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The Climbing Wall Association's newly-launched blog is a place for indoor climbing industry professionals to find useful and relevant information from industry and business experts. Stay on top of best practices, thought leadership, and trends by subscribing to Thrive - A Climbing Business Blog! www.climbingwallindustry.org/lines

 

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An Opportunity to Lead in Indoor Climbing Sustainability: B Corp Certification

Posted By Lindsey Wilson, Monday, May 6, 2019
B Lab Business as a Force for Good

B Corps and the New Responsible Business Story

The story of business is changing. And that story is being reframed to value people and planet as much as profit. People across the world are demanding business be more responsible and make a positive impact on the world.

 

I work for B Lab, the nonprofit behind B Corporation Certification. Certified B Corps are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.

 

There are now over 2,700 B Corps in 60 countries and 150 industries - including leaders like Patagonia, New Belgium Brewing, Ben & Jerry’s, Kickstarter, & Athleta - driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. Society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and nonprofits alone. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.

 

Why & How to Become a B Corp

Becoming a Certified B Corp is not just about achieving a certification or seal of approval; it’s about joining a community of other likeminded businesses dedicated to the same vision and goal. Companies pursue certification for a range of reasons including benchmarking and improving performance, building credibility and amplifying voice, protecting mission, and attracting talent.

 

To become a Certified B Corp, a company must complete and submit the B Impact Assessment - an independent assessment of a company’s social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. A company must get a minimum verified score of 80 points in order to earn B Corp Certification. There is also a legal requirement for Certification that a company must incorporate its social and environmental commitment into its governance articles. Read more about Certification requirements.

 

How B Corp Applies to the Indoor Climbing Industry and Where to Start

As a climber myself, I know that the sport of indoor climbing is growing rapidly and moving into the mainstream. Most major cities - and many smaller cities - now have at least one climbing gym and the sport will officially be added to the 2020 Olympic Games. Of course, more interest in climbing means more demand for indoor climbing facilities which means more opportunity for the indoor climbing industry - which is great! But on the flip side, more indoor climbing means more facilities, more energy to run those facilities, and more materials used to build indoor walls. As the indoor climbing industry scales rapidly, it has a responsibility to grow ethically and an opportunity to lead on sustainability.

 

It can be intimidating to approach sustainability as a climbing gym operator without a roadmap. The B Impact Assessment is a free, open-source tool B Lab has created to allow companies to benchmark and measure their performance so that they can see where they are doing well and what might need improvement. It provides a framework for companies to assess their impact. In climbing terms, it is much easier to complete a route when you have beta, which B Lab and the existing B Corp community have already developed. The best place to start measuring your impact is to log into the B Impact Assessment and see how you stack up. It takes only 30 minutes to get a quick snapshot.

 

Of course, measuring your impact and working to improve business operations and efficiency is important from both an ecological and economic perspective, but there’s another big reason B Corp Certification is important for the indoor climbing industry. That reason is Millennials. According to a recent article about Millennials and purpose-driven business from Inc., “Millennials as a generation are motivated by more than profit when it comes to the opportunities they seek to pursue. They're seeking purpose, both in their personal lives and the types of businesses they're starting. This is a crucial understanding both in regards to Millennials and entrepreneurship, and the companies that seek to earn their business.”

 

Want to find a room full of Millennials? Hop into your local climbing gym. Millennials are a large source of growth for climbing, and it’s important to take note of their tendency to reject business as usual. They want to know the companies they support are ethical. They are demanding more information, more transparency, and more accountability. Becoming a B Corp is just another way to build trust, build community, and create a lasting positive impact in the indoor climbing industry.

 

For those looking to start their journey or those curious about B Corp Certification in general, join me for a Lunch and Learn session at the 2019 CWA Summit on Thursday May 16th at 12:45.

 

Lindsey Wilson Head ShotAbout the Author

Lindsey Wilson is passionate about using business as a force for good. Growing up backpacking and skiing in the mountains of Colorado and northwoods forests of Minnesota, Lindsey has always had an immense passion for protecting the places she plays which led her to initially pursue a career in conservation policy. Realizing many of the ecological challenges the world faces inherently live in social and economic systems, Lindsey went back to school to pursue an MBA in Global, Social & Sustainable Enterprise at Colorado State University and shortly after began working in Business Development for B Lab supporting companies in becoming Certified B Corporations. Lindsey believes in the power of B Corps to create a new economic paradigm where planet and people are monitored as rigorously as profits and all businesses work collectively to solve social and environmental problems. Lindsey is an avid skier and hiker and dabbles in climbing.

