At 2 Way Radio Express we get to meet other business people everyday. I thought you might enjoy hearing about some of them. We might make this the first episode in a continuing series.
It was early December of 1979. Eleven people are killed during a stampede for seats before The Who concert at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio. The premiere for Star Trek: The Motion Picture is held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. In response to the hostage situation in Tehran, Jimmy Carter orders a halt to all oil imports into the USA from Iran. Mike Pattison and his wife Kay are watching the finishing touches being completed on their new skating rink in Federal Way, Washington. Federal Way is situated just off Interstate Highway 5 between Seattle and Tacoma.
The skating rink is being built with help from Mike’s dad and a million dollar variable rate loan from the bank. A small sign by the curb announces “Pattison’s West Family Skate Center Coming Soon.” Mike’s brother, Larry is also a partner in the new business. It is Wednesday and without a formal grand opening the brothers decide to turn on the lights and quietly open the new rink. Six hundred paying customers show up on the first night. The next friday night 1000 people show up to skate.
Mike knew the rink was going to be a success. He had been in the skating rink business since age 11 when he began working for his Dad. Mike remembers, “Climbing up the shelves to reach the skates because I wasn’t tall enough to reach the top. It’s hard to believe but I was driving a bus when I was 16. We had a 60 passenger bus and I’d pick up about 120 kids and drive them to our rink. This was in snow and all kinds of weather. Today they’d throw you in jail if you let a 16 year drive a bus. I never crashed. I spun out once. I was playing around in the snow and the next thing I knew the back of the bus was coming around. Luckily I didn’t hit anything.”
Mike’s dad and Mike’s grandpa and Mike’s sister were all in the skating rink business. Mike‘s grandpa started the family tradition with a skating rink and other amusements in Redondo, Washington right on Puget Sound. His grandpa had a carousel that is still on display. Rumor tells the story that generation before, a teen-aged Dwight D. Eisenhower sanded and prepared the carousel for its decorative painting. Mike’s grandpa always made a good living.
Mike says the skating business is simple, “Be on time and be nice to the customers.” Mike has taught these principles for over 30 years to the young people that have worked at his rink. “Working at a skating rink is a terrific job for a high school kid.”
“We have a terrific facility,” Mike says. “Our rink is solid maple hardwood. The boards are curved so you are always skating with the grain of the wood. It is too expensive to build a rink that way today but it is the best. Our rink is considered to be one of the best in the country.”
There was another skating rink a few miles away from Pattison’s West Family Skate Center that had closed just 2 years before Mike opened his rink. “I never thought we wouldn’t make it. It’s the only thing I know how to do. My family always had a successful rink. I know how to operate a skating rink,” Mike said. “A few years after we opened the interest rate on our loan jumped to 16%. One percent increase was equal to about $1000 per month. My wife and my brother’s wife had to cut back and not take a paycheck. It was really our only hard time.”
Mike learned how to run the business from his Dad. Mike remembers, “Every time the rink was open my Dad would be there and that’s the way it is for me today. He was a hard worker. In the summer my Dad cut the grass around the building with a sickle. It was very strenuous work. Dad worried that some kid would throw a cigarette into the weeds and burn down the building. I’d ask him, why don’t you just hire somebody? He’d tell me, If you hire somebody to do all your work you won’t have any money. Dad drove Cadillacs and Lincolns. My Dad was tough on me when I worked for him. I used to get fired during the week almost every week. Then the weekend would come and he needed me to drive the bus and he’d hire me back. He taught me if you put a lot of hours in you’ll make a good living.”
A few years ago Mike bought his brother’s share of the business. He had to borrow nearly a million dollars again but this time it is on a proven business that is worth much more than the loan.
Mike’s son, Darin now works full time for him. Mike says, “It is a little tough to work with your own son. I think I’m a little hard on him sometimes. I guess like it was working for my Dad. We don’t take any days off. I always have the phone from the rink forwarded to my cell phone. I’m just about ready to turn it over to my son. I guess I don’t want to let go. I still mow my own yard.”
Mike says, “I like cars. I have a couple porsches. But my real hobby is speed skating. My Dad speed skated in the 1930’s. People would come down from Canada to race Dad at my grandpa’s rink. They would put on big shows where there would be dancing and speed skating and they had skits. It was really big back in the 1930 and 1940’s but you don’t see that any more. However the speed skating part is bigger than ever. We have been very active and successful in training speed skaters at our rink.”
“I been getting emails,” Mike continues. “I’ve gotten letters and emails from the kids that worked for us when we first opened. We’ve been here 30 years. These employees say how much fun it was working for us when they were growing up and how you couldn’t ask for a job that was more fun. They got to work with their friends and meet lots of girls. It was their first job and they thank me for teaching them how to work and the importance of being on time. They thank me for teaching them that they are there to help the customer, without the customer they wouldn’t have a job. I feel good about that. They find me on Facebook. The skating rink business is a great business. Where else can you take your wife and kids to your job?”