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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Communicate Early and Often

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

 

Set Clear Expectations

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

 

Reassure Members—and Communicate Your Value

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

 

Be as Transparent as Possible

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

 

Show Customers Where You’re Coming From

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

 

Anticipate Questions—and Come Prepared With Answers

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

 

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

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

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

 

Tags:  community development  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer service  leadership  marketing  member communications  staff training 

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Tech Tools to Run Your Climbing Gym Virtually During and After COVID-19

Posted By Caleb Fitzgerald, Friday, April 17, 2020
Climbing Tech Strategy

As COVID-19 has shuttered climbing gyms across the globe, gym owners and managers are stuck determining how to run their business virtually. Climbing gyms by nature are an in-person service. Identifying ways to continue engaging your community is crucial to weathering a long-term closure.

 

After identifying strategies and ideas on how to engage your community, you’ll likely need to find software to assist in collecting information remotely, creating content, and organizing information. I’ve compiled a list of recommended software and broken out the benefits of each as it relates to climbing gym operations. When installed correctly, each of these recommendations will continue to be helpful after reopening. I have included a few specific examples where a recommendation might fit into climbing gym operations.

 

Regardless of which tools are used, all technology should complete two goals for your company. First, the customer needs to find the new process easier. Second, the new technology must beat having a human do the task or process.

 

All these software products are recommendations of my own based on how either I have used or seen them used in climbing gym operations. I encourage you to read through each company feature list and determine what will work best for your specific needs. Lastly, I am not affiliated with any of the companies who offer these software products.

 

Collect Information

Climbing gyms, and frankly all businesses, need to collect information almost every time there is an interaction with a customer. Climbing gyms often collect information to schedule a class, edit a membership, survey customers, or sell products.

 

When looking into software to collect information, it is important to use software that integrates well into your existing workflows. For example, when a customer enters their email it is automatically put into your email marketing software.

 

Typeform Google Forms Formstack Comparison

 

Recommendation – Typeform

 

I personally use and highly recommend the software Typeform. It is well-designed and acts more as a conversation than a typical form. I find its simplicity both helpful for customers and for speed in getting a form up and running. Typeform has 100+ integrations to other applications, a crucial feature to trigger downstream operations.

 

Example use case: Use Typeform to register a participant in a climbing competition. Then, based on the participants responses on competition category, Typeform tags them for an automated email campaign. Emails then go out with segmented content. Those in harder divisions receive content about workout classes and retail purchases while those in easier divisions receive content about introduction to movement classes and community groups. These tags can also be used in the future for updates about the climbing competition in case there is a need to contact one division but not the others.

 

Create Content

Transitioning to a virtual business means focusing many more resources on media for social posts and emails. As this is the main interaction your gym will have with your customers during closure, focus on well-designed content. Luckily, drag and drop design software has made this very easy for those of us who are design-challenged.

 

Canva Spark Snappa Comparison

 

Recommendation – Canva

 

Canva encompasses all the best features of a drag and drop design software. Starting out, the tutorial helps show the workflow that you will want to follow. Templates are titled with terms that make sense to search. In fact, the comparison graphics in this article are made using Canva and took less than an hour to make. At $12.95 a month, it is a great investment to improve your brand’s design.

 

Example use case: Build a cross-channel promotion that has unified design elements. Using a Facebook and Instagram post/story template, create your sale content for social media. Then, take those same design elements and use a banner template for your email campaign. Finally, use a postcard or poster size template with the same style and colors and print a handful for your front desk.

 

Stream Content Publicly

Many gyms are offering online, live-streamed fitness classes and yoga. Most gyms have elected to make these free for anyone to participate in. These classes are often streamed using Facebook Live, Instagram Live, or YouTube Live. All these options are free and easy to use. One is not necessarily better than the other.

 

When determining how to livestream, consider the channels that you typically reach your customer base through first. For instance, if you tend to interact with your customers via Facebook – use Facebook Live.

