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The Two Keys to a Great Customer Experience

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Monday, January 14, 2019
Climbing Gym Customer Experience

A few months ago, I was in Lisbon, Portugal, presenting to more than 1,000 club owners on membership sales. The presentation was about experiential sales and the concept of serving instead of selling. (This great concept will be a future blog topic.)

 

The event was held at the Epic Sana Hotel Lisboa. The hotel completely lived up to its name, delivering an absolutely unparalleled customer experience. I travel a ton, both personally and professionally, and this was by far one of the best hotel experiences I have ever had. The Epic Sana Hotel Lisboa nailed the two fundamental components to a great customer experience: A product or service that efficiently and effectively meets all of your needs, and a product or service that finds opportunities to surprise and delight.

 

Key #1: All of my needs were met efficiently and effectively. I arrived in the morning and my room was ready. Having flown on a redeye for over 14 hours, this was important to me. The reception staff was proactive about informing me of all of the amenities and things to do in the area. The few questions that I did have were answered by the first person with whom I interacted. There was no escalation, the person I spoke to was well-equipped and well-informed. (As a side note, one of the most common complaints from consumers is escalation – wherein a staffer needs the assistance of someone else in order to respond to an inquiry – so make sure you minimize that at your facility through your training program.) My room was cleaned every day as soon as I left it. There were complimentary waters in my room every day. The entire staff was bilingual, so I never had any issues communicating with anyone. Everything that one would expect from a hotel was in order, efficiently and effectively meeting all of my needs.

 

Key #2: The Epic Sana Hotel Lisboa also excelled at finding ways to surprise and delight me. There was literally a surprise and delight around every corner. The TV in my room said, “Welcome Mr. Stevenson,” when I arrived. The room was automated based on my behavior, so when I returned, the room automatically went back to the way I left it. The lights I wanted on, came on; the curtains I wanted open, opened; and the TV turned back on to the station that I left it on, at the volume I had set. The bartender comped me a few drinks over the course of my stay. The housekeeping staff turned down sheets every night and placed a piece of chocolate on the nightstand. To top it off, when I forgot my outlet converter, the hotel staff went and purchased it for me at no charge and delivered it to my room.

 

With all of the traveling that I do, this was one of the best experiences I have ever had at a hotel. All of my basic needs were not only met, they were exceeded, and I was consistently surprised and delighted. I had a great customer experience.

 

Take a few minutes right now and think about your facility. Are you hitting the two fundamental components of a great customer experience? Is it easy and welcoming for your customers to park, enter your facility, buy a membership, climb the way they want to, etc.? Are you doing things like recognizing birthdays and membership anniversaries, memorizing names, anticipating needs, and finding other creative ways to surprise and delight your customers on a regular basis? If not, start brainstorming how you can. If you believe you’re already nailing both of those fundamental keys, brainstorm how you can be even better. As the climbing industry continues to become even more competitive, a great customer experience becomes even more essential.

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  staff training 

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Team Dynamics: Managing Different Ages/Abilities on a Small Team

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, January 7, 2019
Youth Climbing Team Athlete

Youth comp teams have experienced massive growth in the last 10 years, and with the release of Free Solo and The Dawn Wall in theaters nationwide, as well as climbing’s debut in the 2020 Olympics, that growth is not going to slow down. USA Climbing reported a consistent 17% annual growth in youth memberships since 2012, and that growth is good news for climbing gym owners. In addition to branding and marketing opportunities, comp teams provide an additional revenue stream and employment opportunities for staff. While smaller teams can be easier to manage from a coaching perspective, one of the struggles can be balancing different ages and abilities before your team is big enough to justify adding staff or creating separate categories. Not only do coaches get frustrated, so do athletes, as kids will have more fun climbing and training with their own peer groups. Navigating team dynamics doesn’t have to be frustrating – let’s talk through some ways to eliminate the most common challenges that small teams face.

 

Align the Team with Your Business Model & Staff

Team athletes will clog up routes and boulders during peak times, so it’s vital that having a comp team fits your business model and staff. Every member of your staff, from routesetters to front desk staff and coaches, will have to be on board to facilitate the infrastructure, the routes, and other needs that a team has. Put another way, your gym staff has to come together as a team to create the strategy, structure, and processes that support the youth team and set clear goals for the program.

 

Rec Team First, Then Comp Team

Before even looking at how to effectively manage your comp team, it’s important to look more broadly at your youth programming offerings and the difference between recreation and competition teams. Recreation teams focus on developing kids who love climbing – who become proficient with basic climbing movement, techniques, and safety, while competition teams focus on developing youth climbers into competitors. Research shows that over 75% of youth athletes drop out of sports by age 13. These athletes cite burnout, injury, and pressure as their top reasons. Starting youth out on a rec team can eliminate ability differences and substantially reduce the chance of burnout, ensuring that you have an engaged team of athletes who enjoy climbing. The youth climbers in your gym that want to take their climbing to the competitive level will be easy to spot.

 

Develop a Training Program

If you’ve currently got your team just showing up and climbing, it’s time to regroup and develop a training protocol specific to the physiology and psychology of the youth athletes on your team. Developing a well-rounded training protocol for sport and bouldering season will ensure that your athletes are training correctly and will reduce their risk of injury. To maximize efficiency, teams can be divided into groups or partners to work through specific drills or protocols, such as: mobility, power endurance, finger strength, technique, overall conditioning, etc. Group games can also be a powerful tool.

 

Make Parents Your Allies

The team might only be for youth athletes, but where there’s kids, there’s parents. Getting parents on board is crucial to creating positive outcomes for the athletes and will help to avoid parent problems down the road. When athletes and their families choose the commitment involved in competitive climbing, make sure they know the expectations for what practice looks like and that they have a realistic idea of how their athlete will perform at competitions based on their category and ability.

 

Coaching Is More Than a Job

Coaching youth is a calling, not just a job. Simply put, the coach can make or break your comp team. Coaches must have climbing-specific experience, training know-how, and most importantly, they must be able to connect with their athletes. Research shows that effective coaches share similar core elements in their coaching philosophy: coach development, athlete development, managed competition, and positive motivational climate, while including fun in all elements. Coaches should also be able to evaluate their programs and make changes based on mistakes or outcomes they’d like to work towards.