 

Tags:  certifications  community development  company culture  leadership  management  operations 

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6 Ways to Retain Your Members

Posted By Emma Walker, Monday, May 6, 2019
Climbing Gym Member Retention

You’ve gotten new members in the door, and now there’s a new challenge: keeping them engaged so they become loyal, long-term members. Conventional fitness clubs track their membership trends closely – it’s well-established that membership spikes significantly right after the holidays, then drops off a few months into the new year. With a niche climbing audience, though, retention is more nuanced.

 

We chatted with a few managers at gyms who are successfully retaining members, even when the slower months hit. Here are their secrets.

 

1. Build a community

There isn’t just one magic incentive or trick you can use to retain membership. “It has be a core value that is applied across all aspects of the gym’s facilities, operations, services, etc.” says Rich Breuner, Director of Operations at Bend Rock Gym. The gym’s #1 goal, he says, is to support and facilitate an amazing community experience. “That translates to people wanting to become and stay members,” he explains. It’s working. BRG has seen member attrition rates drop significantly since 2016, when they began examining programs gym-wide and implementing adjustments with member retention in mind.

 

2. Quality walls, quality routes

Members want to climb at gyms with excellent routes. Bend Rock Gym’s commitment to quality begins with the most basic element: its walls. “They’re built well, they’re maintained well, the routes and volumes are always changing,” says Breuner, who compares setters to the cooks in a kitchen. The ingredients, or holds, might be similar to what you’d find anywhere, but a chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant can really make you want to come back. Their routesetting, he says, is a key differentiator and major factor in keeping members coming back for more.

 

3. Education isn’t just for kids

Anchorage’s Alaska Rock Gym offers adult programming free with monthly membership, says Operations Manager Eric Wickenheiser. At some point, Wickenheiser says, “new climbers hit a plateau. After a few months, people think, ‘Hey, how can I climb 5.12?’” ARG’s Climbing 101, 201, and 301 classes, plus lead clinics and women’s-specific programming, keeps members engaged when they might otherwise burn out and let their memberships lapse.

 

4. Invest in customer service

This begins at the front door, but it’s key for staff to get out on the floor and get to know members, too, says Breuner. BRG expects all-star customer service from its staff. “We’re flexible and adapt our customer service experience with the needs of our membership,” he explains. “People come in and they don’t feel like they’re going to war with the staff—they see friendly faces and people who are getting to know them on a personal level.” BRG makes a concerted effort to get desk staff onto the floor to help with waivers and answer questions, which creates a fun, accessible culture for climbing.

 

5. Find the right instructors

When it comes to programming, “the instructor makes or breaks a class,” says Wickenheiser. One of ARG’s most popular yoga classes is at 4:30 p.m., when members are ostensibly at work or in traffic. “The teacher is incredible, so people come anyway. The class is always full.” Wickenhesier adds that when local celebrities (guidebook authors, pro climbers) teach a fitness class or give a talk, it tends to be full.

 

6. Keep track of the trends

“We’re a little isolated here in Alaska,” Wickenheiser laughs, “But we try to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry.” Lots of ARG’s members have climbed at big-name Seattle gyms (most flights in and out of Anchorage go through Seattle), where they see the most cutting-edge gym developments. Members want those amenities at their home gym, too. Heading to the CWA Summit each year, he says, is the best way to keep an eye on industry trends and make sure ARG is up to speed.

 

“The bottom line in member retention is not treating members like a number,” Wickenheiser says. ARG has recently moved to a brand-new facility, but it’s been open for 25 years – Wickenheiser attributes that success to little things like taking the time to remember members’ stories and treating them like the important part of the climbing community they are.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

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

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  leadership  management  marketing  member retention  operations  staff training 

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The Keys to Cultural Leadership

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Monday, April 8, 2019
Climbing Gym Customer Experience

While there are many definitions of leadership, I recently came across one that I thought stood out from the rest. Leadership expert, Warren Bennis, explains, "Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." Accordingly, a company has a vision that it wants to execute; the leader is the one who does that. So, how does a leader turn a vision into reality?

 

Successful leaders use various methods to ingrain the company vision with every member of the team: leading by example, effective communication skills, and tangible tactics and strategies.

 

Leading by example is the most important piece. There is no quicker way to destroy a culture than by saying it is one thing but then doing something different. As a leader, you are always on “stage.” Team members are always watching. If they are told something is important, and a leader behaves in a way that shows it isn’t, not only will team members not buy in, there will be trust issues, and possibly a loss of respect. There is no more important role for a leader than leading by example.

