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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Alex Chuong Head ShotAbout the Author

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

 

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

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Self-Care for Routesetters (and Anyone Experiencing Burnout)

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Thursday, January 2, 2020
Routesetters Need Self Care Too

Routesetters can work in many different scenarios – part or full time in a gym, setting for comps, freelancing for private clients, they can travel or stay in the same location or a combination of all those scenarios. The dynamic nature of the work can have routesetters juggling a lot – changing schedules, administrative duties, meetings, sorting out crew problems, and looking for work in addition to the physical labor of putting up new routes and stripping old ones.

 

Balancing the unique physical, creative, and administrative workload of routesetting creates prime conditions for burnout, which is on the rise generally. For more in-depth information on burnout culture, check out our previous post, Burnout Culture: Defining the Problem and Potential Solutions for Climbing Gyms.

 

According to the The World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is chronic workplace stress and has been attributed to ‘Workism’ by Psychology Today. Workism is the belief that “work is not only necessary to economic production but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.”

 

In other words, when work takes priority over other aspects of life such as family, friendships, health, and fitness, not only do those aspects of life suffer, so does your work, creativity, and productivity. It can be a self-defeating and unending cycle.

 

Why Addressing Burnout Is Important

What happens when you experience fatigue and burnout? When you are fatigued, it is harder to perform your job and can increase your risk of injury. When you experience burnout, any creativity and enjoyment you experience in your work can be elusive. Fatigue and burnout also affect all aspects of your life, not just your work.

 

Often it takes a wake-up call either in the form of injury or an event in our personal lives to make us realize the toll that a demanding schedule and intense physical labor can take on our bodies and lives, but you don’t have to wait until everything falls apart. You can implement self-care strategies easily into your everyday life and work schedule.

 

How do you know when you are burnt out? You might experience lethargy and lack of motivation or interest in your work. Making time to accomplish your job responsibilities can seem impossible.

 

While there will be times when work takes over, burnout is a chronic experience, meaning that it's ongoing and can worsen over time. You don’t have to guess if you are experiencing burnout, you can assess yourself.

 

What Is Self-Care?

The antidote to burnout is self-care. Self-care is often misused to justify indulging in pleasure activities and might make you cringe at the thought of trying it.

 

However, make no mistake, self-care is not indulgence or engaging in frivolous activities. It is essential for mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Self-care is a set of skills that reduce anxiety and stress and promote relaxation.

 

Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it is a simple concept in theory, it can be hard to implement, especially if you already feel overwhelmed and stressed.

 

But good self-care is key to overall well-being and professional fulfillment. Thinking of self-care as skills that you can learn provides a pathway to being able to more effectively cope with or even reverse the symptoms of burnout.

 

Essential Self-Care Skills

1. Time Management

 

Time management establishes boundaries between your work and personal life, while also improving how you spend your time at work. Time management can be as simple as implementing a calendar for your shift and how you will use your time in the gym, or you can schedule work, personal life, sleep, and other activities.

 

The hardest part of time management is adhering to the schedule that you create. Effective time management doesn’t schedule every minute of the day with activity, you will need to learn to block time that you can use to recharge.

 

Make sure you set realistic and attainable goals, and be willing to review and adjust how you are using your time to get the results you want.

 

2. Exercise

 

The physical work of routesetting can leave you exhausted when you experience burnout, but making time for exercise is essential to combatting the effects of burnout. Exercise reduces stress and improves sleep.

 

Exercising when you feel burnt out doesn’t have to be intense – in fact it shouldn’t be. Start with 30 minutes and build up. Try going for a walk outside or restorative yoga. Pay attention to how your body feels and do forms of exercise that lessen stress.

 

3. Sleep

 

The National Sleep Foundation defines sleep as, “an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs.” During times of stress, it can be notoriously hard to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, however adopting sleep solutions can help set you up for sweet dreams instead of restless nights.

 

Sleep solutions teach you how to create a supportive sleep environment. For example, consider creating a sleep schedule, using soft light to prepare your body for sleep, and establishing a relaxing bedtime ritual.

 

4. Nutrition

 

When your body is experiencing stress, nutrition can support your physical health. Harvard Health promotes eating a whole food, plant-based diet and recommends staying away from processed carbohydrates that are inflammatory, sugar-spiking, and insulin releasing.

 

Instead, they advocate to “aim for things that grow on plants or trees. The more colorful the fruits or vegetables, the more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they have and the healthier they are. Vitamin pills and other supplements just don’t work as well. We don’t have to be perfect, but the more plant-based our diets are, the better.”

