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The Climbing Wall Association's blog is a place for indoor climbing 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

 

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5 Marketing Techniques Every Gym Can Do

Posted By Emma Walker, Tuesday, February 4, 2020
Marketing Techniques

What are the most successful gyms in the country doing? Sure, they’re using top-notch routesetters and keeping their programming fresh. But they’re also marketing their facilities in a way that makes them stand out from the crowd—something that becomes increasingly important as indoor climbing gains popularity.

 

Some facilities, like Akron, Ohio-based Rock Mill Climbing, aren’t in a market with a lot of geographic overlap, allowing them to leverage the sport of climbing itself and the unique sense of community it offers (as opposed to other fitness and social clubs) as advertising. “We work hard to serve and foster that community in the gym,” says Nick Muffet, Rock Mill’s Marketing & Community Director. “As long as we do that, it really speaks for itself.”

 

If you’re in a more saturated market, there’s an additional challenge, says Hannah Clack, Marketing & Events Coordinator at Ascent Studio in Fort Collins, Colorado. “We decided to take a highly active approach by providing as many community-oriented events, meetups, and clinics as we can fit on our monthly calendars.”

 

Here’s how you can ensure your gym is maximizing its marketing potential.

 

1. Build and Maintain a Consistent Voice

Part of making your facility stand out from the crowd is creating—and maintaining—a consistent brand and voice. That’s how your guests know what to expect when they walk in the door. This can be challenging, Clack says: “We aim to keep a certain style and cohesiveness across our promotions, but when you offer multiple events a week or month, promotions can start to blend together and disappear from your audience’s attention.”

 

“You've got to keep it fresh!” she adds.

 

2. Encourage Word-of-Mouth Marketing

As you build loyal members, encouraging them to bring others into the fold is crucial. “Word of mouth is by far the most powerful marketing channel,” says Muffet. “We like to make it easy for our members to bring in friends on guest passes and get store credit for referring new members.”

 

This goes beyond traditional marketing channels, too—the interactions and experiences guests have at your facility are what they’ll tell their friends about. One way to encourage members to talk about your facility is to employ a consistent hashtag in your social posts, and then feature members’ posts when they use it.

 

3. Optimize Your Social Channels

“Quality over quantity,” says Clack. “Genuine photos or videos are always better than graphics. If I need to post a graphic, I prefer to do it on an Instagram story [rather than a post]. It still gets seen and doesn't clog up your feed.”

 

“Content that actually provides value to the viewer always performs better,” Muffet adds. “We try to offer a lot of climbing tips for new climbers and post beta videos for boulder routes just before they come down.”

 

4. Automate Marketing to Free Up Time

Work smarter, not harder, Muffet recommends. “Anything that allows scheduling and automation frees up time and focus to work on higher level projects.”

 

This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. “We use Mailchimp,” Clack says. “It has plenty of pros, but I wish it was more customizable with its layouts. Either way, it gets the job done.”

 

5. Keep Your Existing Membership Engaged

“We're working to extend member retention by providing more resources and classes for our climbers to meet their goals at the gym—and to be celebrated when they do,” Muffet says. Ascent also does a monthly Member Appreciation Night with local vendors, local beer, and member challenges, along with several leagues and comps (small and large) and a Fitness Challenge each year.

 

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  marketing  member acquisition  member retention 

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Long Term Athlete Development: From Good to Great in Climbing

Posted By Heather Reynolds, Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Long Term Athlete Development Climbing Escalade Canada

With the Olympics now entertaining climbing as a competitive sport worthy of being an ongoing part of the games, many young climbers have far greater dreams than those who came before them. Now youth can dream of podiums, medals, and national flags. Social media is bringing the best of the best front and center on our Instagram and Facebook feeds, influencing an entire generation of young climbers to dream of competing among the elite.

 

Growth in participation, as well as the elevated aspirations of our young athletes, is an exciting opportunity for the sport of climbing. However, it is important to think long-term when creating training plans and programming for young athletes; that’s where Long Term Athlete Development comes in.

 

THE HISTORY OF LONG TERM ATHLETE DEVELOPMENT

To understand where the LTAD program came from, you have to go back to the 1952-1988 era of Russian dominance at the Olympics. The repeated defeats on the international stage forced countries like Canada, Britain, and the US to look at what Russia was doing to develop their winners.

