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How to Advocate and Bring Mental Health Awareness to Your Gym

Posted By Megan Walsh, Friday, November 1, 2019
Climbing Gym Birthday Parties

Physical activity has been linked to mental health benefits for decades. In a 1985 study published in Public Health Reports, three researchers found that physical activity not only helps alleviate moderate to severe depression but can also help with self-esteem issues, social skills, and stress response. Numerous internet articles and peer-reviewed studies continue to suggest that physical activity can dramatically reduce the effects of depression and anxiety while also improving an individual’s self-image and their ability to improve intentional decision making.

 

More recently, a group in Austria called Institut für Therapeutisches Klettern (Institute for Therapeutic Climbing) began integrating bouldering with therapy. Their study showed that the group of patients who participated in a 3-hour weekly bouldering session improved their BDI-II score, used to measure the severity of depression, by one severity grade–up 6.27 points compared to the control group who only improved by 1.4 points.

 

We know that physical activity, and now bouldering, have beneficial implications on mental health–and the topic of mental health has become far less taboo in recent years. So how can you integrate mental health awareness into your gym?

 

1. Schedule a Mental Health Focused Workshop or Event

Chances are you already have mental health professionals as members. Send out an email asking members if they’re interested in hosting (or attending) a workshop. At Momentum Indoor Climbing in Salt Lake City, one popular workshop addresses anxiety while climbing, while another focuses on balancing a difficult training schedule with a busy life. Whether you offer individual events or workshops that are part of a larger series, an emphasis on mental health in your events program can have a significant impact on your members.

 

2. Start a Bouldering League

Community is key in advocating for mental health. Members want to feel connected to the climbing community and hosting a bouldering league is a great way to facilitate that connection. A league strengthens the connection friend groups have with each other while also creating a space to challenge and encourage each other on a weekly basis. It also offers a structured opportunity to meet and interact with other climbers from different teams and build relationships through trying-hard and friendly competition.

 

3. Create a Specific Space for Community Development

At Wooden Mountain Bouldering Gym in Loveland, CO, all three owners are committed to developing a community and “third space” for their members. Adam Lum, co-owner of Wooden Mountain says, “People have work and they have home, but ever-increasingly there’s not a third space–they don’t have a church or a way to connect with the community.” At Wooden Mountain, community development space looks like an old kitchen table, a few comfy chairs, and board games.

 

No matter what your hangout space looks like, its mere existence provides an anchor of community life within your facility. The best “third places” share a few characteristics that set them up to be a community hub. For example, consider how you can make your space playful, accessible, welcoming, accommodating, and accepting. For more guidance, check out the Project for Public Spaces.

 

4. Advertise Courses That Promote Mental Health

Whether it’s Veterans dealing with PTSD or individuals experiencing disadvantages or disabilities, there are non-profits across the country that help individuals manage their mental health. The Phoenix, a free sober-active community, uses climbing programs as a way of promoting sober-living, while Adaptive Adventures offers climbing clubs and outdoor climbing experiences for climbers with disabilities.

 

Promoting local non-profits that integrate climbing and outdoor experiences with mental health helps strengthen ties within your community and offers members a way to connect with climbers of similar backgrounds and experiences. Even a simple social media shout-out for these non-profits or organizations says to members, “We’re a mental health ally.”

 

5. Offer Yoga and Meditation Classes

According to a Harvard Health study, practicing yoga reduces stress by “modulat[ing] stress response systems,” and can also reduce muscle tension. These are added benefits for climbers who also require flexibility for reaching difficult holds and being able to breathe in the midst of a challenging sequence. Yoga allows practitioners to bring awareness to the body–a critical need for climbers of all abilities.

 

Pick a Strategy and Get Started!

If you haven’t implemented opportunities for members to focus on mental health, any of these suggestions are a great place to start. Whether you offer a 6-week yoga session, invite a local professional to give a talk, or share local organizations on your social media channels, you’ll strengthen your gym’s identity as a space for mental health growth and conversations. If you have taken steps to facilitate mental health conversations and practices, let us know in the comments!

 

Megan Walsh Head ShotAbout the Author

Megan Walsh is a freelance writer and social media consultant based out of Salt Lake City, UT. Her work has appeared in a variety of outdoor publications like Climbing Magazine, Utah Adventure Journal, The Dyrt, and Misadventures Magazine. When she's not writing or climbing, you'll likely find her curled up with a book near a campfire, backcountry skiing in the Wasatch, or watching re-runs of The Office.

 

Tags:  community development  company culture  customer experience  customer service  leadership  operations  programming  youth team 

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5 Retail Items Your Gym Should Be Selling

Posted By Emma Walker, Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Climbing Gym Retail

Sell what people will use in your facility.

 

That’s the #1 piece of advice Todd McCormick, Director of Retail Operations at ASCEND, offers for maintaining a successful retail shop in your gym. The Pittsburgh gym has a relatively small retail space – 600 square feet of the facility’s 27,000 – but McCormick has gone to great lengths to make sure it’s being used effectively.

 

Mike Sobol, Director of Retail at El Cap (which owns Earth Treks and Planet Granite facilities across the country), agrees. “The size of the retail shop varies greatly [among our gyms],” Sobol says. “But retail is a necessary component to provide for our members’ needs. We try to ensure we’re carrying the items that community has shown an affinity for.”

 

Still, product isn’t everything, says Ground Up Operations Director Rick Willison: almost as important as what you’re selling is the way you sell it. “The better organized your stock is, the easier it is for customers to find what they need, and the more you’ll sell,” he advises. “Bring brighter colors to the front, arrange stock in blocks, alternate bright and dark colors, and generally keep things tidy.”

 

Even if your facility doesn’t rely on retail to keep the doors open, Sobol points out that it’s also a great way to make life easier for members – and, hopefully, create lifelong climbers. Ready to step up your retail game? Here’s what the experts say you should have in stock.

 

The Sundries Everyone Forgets

How often do customers pull up to the gym for an after-work session, then realize they’re down to the last few crumbs of chalk, or that they’re out of tape? This is a universal phenomenon – Willison says his facility can hardly keep chalk and tape on the shelves.

 

At ASCEND, around 46% of retail sales in an average month are from what McCormick calls “bouldering essentials”: shoes, chalk, chalk bags, tape, and brushes. ASCEND also does a brisk business in branded Nalgenes. (Who hasn’t forgotten their water bottle at home?)

 

To sell more of those often-neglected sundries, McCormick suggests keeping a variety in stock to appeal to all your members. “I like to use a ‘good, better, best’ model, so I always have three options available to choose from,” he explains, “and I make sure they’re at three different price points.”

