by A.K. Folami
“It's a Family Affair” could be the theme song for Skate Zone, the roller skating rink owned by Debra and Richard Phillips. Located in Morrow, Georgia the facility caters to families and the Phillips list this as the main reason for their success. Debra told BlackBusinessList.com [BBL] it's important the community knows families are always welcome. Richard added competitive admission and skate rental pricing plus good customer service also contribute to the business' longevity.
Even through tough economic times the rink remains open for all scheduled sessions, most of which welcome skaters of all ages and only two catering to specific audiences: the Saturday teen night and Sunday adult skate. Skate Zone's family sessions remain popular with children and adults because of low admission and the family atmosphere. Debra said reasonable prices ensure individuals and families can afford to keep skating in their lives.
Spiritual convictions guide the couple and they feel a duty to “give back” because of their many blessings. Debra explained the rink has certain standards and one of them is the no-sagging rule. Ms Deb has no problem asking men and boys to be better examples and pull up their pants. She typically makes her request one-on-one but other times she's heard on the rink's PA system making an announcement. “What we allow is a reflection of us,” she said. “When you come to someone's home, respect their rules.” Her husband is not so quick to pull customers to the side and jokingly calls his wife the “bad cop” of the duo. On a serious note, he said the two get along great and their work days go by quickly.
Debra shared a secret to their success working together as a couple is they leave business matters at the rink. It might seem they're together all the time but they both also enjoy participating individually in the hobbies and activities that bring them joy away from the business.
Married for 19 years, the Phillips have three sons and intend to keep the rink in the family for generations to come. Richard noted how difficult it is to name one Black-owned business or empire where the wealth of it has passed down through one family. He recounted how he and Debra were two of only a handful of Black rink owners at the Roller Skating Association International's 78th annual convention held in May.
The roller skating industry remains full of Caucasian-owned rinks, many in operation for decades and still run by descendants of the original owners. The Phillips want the same for Skate Zone and made sure their sons, (the oldest now in college majoring in marketing), spent their teen years working in the rink.
“We've owned businesses since they were little,” Debra shared. As parents they've made sure to instill entrepreneurial spirits into their offspring. “Business ownership is important. If you want to make your own rules and build your own equity you have to have your own.”
The couple previously co-owned Decatur Family Skate, in operation from 2001 to 2004. Richard knew he wanted to own a business and began associating with the “right people.” He considers that an essential key to success and one that results in “one chapter leading to another.” In their first rink venture, the Phillips had investors and partners. The lessons learned from being in that business seven days a week prepared the two for what would come later: 100% ownership of their own rink.
Richard counts approval of the loan to purchase Skate Zone and the first day of business as his most memorable and overwhelming moments. “It was a great day for our family,” he said of the Nov. 5, 2004 grand opening. Debra added it was also scary not knowing what was around the bend but more than a decade later, after weathering many storms and eating the fruits of success, she says, “I'm blessed to have Rich. We're partners in everything.” Richard referred to himself and his spouse as Bonnie and Clyde. “We're in this together.”
As someone adopted at a young age, he encouraged people to push on through difficulties and not let childhood traumas deter them from pursuing their goals. “Whatever you put your heart to, you can do,” he said.” Debra admonished those who think they want a business to count the cost. “It's 24/7. People have to be up for the task.” Your job, she added, is everything. “You can't miss one thing.” As rink owners she said their days continue on even after sessions end. “There's no checking out.”
Do adults still roller skate?
Although Skate Zone has many children and teens as customers, the rink has its share of loyal adult patrons. Non-skaters sometimes express surprise that grown ups still put on skates and “get their roll on.” Dedicated skaters like Rachel De laugh when asked to respond to questions such as, 'Do you still roller skate?' Her response: “Do you still play Bingo?,” in reference to the number of adults who regularly play the game they learned as children.
Keivonta Lawrence encouraged those in doubt to visit a skating facility for themselves. “Come to the rink once and it'll take it from there.” The 24-year-old has been a Skate Zone customer since his teenage years and enjoys his 'me-time' skating as well as the family and friends he regularly sees at the rink.
De skates at several Atlanta area rinks but calls Skate Zone her home away from home and the place she always holds her yearly birthday party. One of the most popular and respected skaters in the area, she unashamedly boasts her love for her favorite past-time, “When I'm on the floor, it's all about me. I'm a celebrity in my own world. I'm in love with my skates and my skates love me.”
What makes this rink different?
Her daughter and two young granddaughters also skate at Skate Zone and the Phillips place the entire family on the list of the rink's longest term customers. Such connections help them know they're on the right track. “It's not just about money with us,” Debra said, adding that they always try to treat people fair. Richard said one thing that makes the business stand out is that he and Debra emphasize the family atmosphere and personally interact with those who spend money and time at their facility. “We like to be visible and accessible to our customers.”
Connect with Skate Zone: (770) 960-1400, 6766 Mount Zion Blvd., Morrow, GA, or on Facebook: SkateZoneMorrow