Industry News:

Free Lesson Program Expands in Hopes of Snagging New Skaters

Number of Participating Schools to Nearly Double in 2006

By Robert "Just the Factoids" Burnson

The number of skate schools participating in the Free Skate Lesson Program is expected to nearly double in 2006.

"The goal for us is building participation," said Nick Skally, marketing manager for Rollerblade, a program sponsor. "We need to get more people on skates!"

The program was hampered this year by its limited geographical range.

With only 11 skate schools on its roster, it was unable to help many of the prospective skaters who asked for lessons.

Of 3000 lessons requested, only 310 were provided, said Allan Wright, owner of Zephyr Adventures, which coordinates the program.

"Unfortunately, a majority (of people who requested lessons) live in areas where we did not have instructors, so most cannot take advantage of the free lesson offer," Wright said.

Wright has added five schools to the program and is negotiating to add three more, which would bring the total to 19.

The new schools, like the old schools, are all in large U.S. cities. Among them are Bohemian Skate School in Atlanta, Top Spin in Dallas and Detroit's Blading Company.

When Wright founded the Free Skate Lesson program in 2003, he built it around instructors, rather than schools.

In the first year, there were 80 instructors on the roster, which gave the program more reach geographically ... at least on paper. But Wright was not satisfied with the program.

"With that many instructors, I was unable to tell how many lessons were given and whether instructors were responding to lesson requests," he said.

Furthermore, when he asked instructors a year later to let him know if they wanted to stay in the program, "many never responded," he said.

He also began hearing complaints about instructors failing to respond to request for lessons.

So he reorganized the program around a core group of established skate schools.

"In my opinion, it is much better to have a limited program where we know that the participating schools will be responsive to the public than to have wider coverage with less certainty," he said.

Wright is not paid for coordinating the Free Lesson program. The only thing Zephyr gets in return is a few web links and a check box on the Free Lesson sign-up page, which allows applicants to enroll in the Zephyr newsletter.

Rollerblade's role in the program is to provide skates to participating schools (10 pairs per school) and to advertise the program.

The schools agree to provide one 45-minute free lesson, group or individual, to prospective students.

Some skate schools have bristled at the idea of providing free lessons, saying it's bad for business. Others have embraced the program.

One fan is Trish Alexander of the Skate Journeys school in Seattle. Her school sold 106 lessons this year to students referred by the Free Lesson web site.

"This program may save the industry," she said.

(Talk about this story)

(posted on Nov. 4. 2005)


Related reading

Go to Free Skate Lesson web site

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Copyright © 2005 by Robert Burnson

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