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It’s Not a Cakewalk: How to Develop a Birthday Party Program

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, December 3, 2018
Updated: Friday, November 30, 2018
Climbing Gym Birthday Parties

With fees ranging from $100 to over $300 for a two-hour party, birthday party programs can be a serious and solid income stream for climbing gyms and also align with other business goals. Not only are you creating a community for your existing youth climbers to celebrate their milestones in your gym, you are also gaining exposure to new youth and families that are not already members of your gym.

 

A birthday party program, like any revenue stream, requires business know-how, research, and set-up to make sure that it’s successful and in line with your brand and business mission. The process for researching the viability of a birthday party program, as with any program for your gym, is known as market research, and the more effort you put into it, the more successful your program will be. Effective market research will result in developing a program that meets customer’s needs, is competitive with similar offerings, is financially viable, and offers a repeatable template for every event.

 

Know Your Customers and What They Want

No matter the size of your gym, the most effective way to learn about your customers is to perform your own market research. In-house market research can be done through conversations, online surveys, or by looking at online analytics. While it’s likely that your existing members will take advantage of your birthday party program, the insights you will gain from research will help you market to a new set of customers, which gives you opportunities to boost membership and promote youth programs. When you research customers, you’ll need to answer the following questions:

  • Who is going to book a party at your gym?
  • What other options are they likely to consider for their party location? Why?
  • Why do they book parties at venues?
  • What factors are likely to convince them to book a party at your gym?

The answers to your research questions should include general and specific information, for example:

 

Who is going to book a party at your gym?
General information: Parents
Specific information: Parents of children aged 8-14 within a 10 mile radius of the gym

 

Know Your Competition and What They Offer

What is your competition? While you might think that a neighboring gym is your main competition, when it comes to birthday parties you are now competing with amusement parks, zoos, restaurants, and countless other venues. While the sheer volume of venues can be overwhelming, focus your research on venues that host parties comparable in size to ones you will offer in your gym. After reviewing your competition, you can determine what you offer that they don’t.

 

When you research competition in your area you should be collecting data on:

  • What services/activities they offer
  • What rates and fees they charge
  • Their marketing materials and ads
  • What can you offer that they can’t? (Unique selling proposition)

 

Set up a Party Space

Unless you want kids carrying drinks and cake all over the gym, set up a dedicated party space and make sure guests understand your expectations on where they eat and place food. The party room should be easy to set up, decorate, and clean. Determine what you will offer and what you expect parents to bring or do.

  • Will you decorate or give out goody bags?
  • Do you have ice?
  • Do you offer a sink or kitchen space that can be used?
  • Do you have enough tables and chairs for kids and parents?
  • What activities will you offer: only bouldering, only top-rope, games or other hands-on activities?
  • Do you provide an e-vite with links to waivers and information about climbing in your gym?

 

Calculate a Pricing Structure

You’ll want to calculate a pricing structure that adequately reflects your value proposition in addition to the party aspect. Birthday parties at your gym may cost more than hosting a party at the local pizza place – and you should be prepared to explain why. One obvious unique selling point is the value of the experience the kids will get when they learn about and get to try indoor climbing.

 

There are different pricing models that you can apply, but you’ll want to consider material costs, labor costs, and other fixed or overhead costs that are inherent to running a climbing gym, as well as competitors’ pricing. It can be difficult to determine a pricing structure, as you must balance selling a service, delivering value, and earning a fair profit. As you build and develop your program you can monitor and change prices.

 

Create Birthday Party Packages

Once you know what your customers want and what the competition offers, it’s time to figure out what you are going to offer. You’ll want to clearly and specifically outline what you’ll offer and how much you’ll charge. Things you’ll want to cover in your packages are:

  • Base rates and rates for add-ons
  • Times/days that you offer parties
  • What age range can you accommodate? Are the space and activities appropriate for all ages?
  • What you provide; plates, napkins, serve ware, shoes, harnesses, etc.
  • What parents need to provide; decorations, drinks, food, cake, etc.
  • Do you have a parent or adult/child ratio requirement?

You can be creative with packages to sell more at a better price. How you present your packages can make or break your program, so make sure to re-evaluate if you are not seeing the sales you were expecting.

 

Get the Whole Team on Board

Getting the whole team on board with the new program is crucial to its success. Not only is training essential to make sure that events are booked and run properly, you’ll also be engaging and investing in your staff. Provide the staff all the information about the new program so they can answer questions and speak to guests about booking events. When events are booked and held make sure that everyone knows what the expectations are for their involvement.

 

Market Your Birthday Party

Once you’ve researched and defined your birthday party program, it’s time to get the word out and generate sales. As part of your research on competition you collected data on marketing, now you’ll use it to promote your program. Obviously you’ll want to promote your birthday party program to your existing members and on your social media.

 

To target new customers, you’ll use your research on who your customers are and advertise to them. Add a landing page to your website with relevant information and be sure to include an information capture form to get leads. Create a list of likely search terms, such as “best kids birthday party venue,” and target them with ads. Send out press releases to local media outlets. Invite local family and mom bloggers to come tour the facility and write about what you offer and why it’s unique. There are lots of marketing strategies to choose from, but the key is to think about where your customers “hang out,” whether that’s online or in person, and develop a plan to reach them.