 

Learn From Others

There are many established teams that have already worked through many of the challenges that your small team and gym are dealing with. Attend the CWA Summit to network and talk to owners and coaches. Ask for their thoughts on how you can develop your team further. USA Climbing offers resources for coaches, routesetters, and judges: having your staff on board with regulations and rules supports the team and paves the way for your gym to host competitions. You can also hire a consultant or a coach to come in and identify specific issues you need to correct.

 

Putting It All Together

Addressing challenges with team dynamics is the only way to resolve them. Learning how to effectively manage and develop the athletes on your team will not only improve your athlete’s performance, it will keep employees engaged through success in their jobs and reflect positively on your brand. Building a solid team doesn’t happen overnight, it takes:

  • Getting the entire gym on board to create the strategy, structure, and processes that support the comp team.
  • Creating athletes who love climbing first, then developing competitors.
  • Training for goals – effective coaching is about reaching goals; training programs are the road map to get there.
  • Getting the support of parents to ensure that athletes are prepared for training and competition.
  • Developing coaches that are the right fit for your team and gym.
  • Learning best practices from other teams and using consultants to implement new processes.

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  coaching  youth team  youth training 

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Where to Begin with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Posted By Emma Walker, Friday, January 4, 2019
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Puzzle

There’s a lot of talk in the climbing industry lately about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI): What will it take to get more people tied in? How can we make climbing more accessible to a larger, more diverse audience? If you know where to begin, incorporating DEI initiatives into your gym’s practices is more approachable than you might think.

 

Offer basic instruction

“When I first walked into a gym,” says Kriste Peoples, “it looked like everybody else automatically knew what they were doing. I never saw any kind of promotion that said, ‘If you’re new to climbing, we’ll show you the ropes!’ That feeds this notion that climbing is really exclusive.” Peoples instructs Women’s Wilderness’ Girls Lead for Life program, a weekly after-school climbing and leadership program for girls. When Peoples started climbing, she didn’t know much about what gear she needed or to how to tie a figure-eight, and she felt intimidated by the lack of information available for newbies. Offering a short class—even a free community night—on how to tie in would have gone a long way. “In my opinion, this is just good business,” Peoples laughs.

 

Partner with Local Organizations

Representation matters. That’s why climbing organizations like Brown Girls Climb (BGC) and Brothers of Climbing were created: so climbers of color would have opportunities to climb in safe spaces. Monserrat Matehuala, a member of the BGC national leadership team (and co-founder of the group’s Colorado chapter), recently helped run a DEI training for Earth Treks in Golden. “Gyms are gatekeepers for the rock climbing community,” she says, lauding Earth Treks for its commitment to DEI. “They’re often the first contact new climbers have with the community, so it matters that they feel welcome there.” Facilities who reach out to the local chapters of these organizations and create space for them—hosting nights when members of those groups have free or reduced-cost gym entry, for example—tells climbers of color they’re welcome all the time.

 

Watch Your Language

Using inclusive language, says Matehuala, is one easy way to make all your members feel welcome. “There’s a difference between being welcoming and being inclusive,” she explains, using greeting language as an example. Matehuala suggests using a non-gendered greeting—“Hello! How’s your day going?”—rather than one that assumes a member’s gender, like “Hey man!” or “Thanks, sir!” She cites the often-used shortening for the word carabiner (many climbers say “biner”) as an example: it may sound innocuous, but that shortening sounds exactly like an ethnic slur. “It’s hard to break a habit, but as educators, it’s really important,” Matehuala explains. Many gyms are choosing to incorporate that change into their learn-to-climb curricula, she says, which has the added benefit of minimizing the jargon new climbers must learn. Another quick step: Take a look at the imagery around your gym, including ads for upcoming clinics and posters of climbers on picturesque routes. If all the photos you see are of white climbers, it’s time for an overhaul.

 

Train Yourself and Your Staff

Ready to take the plunge? Consider hosting a DEI training for your staff facilitated by someone like BGC or the Avarna Group. If it’s not feasible to bring a facilitator to you, the Avarna Group and others are offering some excellent DEI workshops and conference sessions at the 2019 CWA Summit!

 

It's also important to make professional development resources available to your staff, model inclusivity, and have regular conversations about the importance of DEI. BGC has a number of resources available on their website, and James Edward Mills’ The Adventure Gap and Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces are excellent primers on the importance and value of DEI in the outdoors.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  diversity  leadership  management  staff training  workplace diversity 

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If Customer Experience Is Important, Why Aren’t We Good at It?

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Climbing Gym Customer Experience

The Customer Engagement Academy (CEA) recently released its Member Engagement in the Global Health and Fitness Industry Survey Report for 2018. It was full of great research and data, but there was one thing that stuck out to me. Based on the survey results, while a majority of clubs felt that member engagement is really important, not very many clubs felt that they were doing a good job at it. Given all of the parallels between the fitness industry and the indoor climbing world, I would venture to guess that some climbing facilities feel the same way. With the increase in the number of climbing facilities and competition, member experience is going to become a huge competitive advantage, if not the most important one. Create a great climbing experience, focusing on the entire customer journey, and you will win. Don’t, and you will lose.

 

So how do we do this? Let’s allow the data to guide us. According to the study, the top three reasons clubs felt they were falling short were lack of human resources, other priorities were taking precedence, and lack of understanding of what needs to be done. Let's break those three things down and talk about how we deal with those challenges.

 

1. Lack of human resources. The best way to deal with this is to simply make sure that all of your staff members, regardless of position, are trained on member engagement. If your entire team is armed with engagement skills, you will dramatically increase your resources. Any time we hire a new team member at Stevenson Fitness, we start the onboarding process with our company story and member experience training. We cover, in-depth, all strategies that enhance the member experience. This includes things like name recognition techniques, body language, luxury language, proper policy enforcement, warm welcomes, fond farewells, and more. We use a combination of lecture, videos, books, articles, power points, and role play to make sure nothing is missed. We also use quizzes to make sure that the information is retained.

