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An Open Letter to Congress for Further Financial Relief Measures

Posted By Climbing Wall Association, Friday, July 10, 2020
Open Letter to Congress

The following is a letter written by the Climbing Wall Association to Members of Congress regarding COVID-19. The letter recommends the passage of high-priority financial relief measures that would help address the threat the ongoing pandemic poses to small businesses, including climbing gyms. A PDF version of the letter is available for download.

 

RE: URGENT REQUEST TO CONGRESS TO PASS THE HEALTH AND ECONOMIC RECOVERY OMNIBUS EMERGENCY SOLUTIONS ACT, THE PANDEMIC RISK INSURACE ACT, AND ADDRESS COMMERCIAL RENT ASSISTANCE FOR CLIMBING GYMS AND OTHER SMALL BUSINESSES

Dear Secretary Mnuchin, Speaker Pelosi and Leaders McConnell, Schumer and McCarthy:

 

We are grateful Congress extended funds through expanded Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and grants within the recent Senate proposals. We are deeply concerned, however, that the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and the severity of the economic impacts of extended closures and reduced capacity operations will require more urgent relief measures for small businesses.

 

As you know, employers everywhere are permanently closing due to financial distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Climbing gyms are no exception. The indoor climbing gym industry has been growing year-over-year for over 20 years and was forecasted to be an almost $1 billion industry in 2020. Climbing gyms and other fitness and recreational facilities all face severe layoffs and the threat of bankruptcy during this crisis. This has affected, and will affect, tens of thousands of Americans. Through no fault of their own, climbing gyms are losing their ability to provide for members and employees due to lost revenue on account of massive forced public safety closures and reduced capacity operations. Climbing gyms and other such facilities rely on memberships and active visits for survival.

 

The Climbing Wall Association (CWA) and its membership ask for Congress and the Administration to urgently pass the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which we hope will support the industry and its employees, who live and work in practically every Congressional District, in enduring the present COVID-19 pandemic crisis. The HEROES Act includes, but is not limited to the following measures:

  • Provides additional direct payments of up to $1,200 per individual
  • Expands paid sick days, family and medical leave, unemployment compensation, nutrition and food assistance programs, housing assistance, and payments to farmers
  • Modifies and expands the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans and grants to small businesses and nonprofit organizations
  • Establishes a fund to award grants for employers to provide pandemic premium pay for essential workers
  • Expands several tax credits and deductions
  • Provides funding and establishes requirements for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing
  • Eliminates cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments
  • Extends and expands the moratorium on certain evictions and foreclosures
  • Requires employers to develop and implement infectious disease exposure control plans

The bill also modifies or expands a wide range of other programs and policies, including those regarding Medicare and Medicaid, health insurance, medical product supplies, consumer protection requirements, and pension and retirement plans.

 

We also take this opportunity to reemphasize our support of the American Society of Association Executives’ proposal for a pandemic risk insurance program (PRIP). This measure (“Pandemic Risk Insurance Act of 2020”; PRIA) would mandate that businesses who demonstrate significant business interruption and sharp decline in present and future revenue would be insured in case of a possible pandemic or epidemic.

 

This measure would create a federal "backstop,” much like the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), for insurance claims related to a pandemic or epidemic. The specific purpose of pandemic risk insurance would be to provide for a federal loss-sharing program for certain insured losses resulting from a certified pandemic/epidemic.

 

Following are the ASAE’s proposed details for PRIA:

  1. This measure would create the PRIP, a three-year program to provide a government reinsurance backstop in the case of epidemic/pandemic.
  2. For purposes of this measure, an epidemic is defined as the occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness, specific health-related behavior, or health-related events clearly in excess of normal expectancy. A pandemic is defined as an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.
  3. When the Secretary of Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, certify that an “epidemic” or “pandemic” event has occurred within the confines of the United States, then this measure will immediately take effect.

The climbing industry and its employees also advocate for legislation that mandates eviction moratoriums and temporary rent relief measures for commercial tenants, especially small businesses like climbing gyms. This legislation should prohibit commercial evictions if the basis for eviction is the non-payment of rent due to financial impacts as a result of COVID-19 and should be applicable for a period of at least 3-6 months. Demonstrable financial hardship or disruption to business income due to COVID-19 is the recommended determining factor for commercial rent relief eligibility.

 

We request that Congress and the Administration enact measures to curtail the imposition of late fees and other charges related to unpaid commercial rent that may have accumulated since March 2020 due to financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to give landlords the support they need to take these steps. All levels of government and banks will need to come together to work to ease property tax and utility payments. These measures are necessary and overdue and must be enacted swiftly to avoid a massive default on rent, and the permanent closure of thousands of small businesses. The climbing industry and all small businesses need solutions that prevent us from going into unmanageable debt.

 

The business models of the climbing gym and fitness industries are uniquely vulnerable in the present crisis. As we confront this evolving and unprecedented period, we call on Congress and the Administration to ensure that America’s fitness and recreational facilities and their employees across the country can remain resilient. Tens of millions of Americans rely on these businesses in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.

 

The Climbing Wall Association is the only trade association addressing the needs and interests of the indoor climbing industry. We serve climbing gyms, climbing wall operators, climbing wall manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, consultants and others involved in the climbing industry, and provide trade association services to more than 500 companies in the climbing industry. We provide relevant and actionable climbing business resources that keep the industry healthy and thriving. We do this through advocacy; developing industry standards; publishing industry news, data and analysis; sponsoring certification and professional development programs; and producing community-building and educational events.

 

Thank you for your consideration and continued support of our country during this challenging time. If you have questions regarding this urgent request for critically needed support for the fitness and recreation sectors, particularly climbing gyms, please contact Garnet Moore, CWA’s Executive Director, at garnet@climbingwallindustry.org or 720-534-2120.

 

Sincerely,

 

Rick Vance
Chairperson of the Board of Directors
Climbing Wall Association

 

Garnet Moore
Interim Executive Director
Climbing Wall Association

 

Tags:  advocacy  coronavirus  COVID-19  public policy 

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A Review of Climbing Gym Reopening Policies – May 2020

Posted By Garnet Moore, Friday, June 26, 2020
May Reopening Survey Results

While shaping the CWA's Roadmap to Reopening, we’ve been monitoring the various guidance that has come from many states, counties, provinces, and countries in response to COVID-19. We’ve also been speaking to a lot of gym owners and operators and surveying the industry to gain insight into trends and individual choices. This article will cover some of the hot areas of discussion and some surprising results from our research.

