Become A Member   |   Newsletter Sign-Up   |   Print Page   |   Sign In
Thrive - A Climbing Business Blog
Blog Home All Blogs
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

 

Search all posts for:   

 

Top tags: operations  leadership  management  staff training  company culture  customer experience  human resources  community development  customer service  risk management  employee engagement  programming  marketing  member retention  routesetting management  customer satisfaction  routesetting  standards  staff retention  youth training  coaching  youth team  certifications  climbing culture  member acquisition  OSHA  work-at-height  employee turnover  workplace diversity  coronavirus 

Comfort, Progress, and Challenge in Routesetting

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Monday, March 9, 2020
Andreas Lerch Routesetting

As routesetting continues to develop as a profession and a career, it’s becoming an increasingly important part of modern gyms. With that role comes increased pressure on the quality of setting and the experience of climbers.

 

But the goals of routesetting aren’t always easy to balance — good setting needs to both challenge and entertain, to offer puzzling sequences that remain rewarding. What’s more, most gyms must cater to climbers of widely varying levels.

 

To get some clarity on balancing the demands, I got in touch with Andreas Lerch, Head Routesetter for Vancouver’s The Hive.

 

Andreas oversees routesetting operations for three facilities in the busy Vancouver area, with a fourth location slated for Winnipeg. All Hive locations are bouldering only.

 

Willis Kuelthau: How do you think of your relationship to members and climbers? Are you here to challenge, amuse, both?

Andreas Lerch: I think of my relationship with members and climbers as more than just bringing a product to them — we are bringing an experience. As a crew, we work to challenge and engage the climber as much as possible.

 

With the steady increase of climbers and members, I spend a lot of time balancing what beginner climbers think is fun with what experienced climbers think is fun. Setters often forget that sometimes beginners don't need to be challenged the same way as your strongest members, and we need to get them to the top so that they get hooked and keep coming back for more.

 

With that being said, we also have a lot of strong climbers who need to constantly be challenged in other ways.

 

WK: Is there a tension between challenge and entertainment? How do you challenge climbers while ensuring that they enjoy the experience?

AL: I wouldn't say there is tension between challenge and entertainment; I think they can sometimes go hand in hand.

 

I think a big focus on challenging climbers comes from empathy and understanding what it feels like to be a beginner all over again. We do our best to continue to introduce volumes on easier boulders, as well as encourage the use of big “fun” holds. We also try to ensure that there are climbs of all levels on all wall angles.

 

Another way we challenge climbers is setting specific movements in a range of grades, such as an easy mantle, medium mantle, and hard mantle boulder. I think seeing people work their way up the same climb with 3+ variations is a neat challenge.

 

WK: Different climbers and members have different needs. How do you balance setting for hardcore climbers with a less experienced crowd?

AL: I use the motto “Fun, Fair, and Functional”. We also have a lot of diversity on the setting team from gender to height. We have people who are five feet tall on our team all the way up to 6’ 2”.

 

Between the three facilities, we have over twelve setters. So, we have a lot of different brains to pull ideas from. Since we do have people come in with all skill levels, we manage this by setting a variety of styles.

 

We also have other outlets for members who crush, such as the Moon board and Stokt board. I often find the hardcore climbers to be the ones who climb the least and train the most, so having an awesome training space is key.

 

WK: Does outdoor climbing inform your setting? Do you try to prepare members for the outdoors, or leave it as a separate discipline?

AL: We do some gym-to-crag seminars, but in terms of the setting, we don’t generally do any of the indoor-to-outdoor comparisons.

 

We try to bring moves you may see outside into the gym, and I think as a climber, climbing outside can bring inspiration to my setting.

 

I like to think that we prepare members for the outdoors. However, I think we have many climbers who would rather just climb inside their entire life and don't care much for outdoor climbing.

 

WK: How do grades fit into this conversation? A useful tool for progression, or a subjective measure that can hold climbers back?

AL: Grades are always a hot topic to talk about. We use a hex system: one-hex through six-hex. It’s a circuit system — in each hex, there are three V grades. Our circuits do overlap, so there’s overlap in all of the circuits.

 

I think that grades can be a useful tool for progression if problems are never changing. I think due to the number of styles climbing has to offer, grades will always be super subjective.

 

For example, I don’t excel at slab climbing, but put me in the steep on pinches and I will do great.

 

I think benchmarks on the Moon board can be helpful to see whether or not you are improving as those climbs always stay the same.

 

But I think for sure grades are always going to be a challenge. It’s something we constantly struggle with as setters. As a crew, we’ll get a lot stronger and the grades won’t show that. It’s my job to say: “Hey guys, you’re getting really strong. You gotta tone it down a little bit.”

 

I also find that the conditions of a climb affect the grades. Something that we do is we put up “New” plaques for a week, which are ungraded plaques. And that allows a week for climbs to be climbed, and we can then adjust the climb to a more appropriate grade if it got harder (or in some cases easier).