 

2. Other priorities taking precedence. If clubs believe that engagement is essential, and the report says they do, you simply have to prioritize it. This isn’t always easy. We tend to let the technical duties of our roles as well as putting out fires get ahead of actively creating a great experience at all times. Members have to come first. The world stops when a member is present. Technical aspects of jobs take a backseat to opportunities for engagement. Communicate that consistently to your team, recognize when they do it well, and evaluate their performance on it. Create a customer-centric culture.

 

3. Lack of understanding of what needs to be done. This is perhaps the easiest challenge to conquer. Go to events like the CWA Summit every year. Attend experience, retention, and engagement-themed presentations. Find an event or two outside of the indoor climbing industry to learn creative approaches you can bring to your business and your industry. Listen to podcasts, read appropriate books, and subscribe to blogs. There are plenty of great resources to show you exactly what needs to be done. Utilize them!

 

Success comes when our behaviors match our priorities. Prioritize member engagement and establish behaviors that support it! Your members will notice, and it won’t take long for your business to see the benefits.

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  human resources  leadership  management  staff training 

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5 Programs Your Members Wish You'd Offer

Posted By Emma Walker, Monday, December 10, 2018
Climbing Gym Programming

Member engagement is critical in retaining customers, so it makes sense that climbing gyms offer a huge variety of programming to keep their members happy. Some of these programs are climbing-related, while others are focused on cross-training or building community. These five program types have had widespread success at climbing gyms across the country:

 

1. Gym-to-Crag Education

 

If members at Earth Treks Golden want a spot in one of the gym’s Sport Climbing Outside or Self-Rescue classes, they’d better sign up early – these multi-part clinics fill up fast. As more climbers begin venturing outside, educating them about the basics of crag safety (and etiquette) is increasingly important. After members complete a Lead Climbing 101 course (or have equivalent lead climbing and belaying experience), they’re ready to learn the basics from a qualified instructor in a safe environment. Bonus: Monthly members are offered a discount on their class fees.

 

2. Technical Instruction

 

As climbers become more proficient, they continue to need mentorship – and what better place to turn than their local gym, where many of them meet their partners? Bend Rock Gym offers Anchor Building 101 and 102 classes. These sessions are specifically tailored to the conditions climbers will encounter at nearby Smith Rock, but the gym notes that once climbers have learned to set up anchors on bolted climbs at Smith, they can apply that knowledge wherever they climb.

 

3. Speakers and Slideshows

 

Your members might have joined the climbing gym to move around, but if the topic is interesting enough, they’ll sit still for an hour or so. Just ask Eric Wickenheiser, Alaska Rock Gym’s Operations Manager. ARG often hosts local climbers to give talks to the tight-knit Anchorage climbing community on their latest adventures, and even did a live recording of the popular podcast The Firn Line with hometown hero Roman Dial. Events like this are fairly inexpensive to put on, and climbers will remember that your gym is supportive and in tune with the greater climbing community.

 

4. Fitness Beyond Yoga

 

Many gyms offer a variety of yoga classes these days, and at lots of facilities, those classes are packed every day of the week – it makes sense, since yoga is a great supplement to climbing. It follows that members jump at the opportunity to increase their fitness or cross-train in other ways, like Earth Treks’ Mountain Prep: Ski + Snowboard Class, its popular 30-minute “The Burn” and “Core Burn” classes, or Milwaukee-based Adventure Rock’s Olympic Lifting and Partner Yoga classes.

 

5. Adult Climbing Leagues

 

Tons of gyms offer coaching, climbing leagues, and comps for kids up to age 18, but for folks who don’t get into climbing until adulthood, it can be tough to learn the ropes without an experienced friend or mentor. Climbing teams for adults go beyond the two-hour Movement 101 classes many facilities offer and give newbie climbers a chance to meet climbing partners and build community. “It’s a group [members] really get into, and our coaches take the training seriously,” says Boston Rock Gym owner Chris O’Connell, whose members often climb together outside the league. “People love it.”

 

As you evaluate your own program lineup, use these examples to spark new ideas that can be implemented at your organization. The key to success is engaging your membership and customers with experiences that will delight and inspire them!

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  community development  customer experience  customer satisfaction  programming 

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It’s Not a Cakewalk: How to Develop a Birthday Party Program

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, December 3, 2018
Updated: Friday, November 30, 2018
Climbing Gym Birthday Parties

With fees ranging from $100 to over $300 for a two-hour party, birthday party programs can be a serious and solid income stream for climbing gyms and also align with other business goals. Not only are you creating a community for your existing youth climbers to celebrate their milestones in your gym, you are also gaining exposure to new youth and families that are not already members of your gym.

 

A birthday party program, like any revenue stream, requires business know-how, research, and set-up to make sure that it’s successful and in line with your brand and business mission. The process for researching the viability of a birthday party program, as with any program for your gym, is known as market research, and the more effort you put into it, the more successful your program will be. Effective market research will result in developing a program that meets customer’s needs, is competitive with similar offerings, is financially viable, and offers a repeatable template for every event.

 

Know Your Customers and What They Want

No matter the size of your gym, the most effective way to learn about your customers is to perform your own market research. In-house market research can be done through conversations, online surveys, or by looking at online analytics. While it’s likely that your existing members will take advantage of your birthday party program, the insights you will gain from research will help you market to a new set of customers, which gives you opportunities to boost membership and promote youth programs. When you research customers, you’ll need to answer the following questions:

  • Who is going to book a party at your gym?
  • What other options are they likely to consider for their party location? Why?
  • Why do they book parties at venues?
  • What factors are likely to convince them to book a party at your gym?

The answers to your research questions should include general and specific information, for example:

 

Who is going to book a party at your gym?
General information: Parents
Specific information: Parents of children aged 8-14 within a 10 mile radius of the gym

 

Know Your Competition and What They Offer

What is your competition? While you might think that a neighboring gym is your main competition, when it comes to birthday parties you are now competing with amusement parks, zoos, restaurants, and countless other venues. While the sheer volume of venues can be overwhelming, focus your research on venues that host parties comparable in size to ones you will offer in your gym. After reviewing your competition, you can determine what you offer that they don’t.