 

A Better Selection of Shoes

“As a climbing shop, I prioritize the idea of creating lifelong climbers,” says Sobol. “We should not just be selling them a shoe. We should be focused on getting them into the right shoe. Ultimately, this will lead to a better climbing experience.”

 

That’s tough to do if you’ve only got a handful of shoes in stock. Again, McCormick’s advice rings true – stock what people will use in your facility.

 

For a gym like ASCEND, which is about 75% bouldering, a larger selection of more aggressive shoes will likely do better than multiple iterations of softer beginner-friendly shoes. That’s one of the things McCormick hopes to add to his gym’s retail shop in the future; right now, ASCEND carries four shoe brands and hopes to add two more.

 

Branded Merchandise

Climbers love to let the world know they’re climbers, and there’s no better way to show that you’re in the know by repping the local gym. “We move a consistent amount of our own branded merchandise,” says Willison. T-shirts, hoodies, and tank tops do well at all three experts’ shops, though there’s some nuance there.

 

“We tried a run of coffee travel mugs with our logo on them, and they have not sold well, but maybe that’s because we’re not a coffee shop,” McCormick says. “Members are probably more likely to rep our brand with a product they can also use in our gym – maybe they came from work and forgot a shirt to climb in, so they’ll gladly buy an ASCEND shirt to use for the day, and then they’ll have it to rep our brand in the world.”

 

Fuel, Preferably Local

It’s tough to get the most out of a workout if you’re hungry, which is why lots of facilities’ retail spaces have begun offering snacks and drinks. Of course, members are likelier to buy snacks that look appealing, so stale protein bars won’t cut it.

 

McCormick can’t believe how quickly his facility goes through Yerba Mate – the delivery driver restocks their dedicated fridge once a week.

 

The best-selling snacks at ASCEND, though, are from right down the road. They carry a specific brand of honey water, cold brew, and kombucha (all local), and coordinate with a couple of local bakeries to get deliveries of freshly made sweet and savory snacks several times a week.

 

“Our customers (and staff) appreciate the wider selection, and that stuff was made that day,” says McCormick. “The selection isn’t just pre-wrapped protein bars and Gatorade.”

 

Climbing-Centric Gifts

A solid gym shop will have the perfect gift for the climbers in your life. All three of the retailers we talked to sell local guidebooks in their shop – Mountain Project is one thing, but it’s a nice treat to bring a handsome guidebook to the crag.

 

McCormick has kicked things up a notch with a surprising bestseller: clever climbing hold mugs.

 

“At first I thought they would be slow movers because of their price point (we retail them at $26.95 per mug),” he says, “but at comps and holidays, this is a product that always makes a good showing on the sales report.”

 

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:  customer service  operations  retail 

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Sequencing Activities for Youth Climbing Programs

Posted By Bix Firer and Pat Brehm, Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Sequencing Activities

As coaches and climbing instructors, breaking down our goals for participants - either technical, social, or recreational - into achievable steps can be a daunting task. The key to helping participants reach their goals and giving a familiar learning structure to our programs is sequencing activities.

 

Sequencing means creating a familiar structure for activities that responds to the way our participants learn. Proper sequencing responds to how participants learn and gives coaches the structure and boundaries to make the most learningful and engaging programs they can.

 

Properly sequencing activities during a youth climbing program accomplishes a number of things:

  1. It forces the coach or instructor to identify their goals initially, making for a more meaningful climbing experience.
  2. It allows the coach to keep the flow of the program organized, which enables a seamless process of learning and transference for the participants.
  3. It matches the experiential learning cycle in which people learn by briefing, experiencing, and building new knowledge.
  4. Planning a well-structured sequence allows the coach to orient the program towards the overall goals of the program and specific goals of the practice.
  5. In a well-structured sequence of climbing activities, each activity is carefully selected and enforces intentional planning on the coach or instructor to meet their goals. These goals or outcomes can be social or technical/athletic goals, but the most effective sequences are built to meet both a technical and social goal.

We recommend building a sequence of activities that mirrors the way people learn and is derived from best practices of experiential education. This includes an introductory activity (pre-teaching), a primary (core) activity, and an activity that promotes transference (reflection activity). The function of each activity is outlined below.

  1. Pre-Teaching - Activity that introduces the concept/skill being taught. Primes the participants for learning, establishes group norms, begins group bonding process, introduces the goals (technical and social) of the practice.
  2. Core-Activity - An activity that allows participants to engage in the skill(s) being taught, challenges participants, allows participants to fail, learn, and improve.
  3. Reflection - An activity that allows the participants to process the experience, reflect on what they did, how they did it, and why they did it. Participants reflect on how what they have learned applies to them as climbers as it relates to the technical and/or social goals.

Before planning a sequence of activities, it is essential to identify the overarching goals of the program, the goal of the practice, and the goal of the sequence itself. The following questions should be asked and answered prior to building the sequence:

  • How does the goal of the sequence work to meet the goal of the practice?
  • How does the goal of practice work to meet the overarching goal of the program?

Once these questions have been answered the coach can begin plugging relevant activities into the model.

 

It is often easiest to first identify a core activity that will challenge the desired skill. This will help the coach identify a pre-teaching activity that will appropriately prepare the participants and a relevant reflection activity. Every step of the way during the planning process the coach should ask, is this activity serving its function and how does this activity help the group toward meeting the goal?

 

The three activities below are an example of an activity sequence. It is important to note that with creativity, a coach can use virtually any activity as a pre-teaching, core, or reflection activity.

 

The following example sequence could be used to meet a variety of goals based on how the activities are facilitated.

 

Goal: Goal Setting and Peer Encouragement

 

Pre-Teaching Activity: Mingle Warm Up

  1. On the coach’s call, climbers will begin the designated warm-up exercises (traversing, push-ups, jumping jacks, running in place, jumping jacks, etc.).
  2. When the coach calls out a number, climbers have 5 seconds to assemble into groups of that number.
  3. Coach asks the group a question or states an activity; groups discuss the question with each other or engage in the activity together.
  4. This process is repeated as many times as needed.

Make sure to prepare questions and activities that encourage climbers to begin thinking about the goal. Ex: How will you support your teammates during practice today? How do you set climbing goals for yourself? What is your current climbing goal?

 

Core Activity: Partner Bouldering

  1. Climbers are partnered and told they will have a set amount of time to have a bouldering session with their partner.
  2. Before they begin climbing each climber must tell their partner what their current climbing goal is. Partners do not have to have the same goal.
  3. Partners will then discuss and make a plan for how they will organize their session in a way that will allow each partner to work on their goal.
  4. Partners will also discuss how they will support each other throughout the session.