 

It also really encourages people to climb things they would never try, which is pretty rad. I see new people get on a six-hex, and I’m like “Oh my gosh, this is going to be interesting.” But it’s cool, because they don’t know the grade and they’re just having fun. Whereas if there were a grade on it, they wouldn’t even touch it.

 

We also try our best to keep the grades consistent among the gyms, which is another one of the big challenges as we have a decent amount of multi-gym users.

 

WK: Are there any unique setting advantages or challenges that come with being a bouldering-only gym?

AL: For sure. We don’t have to be on ropes, so there’s a lot less of the rope safety stuff that we have to be worried about.

 

It’s a lot easier to teach people how to set unique movements and challenge our routesetters when we can easily tweak moves on the ground. It’s really hard to teach people on a rope, when you’re like: “You know the crux up there by the third draw…” You can just get up on a ladder and swap holds and really explain things.

 

So, I find that the teaching aspect is really enhanced in a bouldering facility. And not sitting in a harness for a long time is awesome.

 

WK: Are there ways that you think climbers could get more out of their gym experience? What do you wish more climbers knew about routesetting?

AL: I think there are many ways climbers can get more out of their gym experience. We strive to create a strong community at the Hive and host a lot of community-based events to bring people together. We also offer some awesome courses for climbers to up their skills.

 

As far as climbers understanding routesetting better, I’ve been toying with this thought for a while. I feel it is important for people to understand what goes into routesetting, and there are many avenues that one could go down in terms of sharing this with the community.

 

I wish more climbers knew how much work goes into creating a climb, and that we aren’t setting selfish sandbagged boulders that are for giants. We spend a lot of time as a crew to create an awesome experience that will keep climbers coming back.

 

I think one aspect of this is having management know what the setting process looks like, so when asked they can explain it to members, as our routesetting team is not always around. The more people who understand the process the better.

 

WK: How important is member-setter communication? Are there any tools or feedback methods that you particularly value?

AL: I think member feedback is super important. If you are not listening to your members, they will find another gym that will.

 

Member retention is key to the growth of a gym. In order to keep members, you need to listen to what they have to say and keep them in the loop when changes are being made. I have spent a lot of time over the years talking to members and reading member feedback comments.

 

We recently did a survey across all gyms and got some awesome feedback and followed up with a great FAQ. I would highly recommend this approach.

 

I also reach out to our ambassadors. Our ambassadors climb at multiple facilities regularly, and we send out a feedback form quarterly to get their input. They are all quite experienced and notice trends that the setters may overlook, such as the tops of boulders getting spooky or an excess of bad feet on all the problems.

 

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:  community development  customer experience  customer satisfaction  member retention  operations  routesetting  routesetting management 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

6 Tips for Collecting Member Feedback

Posted By Emma Walker, Monday, March 9, 2020
Member Feedback

Your members represent so much more than just your facility’s earnings. They’re the lifeblood of your gym’s community. Still, many facilities don’t yet have a robust strategy for capturing feedback from customers and members. There’s a lot you can learn from your members to improve your facility—the opportunity is much larger than just fielding comments about routesetting.

 

5.Life collects all kinds of information from its members, says Program Manager Eli Collinson: members’ impressions of their routesetting curve, if the number or topics of classes offered should change, and suggestions for areas of improvement. Building a member feedback loop that creates buy-in from members also means making your facility more member-friendly. Here’s what you need to know.

 

1. Be Proactive

Sender One facilities collect feedback from its members “at least once a month,” says Marketing Manager Crystal Tan, adding that they also have suggestion cards members can fill out anytime.

 

“We try to consolidate our surveys into one big survey for bigger-picture things, and then do spot checks with groups about their experiences throughout the year,” Collinson says. “In 2020, we plan to use Net Promoter Score surveys to follow up with new customers and class participants after their visit or class.”

 

2. Keep It Simple for Members—and for You

Collinson has had success collecting data with online tools (they use Microsoft forms). “Collecting the data digitally makes it easier to aggregate the feedback and see what percentage of respondents have similar feedback for us,” he explains.

 

Online tools are great, but don’t expect people to download anything or take a bunch of steps to answer your questions. “We have had trouble getting customer to use apps or similar systems for that feedback,” Collinson says. “We want to avoid long surveys and too many surveys,” adds Tan.

 

3. Allow for Anonymity

It can be tough to provide constructive feedback when your name is attached—especially in the early stages of building a member feedback loop, when members haven’t yet learned they can trust that their feedback will be taken seriously. Make it as easy as possible for members to provide you with feedback.

 

“We have boxes at the front desk where people can leave anonymous notes,” says Monica Aranda, Director of Member Services at Touchstone Climbing & Fitness. “We also have anonymous text service at some gyms, and they can email us anytime through the website.”

 

4. Acknowledge Feedback

Even when you receive feedback anonymously, it’s possible to let your membership know you’re addressing it. “We respond to members directly on the [suggestion] cards and publish them on our community board,” Tan says. “Depending on the suggestion, we note if we're working on a solution, if the solution is happening, or if we cannot achieve what they want––and why.” This technique has the added benefit of answering a question other members probably have.