 

When you research competition in your area you should be collecting data on:

  • What services/activities they offer
  • What rates and fees they charge
  • Their marketing materials and ads
  • What can you offer that they can’t? (Unique selling proposition)

 

Set up a Party Space

Unless you want kids carrying drinks and cake all over the gym, set up a dedicated party space and make sure guests understand your expectations on where they eat and place food. The party room should be easy to set up, decorate, and clean. Determine what you will offer and what you expect parents to bring or do.

  • Will you decorate or give out goody bags?
  • Do you have ice?
  • Do you offer a sink or kitchen space that can be used?
  • Do you have enough tables and chairs for kids and parents?
  • What activities will you offer: only bouldering, only top-rope, games or other hands-on activities?
  • Do you provide an e-vite with links to waivers and information about climbing in your gym?

 

Calculate a Pricing Structure

You’ll want to calculate a pricing structure that adequately reflects your value proposition in addition to the party aspect. Birthday parties at your gym may cost more than hosting a party at the local pizza place – and you should be prepared to explain why. One obvious unique selling point is the value of the experience the kids will get when they learn about and get to try indoor climbing.

 

There are different pricing models that you can apply, but you’ll want to consider material costs, labor costs, and other fixed or overhead costs that are inherent to running a climbing gym, as well as competitors’ pricing. It can be difficult to determine a pricing structure, as you must balance selling a service, delivering value, and earning a fair profit. As you build and develop your program you can monitor and change prices.

 

Create Birthday Party Packages

Once you know what your customers want and what the competition offers, it’s time to figure out what you are going to offer. You’ll want to clearly and specifically outline what you’ll offer and how much you’ll charge. Things you’ll want to cover in your packages are:

  • Base rates and rates for add-ons
  • Times/days that you offer parties
  • What age range can you accommodate? Are the space and activities appropriate for all ages?
  • What you provide; plates, napkins, serve ware, shoes, harnesses, etc.
  • What parents need to provide; decorations, drinks, food, cake, etc.
  • Do you have a parent or adult/child ratio requirement?

You can be creative with packages to sell more at a better price. How you present your packages can make or break your program, so make sure to re-evaluate if you are not seeing the sales you were expecting.

 

Get the Whole Team on Board

Getting the whole team on board with the new program is crucial to its success. Not only is training essential to make sure that events are booked and run properly, you’ll also be engaging and investing in your staff. Provide the staff all the information about the new program so they can answer questions and speak to guests about booking events. When events are booked and held make sure that everyone knows what the expectations are for their involvement.

 

Market Your Birthday Party

Once you’ve researched and defined your birthday party program, it’s time to get the word out and generate sales. As part of your research on competition you collected data on marketing, now you’ll use it to promote your program. Obviously you’ll want to promote your birthday party program to your existing members and on your social media.

 

To target new customers, you’ll use your research on who your customers are and advertise to them. Add a landing page to your website with relevant information and be sure to include an information capture form to get leads. Create a list of likely search terms, such as “best kids birthday party venue,” and target them with ads. Send out press releases to local media outlets. Invite local family and mom bloggers to come tour the facility and write about what you offer and why it’s unique. There are lots of marketing strategies to choose from, but the key is to think about where your customers “hang out,” whether that’s online or in person, and develop a plan to reach them.

 

Putting It All Together (PIAT)

Creating new business lines can be intimidating, however the pay-offs make it worthwhile. Set realistic goals for accomplishing each step of market research and launching your new program, set it up properly and do it right the first time. Birthdays are a life milestone at any age and developing a well-thought-out birthday party program builds the community in your gym and creates brand loyalty with your members. You may not be able to research everything, so stick to the areas that will provide you with the most important information:

  • Know what your customers want
  • Know your competition
  • Create a fun and functional party space
  • Run the numbers to develop pricing
  • Clearly outline everything you offer
  • Train all the staff on expectations
  • Market and book birthday parties

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  birthday parties  marketing  operations  programming  staff training 

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Cultivating Space: 10 Steps to Create and Maintain Cultural Relevancy

Posted By Elyse Rylander, Monday, November 26, 2018
Cultural Relevancy

Hello CWA world!

 

Before we go any further, I want make a confession...I do not at all consider myself a climber. I know, I know. You're probably wondering "well then why on Earth is she writing a blog post for the CLIMBING Wall Association?!" This is a fair question, so I'll tell y'all a little about myself first and then we'll dive into this month's topic of cultivating inclusive gym spaces, which is in fact something I know a fair bit about.

 

My name is Elyse Rylander and I use she/her pronouns. I was born on Sauk, Meskwaki, Miami and Ho-Chunk ancestral land (otherwise known as Southern Wisconsin), and took my first canoe trip down the Wisconsin River at the tender age of four weeks. From then on, all of my summers and winters were spent outside canoeing, kayaking, camping, or downhill skiing with my family. In 2006 I started working as an outdoor educator and then paddle sport retail associate. From there I moved to Alutiiq ancestral land (a.k.a. Valdez, AK) where I guided sea kayaking and camping trips in the summers and worked at a climbing gym on Suquamish and Duwamish ancestral land west of Seattle on Bainbridge Island in the winter.

 

Throughout these years I founded and grew my non-profit, OUT There Adventures, whose mission is to connect the queer community, primarily queer young people, and the outdoors. OTA has now completed four years of programming and also birthed the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit, of which we just held the second annual gathering on Ohlone and Coastal Miwok land north of San Francisco. It is at the intersection of this work around equity, and in particular queer equity, in the outdoors that I have also found myself consulting for the last year as a Partner of The Avarna Group and working with many amazing outdoor organizations and companies committed to furthering outdoor pathways to equity for all.

 

I was privileged to come of age in the outdoor industry, and it has been fantastic to see the growth in equity work happening in that time, with the most profound change happening in the last few years. While I will always have a bias towards paddle sports, it was my time running youth programs at Island Rock Gym that gave me insight into the amazing potential climbing gyms have to continue to create pathways to equity across all outdoor interests.

 

As they say, with great power comes great responsibility, which means you may be wondering exactly how your gym can engage in this work further. So let's dive in.

 

Step One: Define the work.