Reflection: Metaphor Debrief

  1. Hand each climber a piece of climbing equipment. Ex: harness, quickdraw, chalk bag, any equipment you have available at your gym
  2. Ask each climber to tell you how their piece of equipment represents how they think about their personal climbing goals or how they can support their teammates in reaching their goals.
  3. Give climbers time to think about the question and then have each climber share with the group.

 

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  programming  youth team  youth training 

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The Routesetter as Professional: In Conversation with Ward Byrum

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Routesetter as Professional

As the sport of climbing grows, its infrastructure must grow along with it. Climbing gyms continue to multiply, and the demand for high-quality routesetting has increased in tandem.

 

As a result, routesetting is changing as a profession. To get a handle on what that means for the job and the sport, I spoke with Ward Byrum, Director of Routesetting for Earth Treks.

 

Ward oversees all routesetting operations for the seven gyms under Earth Treks branding. That includes hands-on setting work as well as team management for locations from Virginia to Colorado.

 

WK: Do you feel like routesetting is changing at all? How does routesetting fit in with what’s happening in climbing and climbing gyms?

 

WB: That’s a big question. I think in general, routesetting is changing — the rate of change is really accelerated right now. Gyms are more aware of the value that high-quality routesetting brings to a facility.

 

Also, because there’s this heightened awareness of its value, there’s a movement to compensate people better for routesetting. And routesetters who are good have elevated their value.

 

The trick is that there’s maybe not enough supply to meet that demand now.

 

WK: You mean there aren’t enough good routesetters to go around?

 

WB: Correct. And we’re playing a game where everyone’s kind of poaching everyone. I think a lot of people haven’t really sorted out how to grow and create routesetters from scratch in these local communities.

 

We spend a lot of time talking about our company’s Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion efforts. That’s one of the biggest successes we’ve had recently as a setting program. We acknowledged that if we continue to look for amazing experienced routesetters, then our setting teams will be largely white men, because they represent the people that currently have the experience.

 

By tuning into that, we were able to create a wealth of entry-level positions and then actively open the doors to underrepresented groups to come in and interview for the base positions. Then we can grow them into full-time roles. It’s something that’s paid off in our ability to have more female setters represented, for example.

 

WK: What do you think it takes for a climber to become a good routesetter?

 

WB: I look at routesetting as essentially a form of product design. A lot of how we interpret routesetting is around that theme.

 

I think being a successful routesetter is being aware of who you’re setting for. The more variety we have represented within the setting team, the more empathy and awareness and perspectives we have represented when we go to produce that product.

 

WK: Are there certain things you look for in team members?

 

WB: It doesn’t come down to being the strongest climber. They don’t have to have the most routesetting experience. We’re looking for people who are creative, who thrive in a group-oriented environment where we critique each other’s work constantly…

 

It’s difficult. It’s more aligned with product design, as opposed to the older terms, which were about replicating outdoor climbing, or a personal pursuit to create whatever the routesetter wanted to make.

 

WK: Obviously routesetting is very physical work. Do you have any best practices for keeping a team running smoothly under the demands placed on commercial routesetters?

 

WB: It’s important just to know the physical abilities of everyone on the team. We try to have very team-oriented goals so that everyone is able to plug into that system and work at the highest level. We’re able to change who is setting on what sections or what grades based on who’s going to be most successful at that task.

 

Having a realistic projection of output is important. There are plenty of routesetters who can come in and set four or five routes in a day, but that might not be sustainable, or it might not be the level of detail we want invested into the product. It may not allow us to forerun and sample and test that product enough before it becomes open to the public.

 

It’s about finding that balance between the level of product you want and the capability or energy you have to apply. Plus how much the company is willing to invest. It’s balancing those three categories.

 

WK: Do you see any misconceptions about routesetting staff among members and climbers?

 

WB: A lot of our efforts lately in some of the member clinics we host or in our social media content are about removing the mystique behind routesetting. We want to allow people to peek behind the curtain and understand the process of setting.

 

We want people to understand that the setters aren’t coming in and trying to set a sandbagged V4. They’re legitimately coming in and trying to set something that serves the members.

 

One of our catchphrases is: “Every route and every boulder could be someone’s project.”

 

So we try to think about the person who is investing a lot of time trying to accomplish this goal.

 

WK: Are there any sticking points between routesetting staff and gym management?

 

WB: I don’t think there’s a friction point, but I think something that’s important is the transition of routesetters from climber to worker.

 

One thing that’s helped us is interpreting routesetters not as climbers but as work-at-height professionals.

 

Once we begin to interpret them as work-at-height professionals, it enables the routesetters to take their job a little more seriously… they’re in a work mode. It creates a feeling that things are different and they need to conduct themselves differently.

 

The other component is that gym owners, gym managers, people at the front desk, and members all see us operating differently. They see us utilizing these professional tools. So we’re seen as more professional and further distinguish ourselves from just climbers who are putting holds on a wall.

 

That theme of professionalization has helped us gain respect industry-wide. It’s enabled us to gain things like better pay and better benefits because of this specialization. I think that trend will continue, and I think it will further define what professional routesetting looks like. It’s always a moving target.

 

WK: How does routesetting fit into the growth or stability of the sport in the future?

 

WB: Early on — I’m talking 20 years ago — maybe we kept a loose eye on bell curves and what grades are represented in a facility.

 

Now I’m going to keep a much closer eye on the amount of time each routesetter in a team is spending doing certain tasks associated with their job. I’m going to look at the product in pretty detailed ways. Eventually we will build that out much further.

 

I think stuff like Vertical Life and other programs that have back-end routesetting management tools but front-end capability to interact with members will be increasingly common. They’ll be an important part of the process as the conduit for the information members want to give a setting team.

 

I think we’ll see those systems perfected. Right now we’re still trying to see what data points are needed.

 

WK: Now and moving forward, what do you think gyms can do to make sure routesetting is a strong point for their facility?

 

WB: Ultimately, we need to find better ways of allowing the consumer to tell us what they want. It’s tricky, because the person might not have a ton of climbing experience. A lot of user responses might be just: if I was successful, I like it, and if I wasn’t, I don’t.

 

It’s really dissecting what a diverse climbing experience might be like. Some of our efforts now are around producing lifelong climbers. How do we keep members of the community engaged over long periods of time?