 

The full results of this survey can be viewed on the May 2020 Reopening Survey Dashboard

 

Opening Dates

In our first round of official surveying at the end of May, 25% of respondents had already opened their gyms or climbing walls. The remainder of facilities were expecting to open by the end of July with a few outliers looking at September and November openings. Currently, it looks like a little over half of the gyms in North America are open, but our next round of surveying in late June should give us a more solid picture – keep an eye out for the survey invitation next week!

 

Reopening Guidance

As gyms created their individual reopening plans, they relied on a number of different resources. The hyper-local nature of laws and regulations are reflected by the fact that more than three quarters of gyms were guided by local county, state, and provincial authorities.

 

Sources of Reopening Guidance

 

Visitor Agreements

By the end of May many gyms had not added COVID-19 specific language to their visitor agreements and had not sought any legal advice as to whether or not they should. About 25% of gyms had added specific clauses to their agreements with only 15% of total respondents consulting a lawyer. It is the CWA’s advice to consult a local attorney to help answer the question of whether or not you should add any specific COVID-19 related clauses. There are a number of states where this may not be an appropriate addition.

 

Occupancy Limits and Controls

On average, gyms are setting an occupancy cap at 35% of their normal occupancy limits. The maximum occupancy reported was 50% and the minimum 10%. As expected, a plurality of gyms are self-limiting to a more conservative number for their initial reopening capacities.

 

Occupancy Limit

 

The majority of respondents are using reservation systems and time blocks to manage occupancy. For the most part these time blocks are 2 hours long and most often only available to members and punch pass holders. Only 30% of gyms are allowing day pass sales during their initial reopening phase.

 

Our current feedback on these policies is that customers are enjoying reservation systems, but that most gyms are not reaching capacity during most time blocks. We are seeing some gyms shift away from this extra service. We will continue to survey and monitor these policies.

 

Occupancy

 

Rental Gear Policies

About 25% of gyms have chosen not to offer rental gear as they reopen, but most gyms have chosen to continue offering a large assortment of rentals. The notable exception is the small number of gyms renting chalk bags and a presumable increase in gyms offering liquid chalk as a rental.

 

Rental Gear

 

Chalk Policies

About 20% of gyms have made no change in their chalk policies and 20% have taken the stronger measure of only allowing liquid chalk. More than a third of gyms are recommending liquid chalk over regular chalk but not making any stronger requirements.

 

Chalk Policy

 

Mask Policies

Surprisingly, not every gym is requiring staff to wear masks. Only 85% of gyms make this a requirement. Of those that don’t require employees to wear masks, half do encourage this extra measure of PPE.

 

Staff Masks

 

It is slightly less common for gyms to require customers to wear masks with over 60% of gyms requiring some form of mask wearing, 85% requiring or recommending masks, and only 14% not requiring or recommending masks. Many of these mask policies are self-imposed with only 20% of respondents reporting that they are mandated by local authorities to require masks.

 

Customer Masks

 

Physical Distancing Policies

When it comes to encouraging physical distancing, gyms have employed a variety of different strategies. The most common tactics involved signage, floor markings, and traffic control. Additionally, many gyms have closed or limited access to locker rooms and showers. Very few gyms have made no changes at all. Only 20% of gyms have limited the number of belay tests and new climber orientations. This is inline with the fact that the majority of gyms are accepting new memberships and attempting to move towards restarting adult and youth programs.

 

Physical Distancing

 

Ongoing Development of Reopening Policies and Best Practices

We will continue to monitor and report gym and climbing wall policies as more and more facilities reopen. To help us gather industry-wide information, please continue to participate in our monthly reopening surveys.

 

Take the June survey now!

 

When it comes to deciding on the individual protocols for your own facility, use all available resources, survey your members, and monitor all rules and guidance, as many localities are evolving rapidly. You will need to remain flexible as new attitudes and mandates emerge.

 

To end on a bright note, the overall economic impact to our industry is severe, but the majority of organizations reported that they would be able to weather closures as long as 6 months to 1 year or more. As we begin to reopen, the outlook will hopefully be brighter as we learn to operate under new assumptions and rules.

 

Garnet Moore Head ShotAbout the Author

Garnet Moore is the Interim Executive Director at the Climbing Wall Association. Garnet brings more than a decade of experience in the climbing industry, serving gyms, manufacturers, and many climbing friends and partners.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer service  hygiene  management  operations  PPE  risk management  staff training  workplace safety 

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Projecting Anti-Racism: Highlights from Flash Foxy’s Stronger Together Episode with Abby Dione

Posted By Anaheed Saatchi, Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Shelma Jun and Abby Dione

As the months continue to pass, it is increasingly evident that our climbing industry is not likely to return to ‘normal’. For some, this might signal sadness and loss. For others, an opportunity has presented itself to finally address and change some very real and damaging aspects of the industry. This is the first in a series entitled, Projecting Anti-Racism, intended to unpack some of the important and complex messages that are coming out of the Black Lives Matter uprisings. Each post will highlight at least one resource and give recommendations for individuals and companies within the climbing industry to take action. The end goal will be for the climbing industry to treat this work as if it were a passionate climbing project requiring patience and perseverance. That said, here is Part I of the series!

 

COVID-19 has slowed us all down, and we are all witnessing, at the very least, the movement taking place in ensuring that Black lives matter. Instead of feeling nostalgic about that old ‘normal,’ we can re-build the climbing industry as anti-racist and decolonized.

 

The recent push for “Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” (JEDI) within the climbing industry took a lot of labor on the part of the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. And yet, these words have been absorbed into the social media buzz without long-term structural changes within organizations.

 

Right now, climbing gyms have the opportunity to take action and be accountable for how their spaces have been exclusive. Brands can work to dismantle their white hierarchies. Each individual within the industry, as well as each corporate entity, can practice being introspective, accountable, and active in establishing a new status quo: one that is anti-racist and adaptive in accordance with the Black Lives Matter mandates.

 

If you have chosen to make your career in the climbing industry, then you are operating under a system that was built by white people for white people. If you’re looking for a place to start helping to dismantle that system, and rebuild something better, then the following is a great resource to help you along your path.

 

 

The latest episode of “Stronger Together,” from the Flash Foxy Instagram page offers an insightful conversation between Flash Foxy founder Shelma Jun and Abby Dione, the owner of Coral Cliffs Climbing Gym in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

 

These two phenomenal women share in their love of climbing and discuss complex and nuanced topics. They describe what makes a space welcoming and truly diverse, how to get started in addressing structural racism, and how to take meaningful action.

 

The content of this video is essential learning if you are a gym owner or work at a brand that is just getting started in adopting anti-racist policies and practices. However, anyone in the industry will benefit from tuning in. The conversation felt replenishing for me as someone who writes primarily about these themes and loves climbing.