The words diversity, equity, and inclusion get tossed around with immense frequency, which means their meanings can vary across time and place. At The Avarna Group we have crafted definitions for these words, and others, that we find work well in the context of outdoor spaces, so without further ado, here they are:

 

Diversity: The differences between us – based on which we experience advantages or encounter barriers to opportunities and resources.

 

Inclusion: Celebrating, valuing, and amplifying voices, perspectives, styles, values, and identities that have been marginalized.

 

Equity: An approach based on fairness to ensuring everyone has equal access to the same opportunities; recognizes that advantages and barriers exist. Equity is not the same as equality.

 

Cultural Competence: Your ability to interact effectively across various dimensions of diversity; to flex with difference.

 

Cultural Relevance(y): What you do and how you do it is relevant to more people and communities.

 

If that has your head spinning, don't worry. Sometimes folks find this framing helpful:

 

Inclusion is what we do.
Equity is how we do it.
Cultural competence is what we need to do it well.
Diversity & cultural relevancy are outcomes.

 

Take some time to sit with those definitions, and then allow yourself to critically analyze where you and your gym are in terms of engaging with these concepts. This will help you further uncover some of the why's, what's, and how's of this work.

 

Step Two: Get Right With Yourself

This work truly begins and ends with all of us. Without taking the time to assess our own privileges, lived experiences, and biases, cultivating spaces of true inclusivity becomes near impossible. Just like one has to become acutely aware of their strengths and limitations as it relates to climbing, the same logic must be applied to each of our own individual strengths, but more importantly our blind spots. So take the time to be challenged and humbled, to make mistakes, to correct those mistakes, to make even more mistakes, and then repeat the whole process.

 

Step Three: Bring It to Work

Since companies and institutions are made up of lots of people, the next logical step in the process after we've all done the hard work of assessing our individual biases is to bring that knowledge to our places of work. This can take many forms, including one of the first steps of simply noticing who is accessing your gym spaces and what the demographic similarities are amongst those members/customers.

 

Step Four: Consider the Consumer Experience Continuum

It can seem overwhelming to look at an entire business and try to parse out exactly what, where, and how equity work can occur. It can be helpful to think of the possibilities along a continuum wherein we begin with a consumer's first touch point with the gym and end with that consumer turning into a member or a staff person. How does that experience look and feel different for someone based on their identity? How is that process leaving out portions of potential new customers or employees?

 

Step Five: Marketing

For new members or first-time users, the first interaction they may have with your company is through your website or your social media accounts. Looking at these mediums through the lens of an underrepresented person can provide immense insight into how your gym may initially be perceived.

 

Step Six: Hiring and Retention

Earlier I broke down some of the biggest buzzwords as it relates to creating inviting spaces for more identities, including the idea of diversity. You may have noticed that The Avarna Group prefers to frame these concepts in relation to each other in a way that specifically notes that diversity is not the thing we lead with, but rather an outcome of all the other good work we do. Many times we have seen companies and organizations attempt to solve their diversity problem by hiring "diverse" people, and many times we have seen these organizations thus exacerbate the problem. Consider not only how to bring in staff with different identities and lived experiences, but how to actually keep them there for the long run.

 

Step Seven: Built Environment

Consider the messages that are being sent by your facility’s physical space, or built environment. We are seeing progress in this arena around gender inclusivity, and specifically the neutralizing of bathrooms, locker rooms, etc. Beyond this, consider what images are seen once a customer is inside. Who is being represented and who is not? What sort of culture is perpetuated by what you hang on your walls? If your gym is still in the planning stages, how can its location and layout play a role in welcoming in new communities?

 

Step Eight: Programs

I founded an organization whose soul purpose is to provide outdoor opportunities/programs for people who often self-select out of such spaces because of their identities. As a result of my experiences, I cannot stress enough how significant it is to be able to offer ways for underrepresented identities to come together in a space that was created by them and for them, sometimes exclusively away from other more privileged identities. The next question for your gym is to consider what programs are already offered and how they can be made more truly inclusive for any identity. Sometimes we see this manifest through partnerships.

 

Step Nine: Partnerships

Just like climbing partners, good business partnerships can be hard to come by. However, partnerships offer climbing gyms, and the industry, some of the greatest potentials to continue to shift the paradigm. I would highly encourage your gym to not even consider going down this road until you've done some serious work on the previous eight steps. If you invite a new community or group into your space in hopes that they will light the DEI way for you, you will undoubtedly cause great damage that may set the whole process back years. If you feel you're ready to engage in this work authentically, with humility and initially ratchet back expectations of rapid increases to the bottom line, then my next piece of advice is to think big and outside the box.

 

Step Ten: Rinse and Repeat

Simply put: repeat. There will never be an arrival at perfection as it relates to equity because the conversation continues to evolve along with our needs as humans. It is imperative to understand that this work needs to be constantly reflected upon and reworked in order to remain true and relevant. But don't worry, just like we've learned to grow and get better with new gear or new techniques that help us reach new heights, so to will we learn how to grow and get better with this set of skills and tools.

 

Elyse Rylander Head ShotAbout Elyse Rylander

Elyse holds a B.A. in Communication Arts, Gender Studies, and LGBT Studies from the University of Wisconsin. She is also a Master of Arts in Adventure Education candidate at Prescott College. Elyse has been an outdoor educator and guide since 2006 and has taken thousands of youth and adults on outdoor adventures across the Midwest, West Coast and Alaska. Elyse founded and currently runs OUT There Adventures and is the co-organizer of the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  company culture  diversity  workplace diversity 

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Making Training Fun: Incorporating games to meet youth training goals

Posted By Bix Firer and Pat Brehm, Monday, November 19, 2018
Youth Training Games

Meeting the learning objectives of beginner climbers in youth climbing programs can be a challenge. Varying ability levels and learning styles of youth climbers can make it difficult to structure programming in a way that keeps everyone engaged and allows them push their own abilities. To make matters worse, young climbers often come to us after their school day and are not ready for more instruction. That’s where group games come in.

 

Creative group games can be an effective way to engage young climbers and teach challenging concepts to groups of beginner climbers. Building games into the structure of youth climbing programming can also have the ancillary benefits of fostering a culture of fun and learning, helping with systems of group management, and allowing students to challenge themselves.