 

That includes social and community events, but there’s a routesetting component too. How are we engaging with the community and keeping them excited so that it doesn’t become a fad?

 

WK: Is there anything else you think is important for the routesetting profession in the future?

 

WB: While we’re in this time of flux where routesetting is becoming a better compensated role within a gym and better respected, it is of equal importance that the routesetters themselves realize that they need to rise to that standard as well.

 

You also have to be professional. It’s little things like wearing safety glasses, and it’s big things like when members complain about a route that you’re able to receive that information graciously and mediate to the best of your abilities. Make sure members feel heard.

 

Ultimately, we have to represent our companies and routesetting in a positive way so that we can break some of the stigma of, you know, the double-digit boulderer dirtbag climber who’s doing this as a way of climbing for a living.

 

If you want to work full-time and you want to pay a mortgage and raise a kid and routeset for a living, you have to bring something else to the table.

 

I think that a lot of focus in past years was on how gyms need to pay routesetters more. And that has started to happen. The follow up is: routesetters need to rise to the occasion as well and do their part to elevate the industry.

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

Willis is the rare local who was actually born in Boulder, Colorado. He attended Williams College and works as a freelance writer out of Providence, Rhode Island. When he's not writing, you'll find him rock climbing, playing with his cats, and drinking too much green tea.

 

Tags:  company culture  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  women  work-at-height  workplace diversity 

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Climbing Gym Programming 101

Posted By Nicole Brandt, Monday, October 7, 2019
Climbing Gym Programming

Are you a gym with programs that haven’t changed in a while, OR a gym that has programs and is always creating the next best thing, OR are you looking to start a gym and are trying to decide what programming to include? Whatever the answer, this article will help you think through your programming to ensure it’s aligned with your goals.

 

As an industry, we have a tendency to lump all programming together or we only differentiate between youth and adult. Our youth categories tend to be a little more fleshed out with distinctions of entry, advanced, and competitive levels. It would be more powerful to have categories for all programming and a strategic approach to what you provide in your facility.

 

As you look at the following categories, consider what your gym currently has, what you might want to develop, and what you absolutely do not want to have. One of the best ways to conclude if you will have a program in a category is to know your why.

 

Patagonia’s why, captured in their mission statement, provides a standout example: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

 

Knowing “WHY” will help you understand if a program is a good fit for your target customer, your facility, and your identity as a gym. Simon Sinek defines in the golden circle of Why, How and What, that every organization knows what they do, some know how they do it, and he challenges you to go further and know WHY you do something.

 

The why is the purpose and belief behind inspired organizations. Regardless if you have one location or many, a clear why always creates more success.

 

Programming Categories for Adults

  • Climbing instruction
    • Gym basics and belaying
    • Milestones classes
    • Technique classes
    • Intermediate and advanced programming
  • Training for climbing
  • Fitness (general and climbing fitness)
  • Yoga/ Pilates
  • Events
  • Competitions
  • Series

Programming Categories for Youth

  • Recreational programs entry and advanced - non competing teams
  • Competition programs - sanctioned competition teams
  • Camps for recreational and training purpose
  • Competitions (Recreational, sanctioned, leagues, category in citizen comp)
  • Youth events (Lock ins, youth bouldering league, clinics, school events)
  • Family events (Birthday parties, carnivals, family instruction, etc.)

 

As you evaluate which categories of programs are right for your facility, make sure you consider your target customer, physical space, program planning, product launch, and evaluation.

 

Target Customer

Once you know your why, you can consider which programs are right for your facility(s). The first step is to understand your target customer. Answer the following questions to learn more about your target customer.

  • Are you trying to attract a gym full of millennials, families, youth, young professionals, or a pie chart of all of the above?
  • What is the vibe in your gym and who does it most resonate with? What music are you playing? What is your décor?
  • What does your facility offer that other facilities in the area do not?
  • How does your facility design align with who you hope to attract? For example, are your walls too high for beginners? Does your setting match the needs of experienced climbers?
  • Do your goals reflect the style of outdoor climbing popular in your region, as well as the progression of the sport?
  • Does the facility encourage performance or socialization? Does it allow for programming to happen without distraction?
  • What are the biggest challenges your target customer group faces? What are their greatest needs? What problems can you help them solve with your programming?

To take your understanding of your customers to the next level, consider building out personas. This process will give you better insight into the needs of your customers, which is incredibly helpful as you make business decisions. There are many how-to guides out there, so do your research. How to Create Customer Personas That Breathe Life Into Your Marketing from Inc. is a good place to start.

 

Ideally, your programming is helping to attract more of the customer that you want in your facility and not causing friction with the customer you attract the most of. If programming and operations are competing for different customers, it’s bound to impact both users.

 

For example, consider what threshold of impact from youth programming your facility can sustain, and if you pass that threshold, determine what steps you can take, such as capping enrollment or even adding a youth-specific facility.

 

Physical Space

Know how much physical space is available outside of general membership use. Most climbing gyms are built with an emphasis on member use. If you did not design physical programming space for youth or adults – such as additional education bays or areas, space that can be closed off and create an “out of sight, out of mind” experience, quieter spaces for maximization of learning – you will be impacting your general member’s experience by providing programming.

 

One way to combat any animosity towards a space that is “taken away” for programming is to shift your staff and users to think about programming as a way to spread stoke, curiosity, and knowledge.

 

However, it’s still critical to understand how much of the member space can be utilized at any given time without creating a negative impact. Consider this carefully when determining what programs are a good fit for your facility.

 

Program Planning

Once you understand the “why” behind your programs, as well as what specific programs to do, you must look at “how”.

 

Do your homework

  • What comparable products are available from other sports or other climbing gyms?
  • Look into the competition to help you understand what you do and don’t like about a product or offering you haven’t yet executed yourself.
  • Starting from absolute scratch is hard and other models provide more info to use for a strong start.

Develop the idea, flesh it out, and write it down

  • Determine if the product being created is offered as part of your core products (always offered or offered at all locations), is a one-off event, or is a test product.
  • Get the concept down. What is the feeling, effect, and strategy of having the program?
  • Set an ambitious goal defining success. This can be number of participants, number of spectators, new participant registrations, registrations from a marketing campaign, or any other trackable number.

Run the numbers, get data, and make sure it’s financially viable

  • Income vs. expenses
  • Payroll and rates associated with instructor(s)
  • Additional expenses
  • Standard facility costs/overhead
  • Positive impacts from event, ex: increased education about sanctioned climbing and upcoming Olympics
  • Negative impacts from event, ex: sections of facility closed and impact to customer routines

Registration

  • Determine the internal staff and external participant process for registration.
  • Consider using a software or calendar that allows registration such as Rock Gym Pro, Mind Body, or Bookeo. Understand what accounting tracking and taxability applies (some instruction is tax free in certain states).