 

I have summarized five key points just to get the ball rolling:

 

1. Learn. Take the initiative yourself and learn about the ways institutional racism has operated. Then, apply it to the climbing industry. Do not go straight to non-white folks and have them take on the challenge of enlightening you. There are plenty of resources online and countless books written on the subject.

 

2. This needs to be a long-term commitment and the work needs to be done consistently. Both women aptly state throughout the video: this is work. The ‘low hanging fruit’ of social media posts or ads featuring non-white people does nothing to change the structure of racist organizations. Begin by asking, “who are the players in your organization?” If you look around at who is present, and who holds decision-making power, is there a severe lack of representation? Acknowledging and unpacking the problem is the first step before the real work begins.

 

3. This is too much work for one person. Do not dump all of this labor onto one individual at your organization, it’s too much. Ultimately, the company’s vision needs to shift and become anti-racist so that everyone is able to operate under a shared vision.

 

4. Don’t let the fear of making mistakes stop you from trying. Mistakes are to be expected if we can agree that learning how to be anti-racist is a long-term practice instead of a simple shifting of gears. Your BIPOC community understands that there will be blunders along the way, what matters is remaining accountable and working together to get back on track!

 

5. Ultimately, this work is going to benefit everyone. This point gets repeated in the video and I am so glad because it often goes unacknowledged, which is: a company that is anti-racist is an environment for everybody. With enough perspective and persistence, dismantling racism is going to uplift everyone. From there, our shared love of this amazing sport can really shine--and we can be proud to be a part of the industry that connects more people to climbing.

 

If you found this post useful, stay tuned for Part II of Projecting Anti-Racism!

 

Anaheed Saatchi Head ShotAbout the Author

Anaheed Saatchi is a queer and non-binary writer and community organizer. They cover themes of social justice, diaspora, the outdoors industry and identity politics. In 2018, they co-founded the rock climbing initiative BelayALL, based on the unceded territories of the səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh-ulh Temíx̱w (Squamish), and šxʷməθkʷəy̓əmaɁɬ təməxʷ (Musqueam) nations. Examples of their work can be found in Alpinist Magazine and online at Melanin Base Camp.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  diversity  leadership  workplace diversity 

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Climbing Gym Workplace Health & Safety for COVID-19 - Part II

Posted By Aaron Gibson, Thursday, June 18, 2020
Workplace Safety Discussion COVID-19

In Part I of this article, I provided information about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements for the health and safety of employees and practical approaches to managing workplace health and safety.

 

There are many unanswered questions and areas of legal concern, so the remainder of this article is going to focus on those areas. I’m including this section to discuss some of the more nuanced areas in workplace safety and health during the pandemic.

 

Please keep in mind that I am not an attorney – the views expressed here are my own opinions. You should seek legal expertise if you have additional questions or concerns.

 

On Guidance

The guidance provided by OSHA and CDC, are just that, guidance. The guidance does not create any “new legal obligations” – the recommendations are “advisory” in nature. OSHA does not have a designated pandemic enforcement branch that’s issuing citations for workplace violations. In fact, they have issued a memo about discretion in enforcement during the pandemic. As I’m sure you have noticed, the guidance across localities and agencies has, in many cases, conflicted. However, there are long-standing laws on health and safety, which have been in existence for years, that we are can apply as we see fit. The lack of clear directives has the potential to create legal issues between employees and employers.

 

Right now, there are industries, like hospitals, the meat-packing industry and online retail/distribution industries (i.e. Amazon) that have experienced extreme challenges in keeping their workforce safe during this pandemic – thankfully, climbing gyms are not in the same category as these businesses. I anticipate a number of lawsuits will originate from workplace health and safety issues as a result of systemic violations within these industries. The best approach for climbing gyms is to make a concerted effort to protect the health and safety of employees. In doing so, you are acknowledging that there is a hazard that must be addressed and taking action to protect your workforce.

 

To Mask or Not to Mask

The decision to have gym staff wear masks or not depends on local, state, and federal requirements, as well as virus trends in each region, the physical size of a facility, and each gyms’ health and safety program approach. One might demonstrate that masks are not necessary because the 6-foot distancing rule is able to be maintained. A gym owner has the authority to require masks of employees. Be careful, considerate and specific when setting policy. Do you have employees that have asthma or other issues that make it difficult for them to wear a mask? Is the policy flexible enough to allow employees to remove their mask for certain duties? Are disposable masks being used or cloth masks? If cloth masks are being used, how are they being cleaned?

 

Carefully consider the issuance and use of N95 respirators. Except under special circumstances, I would advise against them. Do not require over-protection of employees and then fail to protect them. If you issue an N95-respirator to an employee there are additional training requirements, there are fit-testing requirements, and a pre-use medical evaluation is required. OSHA has issued some guidance about the flexibility in use of N95-respirators for health care workers that may apply, but it is unclear if this applies to other industries. However, another reason to not require N95-repirators is that they are still in limited supply for front-line health care workers and they should be reserved for their use. Look to other means of control instead of N95-respirators.

 

Requiring the public to wear masks while in the gym is another issue entirely. We know that cloth face coverings are intended to protect people other than the user and more recent data suggests that there is some minimal level of protection to the wearer. This presents a unique set of challenges for the staff. The mask policy you implement for the public will have to be administered by the staff – they will be in the position of having to enforce that policy. To minimize the possibility of conflict, provide training to employees of how to deal with difficult customers and how to deescalate tense situations.

 

Though it is tangential to the scope of this article, violence in the workplace is a real concern. Since the pandemic, there have been multiple incidents where a customer has disagreed with a local business policy (i.e. having to wear a face covering) and the customer became disgruntle, was hostile, or resulted in violence. Thankfully, there have not been any such instances in climbing gyms that I am aware of. Communicating clearly with the public about your gym policy on face coverings is very important. Set expectations up front and take a positive approach to the benefits of wearing face coverings.

 

Policies

Having a policy and adhering to it are two different things. Maintain policies in writing. If you make a policy, stick to that policy. If the policy needs to be changed, document it. I am explicit in stating this because the origins of lawsuits are often rooted in the difference between what was written and what was done. It behooves the employer and the employee to have clear written policies that are abided by. That does not mean that a policy cannot be revised, if need be, but make sure that change is documented and communicated.

 

Communication

In the context of this pandemic, communication is key. Listen to and get feedback from staff. If we are to continue to improve, we need open lines of communication between members, the public, and staff. Part of creating a positive workplace safety culture is communication.

 

Written Safety and Health Programs

While many climbing gyms have safety rules and practice safe work practices, most do not have written health and safety programs to protect workers. I would encourage gym owners to take a serious look at developing comprehensive workplace safety programs that raise the level of professionalism in the industry and serve to protect workers.

 

In Conclusion

There is no singular “right way” to approach health and safety in the workplace. The “best approach” climbing gyms should take in protecting workers will vary based on a number of factors. If there is any consolation for climbing gym owners and staff, it’s that there is a collective of talents and resources available to draw from.

 

Everyone is eager to get back to work and back to climbing. In order to do so, maintaining the health and safety of our workforce will remain critical to the success of our industry.

 

Additional Guidance and References

 

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 from the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center School of Public Health and is an Associate Safety Professional (ASP) pursuing his Certified Safety Professional (CSP) through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP). He has over sixteen 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, as well as a gym owner and manager, a USA Climbing coach, certified routesetter, CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Provider, and AMGA Single Pitch Instructor. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  operations  OSHA  PPE  risk management  workplace safety 

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Adjusting to the New Reality: How to Avoid and De-Escalate Customer Conflicts

Posted By Laura Allured, Thursday, May 28, 2020
Updated: Friday, May 29, 2020
Communicating the New Reality

This post is Part II of a series on communicating with customers about the new realities of running a gym in the age of coronavirus.

 

In Part I, we discussed setting up positive, proactive communication. Despite your best efforts, it’s still possible that you’ll have members and customers who are unhappy with the timing of your reopening and the policies you’ve laid out.

 

That’s understandable, say Jim Wetherbe and Ted Waldron, professors at Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business. After all, this situation is unprecedented, and as restrictions start to loosen, it’s natural that folks will have conflicting viewpoints—and empathy goes a long way toward avoiding conflicts before they happen.

 

Of course, as former FBI special agent and hostage negotiator Chip Massey points out, conflicts aren’t always avoidable.

 

We sat down with each of these experts to bring you their tips for avoiding and de-escalating conflicts with members in your communications and, as you re-open, in person.

 

Create Member Buy-in

Building policies based on members’ own input is crucial, says Wetherbe. He suggests tapping your gym’s “opinion leaders” (the “stars” of the gym, those climbers who show up and seem to know everyone) to lead an informal focus group on protocols to keep members safe.

 

“If people complain, you can make it clear that you didn’t come to these decisions unilaterally,” Wetherbe says, adding that feeling as though one is in control is a basic human need. Knowing that their own peers are on board is likely to reduce those feelings of resentment.

 

Be Present

“If you’re anticipating conflict, you need to be there,” Wetherbe says simply. Massey also points out that there’s potential for misunderstanding when front desk staff is relatively new to the workforce and is attempting to enforce policies with older, more experienced customers.

 

In other words, no matter how well educated your staff is on the policies, and no matter how effectively you’ve frontloaded communication with members, it’s crucial that you’re physically there, role modeling protocols for staff and members. That way, if an unhappy member wants face time with the person in charge, they can hear it directly from you. Not only is the opportunity to have humanizing discussions helpful in de-escalating existing conflicts, but it also reminds other members that your goal is to keep them safe.

 

Watch Your Tone and Body Language

As Waldron points out, rephrasing a statement as a question (a technique Wetherbe suggests in our last post) is only as effective as the body language of the person doing it. That’s extra tough when your face is hidden behind a mask; we rely on facial expressions like smiling to get a point across in a non-combative way.

 

Still, there are ways to tailor your body language to de-escalate a situation. Wetherbe recommends nodding your head and lifting your eyebrows, as well as opening your arms and exposing your palms.

 

It’s also possible to de-escalate conflict when members can’t see you, says Massey (the vast majority of hostage negotiations take place over the phone). Even as the other person on the line starts to escalate, keep your tone even and avoid meeting that level of aggression with your own voice.

 

Empathy Is Key

“Never, ever tell another person how to feel,” says Massey. Instead, he suggests, “listen to what they’re trying to say. Connect that with empathy, and you can move mountains.”

 

One technique Massey recommends is “emotional labeling.” When you’re in the midst of a negative interaction with a customer, that might mean saying something like, “It sounds like you’ve got a lot of frustrations today. I don’t want to be another source of frustration for you. How can I help?”

 

Even if you’re wrong in your labeling, he says—maybe a customer tells you they’re not frustrated, but nervous—it shows them that you’re paying attention, and that you care about them. That’s when folks start to decompress, Massey explains: “It gets them back to saying, ‘I’m a human, and another human is trying to interact with me.’”

 

Be Ready to Stick to Your Values

“The customer is not always right,” Wetherbe says. “Sure, most of them are. But you have to be willing to ‘fire’ a bad customer to keep good customers.” Waldron agrees, pointing out that this is especially true now, when your other members’ safety is on the line.

 

Empathy remains crucial here, says Massey; this might mean saying something like “I can understand why you don’t want to [wear a mask / make an appointment to climb / follow X policy]. But if we don’t enforce these policies to keep all our members safe, we may not be able to stay open.” If a member simply won’t cooperate with your policies after you’ve followed all the other steps above, Wetherbe and Waldron agree that it’s best to ask that they return when social distancing guidelines are no longer necessary—for the sake of all your customers’ health.

 

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:  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer satisfaction  customer service  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  marketing  member communications  staff training 

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Climbing Gym Workplace Health & Safety for COVID-19 - Part I

Posted By Laura Allured, Thursday, May 28, 2020
Updated: Friday, May 29, 2020
Workplace Safety COVID-19

It’s an understatement to say that climbing facilities have a lot to deal with right now. In addition to contending with the financial implications of getting members and customers back, gyms have to think about the various local, state, and federal rules for reopening. The decision to reopen for business comes down to a combination of issues that need to be weighed, each with their own risks. Among these issues is the safety and health of gym staff. The OSHA General Duty Clause requires that, “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employee.” [OSH Act 1970]

 

Front desk staff, instructors, coaches, routesetters and the like are the faces of our industry and the first-line points of contact with the climbing public. Maintaining their health and safety during this pandemic is essential to keeping gyms safe and open for business.

 

This article is divided into two parts. The first part provides information about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements for the health and safety of employees and practical approaches to managing workplace health and safety. Part II, which will be published next week, is a discussion section that is more interpretive and used to address specific questions related to legal issues and liabilities.

 

We must acknowledge that we are in unprecedented times for the climbing gym industry and small business as a whole. The playbook for such a pandemic is being written (and re-written) as we speak. There is some reliable information about the disease and transmission, but it is important to recognize that our understanding of “best practices” during this ongoing pandemic may change. However, there is a lot we can infer from infectious disease, in general, and that knowledge, along with existing evidence-based and peer-reviewed research and public health expertise, can act as a framework to advancing our position. The guidance provided here has been adapted from our current understanding of infectious disease controls, current workplace standards, and the best available science and public health policy, to date.

 

PART I – The Systematic Approach

Reopening Safely

The decision to reopen comes down to a number of factors. There are many types of gyms in different locations, with different populations and different local and state requirements. The focus here is on the aspects of the health and safety of employees. After reading through these questions you may realize that there is work to do. By taking additional time to think through these questions, discover answers, plan, and take a systematic approach you will be better prepared, more protective of your workers, and more likely to have a successful re-opening.

 

Consider the following questions:

  1. What is the prevalence of the virus in the community? (Monitor WHO, CDC, as well as local and state health departments.)
  2. Are there local, state, and federal orders that allow for reopening?
  3. Do we have appropriate health and safety policies and programs in place? If not, where are the gaps?
  4. What hazards are posed to staff?
  5. Have we adequately communicated with the staff and what are the concerns of the employees?
  6. What workplace controls are needed to protect staff?
  7. Do we have an infectious disease Emergency Response Plan for dealing with an outbreak?
  8. What enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures will be needed?
  9. Do we have adequate and appropriate PPE for employees?
  10. What additional staff training is required and how will we accomplish it?
  11. What human resource policies need to be adjusted to accommodate for sick or at-risk employees? (ADA and HIPPA requirements must be followed.)
  12. How will we track/measure the success of our policies?

Means of Exposure

We know that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that leads to the disease COVID-19, is a novel virus (i.e. new, or not previously identified), for which there is currently no vaccine. As such, the best approach for one to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus [CDC].

 

The virus spreads easily between people. The most common and likely route of exposure is person-to-person contact. Current research suggests that the most likely path of transmission for the virus is via liquid droplets from a carrier of the virus. These droplets may remain aloft in the air during exhalation, talking, sneezing, coughing, laughing, etc. Droplets may also be transferred from other parts of the body, most commonly, the hands, to the face (mouth, nose, and eyes).

 

A secondary means of the virus spreading may be through contact with surfaces or objects. Once droplets are present on a surface the viability of the virus is based on a number of factors, including but not limited to, the amount/quantity of droplets, type of material (i.e. plastic, metal, glass, wood, vinyl, etc.), and other variables. Research has shown that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can remain viable for a number of hours and up to a few days depending on various factors [NEJM Study].

 

According to credible health sources, COVID-19 is not spread through perspiration (sweat) however, items touched by many people in a gym (e.g., handholds, hangboards, ropes, carabiners, rental equipment, fitness equipment, etc.) could possibly pose a risk for transmission of settled respiratory droplets [Johns Hopkins School of Medicine FAQ].

 

Extrapolating from what we know about modes of transmission, in a climbing gym the most likely route of exposure would be through face-to-face interactions and direct contact with the patrons and co-workers. Other routes of exposures would be via communally handled or touched items coupled with a lack of good personal hygiene. Things like climbing walls, holds, volumes, ropes, rental shoes and harnesses, as well as other commonly touched areas around a gym including the front desk, keyboards/keypads, phones, waiver stations, door handles, and railings, provide the possibility of virus transfer.

 

Workplace Hazard Assessment

Identifying tasks where exposure may occur and addressing those areas ahead of time is a vital part of the process. A Workplace Hazard Assessment helps to systematically identify and address the risk to employees.

 

Climbing gyms have a high throughput of individuals and the amount of interaction and “contact” is relatively high compared to other workplaces. Based on the OSHA Occupational Risk Pyramid for COVID-19, many climbing gym workers align with the “Medium” exposure risk category. Medium exposure risks include those jobs that require frequent and/or close contact with (i.e. within 6 feet of) people who may be infected with SARS-CoV-2 but who are not known or suspected. The Lower exposure risk category include those jobs that do not require contact with people known to be, or suspected of having SARS-CoV-2 and frequent close contact is not likely to occur. This may pertain to those employees that work away from the public in an office.

 

A Hazard Assessment does not have to be a complex exercise, but it should be a written document that demonstrates that you went through the process. Performing a Hazard Assessment is the starting point for the next part of the process: Workplace Controls. [OSHA Hazard Assessment Tool].

 

Workplace Controls

Approach workplace safety from a systematic approach by implementing a hierarchy of controls. The best approach to workplace safety is likely going to require a combination of these controls. The purpose of the hierarchy of controls is to work from the “most effective” to the “least effective.” It may be that installing HEPA Negative Air machines throughout your gym is a highly effective control, but that may not be practical. Then again, there may be adjustments you can make to your existing HVAC system that improve it efficiency. Move through the hierarchy and then consider the administrative controls and finally, Personal Protective Equipment.

 

Engineering Controls

Engineering Controls are those controls that are design-based approaches and tools to keep workers from being exposed. The benefits to this approach are that they offer the highest level of protection and do not rely on worker behavior to be effective. An additional benefit is that these controls often are equally effective in providing protection to your customers. These controls include things like:

  • HEPA filtration units
  • High efficiency air filters
  • Increase of ventilation rates
    • Get fresh air into the gym
    • Maximize ventilation by using fans
  • Installation of physical barriers like acrylic sneeze guards
  • No-touch door opening-closing devices

Some drawbacks to engineering controls include the initial costs for the purchase of equipment, and limitations in types of exposures that are controlled. However, it is important to consider in your cost-comparisons the long-term benefit of engineering controls – there may be other benefits, like improved air quality, that are long term. An engineering control does not necessarily eliminate the hazard (i.e. the virus) but may offer an added level of protection.

 

Administrative Controls

An administrative control requires an action by the worker or the employer. These are changes in workplace policies and work procedures to reduce or minimize exposure to a hazard. These include:

 

Flexible Work Schedules

  • Actively encouraging sick employees to stay home.
  • Encourage sick employees to stay home without penalty.
  • Limit operational hours.
  • Change work shifts and alternating work days.
  • Perform routesetting off-hours when the public is not present.

Physical Distancing

  • Implement a social distancing plan for employees and public alike.
  • Limit the number of people in the gym.
  • Use physical barriers to create distancing and segregate areas.
  • Mark zones and minimum 6-foot intervals on the floor and pads.
  • Consider separate entrances and exits.
  • Instruct at a distance.
  • Consider the use of video and remote learning tools for training.
  • Limit access to fitness training areas.
  • Keep instructor to student ratio low.
  • Do not shake hands.

Employee Training

  • All employees must receive training about the gym’s health and safety policies and safe work practices.
  • Training must be administered if face-coverings/masks are being required.
  • Train employees on the importance of hand washing and proper method for hand washing.
  • As applicable, train employees on the proper housekeeping, cleaning, and disinfection methods.
  • Hazard Communication training should be provided on the safety and proper use of cleaning and disinfecting products. (Note: OSHA and the CDC have printable flyers available on their websites that can be posted.)
  • Training is required for how to put on and remove gloves.
  • If an N95 respiratory is being required, it must be within the context of a comprehensive respiratory protection program. (See additional notes about the use of N95 masks in Part II.)

