25 years of attractions old and new for New Jersey’s Rides 4 U

ATPam Sherborne

SOMERVILLE, N.J. — As Rides 4 U slides into its 25th anniversary year, owner Len Soled feels he is ever closer to the goal set when the company began in May of 1995. 

The goal for the founders — which included Soled, his wife, Alexis Soled, and industry veteran Nancy Buckley ­— was to be as diversified as possible to support every aspect of the amusement industry.

To that end, it is hard to find an area where Rides 4 U can’t meet its own expectations. The company brokers new ride sales for SBF/Visa, KMG, S & S Worldwide and has relationships for new rides with other manufacturers such as Moser and Majestic. The company also sells used rides. It sells parts and LED lighting packages. It liquidates products for carnivals and parks, large and small. It can provide turnkey on projects. 

Even with the unprecedented circumstances presented by the novel coronavirus this year, Soled said he is still busy. He has a trailer-mounted SBF/Visa mini break dance being delivered to North American Midway Entertainment this month.

“We had a new KMG Freak Out already delivered to R.C. Cole (Cole Shows Amusement Company),” Soled said. “We have a few new projects.”

And Soled said the company has continued to ship out an abundance of parts to ride owners of all sorts. Because of the pandemic and lockdowns, ride owners and operators have found themselves with more maintenance time.

“I’ve had people tell me that their rides have never looked so good,” Soled said. 

With Soled’s now 35 years in the industry, he also is able to value rides. 

“There isn’t a (Kelley) Blue Book for amusement rides,” he said. “I feel confident enough now to do that. Not many people in this industry can.”

Yet all this didn’t come to Rides 4 U overnight. There have been bumps along the way, but Soled said there hasn’t been a single time when he thought his business wasn’t going to make it. 

There have been changes, of course. The most significant was the retirement in 2012 of Nancy Buckley. 

Soled met Buckley at Zamperla where he began his affiliation with the amusement business. 

“I knew nothing about this business when I started with Zamperla,” Soled said. 

And that is what he told Alberto Zamperla during his interview. 

“He asked me why I wanted to be in this industry,” Soled said. 

He told him: “Because I am a salesman and I can sell anything.”

Soled also had a Master of Business Administration, which seemed to work to his advantage. He was offered a job.

 His first job with Zamperla was to go to the International Independent Showmen’s Foundation expo in Gibsonton, Florida. Known just as Gibtown, he was to go in with the technical team and set up five park model rides. 

“Boy do I remember that very well,” he said. “We had to go in two and a half weeks before the show started. The show back then lasted over a week. Then, it took us a week to take everything down.”

He found himself up on the rides helping the technical team put the rides up. He definitely realized he had a learning curve ahead of him. 

“I would be up on the ride with tools, my sleeves rolled up and someone would holler up to me and say, ‘Hey, Len, aren’t you glad you got that MBA?’ 

“I remember getting on that plane to fly home completing exhausted,” he said. “I thought, ‘What in the world am I doing in this business?’ I told myself I would never be back.”

He has now attended 35 Gibtown shows. 

After 10 years at Zamperla, he felt it was now or never to start his own business. It was a hard decision because he liked where he was. He talked it over with his wife and with Buckley wanting to partner with them, he knew he was making the right choice. Rides 4 U opened up shop in New Jersey where they both lived and had been working. 

“I remember us going to our first New Jersey Attractions Association (NJAA) annual dinner and dance as Rides 4 U,” he said. “I was standing there, and here comes Bob and Patty Bennett (Casino Pier, Seaside Heights. New Jersey). He said that he had three rides he wanted to liquidate. ‘You sell them and tell me what they are worth.’ “

Soled was thrilled. That same evening Roy Gillian, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, Ocean City, Maryland, came over and did the same thing. 

“They told us that they wanted us to stay and be part of the future of the business.   They wanted us to succeed.”

In addition, Rides 4 U began to broker new rides with manufacturers. Majesticwas first on board and then S&S, Moser, SBF/Visa and KMG.

The company’s first new ride sale was a SBF/Visa jeep convoy to Nicholson’s Pier. The second was a SBF/Visa antique car ride to Morey’s Piers, Wildwood, New Jersey.

Some of Soled’s favorite memories throughout the 25 years include working with Moser on the drop tower and a creative deal he and Buckley put together for Playland Park in Rye, New York. Publicly owned by Westchester County, the two created a deal where they would lease rides to the park. They created a separate business entity, Rides Plus, and ended up with that deal for eight or nine years before Westchester County bought them out. 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which in 2012 struck the eastern seaboard, Rides 4 U was able to be there for many of their first customers. The company helped attractions’ owners salvage what they could, sell off what they didn’t want and buy new rides.

 At the beginning of 2013, Rides 4 U was approached by the National Football League (NFL), which wanted the company’s help in purchasing a slide for Superbowl XLVIII to be held in New York City. 

But that wasn’t all the NFL wanted from Rides 4 U. The NFL wanted the company to set up and operate the ride on the street in the middle of Times Square. Soled brokered the deal between NFL and SBF/Visa for the 70-foot-tall slide. Then, he accepted the challenge of operating the massive undertaking. 

“It was very exciting, but also very challenging,” he said. “We operated it for four days and we had thousands and thousands of people on it. We were given 12 hours to set it up and then eight hours to tear it down.”

Once the NFL was done with the slide, it still wasn’t done with Soled. They got Rides 4 U to broker the resale. Soled sealed a deal with Andretti Indoor Karting and Games. As fate would have it, Soled ended up brokering a sale for a third time on this slide between Andretti’s and the Florida State Fair, Tampa. 

Soled feels one of the most important parts of any company is customer service. He likes to shake hands. So, over the years, he has traveled many miles. One annual trip he started taking in August of every year is now known as Lenny’s Magical Mystery Tour. 

It started out when KMG’s Peter Theunisz wanted to travel with Soled to some U.S. attractions.

“He would spend two to three weeks with me on the road,” Soled said. “We would visit one attraction and then be off to another. There wasn’t a lot of time to spend visiting any U.S. landmarks. During one trip, Peter said, ‘You have to do me this one favor. I want to see Niagara Falls.’

“Well, I felt sorry for the guy,” he said. “So, we went to the falls and had some lunch.”

Another close associate of Soled’s, Paul Muller, OA Finance, said he wanted to come along as well. For years now, Soled, Theunisz and Muller take Lenny’s Magical Mystery Tour. Muller’s son, Wade Muller, also has joined. 

Soled said there is no way to have a successful business by yourself. His long-time and loyal employees and associates have made Rides 4 U what it is today. They are Rich Madden, Earl Heller, Stephanie Magnani, Annie Bauer, Dori Horvath, Joe Migueles and Mark Blumhagen. Outside technicians and associates are Scotty Henderson and Cody Saldivar, John Yonkers, Jimmy Gibbs, Jeff Kagan and Jim Caskey. John W.C. Robinson assists with the company’s marketing efforts.


This article appears in the JUNE 2020 issue of Amusement Today.
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