Start the creative asset process

  • Build your messaging, your brand positioning statements. Write, edit, and revise the information that will be customer-facing.
  • Your narrative needs to be simple, unique, persuasive, and descriptive of what the product does and its value. And be as concise as possible.
  • Tagline, problem it solves, list of core features, value included, 10-word positioning statement. To further dig into the Patagonia example, they know their why and their homepage highlights several campaigns they are currently running.
Patagonia Campaign

EX: This has a tag line, the problem it solves is captured in a short positioning statement, and the call to action is clear for the customer.

  • Decide how much info goes where. The poster might only have the event name and tagline, while the registration page provides a lot more info.

Marketing

  • Seed the social space with “leaks” and coming soon blasts to create anticipation and awareness.
  • Your staff are on the front lines with your customers. No matter how good your marketing campaign is, it does not replace a human talking to potential participants about an event or product. Train your staff. Keep in mind, it takes 3-7 touches with materials to really learn a new thing - written, verbal, group staff meetings, individual follow-up, hard copy at desk, marketing materials. Don’t expect your staff to be proficient with just an email.
  • Put your staff through the program or give them a hands-on experience with the material for them to be able to speak to the experience with potential participants.
  • Keep the release rolling with fresh announcements, media, posters, flyers, etc.
  • Gather feedback from your target customers and change the messaging as needed to create the best “hook” for the customer.
  • Make it easy for people to learn more about your product (website, print media, staff conversation). Knowledge is power.

 

Launch Your Product

There are many great ideas. Yet sometimes the execution falls flat or successes are missed due to poor planning. Make your launch of a new product an event. After your launch, talk to influencers that might have good feedback. And listen to what they say. Feedback is not always easy, so keep an open mind because it usually helps us grow.

 

Don’t Lose Your Momentum

Be willing to revisit and evaluate your program periodically. Make sure that it’s still fresh, fits your customers’ needs, and is accomplishing your “why” the best it possibly can. The ability to shift your focus to create more customer satisfaction and ultimately more customer retention will help create the most success possible from your programming.

 

Nicole Brandt Head ShotAbout the Author

Nicole Brandt runs Cypress Roots Consulting, a consulting company for climbing gyms helping them deep-dive into their company organization, programming, and culture. Nicole earned her degree in Outdoor Recreation with an emphasis in Tourism and has worked as the Program Director of Momentum and as a facilitator and guide across the Southeast and West. Currently based out of Salt Lake City, she spends her free time learning about yoga and herbalism.

 

Tags:  business development  community development  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  marketing  member acquisition  member retention  operations  programming  staff training  youth team  youth training 

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Recap: CWA Meetings Hoboken

Posted By Emily Moore, Friday, September 20, 2019
CWA Meetings Hoboken Gravity Vault

Last week, the CWA continued its regional events tour with the latest stop at the Gravity Vault Hoboken. The conference was hosted out of the 25,000 sq. ft. facility and welcomed climbing industry professionals from fourteen different gyms between Quebec and Tennessee.

 

The management/operations attendees dug deep into optimizing customer experience with Chris Stevenson’s long-form workshop and problem-solved common issues in a series of gym manager roundtables. The routesetter attendees focused on forerunning communication skills, setting for customer progression, and technical product knowledge for working at height.

 

Roundtables are one of our industry’s most effective development resources. According to one attendee, “It was a great experience to see where others are in the industry and how they handle difficulties or opportunities.” These programs will continue to facilitate peer-to-peer dialogue among facility managers, routesetters, coaches, and other staff.

 

The CWA thanks The Gravity Vault for their support as a host facility. The CWA also thanks our program sponsors, PETZL, MyClimb, and Sterling for helping make these events possible.

 

Are you unfamiliar with the CWA Meetings program? Read on to learn about this exciting new initiative for our industry.

 

CWA Meetings Routesetters

 

What Are CWA Meetings?

CWA Meetings are professional development events. A ticket to a CWA Meetings event gives you access to:

  • One full day of workshops, for hands-on skills training
  • One full conference day, for discussion and lecture-based training

When you sign up for the event, you select a content track that best aligns with your role in a climbing gym. CWA Meetings offers training for:

  • Routesetters (routesetting staff or head routesetters)
  • Management/Operations Staff (front desk managers, gym managers, and gym frontline staff)
  • Adult/Youth Instructors (program coordinators, trainers, and commercial coaching staff)

 

Community Building

As regional events, CWA Meetings call in attendees from gyms in the surrounding area to connect and learn from each other. Building these relationships is an opportunity to strengthen our industry, broaden professional networks, and keep dialogue open among different climbing facilities.

 

Aside from the conference curriculum, CWA Meetings offers a Member Meetup, which invites gym staff from the region (not just attendees) to socialize and make new connections.

 

How Do CWA Meetings Differ from the CWA Summit?

Unlike the CWA Summit, which offers a broad set of content tracks and a full-blown trade show, CWA Meetings are highly focused on small group learning and building community.

 

CWA Meetings offer a unique opportunity to spend several days collaborating with industry peers in similar job functions. Upon registration for a Meeting, you select a track and then remain with that track from start-to-finish. The three tracks contain their own workshops, lectures, and roundtables in a highly engaged learning environment. The CWA selected top workshop facilitators and presenters who can offer a meaningful experience and help hone important skills for each attendee.

 

Additionally, the curriculum goals of CWA Meetings are largely suited towards early- and mid-career professionals. While upper-level management are best-served by the Summit, CWA Meetings are built for growth-oriented professionals who are seeking to increase their professional responsibilities through training, discussion, and certification.

 

Get Involved

The strength of CWA Meetings is based on a diverse representation of facilities and attendees at each event. Don’t miss out on taking part in year one of CWA Meetings!

 

Check out our CWA Meetings San Francisco event coming up October 21 - 25.

 

Register yourself or your staff today for CWA Meetings! If you have questions, you can email Emily Moore at emily@climbingwallindustry.org.

 

REGISTER

 

Tags:  certifications  CWA Meetings  leadership  management  operations  staff training  work-at-height 

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The Making of the 2018 Indoor Climbing Industry Report

Posted By Emma Walker, Thursday, September 19, 2019
Industry Report Behind the Scenes

Do you know how many check-ins the average climbing facility has each year? Or which programs the most successful climbing gyms offer? Until 2018, we didn’t know, either.

