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 

My Gym Is Closed, Now What?

Posted By Garnet Moore, Friday, March 20, 2020
Closed Now What

Whether you closed your gym voluntarily, or you are in an area where your gym was forced to close, you are dealing with some challenging questions at the moment. We want to remind you that you do have options and that the CWA is here to help in any way possible.

 

If you have not done so already, reach out to your insurance provider, your landlord, and any lenders to see what deferments are available. All of these providers know that this is not your fault and that indoor climbing, in general, is a viable business model. They will prefer to help you rather than see you go out of business. In some cases, they may be eligible in the future for aid in relation to any assistance they provide, and as the situation develops rapidly, they may even have restrictions on when and how they collect payments.

 

Many banks are offering 90-day deferments for loans. You may even be able to accumulate your principal and interest payments for the next 6 months and have them added to your final loan payment. The best course of action is to start the conversation as soon as possible. Similarly, your landlord may be willing, or mandated to, defer your rent payments and to wait to collect any rent owed until after the pandemic is over.

 

Likewise, insurance policies could be frozen, claims could be filed, and there may be some potential to renegotiate liability premiums to account for changes in your forecasted income. The CWA’s partner, Monument Sports Group, is working to negotiate with the insurance carriers on behalf of the entire industry. Mid-term policy adjustments, payment deferments, and extending policy terms are some possibilities to ease some of the pressure you are feeling. Monument has also contacted carriers outside of the CWA program to encourage that they explore similar options.

 

Possibly the most difficult decisions you will be making are around your employees. Assistance is coming rapidly and you should pay attention to your local department of labor for any changes they have made which could allow you to lay off or reduce the hours of employees knowing that they are eligible for unemployment benefits to make up for the lost wages.

 

On March 18th the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was passed and its provisions will help support those efforts. This act also will affect what leave you have to provide your employees and how you must pay them during extended leave. For a more thorough review, read our analysis of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

 

An often-overlooked area of savings is the benefits that you offer your employees. You can explore the option to suspend or cancel any non-essential benefits such as dental or vision insurance and retirement benefits. Discuss these options with your lawyer to make sure that you are not violating any employment contracts.

 

While the full range of assistance programs are being determined, the most immediate program you may have access to is the SBA Disaster Loan Program. If you qualify, you are eligible for a loan up to $2 million at an interest rate of 3.75% with a term of 30 years. To apply go directly to their website and begin the application.

 

The CWA will be here for you throughout this crisis and after. The long-term future of the climbing industry still looks very bright and it is vital to remember that your customers can’t wait to get back into the gym.

 

Garnet Moore Head ShotAbout the Author

Garnet Moore is the Director of Operations at the Climbing Wall Association. Garnet brings more than a decade of experience in the climbing industry, including his time as the COO at Brewer's Ledge.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  financing  human resources  leadership  management  operations  risk management 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

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)
 

CWA’s Public Policy Agenda: Protecting Our Sport

Posted By Robert Angell, Monday, February 17, 2020
Climbing Gym Regulations

If you are a gym owner or operator, chances are you have been approached by a representative of a government agency in your state at one time or another, and informed that the agency has begun, or is about to begin, a licensing and inspection scheme involving your operation. This article will walk you through the CWA’s stance on regulatory issues and how those issues can impact climbing wall operators like you.

 

Through its public policy agenda, the CWA works to prevent inappropriate licensing and inspection schemes that drive up costs for you and your members and may increase your members’ risk of injury.

 

The CWA’s public policy agenda includes the following policy statements:

 

The CWA’s public policy agenda involves educating our members on policy matters that may have an impact on their programs and businesses; promoting positive regulatory and business conditions for the industry; and promoting sound public policy regarding health, physical education and recreation. The CWA ... coordinates activity on the state and local levels to defend against policies, laws, or regulations that might be harmful to our members or the public.

 

Legislatures have proposed laws that would allow state or provincial governments to establish licensing requirements, enact regulations, and administer climbing gym inspections. Frequently this is accomplished by applying amusement licensing laws to sports and recreation facilities, which we oppose.

 

Several state legislatures have proposed bills that would severely restrict use of visitor or participation agreements, specifically weakening liability protections for the business owner[;] we maintain that these liability protections are necessary for the long term health and viability of a sport like climbing.