 

There is one exception to following your customers. If you are intending to co-stream with another person, Instagram Live will likely be your only simple option. Co-streams are great for interviews, Q&As with two people, or highlighting an athlete or business. There is an added bonus that in a co-stream, notifications go out to both users’ followers, effectively amplifying the reach of both accounts. There are ways to co-stream on other channels, but they often require more advanced software and occasionally hardware that is out of the scope of this article.

 

Stream Content Privately or Behind a Paywall

If you are interested in offering classes or other live-stream offerings as a paid service, Zoom and Crowdcast will likely be your best options.

 

Zoom starts at $14.99/mo. I use Zoom and find it very helpful for business-related events. It was really designed for business meetings and sales calls. Only now, mostly by necessity, are they beginning to adapt to other groups. Zoom is the best option currently for any livestream where you want your participants to talk with each other. If you are hosting a webinar and have the budget, I find Crowdcast far more user-friendly and chock-full of features that help promote livestreams.

 

Crowdcast starts at $29/mo. Designed as a platform for creatives to livestream music, art, and other related content, Crowdcast has tons of features to run paid livestreams. Users do not have to download any software and can login via any browser, Android, or iOS-based system. Payments can be charged at fixed prices, sliding scales, or via a pay-what-you-can system. If you decide to use Crowdcast for free events it also allows for multi-streaming. This is where you run your livestream through Crowdcast and the software streams it directly to your other channels simultaneously.

 

Regarding youth programming, both software options can lock the event via password.

 

Run Social Media Efficiently

Social media is an integral part of most climbing gyms. Running multiple accounts across platforms can become tedious and difficult. By using a social media scheduling software, you can log into one account, one dashboard, and cross-post easily.

 

Even more, scheduling software provides crucial insights into the best times to post for maximum engagement. Most climbing gyms do not need to overhaul their entire social media plan to reach more people. Instead, they just need to post when their followers are online.

 

Later Sprout Social Buffer Comparison

 

Recommendation – Later

 

Later’s most compelling feature is the linkin.bio option that gives businesses the ability to link posts to outside websites without having to change the actual link in bio. This works by pulling all your posts from your feed then mirroring them through the linkin.bio link. From here, users can click the post they are interested in and they will be redirected to the link that you choose. Other great features include optimum scheduling times, a media library that links to Google Drive and Dropbox, and a dedicated email for staff to upload content for posting.

 

Example use case: Staff can email media directly into Later for the social media manager to post. Each week, the social media manager can spend an hour or two scheduling out the next week. Any sales or announcements can be coordinated to go out on the same day at the optimum time for followers per channel. Information about what content is performing best can guide what you spend your time and energy on creating later. For example, if posts with cool overhanging moves do better than retail store hero shots ask your staff to get more photos of overhanging moves.

 

Summary

Overall, taking the time to determine what software could make you and your staff’s lives easier will pay dividends through the COVID-19 closure and beyond. Simple changes like reducing the number of steps to register for a competition or timing your posts to go out when customers are scrolling through their social media feeds are easy to do with the right tools.

 

Particularly now when we cannot see each other in-person, it is critical to improve your tech strategy and engage customers digitally.

 

Links to all software mentioned in article: Typeform, Google Forms, Formstack, Canva, Spark, Snappa, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Zoom, Crowdcast, Later, Sprout Social, Buffer

 

For more information on how to define and execute your tech strategy, watch the recording of my Community Call! You'll learn how to identify strategies and tech tools that will put your gym in a better position to get back on your feet. (By the way, you'll need to be signed into your member account to watch. Don't have one? Sign up!)

 

WATCH WEBINAR

 

Caleb Fitzgerald Head ShotAbout the Author

Caleb Fitzgerald is the founder of Black Gallina Consulting. Trained as an engineer, he now uses those engineering concepts to help business leaders navigate complex problems. He spent five years as a climbing guide in the Midwest. Nowadays, you’ll find him on his favorite kinds of climbs in the Pacific Northwest – tall multi-pitch climbs.

 

Tags:  community development  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  marketing  member communications  programming  tech strategy 

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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 Laura Allured, Friday, April 3, 2020
Updated: Tuesday, July 14, 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

Read More →

 

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 some of these categories, so be sure to read the follow-up articles linked above. Also, 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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Comfort, Progress, and Challenge in Routesetting

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Monday, March 9, 2020
Andreas Lerch Routesetting

As routesetting continues to develop as a profession and a career, it’s becoming an increasingly important part of modern gyms. With that role comes increased pressure on the quality of setting and the experience of climbers.

 

But the goals of routesetting aren’t always easy to balance — good setting needs to both challenge and entertain, to offer puzzling sequences that remain rewarding. What’s more, most gyms must cater to climbers of widely varying levels.

 

To get some clarity on balancing the demands, I got in touch with Andreas Lerch, Head Routesetter for Vancouver’s The Hive.

 

Andreas oversees routesetting operations for three facilities in the busy Vancouver area, with a fourth location slated for Winnipeg. All Hive locations are bouldering only.

 

Willis Kuelthau: How do you think of your relationship to members and climbers? Are you here to challenge, amuse, both?

Andreas Lerch: I think of my relationship with members and climbers as more than just bringing a product to them — we are bringing an experience. As a crew, we work to challenge and engage the climber as much as possible.

 

With the steady increase of climbers and members, I spend a lot of time balancing what beginner climbers think is fun with what experienced climbers think is fun. Setters often forget that sometimes beginners don't need to be challenged the same way as your strongest members, and we need to get them to the top so that they get hooked and keep coming back for more.

 

With that being said, we also have a lot of strong climbers who need to constantly be challenged in other ways.

 

WK: Is there a tension between challenge and entertainment? How do you challenge climbers while ensuring that they enjoy the experience?

AL: I wouldn't say there is tension between challenge and entertainment; I think they can sometimes go hand in hand.

 

I think a big focus on challenging climbers comes from empathy and understanding what it feels like to be a beginner all over again. We do our best to continue to introduce volumes on easier boulders, as well as encourage the use of big “fun” holds. We also try to ensure that there are climbs of all levels on all wall angles.

 

Another way we challenge climbers is setting specific movements in a range of grades, such as an easy mantle, medium mantle, and hard mantle boulder. I think seeing people work their way up the same climb with 3+ variations is a neat challenge.

 

WK: Different climbers and members have different needs. How do you balance setting for hardcore climbers with a less experienced crowd?

AL: I use the motto “Fun, Fair, and Functional”. We also have a lot of diversity on the setting team from gender to height. We have people who are five feet tall on our team all the way up to 6’ 2”.

 

Between the three facilities, we have over twelve setters. So, we have a lot of different brains to pull ideas from. Since we do have people come in with all skill levels, we manage this by setting a variety of styles.

 

We also have other outlets for members who crush, such as the Moon board and Stokt board. I often find the hardcore climbers to be the ones who climb the least and train the most, so having an awesome training space is key.

 

WK: Does outdoor climbing inform your setting? Do you try to prepare members for the outdoors, or leave it as a separate discipline?

AL: We do some gym-to-crag seminars, but in terms of the setting, we don’t generally do any of the indoor-to-outdoor comparisons.

 

We try to bring moves you may see outside into the gym, and I think as a climber, climbing outside can bring inspiration to my setting.

 

I like to think that we prepare members for the outdoors. However, I think we have many climbers who would rather just climb inside their entire life and don't care much for outdoor climbing.

 

WK: How do grades fit into this conversation? A useful tool for progression, or a subjective measure that can hold climbers back?

AL: Grades are always a hot topic to talk about. We use a hex system: one-hex through six-hex. It’s a circuit system — in each hex, there are three V grades. Our circuits do overlap, so there’s overlap in all of the circuits.

 

I think that grades can be a useful tool for progression if problems are never changing. I think due to the number of styles climbing has to offer, grades will always be super subjective.

 

For example, I don’t excel at slab climbing, but put me in the steep on pinches and I will do great.

 

I think benchmarks on the Moon board can be helpful to see whether or not you are improving as those climbs always stay the same.

 

But I think for sure grades are always going to be a challenge. It’s something we constantly struggle with as setters. As a crew, we’ll get a lot stronger and the grades won’t show that. It’s my job to say: “Hey guys, you’re getting really strong. You gotta tone it down a little bit.”

 

I also find that the conditions of a climb affect the grades. Something that we do is we put up “New” plaques for a week, which are ungraded plaques. And that allows a week for climbs to be climbed, and we can then adjust the climb to a more appropriate grade if it got harder (or in some cases easier).

 

It also really encourages people to climb things they would never try, which is pretty rad. I see new people get on a six-hex, and I’m like “Oh my gosh, this is going to be interesting.” But it’s cool, because they don’t know the grade and they’re just having fun. Whereas if there were a grade on it, they wouldn’t even touch it.

 

We also try our best to keep the grades consistent among the gyms, which is another one of the big challenges as we have a decent amount of multi-gym users.

 

WK: Are there any unique setting advantages or challenges that come with being a bouldering-only gym?

AL: For sure. We don’t have to be on ropes, so there’s a lot less of the rope safety stuff that we have to be worried about.

 

It’s a lot easier to teach people how to set unique movements and challenge our routesetters when we can easily tweak moves on the ground. It’s really hard to teach people on a rope, when you’re like: “You know the crux up there by the third draw…” You can just get up on a ladder and swap holds and really explain things.

 

So, I find that the teaching aspect is really enhanced in a bouldering facility. And not sitting in a harness for a long time is awesome.

 

WK: Are there ways that you think climbers could get more out of their gym experience? What do you wish more climbers knew about routesetting?

AL: I think there are many ways climbers can get more out of their gym experience. We strive to create a strong community at the Hive and host a lot of community-based events to bring people together. We also offer some awesome courses for climbers to up their skills.

 

As far as climbers understanding routesetting better, I’ve been toying with this thought for a while. I feel it is important for people to understand what goes into routesetting, and there are many avenues that one could go down in terms of sharing this with the community.

 

I wish more climbers knew how much work goes into creating a climb, and that we aren’t setting selfish sandbagged boulders that are for giants. We spend a lot of time as a crew to create an awesome experience that will keep climbers coming back.

 

I think one aspect of this is having management know what the setting process looks like, so when asked they can explain it to members, as our routesetting team is not always around. The more people who understand the process the better.

 

WK: How important is member-setter communication? Are there any tools or feedback methods that you particularly value?

AL: I think member feedback is super important. If you are not listening to your members, they will find another gym that will.

 

Member retention is key to the growth of a gym. In order to keep members, you need to listen to what they have to say and keep them in the loop when changes are being made. I have spent a lot of time over the years talking to members and reading member feedback comments.

 

We recently did a survey across all gyms and got some awesome feedback and followed up with a great FAQ. I would highly recommend this approach.

 

I also reach out to our ambassadors. Our ambassadors climb at multiple facilities regularly, and we send out a feedback form quarterly to get their input. They are all quite experienced and notice trends that the setters may overlook, such as the tops of boulders getting spooky or an excess of bad feet on all the problems.

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

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

 

Tags:  community development  customer experience  customer satisfaction  member retention  operations  routesetting  routesetting management 

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6 Tips for Collecting Member Feedback

Posted By Emma Walker, Monday, March 9, 2020
Member Feedback

Your members represent so much more than just your facility’s earnings. They’re the lifeblood of your gym’s community. Still, many facilities don’t yet have a robust strategy for capturing feedback from customers and members. There’s a lot you can learn from your members to improve your facility—the opportunity is much larger than just fielding comments about routesetting.

 

5.Life collects all kinds of information from its members, says Program Manager Eli Collinson: members’ impressions of their routesetting curve, if the number or topics of classes offered should change, and suggestions for areas of improvement. Building a member feedback loop that creates buy-in from members also means making your facility more member-friendly. Here’s what you need to know.

 

1. Be Proactive

Sender One facilities collect feedback from its members “at least once a month,” says Marketing Manager Crystal Tan, adding that they also have suggestion cards members can fill out anytime.

 

“We try to consolidate our surveys into one big survey for bigger-picture things, and then do spot checks with groups about their experiences throughout the year,” Collinson says. “In 2020, we plan to use Net Promoter Score surveys to follow up with new customers and class participants after their visit or class.”

 

2. Keep It Simple for Members—and for You

Collinson has had success collecting data with online tools (they use Microsoft forms). “Collecting the data digitally makes it easier to aggregate the feedback and see what percentage of respondents have similar feedback for us,” he explains.

 

Online tools are great, but don’t expect people to download anything or take a bunch of steps to answer your questions. “We have had trouble getting customer to use apps or similar systems for that feedback,” Collinson says. “We want to avoid long surveys and too many surveys,” adds Tan.

 

3. Allow for Anonymity

It can be tough to provide constructive feedback when your name is attached—especially in the early stages of building a member feedback loop, when members haven’t yet learned they can trust that their feedback will be taken seriously. Make it as easy as possible for members to provide you with feedback.

 

“We have boxes at the front desk where people can leave anonymous notes,” says Monica Aranda, Director of Member Services at Touchstone Climbing & Fitness. “We also have anonymous text service at some gyms, and they can email us anytime through the website.”

 

4. Acknowledge Feedback

Even when you receive feedback anonymously, it’s possible to let your membership know you’re addressing it. “We respond to members directly on the [suggestion] cards and publish them on our community board,” Tan says. “Depending on the suggestion, we note if we're working on a solution, if the solution is happening, or if we cannot achieve what they want––and why.” This technique has the added benefit of answering a question other members probably have.

 

When members submit feedback to Touchstone, “we contact them directly with a personal email or phone call,” Aranda says.

 

5. Take Action—and Tell Members About It

5.Life fielded numerous comments about the difficulty of finding partners, so they implemented two new partner-finding systems. Tan can also recall tons of instances where Sender One acted on feedback—and members were thrilled. “At one of our facilities, we have time-restricted street parking, so someone suggested that we make a courtesy announcement to let people know when to move their cars,” she explains. “Our main parking lot clears out around that time, so now we give customers a heads up through our PA system so they can quickly resume their climbing!”

 

6. Reward Member Engagement

For a while, Collinson noticed a trend of members complaining about dirty holds. “We suspect it’s because brushing is not common practice in our community, so we’re examining including a brush with a new membership signup to try and increase the number of people brushing holds on their chosen routes.”

 

This can also mean rewarding existing members. “We usually raffle a month of free membership for those that participate in the survey,” Collinson says, pointing out that it’s a relatively small cost for the facility, but is a strong motivator for members to participate.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

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

 

Tags:  community development  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  marketing  member retention  operations 

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Activities for Adult Meetup Programs

Posted By Bix Firer and Pat Brehm, Monday, February 17, 2020
Activities for Adult Meetups

Climbing gyms are in the midst of expanding program offerings to ensure that their members’ needs are being met: fitness classes, climbing skill clinics, and community events, among other offerings.

 

A popular addition to these client services is member meetups for adults, usually structured to provide a time for members to socialize, climb, and meet new partners. At the Headwall Group, we’ve worked with many gyms who struggle to balance structured and free time to make these meetups feel meaningful and purposeful.

 

Here are a few tips and two activities that will add a lot to your next adult climbing meetup.

 

Make sure that your members know when the meetup starts and ends by having interaction with your staff:

It is essential that attendees feel led through a meetup and understand the role your gym plays in facilitating it. This can be accomplished by book-ending your meetup with gym staff.

 

Begin your program with a staff introduction and brief introductory activity that gets the group talking, moving, and sharing names. Be sure all meetup participants know your dedicated staff’s name and how to get in touch with them during the event.

 

At the end of each meetup, we suggest the same staff facilitate a way for folks to stay in touch with the gym and each other. Having participants sign a contact list after or developing a Facebook group for meet-up participants allows continued contact.

 

Facilitate new participant introductions:

Following is an easy and fun way to get folks interacting and familiar with each other. We suggest facilitating it in a quieter area, away from the hustle and bustle of the gym floor, for best results.

 

Activity Name: Beta Name Game

Category: Ice-Breaker, Introduction
Objective: Climbers will learn the names of the others in the group and will be introduced to key climbing concepts.
Equipment Needed: Enough space for the group to stand in a circle.

 

Rules:

  1. Climbers stand in a circle and are instructed that only one person should speak at a time.
  2. Each climber will take turns saying their name and their favorite climbing technique or hold type.
  3. That climber will then physically act out that technique or hold type. This can be done by pantomiming the movement.
  4. Then, together the entire group will repeat that person’s name AND movement.
  5. After each climber’s turn, the entire group will start with the first climber and repeat the name and movement of each climber, all the way around the circle until they get to the next climber in line.

Don’t be scared to add a structured activity:

While it might feel intimidating to facilitate a game for adults attending a meeting, they are there for the opportunity to meet new people. And, in our experience, adults who attend programs like meetups are open and excited to participate in new, fun activities.

 

The game listed below gets folks to share names, develop some common language, and step into a social, learning atmosphere. This activity sets your meetup participants off on their own, gets them interacting, and ensures they’re having fun!

 

Activity Name: Team Points

Category: Skill Building
Objective: Climbers’ cumulative V-Points or YDS points will reach a predetermined goal.
Equipment Needed: Bouldering area or top rope/lead climbing area with a high concentration of problems/routes with a wide range of grades. Pens, paper, and clipboards if available.

 

Rules:

  1. In a set amount of time (15 minutes to an hour) climbers must attempt to climb as many boulder problems or routes as possible.
  2. Each time an individual climber successfully climbs a problem or route they will add the number of V or YDS points to their running total. (Ex: If a climber climbs a V1, V2, and V3, they would have 6 points). Climbers keep track of their own progress on a piece of paper if available.
  3. Climbers can only climb a given route or problem ONE time each.
  4. When the timer runs out, climbers who are actively climbing may attempt to finish the route/problem they are on, otherwise all climbing stops.

How to Instruct: Tell the team that they will be working as individuals to contribute to a team goal. Explain the rules and announce the goal. The Point Goal should be challenging but attainable and the actual number will depend on the skill level of the group. Tell the team that if they reach the goal they will win the prize (in the case of an adult meetup, the gym could give away a buddy pass or piece of swag). Reconvene as a group at this end of independent activity to award prizes, answer questions that have come up, and give participants a chance to share contact information.

 

Bix Firer and Pat Brehm Head ShotAbout the Headwall Group

The Headwall Group distills the lessons learned as educators and leaders working in dynamic and high risk environments and brings them to youth-serving organizations. The Headwall group provides trainings, consultation, and curriculum development services that are rooted in our experience as outdoor experiential educators for climbing gyms, summer camps, and schools.

 

The Headwall Group was founded by Bix Firer and Pat Brehm. Bix Firer (MA, University of Chicago) is currently the Director of Outdoor Programs at College of Idaho and has worked as a wilderness educator, trainer, facilitator, and experiential educator for over a decade. Pat Brehm works as a professional organizational trainer and has spent his career as a climbing coach, facilitator, and outdoor educator.

 

Tags:  community development  customer experience  programming 

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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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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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How to Advocate and Bring Mental Health Awareness to Your Gym

Posted By Megan Walsh, Friday, November 1, 2019
Climbing Gym Birthday Parties

Physical activity has been linked to mental health benefits for decades. In a 1985 study published in Public Health Reports, three researchers found that physical activity not only helps alleviate moderate to severe depression but can also help with self-esteem issues, social skills, and stress response. Numerous internet articles and peer-reviewed studies continue to suggest that physical activity can dramatically reduce the effects of depression and anxiety while also improving an individual’s self-image and their ability to improve intentional decision making.

 

More recently, a group in Austria called Institut für Therapeutisches Klettern (Institute for Therapeutic Climbing) began integrating bouldering with therapy. Their study showed that the group of patients who participated in a 3-hour weekly bouldering session improved their BDI-II score, used to measure the severity of depression, by one severity grade–up 6.27 points compared to the control group who only improved by 1.4 points.

 

We know that physical activity, and now bouldering, have beneficial implications on mental health–and the topic of mental health has become far less taboo in recent years. So how can you integrate mental health awareness into your gym?

 

1. Schedule a Mental Health Focused Workshop or Event

Chances are you already have mental health professionals as members. Send out an email asking members if they’re interested in hosting (or attending) a workshop. At Momentum Indoor Climbing in Salt Lake City, one popular workshop addresses anxiety while climbing, while another focuses on balancing a difficult training schedule with a busy life. Whether you offer individual events or workshops that are part of a larger series, an emphasis on mental health in your events program can have a significant impact on your members.

 

2. Start a Bouldering League

Community is key in advocating for mental health. Members want to feel connected to the climbing community and hosting a bouldering league is a great way to facilitate that connection. A league strengthens the connection friend groups have with each other while also creating a space to challenge and encourage each other on a weekly basis. It also offers a structured opportunity to meet and interact with other climbers from different teams and build relationships through trying-hard and friendly competition.

 

3. Create a Specific Space for Community Development

At Wooden Mountain Bouldering Gym in Loveland, CO, all three owners are committed to developing a community and “third space” for their members. Adam Lum, co-owner of Wooden Mountain says, “People have work and they have home, but ever-increasingly there’s not a third space–they don’t have a church or a way to connect with the community.” At Wooden Mountain, community development space looks like an old kitchen table, a few comfy chairs, and board games.

 

No matter what your hangout space looks like, its mere existence provides an anchor of community life within your facility. The best “third places” share a few characteristics that set them up to be a community hub. For example, consider how you can make your space playful, accessible, welcoming, accommodating, and accepting. For more guidance, check out the Project for Public Spaces.

 

4. Advertise Courses That Promote Mental Health

Whether it’s Veterans dealing with PTSD or individuals experiencing disadvantages or disabilities, there are non-profits across the country that help individuals manage their mental health. The Phoenix, a free sober-active community, uses climbing programs as a way of promoting sober-living, while Adaptive Adventures offers climbing clubs and outdoor climbing experiences for climbers with disabilities.

 

Promoting local non-profits that integrate climbing and outdoor experiences with mental health helps strengthen ties within your community and offers members a way to connect with climbers of similar backgrounds and experiences. Even a simple social media shout-out for these non-profits or organizations says to members, “We’re a mental health ally.”

 

5. Offer Yoga and Meditation Classes

According to a Harvard Health study, practicing yoga reduces stress by “modulat[ing] stress response systems,” and can also reduce muscle tension. These are added benefits for climbers who also require flexibility for reaching difficult holds and being able to breathe in the midst of a challenging sequence. Yoga allows practitioners to bring awareness to the body–a critical need for climbers of all abilities.

 

Pick a Strategy and Get Started!

If you haven’t implemented opportunities for members to focus on mental health, any of these suggestions are a great place to start. Whether you offer a 6-week yoga session, invite a local professional to give a talk, or share local organizations on your social media channels, you’ll strengthen your gym’s identity as a space for mental health growth and conversations. If you have taken steps to facilitate mental health conversations and practices, let us know in the comments!

 

Megan Walsh Head ShotAbout the Author

Megan Walsh is a freelance writer and social media consultant based out of Salt Lake City, UT. Her work has appeared in a variety of outdoor publications like Climbing Magazine, Utah Adventure Journal, The Dyrt, and Misadventures Magazine. When she's not writing or climbing, you'll likely find her curled up with a book near a campfire, backcountry skiing in the Wasatch, or watching re-runs of The Office.

 

Tags:  community development  company culture  customer experience  customer service  leadership  operations  programming  youth team 

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