 

“One of the traditional roles of a trade association is to help members understand benchmarks,” explains CWA President & CEO Bill Zimmermann. “With no publicly-available data, we weren’t able to answer a lot of the inbound questions we were getting.”

 

That’s a big part of the reason CWA embarked on a year-long process to collect and analyze data from across the indoor climbing industry in 2018. It was a big step—the climbing industry has existed (and grown) for decades, but until now, we haven’t had good baseline information.

 

Benchmark studies allow business operators in mature industries—hospitality and fitness, for example—to understand their positions in the market and make decisions accordingly. Studies like these give stakeholders valuable insights, help them understand how they’re performing compared to others, make them better prepared for vendor negotiations, and help identify ways to increase revenue.

 

“This type of market intelligence helps us tell our industry’s story, which is useful for the general public’s perception of indoor climbing,” says CWA Marketing & Communications Manager Laura Allured, who was instrumental in initiating the industry research. At the beginning of this process, Allured conducted interviews with more than 40 people who represented member gyms. When she analyzed and categorized their responses, it was clear that industry research was a top priority.

 

The Process

Past attempts at industry-wide research were unsuccessful, in part because the lack of third-party analysis meant data was difficult to gather. With that lesson in mind, CWA set out to find a research partner with experience in survey design, data security, data analysis, and reporting. After an exhaustive search, CWA partnered with marketing research firm Campbell Rinker.

 

The next step was to set out a scope, including a mission statement and goals. Allured reached out to contacts across the industry to understand what sort of information would be useful to them. CWA contacts identified operations, marketing, facility profiles, programming, products and membership, risk management, and finance as the topics they were most interested seeing industry-wide research on.

 

From there, CWA and Campbell Rinker collaborated to develop the survey questions. Then it was time to figure out who should answer those questions.

 

“One big step in the process was identifying the ‘universe’ of gyms,” Allured explains. “When you’re studying a sample of a population, you have to understand how big the population is.”

 

CWA put together a list of climbing gyms in the United States and Canada using online resources and their existing membership list. The criteria facilities and companies needed to meet to be eligible to take the survey was simple: Gyms needed to be commercial climbing facilities, and climbing needed to be the primary activity conducted there. (In other words, climbing walls on university campuses or in rec centers fell outside of the criteria, since those business models are very different than those of climbing-centric facilities.)

 

Once they’d identified that population, CWA developed a marketing campaign to promote participation. Respondents opted into the study and filled out a form in order to participate, which allowed the researchers to validate that all responses truly came from eligible facilities.

 

Industry Value Sample Data

 

The Results

Over the course of six weeks, 123 facilities associated with 81 companies responded to the survey. (That sample size is about 23% of the total population of eligible American and Canadian climbing gyms.)

 

“Because climbing gyms exist in a competitive space, we had some work to do—we had to assure participants that there was a benefit to their participation,” Zimmermann says.

 

“One of the big questions business owners have when deciding whether or not to participate is around privacy concerns,” Allured agrees. That’s why Campbell Rinker was the custodian of the data from start to finish—it was collected via their online survey tool, and CWA staff and board never had access to the raw data.

 

Once the data was in, it was time to slice and dice, as Allured puts it, and look at the data from as many different angles as possible.

 

“Our goal was to create baseline performance benchmarks for gym operators, as well as offer some insights into what the most successful companies were doing,” Allured says.

 

The results of the report did just that. They shed light on the number of visits climbers made to gyms and how long they stayed, what challenges facilities faced and how much potential they had for growth, and what activities, classes, and programs they offered. Most importantly, they provided the benchmarks the indoor climbing industry has been missing.

 

Route Density Sample Data

 

“For all practical purposes, we’re still a very young industry, and we’ve grown rapidly compared to other recreational climbing segments,” says Zimmermann of indoor climbing. “It’s only been in the last few years that brands have really started to take notice of that growth—and the influence we have on new climbers—and this kind of research really helps with that.”

 

“We had a sense that that was the case, and now we have the data to prove it,” he adds.

 

What’s Next

The information contained in the 2018 Indoor Climbing Industry Report is a great first step—after all, we need those benchmarks to understand and grow the overall market. But there’s still more work to be done.

 

“We’ve gotten some feedback that looking at industry-wide data says very little for an individual gym owner about how their facility is doing,” Allured says. CWA has heard that concern, and they’re working to improve the process so the data can be categorized into more useful segments.

 

Working with a research team at Clemson University, the CWA launched the 2019 Indoor Climbing Industry Survey on September 10. If you haven’t already received an invitation from Dr. Bob Brookover, sign up now – participating companies receive a free copy of the $650 summary report! The deadline to complete this year's survey is October 3.

 

Sign Up for the Industry Study

 

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:  data  industry research  management  operations 

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Top 5 Takeaways from Fitness Business Podcast About Investment

Posted By Laura Allured, Friday, September 13, 2019
Fitness Investment

A recent recommendation from Chris Stevenson led me to start listening to the Fitness Business Podcast. In addition to being a regular speaker at the CWA Summit and CWA Meetings, Chris is one of my favorite fitness industry experts, and his recommendation did not let me down.

 

Hosted by Chantal Broderick, the podcast is a gold mine of resources for fitness business owners and managers. The first episode I listened to was #249 How to Plan Your Business for Investment with Jon Canarick, Managing Director, North Castle Partners.

 

Specializing in the health, active, and sustainable living markets, North Castle Partners is a small cap private equity firm with current and former investments comprising well-known brands such as Equinox, Curves, Barry’s Bootcamp, and, in our industry, Brooklyn Boulders.

 

Coincidentally, the discussion touched on climbing gyms much more than I expected, including why Jon believes climbing has such a bright future. So, without further ado, here are my top five takeaways from this episode!

 

Takeaway #1 – The Investment Decision Starts with Management

When determining whether to invest in a business, Jon says it all starts with management. The connection between the entrepreneur and investor is the most important indicator of future success, including a shared vision and mutual trust.

 

It’s important to determine up front that both the entrepreneur and investor are excited about the business plan and the direction of the company. If there are any doubts, it may be an indicator that it’s not the right partnership.

 

Further, an investment is a partnership between the CEO/management team and the VC firm. That partnership must be built on trust, so both sides should participate in frequent, open, and honest communication.

 

Consider the type of relationship you might want with an investor before starting the process and think about the effort you’re willing to put into that line of communication on an ongoing basis.

 

Takeaway #2 – They’re Investing in Your Business Model, Not a Concept

This may not be the case for all VC firms, but North Castle invests in proven business models, not concepts. When considering investment opportunities, they look for proof points that demonstrate viability.