 

State amusement licensing laws were mainly enacted before the advent of the dedicated indoor climbing facility and are somewhat similar from state to state. Ohio’s law is fairly typical:

 

"Amusement ride" means any mechanical, aquatic, or inflatable device, or combination of those devices that carries or conveys passengers on, along, around, over, or through a fixed or restricted course or within a defined area for the purpose of providing amusement, pleasure, or excitement. (ORC 1711.50(A))

 

The three elements, “mechanical device,” “carries or conveys passengers on, along ... a fixed or restricted course,” and “purpose of providing amusement, pleasure, or excitement” are common to the pre-indoor climbing amusement statutes.

 

State agencies charged with regulating amusement devices and venues have indulged some tortured interpretations of these elements in order to fit commercial climbing walls into the amusement regulatory scheme. Most of these efforts involve the “mechanical device” and “fixed course” elements. State agencies have contended that carabiners, auto belays, holds, and harnesses fit the definition of “mechanical device.”

 

One state regulator even asserted that the wall itself is a “mechanical device” that “conveys passengers” to the top. The regulators then argue that the set routes on the walls fit the definition of “fixed course.”

 

The practice of classifying climbing walls as amusement devices has real-world consequences for the operator. States can:

  • impose high registration and licensing fees (which may be assessed per-wall instead of per-facility);
  • subject operators to inspections by inspectors trained to inspect amusement rides;
  • adopt operational standards designed for the amusement industry;
  • and subject operators to onerous penalties for failing to comply with the regulatory scheme, including hefty monetary penalties, cease-and-desist orders, and even criminal liability.

Classifying climbing gym employees as amusement workers may result in as much as a fivefold increase in workers’ compensation premiums. In turn, the cost of participation goes up.

 

The CWA does not oppose regulation per se. We recognize that state agencies are charged with protecting the public and ensuring competent operations. However, we believe that regulation should be appropriately tailored to the realities of our sport.

 

Our argument is that a commercial climbing gym is a training and fitness facility that cannot be appropriately regulated as an amusement venue, and that applying amusement regulations to our sport may result in increased risk to participants.

 

The CWA has developed valuable resources that help us to make those arguments, including the Industry Practices, standards for climbing wall instructors, work-at-height, design and engineering, structural inspections, and the ClimbSmart! program. This focus on the function of the facility has served us well in a number of states.

 

If state regulators come calling at your gym, we are ready to help! Give us a shout or an e-mail if you have questions or concerns.

 

Bob Angell Head ShotAbout the Author

Robert Angell is an Ohio- and Colorado-licensed attorney concentrating in the areas of administrative law, recreation, amusement, and entertainment law, and business formation. He served on the CWA Board of Directors from 2006 to 2013 and was reappointed to the Board in 2019. Bob has been instrumental in regulatory initiatives on behalf of CWA members across the U.S. since 2005. His clients include many gyms in Ohio and other states.

 

Tags:  certifications  operations  public policy  regulations  risk management  standards 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

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 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Interview with an Unclipped Auto Belay Accident Survivor

Posted By Laura Allured, Friday, December 13, 2019

Helen Cassidy of The Climbing Academy, a UK-based chain of climbing gyms, reached out to us to share the story of Sam, an experienced climber who recently took a fall from an unclipped auto belay. While Sam was very lucky to walk away from the accident with her life, the impacts of this experience are real.

 

The Climbing Academy said in a press release, "We are aware that falls do happen and we know that many operators are concerned by this. The Climbing Academy therefore thought it was important to bring this issue to the fore by talking to Sam and sharing her story. Our hope is that this will act as a tangible reminder to all climbers, whether brand new or highly experienced to try to climb in a more mindful and safe manner."

 

Watch the video below to learn more about Sam's story:

 

 

For more information, visit The Climbing Academy's website.

 

Tags:  operations  risk management 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

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 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

Creating a Positive Workplace Culture for Safety in the Climbing Gym

Posted By Aaron Gibson, Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Safety Culture

In this article we will take a look at how we can take a positive approach to creating a culture for safety in the climbing gym environment. At the end of the article, be sure to download our one-page quick reference guide to developing a safety program.

 

The term “Safety Culture” was coined by the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group following the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. In their summary report, ‘safety culture’ was pointed to as an underlying cause for the catastrophe. It was used as an explanation for the attitudes, actions, and systemic failures that led to the cascading effect of failures.

 

Over the years, ideas about ‘safety culture’ have evolved with research but the concepts, application, and understanding of what creates a broader “culture for safety” remain vital.