 

Self-care looks and feels different for everyone; develop your self-awareness as you apply these skills to your life and learn what works for you.

 

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  routesetting  routesetting management  staff retention 

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Burnout Culture: Defining the Problem and Potential Solutions for Climbing Gyms

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Burnout Culture in Climbing Gyms

Burnout as defined by The World Health Organization (WHO) is a syndrome that occurs as the result of chronic workplace stress. Burnout isn’t a temporary experience – in fact, it has become a societal epidemic that can have negative impacts on your business.

 

With 1 in 5 employees reporting they experience burnout, your gym might already be experiencing the effects of burnout. We’re going to look at what burnout is and what you can do if your staff experiences it.

 

Burnout: What Does it Look Like?

When you’re concerned your staff is underperforming and lacks motivation, it’s important to determine their stage of burnout in order to implement a strategy to reduce the negative impact on your business.

 

Burnout has been added to the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases and has three characteristics, as defined by the WHO:

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  2. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job;
  3. and reduced professional efficacy.

While staff can experience different symptoms, there are five common stages of burnout:

  1. Honeymoon: The experience of commitment, energy, and creativity.
  2. Onset of Stress: The occasional experience of tough and challenging days here and there.
  3. Chronic Stress: The consistent experience of every day being tough and challenging, depleted energy, anxiety, and lack of focus.
  4. Burnout: The occasional experience of lack of motivation & creativity, low energy, pessimistic outlook, irritability, self-doubt, and isolation.
  5. Habitual Burnout: Consistent and chronic mental and physical fatigue, depression, neglect of personal needs, and loss of motivation and creativity.

The Causes of Burnout Culture

According to Harvard Business Review, a workplace that doesn’t promote a healthy work/life balance is at the highest risk of experiencing burnout culture. While individuals experience the consequences of burnout, the underlying cause of burnout is due to the organization’s overall workplace culture and being trapped in the busyness paradox.

 

The busyness paradox conflates the state of being busy (for example, getting sidetracked with low value tasks or running around putting out fires all day) with producing high quality work based on intentional strategic purpose.

 

Given that busyness is often looked at as a badge of honor, what steps can you take to shift how your organization approaches productivity and ultimately improve your workplace culture?

 

Managing Burnout in the Gym

Research shows that known costs of turnover can be as much as 33% of an employee’s annual salary, in addition to hidden costs such as reduced productivity, dissatisfied gym members, lowered staff morale, and compromised workplace safety. Managing staff burnout not only reduces negative impacts on the bottom line, but also supports a dynamic and positive gym culture.

 

The good news is that burnout is preventable when you focus on the key elements that you can control in your gym:

  • Labor
  • Performance
  • Morale

Labor, performance, and morale are measurable metrics that need to be tracked from an employee’s start date and throughout their employment. Effective and consistent HR management can reduce and eliminate burnout. It is not enough to guess if your staff is struggling, you need data that includes:

  1. How many hours they are working: Easily tracked through payroll and corrected through effective scheduling.
  2. What their performance is: Determined through reviews and underperforming staff can improve through training and mentoring.
  3. The state of their morale: Established through an employee survey that addresses how the staff feels about working, the working conditions at your gym, and what the staff wants to see improved.

It is important to know which factor(s) are contributing to burnout. For instance, a staff member not working excessive hours with good morale and low performance may need additional training or mentoring. Likewise, a staff member with great performance and low morale may be working too much.

 

Once you determine how much each potential factor is contributing to burnout, work with your staff to implement a remedy. Most likely, each factor will have some play in burnout and working to remedy even one factor can help lessen the overall impact of burnout.

 

While you can use metrics to gauge what needs improvement, do not forget basics like communication and interacting with staff, especially when you host comps or events in your gym.

 

Planning is crucial to getting back to the day-to-day after a special event. “Having a plan to make the workload manageable before, during, and after an event is mandatory if you want to ensure that events have minimal impact on a commercial facility and its routesetters,“ says Brad Weaver from Thread Climbing. “Having a plan in place and communicating that plan to the setting team and the gym staff helps set everyone’s expectations and helps reduce the stress on everyone involved.”

 

The bottom line is that though burnout is an individual experience, it’s generally a problem with the company, not the person. Depending on the size of your gym and how widespread your burnout problem is, it may be necessary to implement proactive cultural changes to how your business operates so that you are not constantly reacting to chronic cases of burnout in your staff.