 

Using principles of experiential education and intentional facilitation, it is possible to take virtually any game, draw out targeted learning concepts, and guide climbers to learning goals all while creating an engaging, challenging, and fun experience for climbers.

 

Here’s how we, at Headwall Group, train climbing coaches to approach this process using one of our favorite examples.

 

In Preparation for Any Activity

Answer the following questions:

  • What? What is our tool for teaching? Games work best when named because young climbers connect ideas to actions. When we name an activity, we give a reference point for our climbers. For example: “Remember the way we practiced footwork while playing the tag game? Use that same technique here.”
  • Why? Why are we playing this game; what are the targeted concepts/skills?
  • Who? What do we know about this group? What are the ages/skill level(s) of this group?
  • Where? What equipment and space is necessary to play this game?
  • How? What are the logistics for game play? Preparation is key; have a plan for setting up, explaining, and managing game play. Have a plan for debriefing. Prepare questions designed to pull out key concepts.

 

How to Facilitate the Game

Three components to facilitating for each game:

  1. Prepare
    • Explain the objective and the rules. Be VERY clear about what is expected of climbers. Introduce the targeted skill. Check for their understanding.
  2. Game Play
    • Signal the beginning of the game. Engage in the process with the climbers. Try to refrain from giving too much feedback/instruction during game play; allow climbers to try and fail/succeed on their own. Pay attention to specific things that can be recalled during the debrief.
  3. Debrief
    • Avoid lecturing; use questions to draw out “ah ha!” moments from climbers. Start broad, narrow the questioning to lead the conversation to the targeted skill/purpose of the activity.
    • Use specific examples of things that happened in the game to emphasize the point. For example: Johnny’s feet cut twice at the beginning of the traverse but by the end, his feet stayed on the wall for every move. What do you think Johnny changed about his approach to improve his footwork?
    • End by drawing out how they will apply what they learned in the game to their approach to climbing.

This framework can be useful for coaches who may be very articulate about climbing concepts but struggle with application. It can also be very useful for coaches who are very skilled in the fundamentals of climbing but struggle with articulating these concepts to newer climbers. Further, this framework makes it possible to modify any game to meet a variety of different learning objectives. Below is an example of a game built out using this framework.

 

Example Game: Beta Map

Main Purpose: Introduce concept of planning, remembering, and executing beta
Skills Practiced: Concentration, footwork, balance, teamwork
Equipment Needed: 16 spot markers (loose climbing holds work well), open floor space, spray wall or traverse area

 

Part 1 Set Up: Create a 4x4 grid on the floor with the spot markers (use climbing holds if available), ideally in the same area as the climbing wall you will be using. Draw the grid and map a sequence from the starting hold to the finish hold; don’t let the climbers see the map.

 

The loose holds are arranged in a grid, only the coach knows the sequence from start to finish.

 

Part 1 Prepare:

  • Explain that the team’s goal is to get everyone from the start hold to the finish hold, using a sequence the coach has pre-determined.
  • The first climber will stand at the start hold and move to any hold that is adjacent to the start hold (front, side or diagonal) and the coach will say “yes” if this was the correct move in the sequence and “no” if it was not.
  • If the climber chooses the correct move, they get to go again, if they do not, they go to the back of the line and the next climber starts from the beginning and attempts to remember the sequence that has already been revealed, and then guesses the next move.
  • If they make an incorrect move or move to a hold out of sequence, their turn is over and they go to the back of the line.
  • Continue until the entire sequence has been discovered and every climber is able to move through the entire sequence.

 

Part 1 Game Play:

  • Specify what you want climbers to do when they are waiting their turn (stand in line, do push-ups, clap every time the active player makes a move. Be creative to keep them engaged).
  • Give the team as much time as it takes to uncover the sequence.
  • Try to notice strategies being used, things they are doing well, and things they could do better.
  • Provide positive feedback but stay hands-off as much as possible.

 

Part 1 Debrief:

  • Was it easy or difficult to remember every move in the sequence?
  • What strategy did you use to remember the sequence?
  • How did your teammates help you reach your goal?
  • How do you think this relates to climbing?
  • How will this become more challenging when on a climbing wall?

 

Part 2 Prepare:

  • Explain that they will now attempt the same goal, but on the climbing wall this time.
  • Encourage them to be thinking about their strategy as they play because they will be discussing it following the game.

 

Part 2 Game Play:

  • Using the same rules, play the game on the climbing wall. Prepare the sequence ahead of time. The moves in the sequence should be attainable for all climbers in the group.
  • Provide encouragement and make sure all climbers are staying engaged.
  • When first playing the game, use open feet. To increase the difficulty, feet can be made “on” or “off in sequence.
  • Focus on the targeted skill – don’t worry about coaching for footwork if the targeted concept is deciphering beta.

 

Part 2 Debrief:

  • Was this easier or more difficult than playing the game on the ground?
  • Was remembering the sequence difficult? What made it difficult?
  • How can remembering beta help you when you are working on a route or boulder problem?
  • How do you support your teammates when they are having a hard time figuring out the beta on a climb?

By using the Prepare → Game Play → Debrief structure and applying games to a climbing practice, coaches can engage a large group in the process of learning targeted skills, while being certain young climbers are having fun.

 

Do you have creative games that you use to teach skills? We would love to hear them. Leave your ideas and feedback in the comments section below. You can also reach out to us directly at info@headwallgroup.com.

 

Bix Firer and Pat Brehm Head ShotAbout the Headwall Group

The Headwall Group distills the lessons learned as educators and leaders working in dynamic and high risk environments and brings them to youth-serving organizations. The Headwall group provides trainings, consultation, and curriculum development services that are rooted in our experience as outdoor experiential educators for climbing gyms, summer camps, and schools.

 

The Headwall Group was founded by Bix Firer and Pat Brehm. Bix Firer (MA, University of Chicago) is currently the Director of Outdoor Programs at College of Idaho and has worked as a wilderness educator, trainer, facilitator, and experiential educator for over a decade. Pat Brehm works as a professional organizational trainer and has spent his career as a climbing coach, facilitator, and outdoor educator.

 

Tags:  coaching  youth training 

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Retention Strategies to Reduce Employee Turnover

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, November 19, 2018
How to Reduce Employee Turnover

This month, the US Bureau for Labor and Statistics reported that 3.6 million employees voluntarily quit their jobs in September 2018. Every employee that voluntarily quits costs an employer, on average, 16% of their annual wage. And to make matters worse, high turnover rates come with high replacement and training costs, decreased efficiency of all employees, and ultimately decreased profit. When turnover happens, businesses lose experienced staff and endure negative impacts to the bottom line. This could mean bad news for you and your business.

 

These statistics indicate that the issue of employee turnover is a challenge that many businesses face. As a result, turnover is widely researched and studied, which means that you don’t have to guess why your employees are quitting. You can focus instead on implementing new workplace strategies and policies to avoid the most common turnover pitfalls and retain your most valuable staff.

 

Define and Share Your Culture

When considering the culture of your gym, you should ask yourself, “What does my gym stand for and how does our leadership and staff treat our customers and each other? In a business context, culture is defined as the values and principles that support the management structure. How you manage your gym determines the behaviors and actions of the daily work practices of the staff. In short, culture is your gym’s personality.

 

Columbia University research shows that a culture of productivity, respect, pride, and trust is an important indicator of job satisfaction and reduced turnover. If you haven’t defined your gym’s culture, work together with your staff to create one, but don’t roll out a list of changes and expect your culture to change overnight. Create values and implement small changes over time that support the vision you have for your gym and brand.

 

Hire Smart

Retention starts before employees are hired or ever pull a shift. An article published by the American Economic Association says that how prospective employees find the jobs you have available depends on the economic climate, current job market, geographic concentration, and the wages your gym offers. In a competitive job market, it can feel impossible to find qualified staff, but how you hire can have a profound impact on reducing turnover.

 

During the interview process, you can determine who is the best match for your business. Traditionally the interview process gives employers a chance to learn about a prospective employee’s personality, skills, and abilities, and that’s a good place to start. But the interview is also the time to be transparent about your culture, what the job duties are, and learn about the prospect’s goals and expectations.

 

Hiring and Interviewing Checklist

  • When you are hiring new employees, you should have a written job description that outlines the duties and expectations of the position you are hiring for. Be sure the job description is readily available for posting and sharing to the appropriate job boards, email lists, and professional networks.
  • Define your interview process from start to finish. For instance, what is the format and sequence of the interview process? Do you check references? (You should.) Do you have a standard set of questions you ask? (You should.) Ensure all staff members involved in the interview process are aware of their role, the hiring timeline, and the expectations for the new employee before kicking off interviews with potential new staff.
  • Ensure the content of the interview clearly states the requirements of the job to the prospective employee, such as: “In a four hour shift; you will spend an hour sanitizing rental shoes, and two hours vacuuming chalk dust off of the floor.” Consider offering prospects the opportunity to shadow an employee in their expected role so they will have a realistic expectation of the type of work they will be doing.
  • Communicate your gym’s culture during the interview. High quality applicants will seek out high quality employers, and having a well-defined culture is a large contributor to their decision-making process.
  • Ask prospective employees about their specific goals and timelines during the interview. Answers to questions like, “Where do you see yourself in 6 months?” will give you more information about your new hires than asking where they see themselves in 5 years.

Developing a standard operating procedure for hiring will require an up-front time investment, but these efforts will help offset the potentially devastating costs of turnover by making the hiring process more efficient and effective.

 

Train, Train, Train

Just the same way that you progressively and consistently train your gym clients, you should also be training your new employees. Never assume that your employees know how to perform their job duties until they’ve been trained on how to do their job, you have checked off the skills they’ve learned, and you have asked if they have any questions. Having a training protocol in place is an important part of building a strong team in your gym, as research shows that untrained workers change jobs more frequently. When staff are trained properly they are not only more productive in their role, they also have an increased expectation of their role over time, meaning they are more engaged in their work, more cooperative, deliver better service to customers, and are less likely to quit.

 

Meet Basic Employee Needs

When you say it out loud, it sounds pretty obvious, but meeting basic employee needs takes thought and planning. Basic employee needs include offering competitive wages and a schedule that works for your employees.

 

Paying a competitive wage shows your employees that you value and appreciate the work they do. Follow these guidelines to manage your employees:

  1. Provide clear parameters and a consistent schedule for wage raises. Communicate this information to new hires, and work with them to set goals and expectations for the first evaluation cycle. You should incentivize good performance with rewards such as raises, more hours, or growth pathways, and deter poor performance with negative consequences, such as reduced hours, probation, or termination.
  2. When you near the end of the first evaluation cycle, remind your employees to prepare for their first evaluation meeting.
  3. When you reach the end of the first evaluation cycle, sit down with your staff one-on-one to discuss their performance. Revisit the goals and expectations that were set at the start of the evaluation cycle. Follow through on the commitments made with the rewards/consequences established at the start of hire. Don’t be afraid to ask for their feedback on your performance as a manager and their experiences working for your company.
  4. Set expectations and goals for the next evaluation cycle and update the rewards/consequences accordingly.

If you tell a new hire that in six months you will review their pay and consider a raise, make sure you follow through. Working a job without a pay raise can leave employees feeling as though they are working a dead-end job with no growth, and no one wants to work a dead-end job.

 

Implementing a schedule that works for staff can be a great benefit and can be good for your business. Cornell University research shows that when flexible schedules are implemented in businesses; retention goes up and absenteeism goes down. Flexible scheduling can take many different forms depending on the roles your staff have at the gym: split-shifts, compressed work week or a results-only work environment. If you still publish a rotating schedule, your goal should be to have it forecasted at least 2-3 weeks out.

 

Have Clearly Defined Career Paths

Just as you probably have a strategic growth plan for your business, you should be able to define opportunities that you can offer your employees. A career path is an opportunity for employees to develop their skills and advance in your business. Offering your employees a career path shows employees that as you are growing your business, you are also investing in them and in their success. There may not be many employees that want to make a career out of scanning member cards at the front desk, but they may be interested in routesetting, operations, marketing, event management, business development, coaching, or program management. Columbia University reports that businesses that promote from within benefit from lower turnover and more productive employees. When outlining career paths, remember that your business will benefit from committed employees who are given opportunities to develop their own careers.