 

These include things like:

  • Cost and appeal of the product
  • Size of the market opportunity
  • Number of locations
  • Success in multiple geographies or types of markets
  • Being on-trend, but not a fad

Ultimately, they want to see that your business model is scalable and replicable, and that you’ve been able to make it successful on your own first.

 

Takeaway #3 – Owner Dependence Is a Red Flag for Potential Investors

One red flag that Jon watches out for is over-dependence on the owner, which is a potential threat to the scalability of the business. After all, the owner is only one person. It’s not sustainable for them to be deeply involved in all business functions all the time.

 

If the success of any given department or function relies too heavily on the owner, it could mean disaster when they step back to focus more on business expansion and development. For most potential investors, you’ll need to prove your business isn’t overly dependent on you.

 

If you want to test whether this is an issue for you, take an extended vacation. If your business isn’t stable enough to weather your absence, it’s owner dependent. For more information, check out Prometis Partners’ blog post, Owner Dependence: Is Your Business Overly Dependent on You?

 

Takeaway #4 – Climbing Is Not a Fad

Jon is unequivocal in his belief that climbing is here to stay, based on conversations with people inside and outside the industry, as well as his own experience.

 

When it comes to fitness fads, the bottom line is how effective the workout is. Fun workouts that don’t deliver results often turn out to be fads. Climbing is an effective way to strength train, and there’s strong science behind climbing leading to great fitness.

 

Beyond the fitness benefits, climbing is also a uniquely social activity. In the fitness industry overall, it’s rare to see folks interacting with each other during workouts – climbing turns that expectation on its head. Plus, climbing gyms are distinctive in the fitness industry for creating inviting social spaces and tight-knit communities.

 

Takeaway #5 – Venture Capital Is Not for Everyone

It's worth pointing out, venture capital has its pros and cons. It may be attractive to some small business owners, but it’s not right for everyone. According to Jon, “there’s nothing wrong with having a great small business that is successfully generating profits for that individual.”

 

According to an Inc. article about VC in the tech industry, there are four reasons that raising venture capital might be a bad move in some cases.

  1. Selling yourself to VCs can be a distraction from more important things, like attracting and retaining customers.
  2. The data shows average returns in the low single digits, suggesting that VC’s value-add may not be what you expect.
  3. You may have to give away ownership in exchange for capital, diminishing your decision-making abilities and independence.
  4. At least in the tech industry, the odds of being able to pay back the capital that was invested are low.

Listen to the Full Interview

There you have it, my top takeaways from the Fitness Business interview with Jon Canarick. For more from Jon, including tips for preparing to sell a business and his view on the future of the fitness industry, head over to the Fitness Business website now to listen to the full episode.

 

Laura Allured Head ShotAbout the Author

Laura Allured is the Marketing & Communications Manager at the Climbing Wall Association. Laura is the editor of the CWA's blog, Thrive, and also manages the CWA’s Industry Research Program, including the annual indoor climbing industry study. Originally from the Chicagoland area, she got her start climbing in 2012 at Vertical Endeavors and has been hooked ever since.

 

Tags:  business development  financing  investment  leadership  management 

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Oh Canada: My Experience at the First CWA Meeting in Calgary

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Wednesday, September 4, 2019
Updated: Thursday, August 29, 2019
Chris Stevenson Speaking at CWA Meetings Calgary

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

I have always believed that the most successful people in any industry are the ones that focus on consistent professional development. In fact, “grow through constant learning” is one of my company’s core values.

 

I learn in many different ways. I read daily. I listen to podcasts while I’m driving or working out. I follow thought leaders on social media. I use apps like Blinkist and Ted Talks. I subscribe to relevant blogs and newsletters. All of these diverse methods of self-improvement allow me to learn different things, in different ways, at different times.

 

While all of these modalities are fantastic, I have found that live events are the most effective method of learning. Live events provide a level of energy and engagement that cannot be found anywhere else. They allow you to build relationships with other industry professionals. You simply can’t beat a well-executed live event.

 

I have been a part of the climbing industry for several years now, including workshops and keynotes at the annual CWA Summit for the last three years. If you haven’t attended this event, make it a priority. I present at events all over the world and the Summit is truly one of my favorites.

 

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of presenting at the CWA’s first-ever regional event in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This event was special. There were three things that stood out; the intimate workshop, the brewery (yes, the brewery) and the keynote with a roundtable.

 

Intimate & Focused Workshop

On the first day of the event, I ran a full-day workshop at the Calgary Climbing Centre Rocky Mountain, which is an absolutely beautiful state-of-the-art facility. When I arrived at the gym for the workshop, the energy was off-the-charts. I mean, just feast your eyes for a moment on this striking outdoor wall!

 

Gloves for Hand Protection

Photo courtesy of Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, Architect Renante Solivar

 

The workshop was one of the best I have ever facilitated; and it wasn’t because of me. It was because of the smaller setting and focused group of attendees. In this context, everyone participated, which created a platform for diverse perspectives and in-depth discussions.

 

I know that I have some good things to teach, but the amount of sharing and discussion that occurred was just as valuable, if not more. There were healthy debates and discussions. The information-sharing was uniquely fantastic. I was the facilitator and I learned a ton. It was amazing.

 

CWA Meetings Management and Operations Track

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

Time to Unwind at the Brewery

Another thing that made this event exceptional was, well, beer. Yes, you read that correctly, beer.

 

After the full day of workshops, there was a reception at a brewery called Last Best Brewing & Distilling. The reception set the perfect scene for everyone to unwind after a long day of learning.

 

Guests were able to get to know each other better and build new relationships. Discussion and information sharing continued. People exchanged cards and connected on social media. They laughed and had a good time. The food was delicious, and the beer was refreshing and tasty.

 

I often joke that some of the best parts of events happen afterwards at the hotel bar. This time, it wasn’t a hotel bar, it was a brewery and it was a really strong part of the event. A good social experience at an event is crucial. The CWA team nailed it.

 

Informative Conference Sessions & Roundtables

The next morning, I had the honor of presenting the opening keynote to kick off the conference day. The gist of the keynote was about being the highest performer you can be while being a great team player at the same time.

 

Chris Stevenson CWA Meetings Keynote

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

The keynote seemed to go over well, and I think the attendees learned a lot. The kicker, however, was the roundtable discussion afterwards.

 

Whenever I present a keynote, my goal is to accomplish two things: to give very tangible information that people can use, and for them to actually take action. Let’s face it, all of the knowledge in the world is useless if you don’t take action on it.

 

The roundtable afterwards allowed me to drive those two points home. We took the five key teaching points in the keynote and spent 15 minutes discussing each of them in-depth. This gave everyone a chance to dig in deeper, share their thoughts, and teach each other.

 

I love roundtables. They are so beneficial, and I get to take a back seat and let the audience do the talking. 😜

 

The keynote, followed by a roundtable, was an absolute homerun. Wait, this was in Canada. The keynote followed by a roundtable was a hat trick.

 

A Great Event with a Healthy Dose of My Cheesy Canadian Jokes

Intimacy. Interaction. Information sharing. Learning. Networking. Fun. This event had it all. It was truly something special. If I had to grade the event, I would have to give it an… EH!

 

CWA Meetings Roundtable Discussion

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

I started this post by talking about the importance of learning. Learning keeps us relevant. It motivates us. It makes us better at our craft.

 

I encourage you to find ways to do diverse methods of constant learning. Get a new book. Download a podcast. Subscribe to a blog. Plan to attend live events like the CWA Summit and/or CWA Meetings like the one in Calgary. Schedule time for learning. Put it in your calendar. What gets scheduled gets accomplished.

 

When it comes to live events, lock it in your calendar. Set aside funds in your budget. Plan to attend at least one or two a year. While all methods are good and should be done, you just can’t beat the all of the amazing benefits of live events.

 

I’m very excited to head to Hoboken in a few days for the second CWA Meeting. If you’re in the New York/New Jersey area, I hope to see you there! Or join us next month in San Francisco. I have no doubt they're both going to be great events.

 

LEARN MORE

 

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  CWA Meetings  employee engagement  leadership  management  operations  programming  risk management  staff retention  staff training  standards 

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Diversity = Variety: What Does It Mean for Commercial Routesetting?

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Diversity in Routesetting

Routesetting is a central part of the experience for every climbing gym’s end users: its members. Routes that are challenging but varied are one reason why climbers keep coming back. In order to provide the best experience for your customer base, it’s crucial to keep diversity in mind as you build your routesetting team and develop your setting program.

 

For an inside look at building a strong routesetting crew and what makes diversity so critical, I got in touch with Sean Nanos, Touchstone Climbing’s Head Routesetter for all of Southern California.

 

Sean discovered climbing at boarding school in New Hampshire, but it wasn’t until he moved to Oakland that he started setting. He rose to foreman at San Francisco’s Dogpatch Boulders before moving to Los Angeles for his current position.

 

WK: What are some of the meanings of “diversity” in routesetting?

 

SN: The most tangible meanings of diversity in routesetting are size (including weight, height, and ape index), age, gender, race/ethnicity, climbing ability, experience, and style.

 

WK: Why is diversity in routesetting important?

 

SN: By definition, diversity means variety. For a commercial gym, supporting climbers in densely populated urban areas means you’re going to be setting for nearly every body…I have yet to come across a single gym in any part of the country that is 100% all one “type” of person.

 

What diverse routesetting brings to the table is promoting inclusivity in our community and providing an experience that challenges every climber while at the same time validating their experience. It also opens the door to those who are interested in routesetting but didn’t think it was for them.

 

WK: What parts of the climbing population are underserved by a homogenous routesetting staff?

 

SN: The first groups that come to mind are women and short people (5’4” and under). As a 5’2” climber I can personally attest to feeling like I am not represented when I go climbing at a lot of other gyms. It’s very discouraging and annoying when you know it can be done differently. From a membership perspective, unknowingly setting for one specific body type can ruin a person’s first impression of what climbing is or how it can be enjoyed.

 

WK: When building a team, what are you looking for a setter to bring to the crew?

 

SN: I tell this to my new routesetters all the time: “You’re here to share your climbing experience, and whatever that means to you is what I want to climb.” Obviously we’re still a commercial gym, so during forerunning we’ll smooth out the climb as a group and make sure it’s comfy, safe, and consistent. But the core—the “soul,” if you will—of the climb won’t change.

 

That’s the goal, anyway. Every time we set a climb it’s a manifestation of how we think climbing is experienced, and when I’m building a team, I need a lot of different setters’ perspectives in order to come close to representing the variety of climbers that come to our gyms.

 

WK: What makes building a diverse team difficult?

 

SN: A lot of people still think that to be a routesetter you have to climb V10+. This archaic way of thinking is still prevalent when I ask someone if they are interested in routesetting. Also, most setting crews in the U.S. are still just a bunch of “tall” white dudes, which is a huge deterrent for talented potential setters that aren’t tall white dudes.

 

The desire and passion to learn routesetting is more important than how hard you climb. With the right training, talent, and experience, setters are able to set great commercial routes for any level.

 

WK: What can gyms do to find and maintain a diverse group of setters?

 

SN: You have to keep your ear to the ground. You have to put in a little more effort to reach out to those people that show potential. Don’t assume “if they’re interested, they’ll apply,” because if your team is a homogenous group of dudes, there’s a very high chance you’ll keep getting resumes and interest from more of the same dudes.

 

I wholeheartedly believe that having setters that are all at different ability levels makes for more successful commercial routesetting. If your entire team climbs V10+, they can become very disconnected to the way moderate grades should feel and climb. They may know objectively what makes a climb “easier,” but it’s easy to set inappropriately for lower grades when everything feels the same.

 

I make it clear to my crew that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing how to use those to efficiently and effectively set, forerun, and grade is a lot of work, but the work shows when members climb our routes.

 

WK: As routesetting develops as a profession and craft, how do you think diversity will influence gyms in the future?

 

SN: As indoor climbing becomes more popular and all kinds of people are introduced to the sport, the need for standardized commercial routesetting training will become paramount in creating an inclusive community.

 

Even if you know a diverse team is good for your gym professionally and socially, you can’t lead with diversity—diversity is what you get to after you do the hard work of making your crew more inclusive.

 

You can’t hire someone just to make you look more diverse, you need to take a chance on people and figure out the best way to support them. Having a standardized training entry point can teach potential setters the basics and level the playing field so you can hire based on what an individual has to offer as a setter rather than as a token minority.

 

Elite routesetting teams will be composed of individuals capable of fielding climbs that can be enjoyed by all.

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

Willis is the rare local who was actually born in Boulder, Colorado. He attended Williams College and works as a freelance writer out of Providence, Rhode Island. When he's not writing, you'll find him rock climbing, playing with his cats, and drinking too much green tea.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  employee engagement  leadership  member retention  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  workplace diversity 

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