 

Communication skills are also extremely critical to successful leadership. Ironically, great communication skills start with being a great listener. Active listening involves truly hearing other people’s thoughts and opinions, asking clarifying questions, and sometimes rephrasing things to develop a better understanding. Successful leaders also communicate openly, honestly, and with compassion. Be concise and direct when delivering feedback, but be kind. Team members will appreciate that. Another thing imperative to effective communication is an awareness of your body language. The way you carry yourself conveys strong conscious and subconscious messages. Try to stay relaxed, open, and maintain eye contact. This creates a comfortable environment for everyone involved in the conversation. Finally, it is essential to stay open-minded and be willing to accept feedback from others. The willingness to ask for and accept feedback is a great way to develop trust, strengthen relationships, and nurture an environment where team members are more willing to share and communicate openly. Leaders that foster environments that promote safe, open, and honest communication are the most successful.

 

Beyond leading by example and excellent communication skills, successful leaders use tangible strategies to turn vision into reality. One way to do this is to market the vision internally to the team. Post your vision, core purpose, mission statement, and core values on the wall in your office or employee break room. Incorporate them into every team meeting. Create “core cards” that your team members carry in their pockets while they are on shift. Hire, fire, express gratitude, and evaluate based on the vision. Keep cheat sheets behind the front desk. Do everything possible to keep the vision at the forefront of every team member’s mind. As a side note, I believe you should also share your vision and values with your members. It is a great way to let them know what you stand for and helps bond them to your brand. Once the vision is ingrained in every team member’s brain, great leaders define specific roles and responsibilities for team members to execute in order to carry out the vision. Successful leaders then provide all of the training, tools, coaching, and support needed for team members to carry out those roles and responsibilities.

 

Simply summarized, successful leaders bring a vision to reality. This is done through leading by example, communicating effectively, and by giving the team the inspiration, as well as the tools and support, they need to execute. I call this cultural leadership.

 

Are you interested in becoming the most effective leader you can be? If so, attend my conference session at the CWA Summit! For an even more in-depth exploration of leadership strategies, please attend my workshop “Cultural Leadership: The Key to Employee Engagement and Motivation”. I would love to see you there!

 

Here are the details for the workshop:

 

Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Time: 1:30 pm - 4:30 pm
Cost: $150 for conference attendees
Location: Big Thompson Room, Embassy Suites Conference Center

Description: Excellence comes from an engaged and motivated team. One way to accomplish that is through cultural leadership. In this interactive session, learn how to lead by infusing a culture that inspires and motivates your team to be the best they can be! Explore strategies that dramatically increase your level of team member engagement. Attendees will leave with tangible tips and tools that will make an immediate impact and are easy to implement.

 

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 service  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  staff retention  staff training 

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Let's Get Engaged!

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Monday, March 11, 2019
Climbing Gym Customer Experience

Employee engagement is a hot topic, and rightfully so. Companies that have a high level of success also have a high level of engaged employees. And no, I don’t mean vows and bridal bouquets. I mean “engaged” in the company’s mission statement and core values. Most companies don’t put a strong focus on creating a culture that engages employees. This is often because they don’t know how to do it. Before we get into the how, let’s look a little more at employee engagement as a whole.

 

There are three types of employees: engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged. Engaged employees are the ones you want. Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward. Disengaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time – but not energy or passion – into their work. And actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they act out their unhappiness. Actively disengaged workers undermine what engaged coworkers accomplish. While engaged employees are the sought-after group in our facilities, research shows that they constitute only a small percentage of our work force, with the majority of employees falling into the other two categories.

 

So, what are the factors that lead to employee engagement? How can you engage your employees (without getting down on one knee)? Here are five keys to dramatically improve your employee engagement.

 

1. Fair compensation – All team members have to feel like they are being fairly compensated for their work. Make sure you do your research, and know what the going pay rates are for different positions. What a team member feels is “fair” may not be what the market dictates. That is important to know if you find them questioning their compensation. Even when explained and supported, the member may still feel under-compensated. Offer small incentives, raffles and contests to help combat these feelings, and couple these with the four other components provided herein.

 

2. Meaningful work – This starts with company vision, mission and core values. Your team members need to know these things and believe in them. It is important to constantly infuse those items into your team and into their work. That is global. Team members have to know that what they do as individuals matters, and has an impact on the bigger picture vision, mission and values. Even the most seemingly mundane tasks often have a deeper meaning. It's your job to make sure that everyone on your team understands the impact and importance of their respective roles and every task for which they are responsible.