 

Putting It All Together (PIAT)

Hiring and keeping great employees takes preparation and planning. If you haven’t already created a human resources department you might feel at a disadvantage, but you can still re-evaluate hiring practices. As smaller businesses pay a higher cost for turnover, it’s worth the time and investment to develop a plan for how you want to manage your human resources. Putting it all together can be a challenge, but the investment will be worth the payback of retaining employees who not only represent your brand but help to grow your business. Make this process manageable by tackling one task at a time:

  • Define your culture and outline values and principles.
  • Standardize your interview process and create written job descriptions.
  • Evaluate and incentivize employee’s performance consistently and regularly.
  • Schedule regular trainings to keep staff engaged.
  • Implement pay increases and offer flex scheduling.
  • Develop career opportunities as your business grows and your employees develop skills.

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  staff retention  staff training 

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The Dirtbag Dilemma: Evaluating Van Life on Gym Property

Posted By Marley Jeranko, Tuesday, November 6, 2018
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2018
Van Life at Climbing Gyms

Counterculture has long been in the fibers of climbing, so is it any wonder that as the sport becomes more mainstream, the two have started to butt heads? As the climbing population explodes, indoor climbing gyms have become havens for urban van-dwellers, which begs the question – how should the industry respond?

 

Do you create new policies that support the modern business model but deny its dirtbag roots; or do you make room for the dirtbag as a part of your business model – and if you do, what might be the risks to your the business? Hear what a few climbing gym professionals have to say on the matter…

 

Rich Breuner, Director of Operations at Bend Rock Gym in Bend, OR, takes a neutral approach. He says, “Having folks park their vans overnight in our parking lot has been more or less inconsequential in the grand scheme of the general operations of our business.” Breuner is in a unique position that allows a flexible policy without a lot of consequence. Depending on the season, Bend Rock Gym sees anywhere from a couple to a dozen vans a night, Breuner reports. Not only does the gym have a lot of space to accommodate a crowd like this, overall, most people who come there to stay in their vans aren’t doing it long-term. “Right now, it works given the dynamics of our business, users, and community; however, as we continue to evolve as a business, our policies around overnight visitors are likely to change.”

 

His position is a common one. Like several other gyms who responded anonymously, he describes a desire to appeal to community values while remaining wary of the potential problems they could create. “I can see both sides of the equation,” Breuner acknowledges. “It depends on where the gym is, the owner’s comfort level, land use policies, the dynamics of the community, and environment [city versus small town]. I can easily see gyms not being open to it like we are, and I respect that. Any time you have people sleeping in a parking lot, unfortunately it tends to create an opening for people you wouldn’t necessarily want to be there – I can understand not wanting to perpetuate that.”

 

Like Bend Rock Gym, the Boulder Rock Club’s philosophy is geographically dependent. But unlike Bend, the subject was a bit more pressing. “We’ve known for well over a decade that if we were to allow overnight camping, we would be overrun," says Kevin Bains, General Manager. With 53 parking spots, 10 percent of which are occupied by staff – the only group with permission to be there overnight – van life would create a logistical nightmare. “As a part of their agreement for living here, the staff help monitor that.”

 

The reason behind this is purely circumstantial. "We have a popular morning crowd,” Bains says , “so if you’re sleeping in until 10 o’clock – we need your spot because we have other paying customers that want to be in here."

 

Now, some would argue that it opens up a can of worms to allow overnight parking for staff but not members. "Part of allowing staff to stay here is tied to employee retention and job satisfaction,” Bains explains. “I would assume in a lot of places, Boulder in particular, there’s no camping close to city limits – you have to go pretty far to get to a campground. We live in tough rental market, so we try to listen and make accommodations.”

 

Despite these challenges, Bains views van life as a unique opportunity for climbing gyms. “If you’re in a city that doesn’t have as many climbers as Boulder does, you might have a policy that allows your members to stay overnight – that might be a really great way to give back to your membership. If we could service our membership with overnight camping, we totally would, but [for us], there are too many obstacles.”

 

Zach Mathe, Adventure Rock’s Desk Staff Supervisor, agrees, but points out an important distinction. “Although there is a strong link between van-living, climbing gyms, and climbing culture, customers, members, and friends of climbing gyms shouldn't feel owed or entitled to their own allocated space on a business's property, even if the business is connected to the lifestyle associated with that practice.” He continues, “If a climbing gym supports van-living, it will be a nice service offered by that gym.”

 

Regardless of your current situation, “It is important to think about because ... the growth in the climbing industry only seems to be going up,” says Mathe. “Along with the rise of minimalist lifestyles, many people will be coming into a sport that glorifies the dirtbag lifestyle, which could lead to more people pursuing van life.”

 

Ultimately, it comes down to listening to your staff and membership and finding out what their needs are. The best way to find out? Talk to them. Communicate openly with customers and inform your staff so that they can respond appropriately. “We verbally communicate our expectations to those staying in the parking lot: where to park, where not to park, cleaning up trash, noise, inappropriate behavior, etc. More often than not, people ask or in some way communicate with us that they intend to [park their vans here], and that’s when we have that conversation with them,” explains Breuner.

 

He also advises, "When it comes to communicating with staff, it’s just like any other change in policy – you use the communication channels you have and make sure it’s well-documented and reinforced on a regular basis. Everybody needs to be aware, comfortable, and confident [in their understanding of how] the business is meant to operate.” Without consistency, it could become harder to maintain a respectful relationship between the business and its van-dwelling customers.

 

Here’s the bottom line: van life doesn’t have to be the enemy of the indoor climbing industry. Regardless of the position you take, it’s up to you to establish fair boundaries. And most importantly, don’t wait to address the subject until it becomes a problem. Failure to educate could be the determining factor for the positive or negative circumstances that happen outside your doors.

 

Marley Jeranko Head ShotAbout Marley Jeranko

Marley Jeranko is a freelance writer and editor in the Bay Area. With her combined experience in business-to-business media and the outdoor industry, Marley aims to help educate and provide useful solutions to indoor climbing gym professionals.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  operations  van life 

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