 

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  operations  staff retention  staff training 

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Gender, Variety, and Growth in Routesetting

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Monday, December 2, 2019
Jackie Hueftle Routesetting

As I’ve interviewed routesetters about their industry, topics that have come up over and over are diversity, variety, and professionalism.

 

A major piece of the puzzle is a setting crew that can set for diverse climbers—and that means a diverse crew. Many gyms lack setters outside the typical archetype of the tall male climber, especially female routesetters.

 

To get some perspective, I got in touch with one of the most experienced setters in the business. Jackie Hueftle has been setting for more than two decades as a competition setter, head setter, and everything in between. She currently works predominantly in her own climbing hold company, Kilter Grips.

 

WK: What role do you think diversity and variety play in routesetting?

JH: Diversity and variety are very important because climbing is about learning different moves, and the more moves you learn, the better you get at climbing (and the more fun it is!).

 

Diversity in size, strengths, and style of setters leads to the greatest diversity in movement which serves the entire gym population better by giving them stuff they are good at and stuff to work on in a variety of styles.

 

WK: Do you think homogeneity among setting staff is an issue?

JH: It can be; it depends on the gym and community. Even 5 5'10" tall 22 year old males can set totally different styles, and some of the reachiest setting I've seen has been from some of the shortest setters on my crews.

 

So basically diversity is good, but part of it is up to the setters and part of it is up to the owners/managers to give their setting crew the time and tools to experiment with different styles and create a diverse offering for their gym. Certainly having different sizes of humans is helpful to create more variety automatically.

 

WK: How much of a role does gender play in routesetting variety?

JH: It can play a big role, but it can also not matter either way. Traditionally certain genders were thought to have different strengths, but as more and more people break those molds it's becoming more about the setters' educations and efforts than their gender.

 

That said, like I said above about sizes of people, having people with different natural strengths and climbing styles is important, regardless of their gender. Perhaps it's better to consider adding newer climbers of both genders into the setting program, as with some training in setting and movement, they may be better able to empathize with the experiences of new climbers and therefore set stuff more appropriate to helping those people learn.

 

WK: What were some of the challenges of setting (or managing a setting team) as a female routesetter?

JH: Working events with an assortment of setters (with me as just another crew setter) was sometimes fine, but it also often I felt like I had to try extra hard for my opinion to be valued. A few times I stood behind my opinion and was later punished for it. I saw men in similar positions to me whose opinions were automatically more respected than mine. So that was frustrating.

 

Also, it seems like in the climbing hierarchy, being the strongest is always overvalued, and I was never the strongest. The strongest climbers don't always set the best routes or take the time to consider all the aspects of a route or a comp. On a crew you need many types of setters to create the best product.

 

Despite that logic, strength automatically wins socially in climbing/setting and so I have seen setters defer over and over again to someone stronger than them even though that person might not be as conscientious. Some gyms have this problem and it becomes endemic, so unless someone steps in and actively changes the culture, these strongest setters can ruin the experience of the rest of the crew and also the customers.

 

Strong climbers can also be amazing, conscientious setters. It's worth recognizing that they may need to work extra hard to empathize with newer and weaker climbers and the overall needs of a customer base.

 

Personally, as I got older and ran my own crew I didn't feel I had many challenges that were based on my gender. The Head Setter's main jobs are to be organized, to make sure tools and supplies are available, to educate, to give direction, and to integrate the setting department with the rest of the gym. We run 4+ big events a year at The Spot, so when I was Head Setter there we had a lot of room to do fun things during comps and then have a good regular rotation to meet our customer base's needs. I was doing most of these things before I even took over as Head Setter, and a while after that pretty much my whole crew was people I'd hired, so they worked for me as they'd work for any manager.

 

WK: Were there any advantages to setting (or managing) as a female routesetter?

JH: To some degree being a different gender than most of the crew made it easier to step out of the social hierarchy I mention above. I was also about 10 years older and way more experienced than most of them. Also, we focused on the customer base's needs, and those needs were pretty easy to identify and meet through organizing the program. So I guess advantages might be a penchant for administration, though you'll find plenty of men with those skills as well.

 

WK: Do you think there are any factors discouraging women (and other underrepresented groups) from becoming routesetters?

JH: Sure! The work is physical and doesn't pay super well and in some areas the culture isn't good as far as conversation topics. Many gyms are in stages of transition as far as professionalism and safety go.

