$kate $harpening is Breaking Me!

or Do you have any deals?

You know, skate sharpeners hear that gripe or something similar to it every day, and frankly it's wearing pretty thin. It's been my observation that the usual whiners are the ones who are wearing designer clothing, who are driving high-end SUVs, and who are trying to pay for their minimal purchase with a Debit or Credit card. Well, it's not quite that stereotyped, but it's close enough. There appears to be some notion that skate sharpening should be free, and unfortunately this notion is perpetuated by the guys who offer free lifetime skate sharpening with your skate purchase. Selective memory also comes into play when "Dad" compares the price of today with what he paid as a boy (10 or more years ago).

Without making any apologies, I will attempt on behalf of skate sharpeners everywhere to put the price of skate sharpening into perspective. To this end I will draw on my skate sharpening experience which began in 1981, and this should give us an adequate historical reference. First, let me set some parameters.

This diatribe was written in 2004, and therefore the "here and now " per the following text is "as of 2004 ".

Since this website represents a local point of view, I will continue to cite local examples, but no doubt my local examples can be applied to other locales.

What Makes up the Price of Skate Sharpening ?

Presumably at one time, someone sat down and computed the price giving consideration to such noble factors as cost of doing business, return on investment, and reasonable expectation of profit. In my own case, I just checked out what the other skate sharpeners in town were charging, and set my own prices accordingly. During the ensuing years my prices crept upwards (just like everyone else's). The price of skate sharpening is market-driven however, and what happens in one market is not necessarily gonna occur in another market. In spite of the apparent lack of sophistication, there are pricing strategies in use:

  • Freebies:
    You get what you pay for, and brother, you pay for what you get. In case nobody's noticed, free skate sharpening is not really free. I'm unable to offer a sound business reason for freebies, but the guys offering freebies must think they're the only way to go. I suppose that there's some strategy about getting people back into the store, but since each skate sharpening is a few bucks cash, it seems to me that you have to sell a goodly amount of retail merchandise to recover the few bucks you just gave away in free sharpening. This can be further complicated by the fact that the recovery money may be coming from some pretty skinny profit margins. Oh well, I'm just a country boy without a high-priced education, so what do I know?
  • Low-Ballers:
    Not all skate sharpening is the same! Contrary to popular opinion, skate sharpening quality is as diverse as fish in the sea, but for purposes of simplicity, we can categorize to "Good", "Bad" and "Ugly". Low-Ballers or discounters consistently charge less than the established median price for a given area because they have to do that in order to attract and retain clients. It's easier for these guys to charge less for their work than to improve their skate sharpening skills. A competitive market is no excuse for Low-Balling. I once had a service area of about 5km by 2km (that's about 3mi by 1¼mi for you Americans), and I had 16 competitors. We all charged the same, and we all made money. There was one guy who tried being the cheapest, and what he got was all the garbage, which left the good stuff (meaning the skates that were cared for) for the rest of us. An alternate version of Low-balling is "The Card". "The Card" offers skate sharpening at a substantial discount (often on a per-season basis). This approach is the same as competing by price alone because your workmanship sucks. Aside from attracting bargain hunters, low-balling has little benefit for the sharpener except maybe for bragging rights that he sharpens the most skates.
  • Brass:
    Most expensive does not necessarily get you the best workmanship. These guys charge more than the median price established for the area, and sometimes a lot more than the median price. They do this because:
    • They're greedy
    • They're fearless of repercussions
    • They're the only skate sharpener in the area
    • They have a sizable business volume (deserved or not)
    • They're jerks
    The work these guys turn out may or may not be worth the price they charge, but mostly they are price leaders because they can get away with it.
  • Mainstream:
    These are the guys in the shops who still believe that value for the money is cool. They charge a fair rate for a decent job. These guys don't give it away nor do they discount their work because they don't have to bribe their clients. Their rates are usually right on the median price for the area. Workmanship can vary from fair to very good, but the level of customer service is always first-rate.

How come Skate Sharpening has to be so Expensive?

Expensive is a relative term, and depends your point of view. Before we get on with the discussion, let me say this about that: In 1981 I got $2 a pair to sharpen hockey skates, in 2004 I get $4 a pair (which now includes 2 sales taxes). If we extend the comparison to other common things (you decide how far back in time you want to go), it will become clear that skate sharpening was not the only thing that increased in price, but it sure sustained the smallest % increase.

  • Gasoline
  • Beer
  • Cigarettes
  • Weekly Groceries
  • Vehicle Insurance
  • Postage
  • Utilities

Your hourly rate is $120! That's outrageous!

Yes I work on a piece rate, and when the work is available I do all right. However in case you haven't noticed there are a few other operations involved in skate sharpening that are not of the sharpening process. I'm talking about removing skate guards, untying skate laces, cleaning snow and slop from the skates, and tucking in laces and tongues. Some skates I get are wet inside and out, and stink something awful. Imagine if you can tucking a skate tongue inside a sopping, slimy, and stinking skate boot. Yum, yum, and later I'll have a sandwich for lunch. For this I get only $4? There is downtime between clients, and the other side of this coin is minimum wage or less. Naturally you only see me when I'm busy because that's when you and everyone else decide that you need your skates sharpened. Some days are busy, others are dead. Can you say boredom? There, I knew you could, but nobody sees me when I'm dying of boredom because nobody's here. Because of the irregular workload, and of course the usual "hurry-up" mode imposed by my clients, I have to work very rapidly and efficiently just to keep everyone happy. This is a no-win situation because I'm perceived to be making pretty easy money. It all comes out in the wash. My business is seasonal, and in-season I get to work 7 days a week. That means for about 30 weeks a year, I get no holidays nor any kind of normal life since I'm working when everyone else is finished for the day. Additionally my benefits package sucks, and whatever I make in-season has to last thru my off-season too.

I've got 3 kids in hockey. Can you cut me a break?

It takes me the same amount of time to sharpen 3 pairs of your skates as it does for me to sharpen 1 pair each for 3 separate customers and I am entitled to fair compensation for my time. Having kids was your own idea, and that makes you responsible for their upkeep ... not me. If you're really interested in reducing your out-of-pocket expense, why not get your kids to pay out of their allowance? At the same time you'll reduce your own out-of-pocket expense and you'll teach your kids responsibility too.

Any fool can do what you're doing. I'm gonna get my own machine!

Oh Man, I love this one! In fact I love this one so much I dedicated a portion of this website to it. You go right ahead and size up skate sharpening equipment but at least take the time to check out Sooooo, you wanna be a Skate Sharpener huh?

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