 

The Case for Workplace Safety

First, it is important to distinguish between those risk management issues that we deal with at a customer/patron level versus those at an occupational level. A customer chooses to accept a certain level of risk, most often via a liability waiver, in order to participate in climbing activities.

 

Juxtapose this with an employer who has a duty, to maintain a workplace free from recognized hazards “likely to cause serious physical harm or death” and “comply with occupational safety and health standards.”[1] Likewise, each employee must also comply with health and safety rules, regulations, and standards, in addition to gym policies and procedures.

 

Besides the legal obligation that workplace safety is a requirement, there are other worthwhile reasons to move towards a pro-safety workplace.

 

Morally, it’s the right thing to do! Climbing gym employees and employers are often a collective of fellow climbers and friends. In such a community, we look out for each other.

 

Another reason is that there’s a business case for safety. A recent study found that workplace safety influences customer satisfaction, “suggesting that there are likely spillover effects between the safety environment and the service environment.”[2] This study showed that customer satisfaction and a company’s safety climate and injury rates were “significantly correlated.”[3]

 

Although the research was conducted in the electrical utility industry, and no specific research has been conducted correlating climbing gym customers and worker safety, it’s worth considering the parallels within service industries as a whole. Anecdotal evidence suggests that when employers take the safety of their employees seriously, they benefit through customer loyalty. In other words, a safe gym environment translates to a safer environment not only for your employees but to the customer as well.

 

Finally, a good safety program reflects a level of professionalism. Climbing walls/gyms in the modern age are legitimate operations that offer lifelong careers and provide health and fitness opportunities for generations of climbers. Employees are looking for opportunities for growth and desire to have lasting employment in a professional environment. Having written programs and systems in place is a key component for demonstrating that employee safety, health, and wellbeing are core values.

 

Safety Culture Characteristics

Looking to lessons from the nuclear power industry again, they identified five basic characteristics of a culture for safety that we can adapt to the climbing gym environment:[4]

  1. Safety is a clearly recognized value
  2. Accountability for safety is clear
  3. Safety is learning driven
  4. Safety is integrated into all activities
  5. Leadership for safety is clear
Safety Culture Characteristics

Each of these characteristics has specific attributes that contribute to sustaining safety culture.[5] For example, in order for safety to be a clearly recognized value (item 1), safety conscious behavior must be socially acceptable and supported by the employer and employees alike.

 

Item 3, “Safety is learning driven,” means that a questioning attitude prevails, that learning is encouraged, and assessments are used and tracked.

 

And for item 5, “Leadership for safety is clear,” the commitment to safety should be evident at all levels, and management should build trust to ensure continual openness and communication with individuals.

 

Positive Safety Leadership

Management reacting solely when there is an incident is short-sighted and ineffective. In a reactive safety environment, employees hide or do not want to report an injury for fear of retaliation or punishment. Consequently, blaming an employee rarely results in a positive outcome or a safer workplace.

 

Instead, management should take a proactive approach to make accountability a positive not a negative. Rather than focusing on blaming someone for a mistake, focus on what it takes to remedy the situation and enabling workers to practice safe work habits.

 

Accepting that hazards are inevitable and there is always the possibility of an accident, involve employees and work towards solutions that are meaningful to them. Positive reinforcement does not mean incentivizing employees for safe work but instead rewarding them through recognition and praise when someone does something well.

 

Measuring Safety Progress

Data have shown that there can be prolonged periods of time between incidents, but an unsafe working environment can still exist. The traditional approach, simply measuring accident rates is not a good means of determining if you have a sustainable safety program.[6]

 

In order for us to confirm that we are on the right track with our safety program, we have to be able to measure key components of the program.

 

Good data begins with selecting the right things to measure. Focus on measuring positive performance aspects of your program like:[7]

  • Safety Activities
  • Participation Rate
  • Perceptions
  • Behaviors
  • Conditions

Track the behaviors of workers on things like accident prevention, reporting unsafe situations, taking corrective action, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), and participating in training. For example, track the use of protective eyewear rather than the number of eye injuries.

 

Gym Program Areas

Below are some of the program areas that may be relevant to your climbing wall or gym. This is not a comprehensive list as activities vary among facilities, so it is important to consider all the potential hazards and program areas.