 

It can be intimidating to start setting or hard to get a chance to start, and when you start setting you need to spend a lot of time learning, and of course being strong enough to carry big ladders and forerun a good portion of the climbs is useful, so there is a bit of a barrier there — though as I mentioned, I think that different people can still make very valuable contributions to a team even if they are not the strongest member.

 

WK: What can gyms, management, or other setters do to counteract those factors?

JH: Foster talent in your own program and have programs to attract and improve new talents. Have public clinics, allow non-setters who are interested in setting to forerun with the group, wash holds, and learn other setting related tasks to see if they're willing to work hard and would be a good fit.

 

For your own team, have clinics (self-taught or with outside talent) to help them improve, and then build in learning time in your program so it's not just about how many problems/routes you can set and how quickly, but how you are using the skills you're learning at the clinics and how good the end product is.

 

Give your setters plenty of feedback and reviews, let them explore new ideas, give them time to practice new skills, and support them in professional development.

 

Work with your team and it will be a better team that is more receptive to new team members and creates a better end product for your customers.

 

WK: As routesetting becomes increasingly professionalized, do you think the demands on routesetters will increase?

JH: Definitely. Setters have huge responsibility to help craft the customer experience at gyms, and gym management has a responsibility to support the setting program with resources and information — with holds, tools, time to organize and focus on employee health and wellness, and access to continuing education.

 

WK: Climbing’s popularity continues to rise — do you see any major changes for routesetting (or the sport as a whole) on the horizon?

JH: Setting will continue to get more professional, both in safety practices and in organizational practices and product output. There is a ton of room to improve still and many people are motivated to push our industry and trade to the next level.

 

WK: The conversation around inclusivity in climbing can be polarizing. What do you think is most important for gyms, setters, and climbers moving forward?

JH: We need to throw out the old narrative that climbing should be super sandbagged and is always a man contest and only outdoor climbers are real climbers. Indoor climbing is a great sport for fitness and social interaction. Many new climbers may only ever climb inside, and that's ok. The more we can support this side of climbing, the more positive this growth will be for climbing as a whole.

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

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

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  women  workplace diversity 

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How to Advocate and Bring Mental Health Awareness to Your Gym

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

1. Schedule a Mental Health Focused Workshop or Event

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

 

2. Start a Bouldering League

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

 

3. Create a Specific Space for Community Development

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

 

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

 

4. Advertise Courses That Promote Mental Health

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

 

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

 

5. Offer Yoga and Meditation Classes

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

 

Pick a Strategy and Get Started!

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

 

Megan Walsh Head ShotAbout the Author

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

 

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

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Climbing Gym Programming 101

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Programming Categories for Adults

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

Programming Categories for Youth

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

 

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

 

Target Customer

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Physical Space

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

 

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

 

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

 

Program Planning

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

 

Do your homework

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

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

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

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

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

Registration

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

Start the creative asset process

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

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

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

Marketing

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

 

Launch Your Product

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

 

Don’t Lose Your Momentum

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

 

Nicole Brandt Head ShotAbout the Author

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

 

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

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Recap: CWA Meetings Hoboken

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

CWA Meetings Routesetters

 

What Are CWA Meetings?

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

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

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

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

 

Community Building

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

 

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

 

How Do CWA Meetings Differ from the CWA Summit?

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

 

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

 

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

 

Get Involved

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

 

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

 

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

 

REGISTER

 

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

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Top 5 Takeaways from Fitness Business Podcast About Investment

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Takeaway #1 – The Investment Decision Starts with Management

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

These include things like:

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Takeaway #4 – Climbing Is Not a Fad

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

 

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

 

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

 

Takeaway #5 – Venture Capital Is Not for Everyone

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

 

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

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

Listen to the Full Interview

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

 

Laura Allured Head ShotAbout the Author

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

 

Tags:  business development  financing  investment  leadership  management 

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

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

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Intimate & Focused Workshop

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

 

Gloves for Hand Protection

Photo courtesy of Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, Architect Renante Solivar

 

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

 

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

 

CWA Meetings Management and Operations Track

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

Time to Unwind at the Brewery

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Informative Conference Sessions & Roundtables

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

 

Chris Stevenson CWA Meetings Keynote

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

CWA Meetings Roundtable Discussion

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

LEARN MORE

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

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

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  CWA Meetings  employee engagement  leadership  management  operations  programming  risk management  staff retention  staff training  standards 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

WK: Why is diversity in routesetting important?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

WK: What makes building a diverse team difficult?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

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

 

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

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