Other Controls

  • Use an on-line sign up system.
  • Enable electronic payments and limit face-to-face transactions.
  • Provide hand washing stations at the front of the establishment or alternatively, hand sanitizer if not feasible.
  • Provide no-touch trash cans.
  • Supply no-touch hand sanitizing devices.
  • Provide tissues.
  • Establish “before and after” rules for hand washing.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The use of Personal Protective Equipment is an important tool that can be used to minimize the likelihood of exposure. PPE for SARS-CoV-2 include things like cloth face coverings, gloves, protective eyewear or facemasks, and respiratory protection. Employers are obligated to provide their workers with the PPE needed to keep them safe during work (29 CFR 1910.132).

 

It is important to distinguish between what we mean by face coverings vs. Respiratory Protection. Surgical masks and face coverings are intended to trap droplets expelled by the user, they may protect others from the wearer of the mask but are not substantial enough to protect the wearer from an inhalation hazard. More recent guidance from the CDC has noted that some minimal level of protection is afforded to the wearer against droplet exposure. On the other hand, a respirator – such as an N95 NIOSH-approved respirator (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – NIOSH) has a rated level of protection to the wearer. There are additional requirements for a worker that wears an N95 (or half-face or full-face) respirator. Workers must be part of a comprehensive written respiratory protection program that includes fit-testing, training, and a medical evaluation. (29 CFR 1910.134)

 

While PPE is a valuable component of your health and safety controls it is not a substitute for good hygiene and physical distancing.

 

Requirements for PPE include:

  • Training on the proper donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) of masks and gloves
  • Proper disposal of used PPE to avoid contamination

Employers should be aware that cleaning products and disinfectants may contain hazardous chemicals that could be harmful to workers. When workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals (such as sanitizing agents) additional personal protective equipment (PPE) is required. Additional guidance for these specific areas can be found in OSHA’s Hazardous Communication standard (29 CR 1910.1200), in the PPE standard (29 CFR 1910 Subpart I) and in the section specifically related to Housekeeping for hospital environments, which may apply here.

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a list of products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2. Review product labels and Safety Data Sheets and follow manufacturer specifications.

 

Emergency Response Plan

Every climbing facility needs to consider the scenario where a presumed positive COVID-19 person has entered their facility. For this reason a workplace specific emergency response plan is necessary. CDC guidance recommends the following:

  • Be prepared to change your business practices, if needed, to maintain critical operations.
  • Establish an emergency communications plan. Identify key contacts (with back-ups), chain of communications (including suppliers and customers), and processes for tracking and communicating about business and employee status.
  • Share your response plans with employees and clearly communicate expectations. It is important to let employees know plans and expectations if COVID-19 occurs in communities where you have a workplace.
  • In most cases, you do not need to shut down your facility. But do close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person:
    • Wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets.
    • If waiting 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible. During this waiting period, open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in these areas.

For Gym Owners

In addition to considering and incorporating the above items into your plan, consider the following as well:

  • If you do not already have one, designate a health and safety officer or a team. If that is not possible, seek outside expertise. A professional or company who specializes in workplace health and safety programs who has experience with climbing facilities is preferred.
  • Using the guidance herein, along with the additional references, develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan.
  • Develop a phase-in reopening plan. Your phased in plan should have measurable targets and contingencies in the event of changes.
  • Develop procedures for the prompt identification and isolation of sick employees.
  • Develop a wellness questionnaire. Employers have the right to require employees to participate in health screenings and monitoring programs for the purposes of protecting the workplace. A number of apps are coming to market that may help to monitor employee illness. Give additional consideration employees who are in an elevated-risk category as defined by the CDC (consult ADA). (Notes: Confidentiality of health data must be maintained and any health screenings should be made as private as possible.)
  • COVID-19 can be a recordable illness if a worker is infected as a result of performing their work-related duties. Certain conditions apply including that it must be a “confirmed case” (i.e. presumptive positive test that was laboratory confirmed), the case must be “work-related,” (29 CFR 1904.5) and the case must meet certain criteria for days away from work and have required medical treatment (29 CFR 1904.7).
  • Reduce and limit in-person staff meetings and gatherings.
  • Work with your local health department in tracking cases and staying abreast of the ongoing trends.

For Employees

Employees have an important role to play in maintaining their own health and safety and in protecting their co-workers, the public, and the gym.

  • Evaluate your health and do not come to work sick.
  • Communicate with your manager about your condition.
  • Report unsafe conditions to management.
  • Abide by all physical distancing guidelines.
  • Wear face coverings at work and out in public when social distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Participate and seek training for the proper use and limitations of PPE.

Our Work Here Is Not Done

It's clear that our understanding of best practices during this pandemic may change and the situation is evolving on a daily basis. In Part II of this article, I will focus on some of the unanswered questions and areas of legal concern. Keep an eye out for this information covering the more nuanced areas of workplace safety and health next week.

 

Additional Guidance and References

 

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 from the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center School of Public Health and is an Associate Safety Professional (ASP) pursuing his Certified Safety Professional (CSP) through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP). He has over sixteen 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, as well as a gym owner and manager, a USA Climbing coach, certified routesetter, CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Provider, and AMGA Single Pitch Instructor. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  hygiene  management  operations  OSHA  PPE  regulations  risk management  sanitization  staff training  workplace safety 

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Adjusting to the New Reality: How to Communicate With Your Customers

Posted By Laura Allured, Friday, May 22, 2020
Updated: Friday, May 29, 2020
Communicating the New Reality

This post is Part I in a series on communicating with customers about the new realities of running a gym in the age of coronavirus.

 

As the coronavirus outbreak took hold over the last few months, gym owners everywhere have been bombarded with big questions—from navigating payroll assistance and small business loans to keeping customers safe, it’s been a big challenge for our community. Now, as restrictions in North America start to loosen, gym owners are faced with another question: How do we communicate with our members about reopening?

 

It’s an important question. Crisis communication expert Adele Cehrs points out that we’re in the midst of a textbook business crisis: “A crisis is any moment where your business needs to clarify a misperception,” she explains. In this case, that could be “I’m worried the gym won’t be clean enough to keep me safe,” or it could be “I’m a member, so I can do whatever I want.” In crisis communication, Cehrs explains, you walk back on those misperceptions. Here’s how to get started.