 

What they discovered was that Russia had created academic schools which also focused on developing athletes. Russia was simply using a concentrated method of developing the skills, strength, and agility of athletes from a young age.

 

In 1995, Istvan Balyi, a sport scientist working with the National Coaching Institute in British Columbia, Canada, packaged the Long Term Athlete Development program to provide a framework for improving sport systems in Canada.

 

The initial LTAD program described four stages of development, however with more research and review, and the development in understanding athletes, the model now describes eight stages of developing athletes.

 

Each stage is geared toward development physically, mentally, and in skill.

  1. Active Start: Birth to age 6
  2. FUNdamentals: Age 6 to 8 (F) or 9 (M)
  3. Learn to Train: Age 9 to 11 (F) or 12 (M)
  4. Train to Train: Age 11-15 (F) or 12-16 (M)
  5. Learn to Compete: Age 15-17 (F) or 16-18 (M)
  6. Train to Compete (Sport Climbing: Learn to Win): Age 16 and older
  7. Train to Win (Sport Climbing: Winning for a Living): Age 18 and older
  8. Active for Life: Any age after the growth spurt.

Like most sport organizations who now recognize this LTAD model as a foundation for athlete development, Climbing Escalade Canada has rewritten the LTAD for Sport Climbing.

 

This comprehensive document provides athletes, parents, coaches, and climbing organizations a great opportunity to identify the stage of an athlete’s development, to structure and focus training development, and to bring a higher level of safety and professionalism to our sport.

 

It is important to note that this is not a one-size-fits-all model. Take Stage 3 as an example (the full chart is on page 13 of the CEC’s LTAD document):

 

Long Term Athlete Development Matrix Example

 

You’ll notice that not all 10 year olds will naturally have the FUNdamentals, or a solid foundation of movement skills, and those athletes may need additional support to catch them up in those areas. On the other hand, some 10 year olds may actually already be exceeding the Learn to Train level in strength and agility.

 

The CEC’s LTAD document breaks down each stage in full detail, which provides a guide to the appropriate strength and agility training, technical training, and mental and emotional development of the athlete. Use this guide to help you understand how to support your athletes at their various stages of development.

 

As our sport continues to grow and develop it will become more and more essential that coaches working with prospective competitors are able to provide a sustainable and healthy approach to athlete development. Stay tuned for my next post, where we will take a deeper look at the goal of the Long Term Athlete Development model.

 

References:

 

Heather Reynolds Head ShotAbout the Author

Heather is a licensed kinesiologist, High Five Trainer (Sport, PCHD), CEC Climbing Coach, and CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Certification Provider Trainer. She blends her knowledge of movement, physiology, and education to develop a multitude of successful climbing programs designed to support and engage youth. Having worked with youth for over 30 years as a recreation instructor, leader and educator, Heather supports the values and expertise available in the High Five Program, bringing quality assurance to youth-based sport and recreation programming.

 

Tags:  coaching  LTAD  programming  risk management  staff training  youth team  youth training 

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Reel Plastic: A Film Fest by and for the People

Posted By Laura Allured, Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Fitness Investment

The Reel Rock film festival has become a staple of the climbing community – an annual opportunity to see fresh films featuring some of the most accomplished climbers on the planet. As Reel Rock has grown in popularity, so too have showings at climbing gyms. All around the world, you’ll find people lounging on pads, watching the year’s films projected onto climbing walls.

 

This year, Crux Climbing Center in Austin, Texas took a unique approach to their Reel Rock showing, creating their own local film fest, Reel Plastic. Their innovative take on the Reel Rock format provided a unique way for their community to come together and celebrate their own stories.

 

I caught up with Lydia Huelskamp, Crux’s Marketing & Events Coordinator, to learn more about Reel Plastic.

 

LA: What is Reel Plastic?

LH: Reel Plastic is a local climbing film festival. It's a place for our community to come showcase films they've made, which can be anything from goofy films to more serious films where someone's working on a project.

 

LA: What inspired the idea for Reel Plastic?

LH:Obviously, some of it was Reel Rock. We all love Reel Rock and seeing those films. But I also think it's really fun to see what happens when local people and groups of friends make films. It's the idea that we have this great community here, and we have a lot of people who like to make films. We wanted to highlight local people climbing.

 

LA: How did your community respond to the event?

LH: They responded well! We had eight films to watch, which was really cool. We set up our yoga room, and it was packed. We ran out of chairs, people were sitting on the ground, so the response was great. Most people who came really enjoyed it. It will be cool to see how this develops if we do it every year – how we will get more and more films and people will get more excited.

 

LA: Did you have people create films especially for Reel Plastic?

LH: I think we had a good mix, about half and half. We had people who had already created films, and this was a cool way to show them to our community. And then we definitely had people who saw Reel Plastic and decided to make a film for the event.

 

LA: Do you have any insight into the approach and equipment people used to create their films?

LH: Not too much, but I can tell you that several of the films were made on iPhones. For example, in one film, some people had taken videos while they were on a trip and when they got back one of their sons was like, oh let me use your video footage! And he made a film from it, which turned out great. Some people used iPhones, while other films had a little more experience behind them with better cameras.

 

LA: The ones that were more 'amateur' were still hits at the event?

LH: Oh yes, very much so!

 

LA: So, you don't have to be an experienced filmmaker in order to participate in this kind of thing?

LH: Not at all! We were trying to show that this is for everyone and stress that you don't have to be the next big director to be able to make these films. Everyone for the most part can get out their phones, film something, and create a story. I think that message will spread to more people now and hopefully that will inspire more people to go and make films on their own.


 

Watch the film What Happens in Red Rock

 


LA: What were the films about?

LH: We had a few films that were funny. We had a few about strong climbers, and you got to watch them crush these local climbs. We also premiered a film from Mellow Climbing, so people got psyched on that.

 

We had one that featured these two moms who went to climb at Red Rocks for their first time, doing multi-pitch for the first time. It was really well-done. Their journey was entertaining, and then at the end they had this great talk about fear and climbing.

 

We had a good, broad spectrum of stories, from amateur to pro.

 

LA: Where can we find the Reel Plastic Films?

LH: Some are on YouTube and some are on Vimeo. We have a listing of most of them on the Crux Climbing Center website.

 

LA: Besides the films themselves, were there any other elements to the night?

LH: We have a member appreciation night every month, so Reel Plastic was a part of that. We had beer, cider, and some tables featuring local businesses like an ice cream shop and a cryotherapy studio.

 

LA: How did you approach getting the word out to your community?

LH: We did what we do for a lot of our events - we posted on Instagram, created a Facebook event, put posters all over our gym, and reached out to local event calendars. I also posted on a local climbing Facebook group so that community would see it. That was how we were able to get the word out to a lot of people. We had around 70 to 80 people come out for it.


 

Watch the film Please, Don't Be "That Climber"

 


LA: How did this event compare to your usual monthly member appreciation events?

LH: We often have vendors come, and we always have beer and cider. This was different because we had this extra film festival element added to it.

 

We’ve done films before where we shut down the gym and put it up on the climbing walls, but we wanted people to still be able to come and climb. We had it in our yoga room so that people could climb if they wanted to, come up and watch the films if they wanted to, and then go back to climbing.

 

LA: Did you show Reel Rock the same night as Reel Plastic, or were they two separate events?

LH: They were two separate events that took place the same week. We were trying to harness the Reel Rock excitement. We had Reel Rock on Monday and Tuesday of that week, and then Reel Plastic was that Thursday.

 

LA: How do you think the two film fests complimented each other?

LH: Reel Rock is awesome - we all love it - but we've got a lot of local climbers, and it's fun to see their stories. It’s exciting to see people climbing a climb that you know or talking about something that you've faced in your own climbing. I think that's a really cool thing about doing something like Reel Plastic. Plus, it brings the community together.

 

LA: What are your plans for the future of the Reel Plastic project?

LH: I would love to continue doing this every year and inspire people to make fun films and tell stories with their friends. It’s another way to bring this community together. That sounds cheesy, but anything with the climbing community is always really great. Climbing's not just about the crushers, it should be for everyone. It's cool to see more diverse stories reflected, so I hope this event inspires more people to get out there and tell their stories.

 

Laura Allured Head ShotAbout the Author

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

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  marketing  member retention  programming 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Alex Chuong Head ShotAbout the Author

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

 

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

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Self-Care for Routesetters (and Anyone Experiencing Burnout)

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Why Addressing Burnout Is Important

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What Is Self-Care?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Essential Self-Care Skills

1. Time Management

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2. Exercise

 

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

 

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

 

3. Sleep

 

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

 

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

 

4. Nutrition

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff retention 

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Building Brand Awareness for Your Climbing Gym

Posted By Megan Walsh, Sunday, December 15, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Brand Awareness for Your Climbing Gym

Where websites were once the mainstay for prospective clients looking to learn more about a business, social media has now taken over–becoming the first-and-last stop for many folks interested in who you are as a business and what you do.

 

This has created an opportunity to develop your brand identity and captivate your audience, both present and future, with a story: who you are, what’s important to you, and how they can be part of it.

 

What Is Brand Awareness and How to Build It

Simply put, the goal of brand awareness is to increase the number of folks who know about your business. From hanging posters around town, to creating a unique hashtag, to giving out stickers, to newspaper advertisements, there’s a brand awareness strategy for any budget.

 

You want your brand awareness strategies to create broad-reaching engagement in your community and identify your gym as a dedicated member of the community. Some examples include:

  • Sponsoring climbing festivals, film premieres, or conferences
  • Volunteering at events or creating an opportunity for members to volunteer
  • Boothing at your community’s local events

Each of these opportunities, while important and worthwhile, requires a high level of engagement, planning, and resources. To reach some of the low-hanging fruit to build brand-awareness, look no further than your online content streams.

 

Building Brand Awareness Through Social Media

Social media usage increased by 9% in the past year, bringing the global total to 3.48 billion users across various platforms. Despite pesky algorithms, social media offers brands an opportunity to truly connect with their audience. It’s a space to promote special offers, encourage climbing stoke, and host conversations about the state of climbing–whether that’s climbing access issues, the latest comp results, or if a 9.8 or 9.5 is an optimal rope diameter.

 

As a gym owner, you have the unique opportunity to curate the highlights of your gym through social media. Identify the most important aspects of your business model. Maybe it’s your unique connection to community non-profits or the local crag clean-ups you host. Maybe you have a five-star personal training program or a raucous bouldering league. What makes your gym unique and what about your gym would draw in a new user?

 

Brand awareness is about personality and showcasing your business, and most importantly, it’s about quality over quantity.

 

Try to refrain from posting low-quality content on social media. Users, unfortunately, will scroll by that content quickly, which is a loss for the user and the employee who took the time to create the content.

 

With each curated piece ask, “What does this say about my business?” And if it’s not working to provide a deeper understanding, showcase the unique qualities of your gym, or the like, then it won’t benefit your overall branding.

 

Brand Awareness to Brand Recognition

From brand awareness comes brand recognition. When someone describes your gym what would you hope they say? The answer to that question helps identify an overall strategy for brand awareness. Are you a community space? An educational space? A place for all-out stoke at 6 am and 11 pm?

 

An example of strong brand recognition is Starbucks. You likely not only recognize their logo from a highway billboard, but you probably also know that they make premium coffee beverages, champion the no-straw movement, and have a dedicated loyalty program.

 

What do you hope members and non-members would know about your gym just by seeing your logo or by the mention of your name?

 

Continually curate pieces of content that reflect these core tenants so when a member’s friend asks why they should choose your gym over another option in town, the answer is something like, “They have an incredible bouldering league, a tight-knit community that feels like a second home, and they consistently give back to the community,” rather than, “It’s closer to my house.”

 

Conclusion

Brand awareness offers gym owners a way to connect with their community and share their vision for climbing. From a level of brand awareness comes a level of brand recognition, which will have positive impacts on membership sales and retention. With the current climbing gym boom, it’s important to stand out and that members recognize your business is uniquely aligned with their needs.

 

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:  branding  community development  marketing  member acquisition 

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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 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Burnout: What Does it Look Like?

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Causes of Burnout Culture

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

 

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

 

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

 

Managing Burnout in the Gym

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

 

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

  • Labor
  • Performance
  • Morale

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  operations  staff retention  staff training 

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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 

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Gender, Variety, and Growth in Routesetting

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

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

 

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

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