Resort. The convention returns to Reno for the third time and first time since 2009.

A hot topic for many will be floor coatings.

Nazzaro’s tried-and-true urethane-based floor coating came under fire in 2010 as 22 states, primarily in the Great Lakes region and along the East Coast, adopted more stringent standards for low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) emitting materials. The problem: Urethane-based coatings emit harmful gasses as they dry.

Roll-On Floor Systems has been working with its research and development laboratory to produce a water-based floor coating that has the same performance standards rink operators have become used to but also adheres to Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

“We had nice slice of market,” Nazzaro said last week from Columbus, Ohio, where he was testing the new product. “Our goal is to continue to produce an acceptable product with lower drying times. Our commitment is to sustain the safety the industry was able to establish.”

“Grippy” floor coatings lead to fewer falls and reduce common skating accidents such as sprained or broken wrists. Nazzaro found, however, as researchers began to modify the product that skaters’ wheels began to lose their grip on the rink surface. Roll-On is working to develop a water-based product with the same performance standards as its solvent-based product.

An improved version of the water-based floor coating has been well-received at a competitive skate rink in Orlando, Nazzaro says. Creating the industry’s new standard coating is his goal as looks at exiting the skating industry after decades of working as a supplier.

“To be sure I leave a mark on this industry, on my way out I want to leave the industry with a quality, water-based product.”

Nazzaro will be at the annual Roller Skating Association International convention to answer distributors’ questions about the transition and to make sure rink owners are comfortable with the new product.

“I’ll be there with the biggest target on my chest for each of the individual operators,” he says. “My job is to be in that booth and make sure each question gets answered as to what’s coming in floor coatings and what’s happened to the coatings at their rinks during the past year.”

Jim McMahon, executive director of the Roller Skating Association, says the event has coupled with the annual Laser Tag Convention since many rinks have added that amenity as an added attraction.

Roller skating, though down from it’s peak years, still soldiers on, McMahon says, primarily because a trip to the rink remains a low-cost, healthy family outing.

“Roller skating really is not affected by the economy as most other businesses,” he says. “People will always find opportunities to do recreational activities for their kids, even in the worst of times. They still have to have birthday parties, and roller skating is still the most economic value.”

Business at skate rinks tends to rise during a recession, McMahon says, because consumers cut back on vacations and seek activities closer to home.

Issues that affect the industry outside of low-VOC coatings include high property taxes on big skate rink buildings that often are open just 32 hours a week.

The resurgence of female roller derby — Reno’s own version includes the Battle Born Derby Demons and Reno Roller Girls — also has placed positive emphasis on skating, McMahon says. It also has opened the sport of skating to a much wider demographic than young kids at a local skate rink.

McMahon expects around 500 people will attend the annual convention, and 75 vendors have already registered booths at the event. Roller Skating Association International represents more than 800 skate rinks around the country, he says.

“Roller skating is probably last giant mom-and-pop industry in our country,” he says. “The majority of our members still own just one rink.”