 

When members submit feedback to Touchstone, “we contact them directly with a personal email or phone call,” Aranda says.

 

5. Take Action—and Tell Members About It

5.Life fielded numerous comments about the difficulty of finding partners, so they implemented two new partner-finding systems. Tan can also recall tons of instances where Sender One acted on feedback—and members were thrilled. “At one of our facilities, we have time-restricted street parking, so someone suggested that we make a courtesy announcement to let people know when to move their cars,” she explains. “Our main parking lot clears out around that time, so now we give customers a heads up through our PA system so they can quickly resume their climbing!”

 

6. Reward Member Engagement

For a while, Collinson noticed a trend of members complaining about dirty holds. “We suspect it’s because brushing is not common practice in our community, so we’re examining including a brush with a new membership signup to try and increase the number of people brushing holds on their chosen routes.”

 

This can also mean rewarding existing members. “We usually raffle a month of free membership for those that participate in the survey,” Collinson says, pointing out that it’s a relatively small cost for the facility, but is a strong motivator for members to participate.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

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

 

Tags:  community development  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  marketing  member retention  operations 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

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 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

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 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

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 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

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 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

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 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

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 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

5 Programs Your Members Wish You'd Offer

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

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

 

1. Gym-to-Crag Education

 

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

 

2. Technical Instruction

 

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

 

3. Speakers and Slideshows

 

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

 

4. Fitness Beyond Yoga

 

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

 

5. Adult Climbing Leagues

 

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

 

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

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

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

 

Tags:  community development  customer experience  customer satisfaction  programming 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Making Lemons Into Lemonade: A Step-by-Step Guide to Handling Mistakes in Your Organization

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Monday, November 5, 2018
Handle Organizational Mistakes

Mistakes will happen. Nobody is perfect. No matter how hard we try, and how well our companies operate, there will be a time when something goes wrong and we need to take steps to turn lemons into lemonade. And we’re not alone; even the best brands and the most efficient companies occasionally drop the ball. To maintain good standing with our customers, we need to take swift and specific action.

 

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I have two examples of customer service experiences I’ve had on recent business trips, one good, one bad.

 

I recently flew to Japan on… let’s call them Airline X. Upon my arrival to this foreign country, after an extremely long plane ride and faced with a major language barrier, I learned that Airline X had lost my luggage. I was to present (ironically on customer experience) in less than 24 hours, and I had no clothes or toiletries. When I called the airline, I was reassured that my luggage would be delivered the next day, that I would be reimbursed for any purchases I had to make, and that my frequent flyer account would be credited for the trip. Though it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience on the phone, my expectations were set for the situation to be handled reasonably well.

 

In the end, my luggage came late and I was never sent the claims form for reimbursement. While I tried following up a few more times, I was stonewalled and eventually gave up. It seemed like the airline made it intentionally difficult for me to get reimbursed, and to top it off, they never credited my frequent flyer account with the flight miles. They set specific expectations for how the situation would be handled but did not meet those expectations, and then failed to be responsive or follow up. Airline X dropped the ball.

 

A few weeks after that, I flew Airline Y. I had a connection in Detroit and the connecting flight was late. I was bummed but I understood – delays happen. Airline Y, however, did a few things right away. They over-communicated the delay via text and email, keeping me up-to-date. They also apologized several times at the gate, making me feel like they truly understood the inconvenience and took it seriously. Finally, they brought out free beverages and snacks for all of the people who were disrupted by the delay. While a small gesture, it was thoughtful and appreciated. Airline Y did not drop the ball.

 

To keep customers happy, handling shortcomings effectively and efficiently is key. So when the unavoidable happens, there are a few keys to handling mishaps externally and internally.

 

When your company makes a mistake or fails to meet your customers' expectations, follow these steps to communicate with the customer:

  1. Sincerely apologize. Customers will feel heard and appreciated.
  2. Over-communicate. Keep customers in the loop as much as possible. Let them know why the shortcoming happened, what you are doing to remedy it, and what steps you will take to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Providing too much information is NEVER a mistake.
  3. Don't over promise. Make sure you fully deliver on whatever you intend to do to fix the situation. The worst you can do is to fall short on your action plan.

After dealing with the situation externally, you need to take a few steps internally. There is no worse experience for customers than having to deal with the same mistakes over and over again. Here are three things that we do at our facility when we fall short:

  1. Forgive ourselves. It is important to recognize the mistake, but it is unhealthy to dwell on it. Great organizations focus more on the present and the future than dwelling on the past.
  2. Talk through the situation. Look at it from the customer’s perspective. Figure out why it happened and how it happened. Brainstorm ways to prevent it from happening again.
  3. Implement new systems or procedures. Once you’ve collaborated with your team to brainstorm solutions, make a plan to implement them. Provide staff training to prevent the same mistake and similar mistakes from happening in the future.

When your company falls short, and it will happen even to the best of us, take action externally and internally. While no company is perfect, companies that handle mistakes well are healthier inside and out. The best way forward for yourself, your staff, and your customers is always to make lemons into lemonade!

 

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  staff training 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 
Membership Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal