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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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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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Member Engagement Series: Educational Content

Posted By Hilary Harris, Thursday, April 16, 2020
Educational Content

It’s been five weeks since the first climbing gyms closed their doors to their communities. Since that time we have seen gyms around the world - in classic climber style - dive into the problem solving strategy that is at the core of what climbing is about. We have a giant route in front of us that has never been climbed and are not even sure where it goes. This is a true adventure, so we need to dig deep into our toolkits to optimize our chances of making it to the top.

 

As with all challenges, opportunities arise for those that are resourceful and innovative. Consider this time as an opportunity to strengthen your relationships with your customers by engaging them in new and meaningful ways.

 

Last week I wrote about how to keep your climbing gym community engaged during closure due to COVID-19. Let's take a closer look at creating educational content.

 

Content Curation

Most climbing gyms offer a variety of programs and classes. They range from kids programs and teams to yoga and fitness classes to technical clinics.

 

In thinking about creating online content, consider the enormous amount of resources available that you can share. Rather than always attempting to reinvent the wheel, think about how you could instead curate content - using your gym platform as a means to share other people’s content.

 

It may seem counterintuitive that this would increase interest in your gym. Wouldn’t that just direct people away from my channels? The answer is no! Sharing content shows that you are plugged into the industry and are providing additional value to your members.

 

If you do this enough then people will know that your gym provides them with valuable information, and that’s what this game is all about: creating value.

 

Original Content

The advantage of producing original content is that it continues to connect people with your staff and your local community. If the content is done professionally with the right equipment (i.e. lighting, microphone, staging, etc.) then it could bring long term value to your gym in ways that curating content cannot.

 

The downside of it is that if whoever is recording the content does not have the equipment to make a video repurposable, their time may be better utilized by researching content they can add their own comments to and then reshare.

 

Every gym is different and has different resources, so I recommend that you assess your situation carefully before paying people to produce content. Make sure that your investment brings you value both in the short and the long run. It looks like it is going to be a while until things return to business as usual.

 

Live vs. Recorded

There are a variety of platforms available to share video content. Some are better suited for live streaming classes while others are best for uploading recorded content.

 

User experience is considerably different when participating in a live stream vs. a recorded video. Live stream gives people a sense of belonging together more so than watching a recorded video. It also allows for two-way communication.

 

One downside is that if someone cannot join, they miss the class - although it is possible to record the class and upload it as a video later.

 

Pre-recordings allow for editing and producing a more professional product that can bring you enhanced long-term value.

 

Below are some additional resources to look at when considering what platforms to use for what.

Kids Programs & Teams

Programming for youth offers a lot of opportunities, but I don’t recommend attempting to keep kids engaged for multiple hours, multiple days per week online. It is probably a good idea to reduce the online time during practice and assign more homework that can be done on their own time in between official meeting time.

 

Use Zoom or Google Hangouts to run an online practice focused on body weight conditioning and presenting scholastic information such as analyzing videos. Both platforms allow for screen sharing and seeing multiple people at once.

 

Be sure to save time at the end of practice for the kids to just hang out together online. The social time is incredibly valuable for them.

 

Yoga

There are literally thousands of online yoga classes and apps available for people to choose from, so you may be thinking that there is no point in providing these through your gym. It may be a good idea to recommend some of these if you do not offer yoga, but if you do then your instructors likely have a following and this is a great time for them to build it.

 

I have heard stories of some instructors bringing in hundreds of folx into an online class and increasing their following across state lines. Not only does this bring value to your local gym, it also helps your instructors increase their supporters.

 

I recommend using Zoom or Google Hangouts to run your classes if you want to see your participants and be able to cue off of them. If not, Facebook Live is also a good option.

 

Fitness & Training Tips

Fitness is similar to yoga in that there are thousands of videos available. Again, if you have instructors at your gym that can create original content from home, great! Even if they can utilize the content curation strategy and post it through your social channels with a short commentary from a familiar face, your members will be grateful.

 

If they do create original content, have them upload a video and edit it if needed. It can then be uploaded to either IGTV, YouTube, or Vimeo to name a few.

 

Technical Classes

This is a perfect opportunity to share your technical expertise with your community. Use your platform (IGTV, YouTube, or Vimeo) to share valuable tech videos or have your instructors record videos from home.

 

While technical skill sets may be hard to teach without the gym as a resource, there are many basic things you could teach and/or reshare. Some examples include:

  • Knot tying
  • Terminology
  • Rope handling and coiling
  • Traditional gear - types, ways to use it
  • Gear reviews (shoes, harnesses, belay devices, etc.)

Stay tuned for more in-depth articles on member engagement strategies in the upcoming weeks!

 

Hilary HarrisAbout the Author

Hilary Harris is the Founder of EVO Rock + Fitness. A licensed architect, retired professional climber and coach, and experienced gym owner, Hilary has been involved with all stages of business planning, design, construction, operations and expansion of climbing gyms in various markets across the US. Hilary has overseen strategic brand and business development in varying capacities for EVO since 2010. She also holds a Leading in Finance Certificate from Harvard Business School.

 

Tags:  branding  climbing culture  community development  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer service  marketing  member communications  programming  tech strategy  youth team 

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8 Ways to Keep Your Climbing Gym Community Engaged During COVID-19

Posted By Hilary Harris, Friday, April 3, 2020
Member Engagement Strategies

What is value and how do we maximize it? In the world of climbing gyms, value is created fundamentally by building a community that continues to evolve over time. It is about creating your own company culture and vibe - creating a place that people want to come back to time and time again.

 

So what happens when a global pandemic forces your community to scatter literally overnight? Does the community vanish into thin air?

 

Predominately a bricks and mortar business, climbing gyms are scrambling to figure out how they can keep their membership engaged and hopefully, as a result, continue a stream of membership revenue (albeit not as much as before) to get them through this period of closure.

 

In fact, keeping your community engaged during this time could be the difference between riding this crisis out and being forced to close your doors forever. The challenge in front us: How do we keep our communities engaged, provide valuable content, and create not just a short-term fix, but long-term value for our organizations?

 

Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to engage folx during this time. Consider it a chance to think outside of the box.

 

After spending a lot of time talking to gym owners, managers, and marketers, I’ve developed a brief overview of eight ways to keep your community engaged while stuck at home. Over the coming weeks we’ll add in-depth articles on the advantages, implementation considerations, and challenges in each of these categories.

 

1. Educational Content

Most gyms offer an array of educational programs for kids and adults. While it is virtually impossible to practice climbing physically without a climbing wall, there are plenty of online activities that can help you expand your curriculum. Opportunities include:

  • Yoga and fitness classes
  • Kids programs (e.g. Abbreviated online team practices)
  • Adult programs (e.g. Gym-to-Crag classes)

Suggested Platforms for Streaming Content: IGTV, Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo

 

Read More →

 

2. Selling Product

Online retail is not a new concept. In fact, according to the 2019 Indoor Climber Survey, when asked where people shop for climbing gear and clothing, respondents most frequently answered online. While setting up a full-blown online retail presence may be too large of a task to take on, there are low hanging fruit options available.

3. Blog

Blogs are an excellent way to drive community involvement and traffic to your website if the content is high quality and relevant. If you don’t have a blog on your website, now is a great time to start one. Here’s a guide from HubSpot to get you started.

Read More →

 

4. Online Events

People love going to events, and gyms provide the perfect venue for bringing groups of people together. It may seem unlikely that an online event would be received as well as your in-person events, but Zoom Happy Hours with friends and family have taken on a new meaning. Here are some suggestions of how you can modify this concept for your gym community to get together socially while keeping physical distance.

  • Fireside chats/meetups/happy hours - including members as experts
  • DJ silent discos
  • Auctions

5. Competitions

OK. So we can’t have traditional climbing competitions at our facilities right now, but there are plenty of opportunities to tap into people’s competitive and creative instincts. In fact, when asked about their motivations to climb in the 2019 Indoor Climber Survey, “having fun” was ranked the highest, followed by improving or maintaining physical and mental health. Online competitions can serve both of these needs and can act as a catalyst to increase community involvement.

  • Post photos and tag your gym
  • Exercise contests (e.g. Pull-ups, push-ups, daily challenge, etc.)
  • Trivia

6. Community Partnerships

We are all in this together and climbing gyms have the advantage of being as much community centers as fitness centers. Surely there are other businesses in your area that have been affected by COVID-19, so why not come up with creative ways to mobilize your community channels to support them?

  • Meal of the day - support local restaurants
  • Collaborate with local CSA’s/farmers
  • Partner with local businesses on promotions

7. Inspirational Content

There are an infinite number of possibilities here. Lots of brands, organizations, and individuals are creating awesome content, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Think of a theme you want to focus on, do some research, and share the content that resonates with you. You can even put a call out to your social following to ask what content is keeping them psyched while they’re at home. Remember, the idea is to keep people engaged, and sharing this type of content helps with that.

 

NOTE: If you decide to quote someone from an article or another blog, make sure you credit them. If you are unsure about it, reach out to them and let them know that you would like to share it. Chances are they will be happy to have their work shared.

  • Films
  • Photos
  • Podcasts
  • Interviews
  • Articles

8. Survey

Tried all of the above but still need more ideas? Now is a great time to hear from your members about what they would like. Surveys send a positive message that you genuinely care about them and give them the opportunity to engage in a more meaningful way. Who knows? You may get a higher response rate than normal because people are spending more time online.

 

What some tips on writing good survey questions? SurveyMonkey has an excellent article on that!

 

More to Come!

There’s a lot to dig into in each of these categories, so keep an eye out for follow-up articles over the next several weeks. In the meantime, check out our Community Call on member engagement strategies from Tuesday, April 7. We had an awesome panel discussion with gyms who have quickly implemented creative strategies to keep their members engaged.

 

WATCH WEBINAR

 

Hilary HarrisAbout the Author

Hilary Harris is the Founder of EVO Rock + Fitness. A licensed architect, retired professional climber and coach, and experienced gym owner, Hilary has been involved with all stages of business planning, design, construction, operations and expansion of climbing gyms in various markets across the US. Hilary has overseen strategic brand and business development in varying capacities for EVO since 2010. She also holds a Leading in Finance Certificate from Harvard Business School.

 

Tags:  branding  climbing culture  community development  company culture  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  marketing  member acquisition  member communications  member retention  programming 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

WK: Why is diversity in routesetting important?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

WK: What makes building a diverse team difficult?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

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

 

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

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6 Ways to Retain Your Members

Posted By Emma Walker, Monday, May 6, 2019
Climbing Gym Member Retention

You’ve gotten new members in the door, and now there’s a new challenge: keeping them engaged so they become loyal, long-term members. Conventional fitness clubs track their membership trends closely – it’s well-established that membership spikes significantly right after the holidays, then drops off a few months into the new year. With a niche climbing audience, though, retention is more nuanced.

 

We chatted with a few managers at gyms who are successfully retaining members, even when the slower months hit. Here are their secrets.

 

1. Build a community

There isn’t just one magic incentive or trick you can use to retain membership. “It has be a core value that is applied across all aspects of the gym’s facilities, operations, services, etc.” says Rich Breuner, Director of Operations at Bend Rock Gym. The gym’s #1 goal, he says, is to support and facilitate an amazing community experience. “That translates to people wanting to become and stay members,” he explains. It’s working. BRG has seen member attrition rates drop significantly since 2016, when they began examining programs gym-wide and implementing adjustments with member retention in mind.

 

2. Quality walls, quality routes

Members want to climb at gyms with excellent routes. Bend Rock Gym’s commitment to quality begins with the most basic element: its walls. “They’re built well, they’re maintained well, the routes and volumes are always changing,” says Breuner, who compares setters to the cooks in a kitchen. The ingredients, or holds, might be similar to what you’d find anywhere, but a chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant can really make you want to come back. Their routesetting, he says, is a key differentiator and major factor in keeping members coming back for more.

 

3. Education isn’t just for kids

Anchorage’s Alaska Rock Gym offers adult programming free with monthly membership, says Operations Manager Eric Wickenheiser. At some point, Wickenheiser says, “new climbers hit a plateau. After a few months, people think, ‘Hey, how can I climb 5.12?’” ARG’s Climbing 101, 201, and 301 classes, plus lead clinics and women’s-specific programming, keeps members engaged when they might otherwise burn out and let their memberships lapse.

 

4. Invest in customer service

This begins at the front door, but it’s key for staff to get out on the floor and get to know members, too, says Breuner. BRG expects all-star customer service from its staff. “We’re flexible and adapt our customer service experience with the needs of our membership,” he explains. “People come in and they don’t feel like they’re going to war with the staff—they see friendly faces and people who are getting to know them on a personal level.” BRG makes a concerted effort to get desk staff onto the floor to help with waivers and answer questions, which creates a fun, accessible culture for climbing.

 

5. Find the right instructors

When it comes to programming, “the instructor makes or breaks a class,” says Wickenheiser. One of ARG’s most popular yoga classes is at 4:30 p.m., when members are ostensibly at work or in traffic. “The teacher is incredible, so people come anyway. The class is always full.” Wickenhesier adds that when local celebrities (guidebook authors, pro climbers) teach a fitness class or give a talk, it tends to be full.

 

6. Keep track of the trends

“We’re a little isolated here in Alaska,” Wickenheiser laughs, “But we try to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry.” Lots of ARG’s members have climbed at big-name Seattle gyms (most flights in and out of Anchorage go through Seattle), where they see the most cutting-edge gym developments. Members want those amenities at their home gym, too. Heading to the CWA Summit each year, he says, is the best way to keep an eye on industry trends and make sure ARG is up to speed.

 

“The bottom line in member retention is not treating members like a number,” Wickenheiser says. ARG has recently moved to a brand-new facility, but it’s been open for 25 years – Wickenheiser attributes that success to little things like taking the time to remember members’ stories and treating them like the important part of the climbing community they are.

 

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:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  leadership  management  marketing  member retention  operations  staff training 

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Seven of the Best Citizen Climbing Comps in the US

Posted By Emma Walker, Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Best Climbing Competitions

Every year, more members are looking to test their skills as gym climbing grows in popularity. And for those with a competitive streak, there’s no better (or more fun) way to gauge progression than a competition at their local gym. Rallies and meetups at iconic climbing areas are all the rage—just look at the Hueco Rock Rodeo and 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, for example—but why should outdoor crags have all the fun? If you’re looking to start a comp at your gym, look to these seven citizen comps for inspiration.

 

Portland Boulder Rally

The Portland Boulder Rally, held at The Circuit, is among the country’s most beloved climbing events. With a $10,000 cash purse (and tons of raffle prizes and swag being handed out), it’s an aspirational event—and a chance for local boulderers to rub elbows with some of the top athletes in the game.

 

Yank-n-Yard

Albuquerque’s Stone Age Climbing Gym hosts the annual Yank-n-Yard, a major event for the Southwestern climbing community. In addition to the youth comp and competitive categories, there’s an affordable citizen comp—not to mention a beer garden, live music, and awesome after-party, complete with a dyno comp and slacklining.

 

Back2Plastic

Momentum’s Lehi, Utah location looks forward to the Back2Plastic citizen comp every year. The low-key redpoint format, along with four ability-based categories and a masters division, make Back2Plastic a super-approachable comp for members of all ability levels. Momentum Lehi makes the most of its comp night by hosting a “mega demo” and sale on tons of shoes and gear.

 

BKBDay

Brooklyn Boulders throws itself an annual birthday party in Chicago, and it’s not your average climbing comp. BKBDay pulls out all the stops and puts on circus and acroyoga performances, a highline, and sponsored food and drink. The party kicks off with a Do-or-Dyno competition and gives half the proceeds from comp t-shirt sales to the Access Fund.

 

Deadpoint

Salt Lake City’s The Front knows how to throw a Halloween party. Their annual, cleverly-named Deadpoint comp takes place at the end of October, and although there’s a “monster” cash purse, the most coveted prize is the Best Costume honor. (You’d be amazed at the intricate costumes people can boulder in—Disney characters, the Hulk, you name it.)

 

Touchstone Climbing Series

The gym that serves America’s most populated state has community climbing comps down to a science. The Touchstone Climbing Series runs for nine months of the year, and holds events for a wide array of skill levels, both on boulders and ropes. Each gym hosts its own self-scored comp throughout the series, complete with pizza and beer. Events are free for members of its gyms—and just $25 otherwise: a great way to draw in non-members.

 

Iron Maiden

As women’s climbing events and festivals become more popular, there’s increasing demand for women-only competitions, too, and the Iron Maiden delivers. An offshoot of MetroRock’s successful Dark Horse Bouldering Series, Iron Maiden offers team and individual competition. The all-ladies comps (and the fact that the gym has historically donated proceeds to a nonprofit organization) have generated great PR for MetroRock.

 

With the hundreds of climbing facilities now operating in the US and Canada, there’s no shortage of amazing programming and citizen comps out there! What other comps stand out to you? Leave us a comment below to share your thoughts!

 

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:  climbing culture  community development  competitions  customer experience  customer service  marketing  programming  women 

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Where to Begin with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Posted By Emma Walker, Friday, January 4, 2019
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Puzzle

There’s a lot of talk in the climbing industry lately about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI): What will it take to get more people tied in? How can we make climbing more accessible to a larger, more diverse audience? If you know where to begin, incorporating DEI initiatives into your gym’s practices is more approachable than you might think.

 

Offer basic instruction

“When I first walked into a gym,” says Kriste Peoples, “it looked like everybody else automatically knew what they were doing. I never saw any kind of promotion that said, ‘If you’re new to climbing, we’ll show you the ropes!’ That feeds this notion that climbing is really exclusive.” Peoples instructs Women’s Wilderness’ Girls Lead for Life program, a weekly after-school climbing and leadership program for girls. When Peoples started climbing, she didn’t know much about what gear she needed or to how to tie a figure-eight, and she felt intimidated by the lack of information available for newbies. Offering a short class—even a free community night—on how to tie in would have gone a long way. “In my opinion, this is just good business,” Peoples laughs.

 

Partner with Local Organizations

Representation matters. That’s why climbing organizations like Brown Girls Climb (BGC) and Brothers of Climbing were created: so climbers of color would have opportunities to climb in safe spaces. Monserrat Matehuala, a member of the BGC national leadership team (and co-founder of the group’s Colorado chapter), recently helped run a DEI training for Earth Treks in Golden. “Gyms are gatekeepers for the rock climbing community,” she says, lauding Earth Treks for its commitment to DEI. “They’re often the first contact new climbers have with the community, so it matters that they feel welcome there.” Facilities who reach out to the local chapters of these organizations and create space for them—hosting nights when members of those groups have free or reduced-cost gym entry, for example—tells climbers of color they’re welcome all the time.

 

Watch Your Language

Using inclusive language, says Matehuala, is one easy way to make all your members feel welcome. “There’s a difference between being welcoming and being inclusive,” she explains, using greeting language as an example. Matehuala suggests using a non-gendered greeting—“Hello! How’s your day going?”—rather than one that assumes a member’s gender, like “Hey man!” or “Thanks, sir!” She cites the often-used shortening for the word carabiner (many climbers say “biner”) as an example: it may sound innocuous, but that shortening sounds exactly like an ethnic slur. “It’s hard to break a habit, but as educators, it’s really important,” Matehuala explains. Many gyms are choosing to incorporate that change into their learn-to-climb curricula, she says, which has the added benefit of minimizing the jargon new climbers must learn. Another quick step: Take a look at the imagery around your gym, including ads for upcoming clinics and posters of climbers on picturesque routes. If all the photos you see are of white climbers, it’s time for an overhaul.

 

Train Yourself and Your Staff

Ready to take the plunge? Consider hosting a DEI training for your staff facilitated by someone like BGC or the Avarna Group. If it’s not feasible to bring a facilitator to you, the Avarna Group and others are offering some excellent DEI workshops and conference sessions at the 2019 CWA Summit!

 

It's also important to make professional development resources available to your staff, model inclusivity, and have regular conversations about the importance of DEI. BGC has a number of resources available on their website, and James Edward Mills’ The Adventure Gap and Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces are excellent primers on the importance and value of DEI in the outdoors.

 

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:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  diversity  leadership  management  staff training  workplace diversity 

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Cultivating Space: 10 Steps to Create and Maintain Cultural Relevancy

Posted By Elyse Rylander, Monday, November 26, 2018
Cultural Relevancy

Hello CWA world!

 

Before we go any further, I want make a confession...I do not at all consider myself a climber. I know, I know. You're probably wondering "well then why on Earth is she writing a blog post for the CLIMBING Wall Association?!" This is a fair question, so I'll tell y'all a little about myself first and then we'll dive into this month's topic of cultivating inclusive gym spaces, which is in fact something I know a fair bit about.

 

My name is Elyse Rylander and I use she/her pronouns. I was born on Sauk, Meskwaki, Miami and Ho-Chunk ancestral land (otherwise known as Southern Wisconsin), and took my first canoe trip down the Wisconsin River at the tender age of four weeks. From then on, all of my summers and winters were spent outside canoeing, kayaking, camping, or downhill skiing with my family. In 2006 I started working as an outdoor educator and then paddle sport retail associate. From there I moved to Alutiiq ancestral land (a.k.a. Valdez, AK) where I guided sea kayaking and camping trips in the summers and worked at a climbing gym on Suquamish and Duwamish ancestral land west of Seattle on Bainbridge Island in the winter.

 

Throughout these years I founded and grew my non-profit, OUT There Adventures, whose mission is to connect the queer community, primarily queer young people, and the outdoors. OTA has now completed four years of programming and also birthed the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit, of which we just held the second annual gathering on Ohlone and Coastal Miwok land north of San Francisco. It is at the intersection of this work around equity, and in particular queer equity, in the outdoors that I have also found myself consulting for the last year as a Partner of The Avarna Group and working with many amazing outdoor organizations and companies committed to furthering outdoor pathways to equity for all.

 

I was privileged to come of age in the outdoor industry, and it has been fantastic to see the growth in equity work happening in that time, with the most profound change happening in the last few years. While I will always have a bias towards paddle sports, it was my time running youth programs at Island Rock Gym that gave me insight into the amazing potential climbing gyms have to continue to create pathways to equity across all outdoor interests.

 

As they say, with great power comes great responsibility, which means you may be wondering exactly how your gym can engage in this work further. So let's dive in.

 

Step One: Define the work.

The words diversity, equity, and inclusion get tossed around with immense frequency, which means their meanings can vary across time and place. At The Avarna Group we have crafted definitions for these words, and others, that we find work well in the context of outdoor spaces, so without further ado, here they are:

 

Diversity: The differences between us – based on which we experience advantages or encounter barriers to opportunities and resources.

 

Inclusion: Celebrating, valuing, and amplifying voices, perspectives, styles, values, and identities that have been marginalized.

 

Equity: An approach based on fairness to ensuring everyone has equal access to the same opportunities; recognizes that advantages and barriers exist. Equity is not the same as equality.

 

Cultural Competence: Your ability to interact effectively across various dimensions of diversity; to flex with difference.

 

Cultural Relevance(y): What you do and how you do it is relevant to more people and communities.

 

If that has your head spinning, don't worry. Sometimes folks find this framing helpful:

 

Inclusion is what we do.
Equity is how we do it.
Cultural competence is what we need to do it well.
Diversity & cultural relevancy are outcomes.

 

Take some time to sit with those definitions, and then allow yourself to critically analyze where you and your gym are in terms of engaging with these concepts. This will help you further uncover some of the why's, what's, and how's of this work.

 

Step Two: Get Right With Yourself

This work truly begins and ends with all of us. Without taking the time to assess our own privileges, lived experiences, and biases, cultivating spaces of true inclusivity becomes near impossible. Just like one has to become acutely aware of their strengths and limitations as it relates to climbing, the same logic must be applied to each of our own individual strengths, but more importantly our blind spots. So take the time to be challenged and humbled, to make mistakes, to correct those mistakes, to make even more mistakes, and then repeat the whole process.

 

Step Three: Bring It to Work

Since companies and institutions are made up of lots of people, the next logical step in the process after we've all done the hard work of assessing our individual biases is to bring that knowledge to our places of work. This can take many forms, including one of the first steps of simply noticing who is accessing your gym spaces and what the demographic similarities are amongst those members/customers.

 

Step Four: Consider the Consumer Experience Continuum

It can seem overwhelming to look at an entire business and try to parse out exactly what, where, and how equity work can occur. It can be helpful to think of the possibilities along a continuum wherein we begin with a consumer's first touch point with the gym and end with that consumer turning into a member or a staff person. How does that experience look and feel different for someone based on their identity? How is that process leaving out portions of potential new customers or employees?

 

Step Five: Marketing

For new members or first-time users, the first interaction they may have with your company is through your website or your social media accounts. Looking at these mediums through the lens of an underrepresented person can provide immense insight into how your gym may initially be perceived.

 

Step Six: Hiring and Retention

Earlier I broke down some of the biggest buzzwords as it relates to creating inviting spaces for more identities, including the idea of diversity. You may have noticed that The Avarna Group prefers to frame these concepts in relation to each other in a way that specifically notes that diversity is not the thing we lead with, but rather an outcome of all the other good work we do. Many times we have seen companies and organizations attempt to solve their diversity problem by hiring "diverse" people, and many times we have seen these organizations thus exacerbate the problem. Consider not only how to bring in staff with different identities and lived experiences, but how to actually keep them there for the long run.

 

Step Seven: Built Environment

Consider the messages that are being sent by your facility’s physical space, or built environment. We are seeing progress in this arena around gender inclusivity, and specifically the neutralizing of bathrooms, locker rooms, etc. Beyond this, consider what images are seen once a customer is inside. Who is being represented and who is not? What sort of culture is perpetuated by what you hang on your walls? If your gym is still in the planning stages, how can its location and layout play a role in welcoming in new communities?

 

Step Eight: Programs

I founded an organization whose soul purpose is to provide outdoor opportunities/programs for people who often self-select out of such spaces because of their identities. As a result of my experiences, I cannot stress enough how significant it is to be able to offer ways for underrepresented identities to come together in a space that was created by them and for them, sometimes exclusively away from other more privileged identities. The next question for your gym is to consider what programs are already offered and how they can be made more truly inclusive for any identity. Sometimes we see this manifest through partnerships.

 

Step Nine: Partnerships

Just like climbing partners, good business partnerships can be hard to come by. However, partnerships offer climbing gyms, and the industry, some of the greatest potentials to continue to shift the paradigm. I would highly encourage your gym to not even consider going down this road until you've done some serious work on the previous eight steps. If you invite a new community or group into your space in hopes that they will light the DEI way for you, you will undoubtedly cause great damage that may set the whole process back years. If you feel you're ready to engage in this work authentically, with humility and initially ratchet back expectations of rapid increases to the bottom line, then my next piece of advice is to think big and outside the box.

 

Step Ten: Rinse and Repeat

Simply put: repeat. There will never be an arrival at perfection as it relates to equity because the conversation continues to evolve along with our needs as humans. It is imperative to understand that this work needs to be constantly reflected upon and reworked in order to remain true and relevant. But don't worry, just like we've learned to grow and get better with new gear or new techniques that help us reach new heights, so to will we learn how to grow and get better with this set of skills and tools.

 

Elyse Rylander Head ShotAbout Elyse Rylander

Elyse holds a B.A. in Communication Arts, Gender Studies, and LGBT Studies from the University of Wisconsin. She is also a Master of Arts in Adventure Education candidate at Prescott College. Elyse has been an outdoor educator and guide since 2006 and has taken thousands of youth and adults on outdoor adventures across the Midwest, West Coast and Alaska. Elyse founded and currently runs OUT There Adventures and is the co-organizer of the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  company culture  diversity  workplace diversity 

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