 

3. Appreciation and gratitude – You can never show too much appreciation to your employees. While you infuse your company vision, mission and values, and stress the meaningfulness of their individual roles, cement it with appreciation and gratitude. Gallup research shows that, at a minimum, an employee should receive praise at least once every seven days. I recommend even more. If you have someone on your team that you can't praise at least once a week, it may be time to get him/her off your team. I also strongly recommend creating a “gratitude” system. Daily business routines can sometimes neglect opportunities for employee recognition. Create a checklist, reminders, excel spreadsheet where you plan and track the gratitude you express. When people hear me give this advice, they often ask if that minimizes or trivializes the concept of gratitude. It absolutely does not, as long as you are authentic. It simply reminds us to do something that may have slipped our mind when things get crazy.

 

4. Personal growth – Employees have an innate desire to be better. Learning and self-improvement drive engagement. Disengagement can begin the minute a team member feels as though growth has stopped. Find ways to make sure that your employees are always growing in their work environment. That can come from reading, webinars, podcasts, conferences and more. Empower them to take part in some decision-making, and to handle certain things on their own. Even taking the time to coach them up on a regular basis lets them know that you care about their improvement. When team members know that they are improving and growing the will stay actively engaged.

 

5. Winning – There is nothing more motivating and engaging than achieving a win. Find ways to put your employees in a position to achieve daily victories. Set them up for little wins and celebrate them. A team member should never leave a shift without having at least one win. In practice, this could be setting up KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that can be reached on a daily basis. It could be as simple as empowering them to do a little extra for your members without having to ask permission. Find ways to make them the hero. If there is good news to deliver, a resolution to a problem that a member is having, or even some swag to give away, let your team member handle it. Hand them that win. Finally, in team meetings, start with asking them what their wins were for the week. Not only does that allow employees to celebrate achievements, it trains them to look for new and/or opportunities to accomplish!

 

Engaged employees “make” you. Disengaged employees, and, even worse, actively disengaged employees, “break” you. Try implementing some of the strategies above to make sure your facility is being made and not broken. None of the strategies above require much of a financial commitment. It just takes a little focus, attention, and time. It is well worth it. An engaged team leads to engaged members and that is the formula for success!

 


Employee Engagement Pre-conference at the CWA Summit

Want more employee engagement tips, tricks, and strategies? Don't miss Chris Stevenson's pre-conference workshop at this year's CWA Summit, Cultural Leadership: The Key to Employee Engagement and Motivation. For assistance adding a pre–conference to your registration, reach out to us at 720-838-8284 or events@climbingwallindustry.org.


 

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  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  staff retention  staff training 

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Balancing the Business, Creativity, and Labor of Routesetting

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, January 21, 2019
Climbing Gym Birthday Parties

As businesses, climbing gyms use business strategies, protocols, and methods to establish and operate the gym, but that approach doesn’t entirely work for routesetting. Unlike fitness gyms that use standardized equipment, climbing gyms are engaged in selling the climbing experience to members, which means routes and boulders set in the gym must emulate the very elusive concept of natural rock. Managing routesetting means balancing the business aspect, the creativity, and the manual labor. These are 3 distinct and very different skill sets, and it’s nearly impossible for anyone to be engaged fully in all 3 at the same time. The goal of managing a routesetting program is to engage the right staff, at the right time, in the right task, to the right degree.

 

Understanding Creativity, Business, and Labor

Creativity can be defined simply as creating something that didn’t exist before, ie: a new route or boulder in the gym. Inherently, creativity and productivity don’t mix and can be challenging in business. When you see a routesetter staring at a wall, many managers will think, “that person needs to do something.” But approaching routesetters and routesetting this way will only lead to frustration and conflicts. It’s important to know that it’s nearly impossible to see the creative process. People generate ideas in different ways, but research shows that ideas typically come when the mind is free and random thoughts can occur.

 

Business tasks on the other hand, unlike the creative process, are observable. It’s easy to tell when admin tasks are not completed. The business side of a routesetting program includes measurable tasks like placing orders, writing schedules and signing off on payroll – meaning you can determine the average amount of time it takes to accomplish these tasks. Of the three key elements to managing a routesetting program, the business side is the clearest cut, but due to the nature of the other aspects of the job, can present challenges.

 

The manual labor of routesetting cannot be measured in terms of productivity in the same way that other positions can be. This is due to the variable sizes and complexities of routes, and while the routesetter will have a plan of how they want to set the holds, there will be changes as the route takes shape on the wall. Furthermore, unexpected problems can arise that slow down the process, like a broken drill or a spinning t-nut. Additionally, routesetters often work outside of gym hours to set routes.

 

Creating a routesetting team that meets business goals, creates dynamic and fun routes that your members enjoy, and operates productively and efficiently can be a challenge to manage due to the unique skill set required for the position. Luckily, there are some approaches that can help.

 

Apply Strategic Thinking

Labor productivity research shows that the main characteristics influencing staff productivity fall into two categories: 1. age, skill, and experience, and 2. leadership and motivation. How you engage and interact with your team plays a significant role in determining the outcome. Identify the strategic requirements of the job – how does this job contribute to the overall mission and goal of the business? Then identify and prioritize the activities that would reach that outcome. Unfortunately for management and staff, the connection between their role and the strategic contribution they should be making is not always obvious, and losing track of this very important ideation can lead to poor productivity and skewed expectations. Simply put, your staff should be able to say the goal and objectives of their role as routesetters within the larger framework of the gym and know how their work directly affects the business.

 

Schedule Team Meetings Appropriately

While most of your staff probably keeps a regular schedule, routesetters may be setting after hours to avoid business interruption, which can lead to late nights. This may sound obvious, but expecting routesetters to attend early meetings after a late night or a re-set after a comp isn’t setting them up for success, pun intended. While team meetings are important and often need to occur right after events to recap, schedule them when they make sense and with consideration of when your routesetters usually pull shifts.

 

Cross Train on Varied Tasks

As an employer, don’t fall into the trap of a one-stop shop employee; sure, the idea of a creative routesetter/business wunderkind/workhorse sounds good, but as your gym grows, this approach limits what your staff can do and can lead to burnout. Be creative and do what works for your team; if you’re unsure of what your team needs, ask them for input. Cross-training the routesetting team on all the tasks that need to be accomplished for the business, while allowing them to develop skills and take on new responsibilities, will in turn support the strategic plan and growth of the gym.

 

Build Creativity Into the Schedule

We’ve already covered that creativity happens when the mind is free, so build in time for routesetters to be creative as a part of their job. Simply because you can’t see it doesn’t mean your business won’t benefit from the process that routesetters undertake to create routes; and they need to be compensated for their creativity. What does that look like at your gym? Ask your routesetters when and how they get their best ideas for routes, then include time for them on their schedule to foster and develop creativity. You’ll know it’s working when your gym members are happy with the routes and providing positive feedback.

 

Putting It All Together (PIAT)

Balancing creativity, labor, and business doesn’t have to be challenging once you know what you need to accomplish. Managing your team well means that you know the strategic objective of the job and the strengths and weaknesses of your team.

  • Define Routesetting Strategically
  • Identify and Prioritize Routesetting Tasks
  • Schedule Meetings so Routesetters Can Participate
  • Cross Train on Varied Tasks
  • Schedule Time for Routesetters to Be Creative

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

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

 

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

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The Two Keys to a Great Customer Experience

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

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

 

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

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Where to Begin with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

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

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

 

Offer basic instruction

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

 

Partner with Local Organizations

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

 

Watch Your Language

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

 

Train Yourself and Your Staff

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

 

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

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

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

 

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

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Cultivating Space: 10 Steps to Create and Maintain Cultural Relevancy

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

Hello CWA world!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Step One: Define the work.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Step Two: Get Right With Yourself

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

 

Step Three: Bring It to Work

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

 

Step Four: Consider the Consumer Experience Continuum

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

 

Step Five: Marketing

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

 

Step Six: Hiring and Retention

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

 

Step Seven: Built Environment

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

 

Step Eight: Programs

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

 

Step Nine: Partnerships

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

 

Step Ten: Rinse and Repeat

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

 

Elyse Rylander Head ShotAbout Elyse Rylander

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

 

Tags:  climbing culture  company culture  diversity  workplace diversity 

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Retention Strategies to Reduce Employee Turnover

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

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

 

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

 

Define and Share Your Culture

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

 

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

 

Hire Smart

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

 

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

 

Hiring and Interviewing Checklist

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

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

 

Train, Train, Train

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

 

Meet Basic Employee Needs

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Have Clearly Defined Career Paths

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

 

Putting It All Together (PIAT)

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

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

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

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

 

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

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