 

Communicate Early and Often

According to Cehrs, the amount of communication you’ll need in order to reassure members that it’s safe to return is directly related to how frequently and effectively you’ve communicated over the last few months—if you’ve been posting regularly to your channels and reaching out to members, you’re in good shape. Keep your audience in the loop with an email blast or social post as you move towards reopening, whether you’re doing it in phases or are holding off altogether for a few weeks. Reaching out to members proactively has the added benefit of reminding your customers that they’re part of your community and are among the first to know about important decisions.

 

Set Clear Expectations

As with managing employees and interpersonal relationships, setting clear boundaries and expectations is one of the surest ways to avoid conflict. According to Ted Waldron, an associate professor of management at Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business, “keeping patrons well informed of occupancy restrictions, advance registration requirements, facility use agreements, [and] protective measures/behavioral guidelines,” along with remedial actions (for example, one opportunity to comply with facility rules before being asked to leave), “would go a long way in stopping any conflicts before they start.”

 

Reassure Members—and Communicate Your Value

Getting members back to your gym requires trust, says Cehrs. “I have to trust that you can clean this gym better than you ever have before,” she says. “It’s a level of respect that needs to be elevated and communicated.” Her colleague, former FBI special agent and hostage negotiator Chip Massey, agrees. “Gyms will have to reacquire their customers,” he explains, pointing out that folks have been making do with their at-home setups for the last few months. In order to get them back in the door, you’ll need to communicate your gym’s value better than ever, whether that’s your cutting-edge routesetting, access to top-notch training classes, or warm community. This is a great time to step up your efforts to learn individual members' names and preferences, Massey adds.

 

Be as Transparent as Possible

Right now, it’s ok to tell your customers you don’t know the answer. Still, Cehrs strongly recommends having a “holding statement” about your reopening status. This can simply be a range of dates between which you anticipate opening. “That statement has to be genuine, authentic, and feel transparent,” Cehrs says, adding that it’s crucial that gym owners don’t make promises they can’t keep. It’s tempting to be vague or avoid communicating, she says, but that’s a mistake—it provides your members with no reassurance at all. Instead, keep it simple and direct: “We anticipate being able to open between X and Y. Lots of factors might affect the exact date we can open, but we’ll keep you updated as we know more!”

 

Show Customers Where You’re Coming From

This is closely related to transparency. Humanizing your business—an important step in the HEART framework, which Waldron and his co-author Jim Wetherbe outline in the Harvard Business Review—reminds your members that you, like they, are doing the best you can under difficult, unprecedented circumstances. “If people feel like they’re being bullied,” explains Wetherbe, the Richard Schulze Distinguished Professor at Texas Tech’s Rawls College of Business, it’s harder to get buy-in. Instead, he suggests rephrasing statements as questions: “If you’re not wearing a mask, how is that fair to our other members?” Waldron adds it’s important to consider your body language here—more on that in Part II.

 

Anticipate Questions—and Come Prepared With Answers

Your members will likely have questions about everything from physical distancing to whether masks are really “required” to how long until you plan to be back to business as usual. It might help to come up with good answers to some of these common questions and share them among your staff. One question you’re almost guaranteed to get is about cleanliness, so a rundown of everything you’re doing to keep the facility clean, from the parking lot to the bathrooms to the equipment and flooring, is key. “You’ll have to hit on that hard, and do it right away,” says Cehrs, “[Members] are really trusting you, so they need you to reassure them that this is a place they can feel safe.”

 

Even if you’re doing everything right, it’s possible that conflicts with customers will still arise. We’ll cover that in Part II next week.

 

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  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer service  leadership  marketing  member communications  staff training 

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Building Power in the Darkest Hour – Advocacy Behind the Scenes of COVID-19

Posted By Alexandra Wojcicki, Thursday, May 14, 2020
Advocacy Update

Although our industry faces unique and unforeseen obstacles, we hope to offer some comfort in the knowledge that no one faces them alone. Your team at the CWA has been working diligently in the background to help leverage our power and amplify our voices around the issues that matter most in this moment. Since the initial outbreak began gaining national attention in March, we have been running two advocacy campaigns spanning the United States and Canada, focusing on providing guidance and relief for the industry in a post-COVID-19 world.

 

In the USA, we have released the CWA’s open letter to Congress, circulated a financial relief petition, released a survey to gauge economic impacts of COVID-19 on our members and the industry, and launched a letter writing and calling campaign. We’ve also mobilized a network of volunteers who are graciously leveraging their connections and initiating conversations with decision makers and decision influencers at the state level to push forward the industry’s advocacy agenda.

 

In Canada, we’ve aligned with the Save Small Business grassroots lobbying movement and the CEC Task Force, which is currently in the process of formulating an advocacy campaign plan. The likely first steps will include an open letter to Parliament with a template that gym owners can lean on to make personalized asks of elected officials. We currently have volunteers from each province researching decision making or decision influencing health authorities and their contact information, as the industry will need to have a voice in the conversation surrounding reopening mandates.

 

The CWA has also been getting ahead of damaging press (ex: references to climbing gyms as “petri dishes”, etc.) through a two-pronged strategy – proactively communicating with major industry publications on how to avoid accidental phrasing that has potential to promote long-term stigma, and drafting articles that highlight the industry’s inherent risk management proficiency, overall resiliency, and commitment to public health.

 

Upcoming advocacy priorities for the CWA will, for the time being, focus on publishing reopening resources which will be paired with a communication toolkit that helps gym owners navigate sharing new guidelines and regulations with their communities; releasing a guide on how to educate and communicate with your local health authorities, so that we can empower our members to advocate for themselves in localities where it is needed; and organizing strategies and tactics to create momentum behind a commercial rent abatement movement.

 

Regardless of what the next wave of COVID-19 developments may bring, the CWA will still be here for you, advocating on your behalf and creating resources to support your business. Brighter days are certain to come, and as an industry leader we will help pave that path. Thank you for standing with us as we could not do the work without you – together we’re stronger, now and always.

 

If you’d like even more insight into the CWA’s advocacy efforts to date, here is the recording of a recent Community Call in which we give an update on CWA's advocacy campaign and information on what's coming up. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to advocacy@climbingwallindustry.org – we’re always here for you, and happy to help!

 

Alexandra Wojcicki Head ShotAbout the Author

Alexandra Wojcicki is the Membership Manager at the Climbing Wall Association. She has a decade of experience working with nonprofit organizations on building member programs, managing partnerships, fundraising, and marketing. A Northern Virginia native, she is now based in Boulder, Colorado, as an enthusiastic climber, backpacker, camper, and traveler.

 

Tags:  advocacy  coronavirus  COVID-19  regulations 

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Member Engagement Series: Inspirational Content

Posted By Emma Walker, Thursday, May 14, 2020
Inspirational Content

When a member walks into your gym, you have no trouble engaging them—whether it’s chatting about the great weather you’ve been having, asking what they think of the new routes, or, for members you know well, checking in about how that project at the local crag is coming along.