 

Putting It All Together (PIAT)

Creating new business lines can be intimidating, however the pay-offs make it worthwhile. Set realistic goals for accomplishing each step of market research and launching your new program, set it up properly and do it right the first time. Birthdays are a life milestone at any age and developing a well-thought-out birthday party program builds the community in your gym and creates brand loyalty with your members. You may not be able to research everything, so stick to the areas that will provide you with the most important information:

  • Know what your customers want
  • Know your competition
  • Create a fun and functional party space
  • Run the numbers to develop pricing
  • Clearly outline everything you offer
  • Train all the staff on expectations
  • Market and book birthday parties

 

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:  birthday parties  marketing  operations  programming  staff training 

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The Dirtbag Dilemma: Evaluating Van Life on Gym Property

Posted By Marley Jeranko, Tuesday, November 6, 2018
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2018
Van Life at Climbing Gyms

Counterculture has long been in the fibers of climbing, so is it any wonder that as the sport becomes more mainstream, the two have started to butt heads? As the climbing population explodes, indoor climbing gyms have become havens for urban van-dwellers, which begs the question – how should the industry respond?

 

Do you create new policies that support the modern business model but deny its dirtbag roots; or do you make room for the dirtbag as a part of your business model – and if you do, what might be the risks to your the business? Hear what a few climbing gym professionals have to say on the matter…

 

Rich Breuner, Director of Operations at Bend Rock Gym in Bend, OR, takes a neutral approach. He says, “Having folks park their vans overnight in our parking lot has been more or less inconsequential in the grand scheme of the general operations of our business.” Breuner is in a unique position that allows a flexible policy without a lot of consequence. Depending on the season, Bend Rock Gym sees anywhere from a couple to a dozen vans a night, Breuner reports. Not only does the gym have a lot of space to accommodate a crowd like this, overall, most people who come there to stay in their vans aren’t doing it long-term. “Right now, it works given the dynamics of our business, users, and community; however, as we continue to evolve as a business, our policies around overnight visitors are likely to change.”

 

His position is a common one. Like several other gyms who responded anonymously, he describes a desire to appeal to community values while remaining wary of the potential problems they could create. “I can see both sides of the equation,” Breuner acknowledges. “It depends on where the gym is, the owner’s comfort level, land use policies, the dynamics of the community, and environment [city versus small town]. I can easily see gyms not being open to it like we are, and I respect that. Any time you have people sleeping in a parking lot, unfortunately it tends to create an opening for people you wouldn’t necessarily want to be there – I can understand not wanting to perpetuate that.”

 

Like Bend Rock Gym, the Boulder Rock Club’s philosophy is geographically dependent. But unlike Bend, the subject was a bit more pressing. “We’ve known for well over a decade that if we were to allow overnight camping, we would be overrun," says Kevin Bains, General Manager. With 53 parking spots, 10 percent of which are occupied by staff – the only group with permission to be there overnight – van life would create a logistical nightmare. “As a part of their agreement for living here, the staff help monitor that.”

 

The reason behind this is purely circumstantial. "We have a popular morning crowd,” Bains says , “so if you’re sleeping in until 10 o’clock – we need your spot because we have other paying customers that want to be in here."

 

Now, some would argue that it opens up a can of worms to allow overnight parking for staff but not members. "Part of allowing staff to stay here is tied to employee retention and job satisfaction,” Bains explains. “I would assume in a lot of places, Boulder in particular, there’s no camping close to city limits – you have to go pretty far to get to a campground. We live in tough rental market, so we try to listen and make accommodations.”

 

Despite these challenges, Bains views van life as a unique opportunity for climbing gyms. “If you’re in a city that doesn’t have as many climbers as Boulder does, you might have a policy that allows your members to stay overnight – that might be a really great way to give back to your membership. If we could service our membership with overnight camping, we totally would, but [for us], there are too many obstacles.”

 

Zach Mathe, Adventure Rock’s Desk Staff Supervisor, agrees, but points out an important distinction. “Although there is a strong link between van-living, climbing gyms, and climbing culture, customers, members, and friends of climbing gyms shouldn't feel owed or entitled to their own allocated space on a business's property, even if the business is connected to the lifestyle associated with that practice.” He continues, “If a climbing gym supports van-living, it will be a nice service offered by that gym.”

 

Regardless of your current situation, “It is important to think about because ... the growth in the climbing industry only seems to be going up,” says Mathe. “Along with the rise of minimalist lifestyles, many people will be coming into a sport that glorifies the dirtbag lifestyle, which could lead to more people pursuing van life.”

 

Ultimately, it comes down to listening to your staff and membership and finding out what their needs are. The best way to find out? Talk to them. Communicate openly with customers and inform your staff so that they can respond appropriately. “We verbally communicate our expectations to those staying in the parking lot: where to park, where not to park, cleaning up trash, noise, inappropriate behavior, etc. More often than not, people ask or in some way communicate with us that they intend to [park their vans here], and that’s when we have that conversation with them,” explains Breuner.

 

He also advises, "When it comes to communicating with staff, it’s just like any other change in policy – you use the communication channels you have and make sure it’s well-documented and reinforced on a regular basis. Everybody needs to be aware, comfortable, and confident [in their understanding of how] the business is meant to operate.” Without consistency, it could become harder to maintain a respectful relationship between the business and its van-dwelling customers.

 

Here’s the bottom line: van life doesn’t have to be the enemy of the indoor climbing industry. Regardless of the position you take, it’s up to you to establish fair boundaries. And most importantly, don’t wait to address the subject until it becomes a problem. Failure to educate could be the determining factor for the positive or negative circumstances that happen outside your doors.

 

Marley Jeranko Head ShotAbout Marley Jeranko

Marley Jeranko is a freelance writer and editor in the Bay Area. With her combined experience in business-to-business media and the outdoor industry, Marley aims to help educate and provide useful solutions to indoor climbing gym professionals.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  operations  van life 

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