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Nurturing Connections: A Gym Owner’s Experience at CWA Meetings San Francisco

Posted By Alex Chuong, Wednesday, January 8, 2020
CWA Meetings San Francisco Management Track

A few months ago, the CWA held a professional development event at the Planet Granite in San Francisco – part of the CWA Meetings regional events program. As the owner of a brand-new gym trying to figure out how to be a gym owner, routesetter, and instructor all at the same time, I was excited for the opportunity to connect with and learn from other professionals in the industry.

 

There were so many things that I took away from the experience, but one of my favorite parts was just being in a room full of other people who are just as passionate as I am about the indoor climbing experience. It was nice meeting, learning from, and connecting with industry professionals representing every gym in the Bay Area and even as far as Tahoe. There was even one person who came from overseas to attend this event.

 

There were three different content tracks that we could choose to attend during the event. They were the management/operations staff track, the routesetters track, and the adult/youth instructors track.

 

As someone who is involved in all those aspects at Oaktown Boulders, I wanted to attend all of them! But I ended up choosing the management track. Oaktown Boulders is a very young company, so as we continue to grow and the industry continues to evolve, I wanted to learn how to build a strong foundation in the business operations side.

 

On day one of the event, the business operations workshop was led by Chris Stevenson, former Red Ranger of the Power Rangers. Now, he owns and operates Stevenson Fitness, which consistently rates very high in customer reviews in the world of fitness clubs. In these sessions, we not only learned about his journey of starting the business, but also all the important lessons he learned along the way before becoming so successful.

 

Chris really emphasized that the reason his club is so successful is because of how they treat their customers and clients. Their number one priority is to provide a good experience for their members. Chris gave us great methods to not only measure member experience, but also how to enhance the member experience at our own gyms. This was especially pertinent to me — Oaktown Boulders is very young, and it made me realize how important it is to make the member experience core to our gym from the very beginning.

 

On the second day of the event, I hopped tracks and attended the breakout session for coaches and instructors led by Patrick Brehm of the Headwall Group. In this session, Patrick led us through how to have effective program planning at our gym. He shared creative games and exercises that he has used with kids before and we talked about how we can implement these in our programs. We then put the lesson into action and created plans for our own programs.

 

It was so much fun being a part of this session because everyone was so passionate about their own kids and youth programs. Collaborating and sharing fun games that we’ve done with the kids to keep them engaged and learning was my favorite part. I’ve already been able to try out a few of these games with our youth team at Oaktown Boulders and it’s been a huge success.

 

Overall, the CWA Meeting in San Francisco was an amazing opportunity to meet others in the industry and be re-inspired by everyone there who shares the same mission—to improve the experience of the members at their gym. Leaving the event, I had a renewed sense of hope for the future of the sport because there are such caring and amazing people behind the scenes trying to make it better.

 

Going back to work, I feel equipped and excited to start implementing all the things I learned to grow Oaktown Boulders and make it a truly wonderful and unique community.

 

Alex Chuong Head ShotAbout the Author

Alex was born and raised in Oakland, CA. After going away for college at UC Davis, he came back to Oakland and got into rock climbing, which has been a huge part of his life ever since. When the opportunity to start routesetting and coaching at the climbing gym that he frequented opened up, he jumped at the chance to give back to the community that had given him so much over the years. As he worked at the gym and watched this sport change people's lives, he realized that there was a huge need for something like this in his neighborhood back in Oakland, which is why he opened Oaktown Boulders.

 

Tags:  business development  customer experience  customer service  CWA Meetings  employee engagement  leadership  management  operations  programming  staff training 

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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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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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