Local Facilities Get Win Over Tough EconomySoccer Zone
Soccer Zone in Lansing is an indoor and outdoor facility focusing mostly on recreational play. Clients, as young as three, can sign up for six-week instructional classes. Older children and adults can sign up for eight-week soccer leagues. While Soccer Zone caters primarily to amateurs, professional athletes come in for extra workouts as well. Soccer Zone’s area manager Tom Benavides says there’s been a reduction in those signing up for multiple programs or seasons due to struggles in the economy, but creative changes have helped make up the lost revenue. “We go from 300 teams in the winter to 30 in the summer,” says Benavides. “We have to make a year’s worth of revenue in just six months.” The addition of new programs has generated additional interest in the facility. “This is the first year we’ve offered flag football. If people want it, we find a way to offer it.”
Lacrosse, dodgeball, and even ultimate frisbee are also offered. Requests from parents have prompted another major change. For the first time, Soccer Zone is offering fall programs in August to coincide with the beginning of the school year. “Parents wanted the indoor season to begin just as the outdoor season is ending.”
Soccer Zone also is the only facility to have indoor and outdoor fields, a store inside the building selling soccer apparel, and both uniforms and programs can be designed to meet the needs of athletes. “Whatever they’re struggling with, we can have a camp conducted by a professional to deal specifically with that problem,” says Benavides.
Soccer Zone continues to evolve to meet the community’s needs. New turf is being added to the outdoor fields, plans for energy-efficient lighting for night games are in the works, and a running path is being developed to connect the outdoor fields to Hawk Island Park. All the plans and changes don’t involve a fee hike. “There’s no talk of increasing costs and I honestly don’t think this is the time to begin that conversation.”
Not only is there no talk of a fee hike over at Suburban Ice, the East Lansing arena is actually lowering costs. “When most businesses are down, they give more but they have to charge more,” says general manager, Jeff Mitchell. “We give them the same quality but charge less.” The idea being that making the arena more affordable allows more people to play.
Another strategy was to hire staff who can multi-task. “We haven’t reduced staff or the hours of operation, but are utilizing personnel differently.” Mitchell points to the fact that he’s not only the general manager, but can teach, sell advertising, and even run concessions, if need be.
Although the arena business was started 35 years ago by former National Hockey League players Tom Anastos and Lyle Phair, management of the facility these days is firmly in the hands of Mitchell, who played for the Dallas Stars. “We’re hoping to give something back to the community. This is our passion,” he says. And, that passion has worked well to survive the economic downturn. Numbers are continuing to rise under his reign.
Meeting community demands has prompted more programs as well. This fall, Suburban Ice is starting a girls’ hockey program for the first time. Mitchell says Anastos and Phair, who own or manage five facilities in Michigan, are trendsetters in the industry. “That’s how we’re staying ahead of the curve—implementing programs before anyone else does. Other facilities are now offering what we did years ago.”
One of Suburban’s cost-saving introductions to the area was cross-ice hockey. It divides the ice into sections to allow for up to six fundamental teams to be out at one time.
Mitchell boasts the 92,000-square-foot facility as home to the largest hockey association in Greater Lansing along with the largest learn to skate, fundamental hockey, and figure skating programs in the area.
There are plans as well to take training to an even higher level. Sports-specific training facilities for hockey and figure skating are planned for the 2009-2010 season.
Training top-level athletes is also at the top of the agenda for another sports venue. Twistars USA Gymnastics Club, with facilities in DeWitt and Dimondale, is focusing on the Olympics. Two possible Olympiads—both just 13 years old—are among those training for the 2012 games. One is the number one ranked junior in the country and has a special place in the owner’s heart. “She came up through the program,” John Geddert says.
While catering to athletes at the competitive level, Geddert admits the majority of his business is recreational. Of the estimated 1,000-1,500 students at the two facilities every season, 90 percent are simply looking for fun and fitness. The arenas, which cater to those 18 months to 18 years, has something for everyone, Geddert says.
The economic impact on Twistars has been minimal—something even surprising to Geddert. “When you think of gymnastics in a family budget, you would think it would be the first thing to be axed, but we’ve seen minimal impact.” Geddert credits the quality of service for being able to maintain his client base.
He also credits the depth of his coaching staff. “The experience level is unmatched,” Geddert says. “We currently are so deep, we can train more kids.” He says they all have experience working with athletes and share the same coaching philosophy. “We take our time and do things the right way. We’re not in a hurry—safety comes first.”
Geddert opened the 12,000-square-foot facility in DeWitt first, then expanded to a second and larger building in Dimondale. He says he has no other plans for expansion. His ideas for his future, though, are in the planning process. “I’m looking for someone to hand the reins to,” he says. “I want to do more mentoring or look for new business opportunities to teach how to run gyms.”
John and Kathleen Geddert, Owners
9410 Davis Highway
Twistars at The Outlet
1161 E. Clark Road
Suburban Ice—East Lansing
Jeff Mitchell, General Manager
2810 Hannah Blvd.
Ton Benavides< Area Manager
4900 Contec Drive