 

At its core, engaging your audience online and on your social channels is the same. It’s easy to overthink it: Am I using the right hashtags? How many likes should my posts be getting? But when you boil it down, the things you’re posting on your gym’s social channels are just a way to break the ice and get your members talking. View your content as a conversation starter, and you’re well on your way to building solid content.

 

Ask Your Audience

The folks who know best what your audience wants are right in front of you. In fact, they might already be telling you what they want—take a look at your most recent survey results. Do your members give your gym’s yoga classes a five-star rating? Content written by or spotlighting a favorite yoga teacher, whether it’s an Instagram takeover or a blog post, will likely be a hit. Are you getting tons of feedback on the new brand of energy bars you’re stocking? Maybe a series of posts on nutrition for climbers will draw engagement. Don’t be afraid to ask your members directly: “What topics would you like to see our staff write about for future posts?”

 

Draw Inspiration From Others

There’s a reason big-name brands have huge social followings. Your gym may not have the resources to do tons of market research on what your audience wants to see—and that’s ok, because climbing brands (gear manufacturers and sponsored athletes, for example) likely have much of the same audience your gym does. Does a particular climber get tons of likes and comments when they ask their followers a question? Do brands get a huge response when they do a giveaway? Those trends might help you identify what your audience is looking for.

 

Turn the Spotlight to Your Members

It’s always fun to see your own name on the marquis, so to speak. One way to deepen member engagement is to invite members into your feed. This can be as easy as creating a simple hashtag (#climbat[your gym’s name]) that members can tag their photos with, then going through those posts and choosing some to repost on your own channel. It could also mean running a contest: Ask your audience to caption a funny photo; the winner gets to do a week-long takeover of your Instagram account. The more members see themselves and their friends in your feed, the more excited they’ll be to engage.

 

Repurpose Content You Love

Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel. Is there a recent article that’s super relevant to your audience, like a piece in a climbing magazine about your local crag or about climbing gaining popularity? Keep an eye out for news that might interest your audience, whether it’s about the local bouldering scene, a climbing-related podcast with a story that made you laugh or cry, or a review of this year’s hottest climbing shoes. Whenever you repost content, check the creator’s policies—you may need to ask them for permission, and you’ll definitely need to give them credit.

 

Give a Peek Behind the Scenes

Nothing makes an audience feel like part of the in-crowd more than learning what’s going on behind the curtain. Think beyond explaining the reasoning behind a new policy: What inspires you? Maybe it’s a post on the history of your gym, a few tips from a rock-star routesetter, or a Q&A with a coach about how they come up with ideas for classes and training sessions. This category often makes for great evergreen content, meaning it’s relevant just about any time you decide to post it.

 

Ready to Level Up?

If you’re doing the first five items on this list, you’re well on your way to creating a vibrant online community. Keep up the good work!

 

When you’re ready to take your content to the next level, consider the following steps:

  • Find creative ways to engage with your audience. Social media algorithms take engagement—likes, follows, comments, and shares—into account, so actually conversing with your audience makes a difference. (Learn more here.)
  • Develop an email marketing strategy. Showing up in your audience’s inboxes means they don’t have to seek you out to engage. Chances are you collect email addresses from your members anyway, so building a strategy to send marketing emails to your audience is a logical next step.
  • Take a look at your analytics. Your website or blog platform likely has analytics built in, and if you’ve got a business page on Facebook or a business account on Instagram, you can do the same thing for your social channels. Use these tools to understand the best timing and topics for your posts and change up your strategy accordingly.
  • Learn more about search engine optimization (SEO). This is how you’ll ensure that your gym’s posts pop up first when folks search for relevant keywords. These tips will help you get started.

Not sure where to begin with content? Check out our previous post on how to start a blog for your gym.

 

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  coronavirus  COVID-19  marketing  member communications 

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Better Together: Fundraising for Climbing Gym Staff

Posted By Better Together, Monday, April 27, 2020
Better Together Campaign

The Better Together Climbing campaign is a FREE fundraising opportunity intent on helping leaders in the climbing industry provide financial assistance to their staff members.

 

Simply stated, the campaign started by complete accident. I work at Movement Climbing + Fitness and I had recently finished my first ever attempt at fundraising. It was a GoFundMe page dedicated to assisting a dear friend and colleague of mine. I remember running around like a mad man trying to get as many people as possible to share the campaign link. I did not ask them to directly contribute - just sharing the idea to a broader community was all I could ask for.

 

It was then and still is a value I hold deeply – that many people, rather than a few, who come together to support one another in times of need as well as times of prosperity will always cultivate a stronger community. The goal of that campaign was to raise $4000.00 for my friend, who is also a great friend to many in our climbing community, at Movement. We managed exceed our goal in 3 days.

 

Following that conclusion of that campaign, almost immediately, I began to try and come up with ideas for a new campaign. My partner had recently bought me the Organic shirt where a slice of pie is punching a piece of cake. I love that shirt. But I wanted a shirt with characters getting past their differences and realizing that each one of them is unique, important, and that they were better together than fighting alone. So, I made a call to a friend who had stopped working at Movement to pursue their dream as an illustrator.

 

As our design began to really take shape, it came to me. This fundraiser may be able to help staff members of climbing gyms and other outdoor associations affiliated with climbing. Across social media I began to see so much confusion, frustration, sadness, and anger. But I also saw wonderful acts of grace, kindness, compassion, support, and community action. I truly wanted to help support that narrative. A narrative of empathy, understanding, support, and ultimately a message that binds our community together in a stronger and better way than it was before this challenging economic and health crisis began.

 

In many ways the “Better Together” message that TJ and I believe in was a part of the message all along. Way back to the battered and bruised pastries.

 

Which is why we hope that by offering this fundraising opportunity at no cost to climbing gyms and outdoor associations affiliated with climbing we can help each participating entity generate as much funding as possible for direct financial assistance to their staff while minimizing the financial risk to each and every business involved during these challenging times. We hope that the more you market this campaign/movement, the more money you can generate to assist your teams. You can sign up here to get a free digital marketing kit and to get your gym listed on the storefront. Whenever someone purchases a shirt and selects your gym during checkout you will get $10 for you to provide to your staff.

 

And most importantly we hope you believe in our message too. That we are a stronger community, a more inclusive community, a more resilient community – ultimately a community that is and will always be a community that is Better Together.

 

Sincerely,
TJ Norris & Shane Way

 

ADD YOUR GYM

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  coronavirus  COVID-19  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  marketing  staff retention 

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