 

Within each of these areas there are specifics that need to be tailored to the facility while keeping in mind OSHA regulations, state and local laws, insurance requirements, and industry standards.

  • Fall Protection – Comprehensive for routesetters and awareness level for other employees. Include training on dropped object prevention.
  • Portable Ladder Safety
  • Eye Protection
  • Hearing Protection
  • Emergency Action/Response Plan
  • First Aid/CPR
  • Aerial Lift Safety
  • Spill Response
  • Slips/Trips/Falls
  • Access/Egress

Example Scenario

Take a look at the following situation and consider the questions that follow:

 

A loose hold on a top rope climbing wall is reported to the front desk staff person by a member. Unfortunately, no routesetter is available but the staff person, who has some experience tightening holds, is eager to help, and takes it upon themself to address the issue. In an effort to tighten the hold quickly the staff person avoids getting a stepladder, extension ladder, or using a harness/rope system and instead climbs about eight feet high. In the course of tightening the hold with an impact wrench, the staff person slips from another loose hold, lands awkwardly, and seriously injures their back.

  • What contributing factors might have resulted in this accident?
  • What areas for improvements are there?
  • If you were in a management role how would you communicate with the employee? How would you communicate with other staff?
  • What can be learned from and improved upon from this incident and how is that communicated?
  • What other proactive measures might be considered going forward?

Clearly, the intentions of the staff person were good, as they were attempting to demonstrate good customer service and be proactive in remedying the situation on their own. But unfortunately, the choices the staff person made resulted in their injury.

 

For this situation a number of other variables would exist based on the facility itself. We might want to explore if there was a system or rule in place for who is authorized to address climbing wall maintenance. From there we could determine if the person was authorized to tighten holds and if they had the appropriate training. Other things we would want to look at would be the standard work practice for climbing wall work, do we allow someone to climb and set or should they be working off a ladder, lift, or via a harness and rope system?

 

Unfortunately, sometimes we do not know there is a weakness in our program until something goes wrong. Part of moving towards a culture for safety includes anticipating various types of incidents and proactively addressing them, but that’s not always possible. We have to accept that even the best programs can have gaps and take a productive approach.

 

In this case, the focus would be on improving the systems, communication, and training that can prevent future incidents from occurring and then tracking those changes going forward.

 

In Conclusion

Maintaining a positive safety culture is a process. There will always be pitfalls and areas for improvement.

 

The National Safety Council sums it up best by stating, “In an organization with a positive safety climate, where safety does not take a back seat to productivity, employees are likely to believe they have permission to do things right. Doing things right is a permeating value in a work unit that is likely to reach into several domains of work behavior, some of which influence the quality of work.”

 

Download our cheat sheet for a quick-reference resource containing guidelines for developing a safety program!

 

References

  1. OSHA General Duty Clause
  2. Does employee safety influence customer satisfaction? Evidence from the electric utility industry, P. Geoffrey Willis, Karen A. Brown, Gregory E. Prussia, 2012, Journal of Safety Research
  3. Can Worker Safety Impact Customer Satisfaction?, Laura Walter, EHS Today
  4. Chernobyl: 30 Years On - Lessons in Safety Culture, Aerossurance
  5. Culture for Safety, International Atomi Energy Agency
  6. Building the Foundation for a Sustainable Safety Culture, Judy Agnew, EHS Today
  7. 5 New Metrics to Transform Safety, Terry L. Mathis, ProAct Safety

Resources

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron is a climber of over 27 years and an EOSH Professional specializing in fall protection, health, and safety. He holds a Masters of Science in Environmental Epidemiology & Toxicology and is an Associate Safety Professional (ASP) through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. He has over fifteen years of experience in workplace and environmental health and safety serving local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing industry as a safety industry consultant/expert, as well as a gym owner and manager, a USA Climbing coach, USA Climbing certified routesetter, CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Provider, and AMGA Single Pitch Instructor. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer service  human resources  management  operations  OSHA  risk management  staff training 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

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 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 

5 Retail Items Your Gym Should Be Selling

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

Sell what people will use in your facility.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Sundries Everyone Forgets

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

 

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

 

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

 

A Better Selection of Shoes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Branded Merchandise

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

 

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

 

Fuel, Preferably Local

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Climbing-Centric Gifts

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

 

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

 

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

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

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

 

Tags:  customer service  operations  retail 

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)
 
Page 1 of 3
1  |  2  |  3
Membership Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal