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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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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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Building Brand Awareness for Your Climbing Gym

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

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

 

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

 

What Is Brand Awareness and How to Build It

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

 

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

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

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

 

Building Brand Awareness Through Social Media

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Brand Awareness to Brand Recognition

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Conclusion

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

 

Megan Walsh Head ShotAbout the Author

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

 

Tags:  branding  community development  marketing  member acquisition 

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Climbing Gym Programming 101

Posted By Nicole Brandt, Monday, October 7, 2019
Climbing Gym Programming

Are you a gym with programs that haven’t changed in a while, OR a gym that has programs and is always creating the next best thing, OR are you looking to start a gym and are trying to decide what programming to include? Whatever the answer, this article will help you think through your programming to ensure it’s aligned with your goals.

 

As an industry, we have a tendency to lump all programming together or we only differentiate between youth and adult. Our youth categories tend to be a little more fleshed out with distinctions of entry, advanced, and competitive levels. It would be more powerful to have categories for all programming and a strategic approach to what you provide in your facility.

 

As you look at the following categories, consider what your gym currently has, what you might want to develop, and what you absolutely do not want to have. One of the best ways to conclude if you will have a program in a category is to know your why.

 

Patagonia’s why, captured in their mission statement, provides a standout example: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

 

Knowing “WHY” will help you understand if a program is a good fit for your target customer, your facility, and your identity as a gym. Simon Sinek defines in the golden circle of Why, How and What, that every organization knows what they do, some know how they do it, and he challenges you to go further and know WHY you do something.

 

The why is the purpose and belief behind inspired organizations. Regardless if you have one location or many, a clear why always creates more success.

 

Programming Categories for Adults

  • Climbing instruction
    • Gym basics and belaying
    • Milestones classes
    • Technique classes
    • Intermediate and advanced programming
  • Training for climbing
  • Fitness (general and climbing fitness)
  • Yoga/ Pilates
  • Events
  • Competitions
  • Series

Programming Categories for Youth

  • Recreational programs entry and advanced - non competing teams
  • Competition programs - sanctioned competition teams
  • Camps for recreational and training purpose
  • Competitions (Recreational, sanctioned, leagues, category in citizen comp)
  • Youth events (Lock ins, youth bouldering league, clinics, school events)
  • Family events (Birthday parties, carnivals, family instruction, etc.)

 

As you evaluate which categories of programs are right for your facility, make sure you consider your target customer, physical space, program planning, product launch, and evaluation.

 

Target Customer

Once you know your why, you can consider which programs are right for your facility(s). The first step is to understand your target customer. Answer the following questions to learn more about your target customer.

  • Are you trying to attract a gym full of millennials, families, youth, young professionals, or a pie chart of all of the above?
  • What is the vibe in your gym and who does it most resonate with? What music are you playing? What is your décor?
  • What does your facility offer that other facilities in the area do not?
  • How does your facility design align with who you hope to attract? For example, are your walls too high for beginners? Does your setting match the needs of experienced climbers?
  • Do your goals reflect the style of outdoor climbing popular in your region, as well as the progression of the sport?
  • Does the facility encourage performance or socialization? Does it allow for programming to happen without distraction?
  • What are the biggest challenges your target customer group faces? What are their greatest needs? What problems can you help them solve with your programming?

To take your understanding of your customers to the next level, consider building out personas. This process will give you better insight into the needs of your customers, which is incredibly helpful as you make business decisions. There are many how-to guides out there, so do your research. How to Create Customer Personas That Breathe Life Into Your Marketing from Inc. is a good place to start.

 

Ideally, your programming is helping to attract more of the customer that you want in your facility and not causing friction with the customer you attract the most of. If programming and operations are competing for different customers, it’s bound to impact both users.

 

For example, consider what threshold of impact from youth programming your facility can sustain, and if you pass that threshold, determine what steps you can take, such as capping enrollment or even adding a youth-specific facility.

 

Physical Space

Know how much physical space is available outside of general membership use. Most climbing gyms are built with an emphasis on member use. If you did not design physical programming space for youth or adults – such as additional education bays or areas, space that can be closed off and create an “out of sight, out of mind” experience, quieter spaces for maximization of learning – you will be impacting your general member’s experience by providing programming.

 

One way to combat any animosity towards a space that is “taken away” for programming is to shift your staff and users to think about programming as a way to spread stoke, curiosity, and knowledge.

 

However, it’s still critical to understand how much of the member space can be utilized at any given time without creating a negative impact. Consider this carefully when determining what programs are a good fit for your facility.

 

Program Planning

Once you understand the “why” behind your programs, as well as what specific programs to do, you must look at “how”.

 

Do your homework

  • What comparable products are available from other sports or other climbing gyms?
  • Look into the competition to help you understand what you do and don’t like about a product or offering you haven’t yet executed yourself.
  • Starting from absolute scratch is hard and other models provide more info to use for a strong start.

Develop the idea, flesh it out, and write it down

  • Determine if the product being created is offered as part of your core products (always offered or offered at all locations), is a one-off event, or is a test product.
  • Get the concept down. What is the feeling, effect, and strategy of having the program?
  • Set an ambitious goal defining success. This can be number of participants, number of spectators, new participant registrations, registrations from a marketing campaign, or any other trackable number.

Run the numbers, get data, and make sure it’s financially viable

  • Income vs. expenses
  • Payroll and rates associated with instructor(s)
  • Additional expenses
  • Standard facility costs/overhead
  • Positive impacts from event, ex: increased education about sanctioned climbing and upcoming Olympics
  • Negative impacts from event, ex: sections of facility closed and impact to customer routines

Registration

  • Determine the internal staff and external participant process for registration.
  • Consider using a software or calendar that allows registration such as Rock Gym Pro, Mind Body, or Bookeo. Understand what accounting tracking and taxability applies (some instruction is tax free in certain states).

Start the creative asset process

  • Build your messaging, your brand positioning statements. Write, edit, and revise the information that will be customer-facing.
  • Your narrative needs to be simple, unique, persuasive, and descriptive of what the product does and its value. And be as concise as possible.
  • Tagline, problem it solves, list of core features, value included, 10-word positioning statement. To further dig into the Patagonia example, they know their why and their homepage highlights several campaigns they are currently running.
Patagonia Campaign

EX: This has a tag line, the problem it solves is captured in a short positioning statement, and the call to action is clear for the customer.

  • Decide how much info goes where. The poster might only have the event name and tagline, while the registration page provides a lot more info.

Marketing

  • Seed the social space with “leaks” and coming soon blasts to create anticipation and awareness.
  • Your staff are on the front lines with your customers. No matter how good your marketing campaign is, it does not replace a human talking to potential participants about an event or product. Train your staff. Keep in mind, it takes 3-7 touches with materials to really learn a new thing - written, verbal, group staff meetings, individual follow-up, hard copy at desk, marketing materials. Don’t expect your staff to be proficient with just an email.
  • Put your staff through the program or give them a hands-on experience with the material for them to be able to speak to the experience with potential participants.
  • Keep the release rolling with fresh announcements, media, posters, flyers, etc.
  • Gather feedback from your target customers and change the messaging as needed to create the best “hook” for the customer.
  • Make it easy for people to learn more about your product (website, print media, staff conversation). Knowledge is power.

 

Launch Your Product

There are many great ideas. Yet sometimes the execution falls flat or successes are missed due to poor planning. Make your launch of a new product an event. After your launch, talk to influencers that might have good feedback. And listen to what they say. Feedback is not always easy, so keep an open mind because it usually helps us grow.

 

Don’t Lose Your Momentum

Be willing to revisit and evaluate your program periodically. Make sure that it’s still fresh, fits your customers’ needs, and is accomplishing your “why” the best it possibly can. The ability to shift your focus to create more customer satisfaction and ultimately more customer retention will help create the most success possible from your programming.

 

Nicole Brandt Head ShotAbout the Author

Nicole Brandt runs Cypress Roots Consulting, a consulting company for climbing gyms helping them deep-dive into their company organization, programming, and culture. Nicole earned her degree in Outdoor Recreation with an emphasis in Tourism and has worked as the Program Director of Momentum and as a facilitator and guide across the Southeast and West. Currently based out of Salt Lake City, she spends her free time learning about yoga and herbalism.

 

Tags:  business development  community development  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  marketing  member acquisition  member retention  operations  programming  staff training  youth team  youth training 

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Child Care, Risk Management & Member Retention

Posted By Laura Allured, Monday, August 19, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Child Care in Your Climbing Gym

Most gym owners consider offering child care to members at some point, but does it make sense for your gym?

 

There are advantages to offering child care; it’s a great benefit to members with children and can give your climbing gym a competitive advantage over gyms that don’t offer child care.

 

On the other hand, it’s difficult to create a child care program that generates revenue, so you have to carefully consider your financial model. Plus, child care presents additional liability, which you’ll need to address with thorough risk management strategies.

 

The advantages and disadvantages to child care are numerous, but does it make sense for your business strategy, brand, and members?

 

Any new business offering is an investment, and while regulations for child care vary state to state, there are a few things to consider before deciding if offering child care is a good investment for you.

 

Do You Have the Real Estate for It?

If you are considering offering child care, the obvious first consideration is whether or not you have the real estate for it. Is there an area of your gym that you can re-purpose to a child care area?

 

The area that you use for child care needs to be appropriate for the children that you will care for – the last thing you want is to end up on an unhappy parent's blog.

 

When considering the type of space will need, you’ll need to know:

  • What are the regulations in your state for child care; child to care giver ratios, background checks, cameras in care areas, first aid and CPR certifications?
  • What type of facilities do you need for infants and toddlers?
  • Will you have a separate bathroom for child care?
  • What type of child care do you want to offer: full-service, basic supervision, member co-op, an open play area, kids-specific classes?

 

What Do Your Members Want?

Polling your members is the easiest way to determine if child care is a service they would like to see offered. Survey questions should include:

  • Would you use child care if it was offered?
  • What child care services are most important to you?
  • How many days a week would use it?
  • What days and times would you use it?
  • What are the ages of your children?
  • Would you prefer to pay a monthly flat rate or per visit rate?
  • What price range would you pay for child care? (list price ranges you are considering)

 

Risk Management of Child care

Risk management is simply anticipating situations that can lead to injury for members and taking steps to reduce the chance of those situations actually occurring. Implementing risk management is important as it reduces liability and expenses related to injury or harm.

 

Child care can be an outsized liability if it’s not set up and managed correctly. Follow or exceed state regulations and be sure to consult with your insurance company every step of the way. Train all staff members on procedures and protocols with the child care program. Review your policies and procedures frequently.

 

You’ll want to clearly outline your child care program. Define what you are able to offer and how you will manage different aged children. Outline to parents all policies that you put in place for how children will be cared for at your gym.

 

ROI

As a new business offering, it’s important to weigh the investment, risk, and possible returns of offering child care. Once you’ve set up your space and invested in initial expenses, you may find yourself with a program that only breaks even financially.

 

Though child care fees may not be a significant source of revenue, the offering can have significant impact on member satisfaction and retention, while also attracting new members.

 

US Census data indicates that about 40% of families have children under 18 living at home. Both dual income families and single parent families find it difficult to use fitness facilities without child care.

 

Despite the potential for a small ROI, it is increasingly common to see child care in climbing gyms because they can support your brand and strengthen your gym’s community in immeasurable ways.

 

PIAT (Putting It All Together)

Depending on available space, the percentage of members that would use child care and how much they are willing to pay for it; you can determine whether or not child care in your gym makes sense.

  • Know Your State’s Regulations
  • Ask Your Members What They Want
  • Clearly Outline Your Child Care Program
  • Balance the ROI of Revenue, Branding, and Member Retention

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

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

 

Tags:  community development  customer experience  customer service  member acquisition  member retention  operations  risk management 

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Indoor Climbing Programs for Boomers, Part II - Tips for Boomer Instruction

Posted By Tom Weaver, Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Get Started with Boomer Programming

Part I of this series explained the business case for adding programming for Boomers to your climbing gym, and once you’ve decided to take that step, how to market and message that program. Now, it’s time to think through the considerations unique to working with this age group.

 

Boomer Instruction Overview

I start each class in Climb Iowa’s auto-belay and traverse wall area with a warm-up consisting of stretching and traversing. Stretching is very important, as well as some easy shoulder, forearm, and leg warm-ups. During this time, I talk about hold orientation and some basic climbing techniques.

 

Then I move on to a climbing-specific warm-up of traversing. I start by emphasizing center-of-gravity awareness, the importance of footwork (moving their base), and the fact that climbing isn’t about doing pull-ups. I spot Boomers with care, especially during their first class. Sometimes I’ll place one or both hands lightly on their backs as they traverse after first asking their permission. We discuss (and I demonstrate) how to fall if they come off the traverse wall or stumble on a padded floor mat.

 

Questions are encouraged at all times. After warming up and traversing, we then move to Climb Iowa’s easiest 5.5 top-rope climb on a slab. I explain why I’m wearing belay gloves, what belaying entails, and why I always use an assisted-braking belay device. I explain why the retrace figure-8 knot is used. We look up at the route’s anchor to ensure we’re tying into the correct rope for the route we’re planning to climb, and what could happen if we didn’t do that (a big swing).

 

I explain that we’re going to practice coming down from just a few feet up before they climb farther up the route. We introduce climber/belayer communications and risk management partner checks. This is all pretty standard stuff in your facility, I’m sure.

 

I pay close attention to energy levels in the Boomer class to ensure everyone has fun while learning, and that soreness following the first day’s class is minimized. If this means that a student climbs only one 5.5 slab route during the first two-hour class, that’s fine. Having fun and learning climbing movements and techniques while not pushing anyone too fast or too far past their comfort level is important with this age group.

 

A Summary of What Boomers are Taught: (Risk management best practices are emphasized at nearly every step)

  1. We recommend top-rope climbing only for Boomers, although some graduate to boulder & lead
  2. Having fun during each class, and to climb with fellow students between each week’s class
  3. Climb Iowa’s Belay Certification class is included at no additional cost
  4. Importance of Climber/Belayer communications (On Belay?/Belay On, Climbing/Climb On)
  5. Risk Management partner checks – every time on every climb (Explain what could go wrong)
  6. We practice traversing at the beginning of each class as a warm-up and to gain movement skills
  7. Footwork is emphasized (quiet feet, precise placement; a glue-feet climbing game)
  8. Straight Arm climbing (a Franken-Arm climbing game)
  9. Reminders to remember to breathe!
  10. Climb relaxed, conserve power with grace; use momentum to your advantage - make it look easy
  11. Opportunistic resting, watch feet onto footholds before looking away
  12. Hold types and directionality, Matching, Flagging, Weight-shifting, Balance and Foot-switching
  13. Mantling and Stemming Day is a big hit and proves that climbing isn’t all about pull-ups!
  14. The puzzle-solving, cognitive part of climbing: Route Reading, Rainbow Routes and Projecting

An interesting statistic: Women in the Boomer Climbers Movement Class have outnumbered men nearly two-to-one since the beginning of Climb Iowa’s Boomer initiative. At the time of this writing, one week before the first Friday in April, the sign-up sheet is showing that it will be another all-female Boomer class.

 

Teaching the Importance of Risk Management Partner Checks

At the beginning of the third week’s class I surreptitiously undo one of my double-backed harness buckles and leave it routed through the buckle but not double-backed. I then keep refusing to belay the first climber until one of the students’ notices what’s wrong, or until they give up. I usually get to claim a successful ‘Aha – gotcha!’ and proceed to show them the problem. Only three or four students in nearly four years have discovered the problem, and at least one of those was warned by a former student.

 

This tactic has proven to be memorable to our students and emphasizes that you don’t just casually glance at a climber’s or belayer’s harness as you conduct those critical risk management partner checks (every time on every climb). We must look directly at harness buckles to know for sure they are double-backed and secure. Based on feedback, students have enjoyed and appreciated this lesson in particular.

 

Understanding and anticipating what can go wrong and conducting thorough and specific risk management partner checks every time on every climb is mandatory in the Boomer Climbers Movement Class and throughout Climb Iowa.

 

Auto-Belays vs. Boomers

Kids love auto-belays, but most Boomers new to climbing are just the opposite. Older Boomers are especially leery of auto-belays and find them very scary. Making Boomers go up an auto-belay route and let go as their very first rock climbing experience is a tough introduction. My experience has taught me the older the Boomer, the scarier auto-belays are.

 

Boomers do better when introduced to auto-belays toward the end of the first day’s class. They have made their first climbs and descents on top-rope routes with a gentle belay. This gives them a better feel for standing away from the wall and coming down with their feet wide apart during descents. They get a feel for what it’s like to be suspended from a rope by their harness. We then explain auto-belay descents are the same but a bit faster coming down, and that it’s not necessary to ‘stick’ the landing on their feet. We also caution them about getting a foot hung up on a hold as the auto-belay is lowering them.

 

A Fun Graduation Ceremony

At the end of the final Boomer Climbers Movement Class, I hand out a graduation certificate we’ve created and laminated. This single-page certificate is two-sided and covers the climbing skills learned during the class and the reasons why indoor climbing is a great path to lifetime fitness and health.

 

I point out their remarkable progress since their first climb and congratulate each student on the courage they’ve shown and on the climbing skills they’ve acquired during their month-long indoor climbing adventure. All agree that they have come a long way, and most are delighted with their achievements.

 

Most Boomer students go on to purchase annual memberships and continue to climb with a new circle of interesting friends. All seem to enjoy the under-appreciated inter-generational aspects of indoor climbing.

 

The Best Health and Wellness Activity for Retirement Years

At first glance, climbing appears to be a highly unlikely activity for Boomers. The fear of falling and injury is common, however once the remarkable benefits of indoor climbing are explained, a significant number of Boomers begin to realize that indoor climbing’s fall prevention system, emphasis on center-of-gravity awareness, strength and agility improvements, intense balancing practice, and attention to precise movement and footwork actually make it an ideal fitness activity for many Boomers.

 

In addition to the programs being run through indoor climbing facilities, we are now seeing small businesses being created to engage with this audience, like Stay.stoked Adventures. This business will be the first (that I know of) to offer Introduction to Rock Climbing schools for the 50+ demographic, located in Squamish, British Columbia. There is so much potential for the future of rock climbing that involves the Baby Boomer generation.

 

I use my experience as further proof that indoor climbing can be a great path to lifetime fitness and health for Boomers. Simply put, I’m a greatly improved new version of myself since discovering indoor climbing. I have fun, I meet new friends, it keeps me fit, and it’s the greatest reason to keep my weight under control I’ve ever found. Climbing is fun and, even better, is a perfect way to focus on health and wellness! I can’t imagine an exercise activity better suited for retirement years than indoor rock climbing.

 

Tom Weaver Head ShotAbout the Author

Tom (age 72) started climbing ten years ago following a dare to his granddaughters as they walked into an REI store. Fifty-five pounds lighter now, indoor top-rope rock climbing transformed his life. Tom is the instructor for the Boomer Climbers Movement Class at Climb Iowa and loves helping students from 50 to 75 years old improve their balance, flexibility, strength, and agility while learning to climb with skill and grace. “Aging successfully is a major priority for us. What other activity is exhilarating, never gets old, is social, inter-generational, low impact, cognitive, as well as physical, and features a world-class fall prevention system?”

 

Tags:  community development  marketing  member acquisition  programming  risk management 

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Indoor Climbing Programs for Boomers, Part I - The Boomer Opportunity

Posted By Tom Weaver, Monday, April 22, 2019
Get Started with Boomer Programming

My Story

I’m just a flatlander Iowan, but I believe the information and lessons I’ve learned as the instructor for Climb Iowa’s Boomer Climbers Movement Class could be valuable for your climbing gym operation.

 

Ten years ago, at age 63, I walked into an REI flagship store with my two granddaughters (5 and 7 years old), and there was a 50’ climbing tower with people dangling from ropes. After my initial surprise, I carelessly said, “I’ll do it if you’ll do it” and they took me up on it! Instant regret - I’m not fond of heights. The oldest granddaughter climbed and then it was my turn. Wait, I thought, climbing can’t be good for folks over 50, 60, or 70…right? That’s certainly how I felt as I stood at the bottom of that tower looking up and wondering how the hell I’d gotten myself into this fix.

 

At that point I was like many Boomers. I thought I was pretty active but knew I was a ‘bit’ overweight, a ‘little’ stressed, didn’t exercise ‘quite’ enough (who has time?), had a ‘little’ problem with asthma, and had a ‘bit’ of a problem climbing too many stairs at once. I had never heard of, much less considered, indoor rock climbing.

 

Fast forward ten years, I’m 55 pounds lighter, have a resting heart rate about 25 beats/minute slower, and for nearly four years I’ve enjoyed being the instructor for the Boomer Climbers Movement Class at Climb Iowa. I look forward every month to helping a new Boomer class have fun and rediscover exhilaration while greatly improving their balance, flexibility, strength, and agility. My hope is that all of our Boomer students will find that indoor top-rope rock climbing with grace and skill is a great path to lifetime fitness and health.

 

The Business Case for Boomer-specific Programming

Beyond the fact that climbing can make a positive impact in the lives of Boomers, there is a compelling business case to be made:

  1. Millions of Boomers have the time
  2. Millions of Boomers have the money
  3. Retired Boomers can attend classes and climb during weekdays
  4. Boomers are increasingly interested in fitness and health
  5. There are 108 million Americans over 50, and 10,000 of them turn 65 every day

108 million folks over 50 are a few too many to ignore… agreed? Get started now if you haven’t already! Find the right instructor, design a Boomer class, and add a vibrant community of mature adult climbers to your business. It’s a big opportunity and a smart strategy.

 

According to Climb Iowa’s management team, climbers 50 years and older represent 7% of their membership base, and that number is rising every year. Some of these members are climbing 5.11 and 5.12 routes. The route ratings are not lenient, and these are flatlander Iowans – non-climbers prior to taking the Boomer Climbers Movement Class. Boomers at Climb Iowa learn that climbing techniques and precision movement skills are a great path to a lifetime of fitness, social interactions, and a new circle of friends.

 

The Boomer community is an enthusiastic and growing part of Climb Iowa’s business. Boomers may be vocal about their climbing, as it seems they do a good job recruiting new members after their experience in our month-long Boomer Climbers Movement Class.

 

Marketing Tips for Boomer Classes (ages 50 and over):

  1. Create signage and place around the gym
  2. Seniors prefer the term ‘Boomers’
  3. Word of mouth is best, find ways to encourage this
  4. Plan a few fairs or events per year specific to seniors/Boomers
  5. The instructor should be a Boomer who enjoys presenting indoor climbing’s benefits to his/her age group
  6. Train gym staff to explain the Boomer class to interested individuals

 

Potential Obstacles for Boomers

The primary obstacle for Boomers is fear of falling and injury. They require a logical and convincing discussion to even consider trying it. Most Boomers have had enough injury in their lives – been there, done that. Therefore, they appreciate an obvious and ongoing attention to risk management more than most and need to see risk management best practices outlined in class descriptions and hear about it at the outset of any discussions.

 

The secondary obstacle preventing Boomers from indoor climbing is that most have never been exposed to it. Among those who have, few have been presented with good information and available classes specific to their age group.

 

Messaging for Boomers – Overcoming Objections

Both of the obstacles mentioned above are easily addressed. Many Boomer students have mentioned that my age and ability to relate to their concerns were reassuring factors as they were making their decision to enroll. When we meet, I assure them I’m as interested in avoiding injury as they are, then explain that risk management will be emphasized and taught at all times throughout the month-long class. I also make a point to assure them they won’t need to do anything unless they’re willing (I encourage but don’t push).

 

Some “always wanted to try it” and saw that we had a class specifically tailored for Boomers. Others were like me; searching for a way to exercise that was more interesting than doing the same repetitive exercise motions over and over again week after week, month after month, year after year. Indoor climbing is pretty much the opposite of repetitive!

 

Several Boomers who attended our class either know climbers or have close family members who are climbers. Since Iowa winters seem to get longer every year, many Boomers who found their way to our class were simply looking for a great winter exercise activity.

 

Some students suffer from arthritis and had been prescribed regular exercise but got bored doing the same movements all the time – curls, treadmill, elliptical machines, weight machines, dumbbells, rowing machine, etc.

 

At least one student got enrolled in our class as a birthday gift from his family.

 

When Boomers express their concern about risk prior to taking the class, I explain that climbing is dangerous but that published injury rates for indoor top-rope climbing are remarkably low compared to other sports and activities like tennis, biking, or even treadmill exercising. Explaining the difference between actual risk and perceived risk is particularly important for Boomers who are new to climbing. I’m not fond of heights and explain that I didn’t begin taking classes at Climb Iowa until I had researched indoor climbing’s injury rate. Many laugh at that, but I can tell they feel pretty much the same. They’re glad to know injury rates are low compared to other popular sports and activities – many of which they have done before.

 

I go on to say the goal for the class is to learn to climb with skill and grace and have fun while doing it. It’s also important that the class encourages successful aging through fitness and health. I explain that although it seems unlikely, indoor climbing is actually a great fall prevention activity. We discuss why that’s true and how the strength, flexibility, balance, and agility gained through indoor climbing can help improve their daily lives.

 

I also mention how much fun it is watching your friends’ faces as you casually mention that you went rock climbing the other day. Boomers who rock climb in Iowa are about as common as big game hunters, but this type of comment may not be as effective if you live in Colorado or Utah.

 

A Summary of Messaging for Boomers:

  1. Climbing is dangerous, yet indoor climbing has a remarkably low injury rate per thousand hours of participation when compared to other activities (Again, see Fear vs. Reality on my website)
  2. How indoor climbing changed the instructor’s life; he’s an active climber at age 72
  3. Indoor Top-Rope Rock Climbing has a remarkable list of high-value attributes:
    • It’s Exhilarating and Social; you meet new friends and interesting people
    • It Never Gets Old (routesetters are always busy)
    • It’s Low Impact – smooth movements, not jerky, doesn’t pound on joints
    • It’s Inter-generational; you can belay and climb with grandkids, children, and younger adults
    • It’s Confidence-Inspiring and enhances self-esteem
    • It’s a Total Body Workout, yet so fun you don’t even notice how much you’re exercising
    • It’s Physical and Cognitive; fun on many levels!
    • Functional Strength is best realized through skill development. Indoor climbing can improve daily life by delivering true functional fitness to Boomers.
  4. Indoor Rock Climbing is a great Fall Prevention Activity – here’s why:
    • 2.4 million older Americans are treated for fall-related injuries annually, 700,000 are hospitalized
    • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries in the United States
    • Indoor climbing has a world-class fall prevention system – perfect for older adults
    • This fall prevention system develops balancing muscles and skills – great for older adults
    • Indoor climbing strengthens the core, hips, and legs, and supercharges agility and center-of-gravity awareness. This all adds up to make indoor climbing a great way to reduce the risk of falls in daily life.

Next Time, Tips for Boomer Instruction

In Part II of this series, I will go into detail on how to structure classes for Boomers and provide my best tips and tricks for working with this age group. Keep an eye out for it in the CWA newsletter!

 

Tom Weaver Head ShotAbout the Author

Tom (age 72) started climbing ten years ago following a dare to his granddaughters as they walked into an REI store. Fifty-five pounds lighter now, indoor top-rope rock climbing transformed his life. Tom is the instructor for the Boomer Climbers Movement Class at Climb Iowa and loves helping students from 50 to 75 years old improve their balance, flexibility, strength, and agility while learning to climb with skill and grace. “Aging successfully is a major priority for us. What other activity is exhilarating, never gets old, is social, inter-generational, low impact, cognitive, as well as physical, and features a world-class fall prevention system?”

 

Tags:  community development  marketing  member acquisition  programming  risk management 

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Optimizing Belay Lessons for Member Acquisition

Posted By Christopher Stango, Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Climbing Gym Member Acquisition

When a new guest ventures into your climbing gym for the first time, what will their first impression be? Who is greeting them? Who is giving the tour? Who is giving them a belay lesson and setting them off into the gym on their own? When that first-time climber walks in your door, they're assessing your offerings, and their impression of their experience will ultimately determine if they will return or not. Remember when you first caught the climbing gym “bug”? It's likely you had a great first, second, and even third experience that kept you coming back!

 

There are a lot of important factors that contribute to your new climber's experience before the belay lesson even begins, but the belay lesson is a golden opportunity for member acquisition that is often wasted without a good strategy. Naturally, safety is of profound importance in any belay lesson and that is where most of the focus should remain. However, after a climbing gym's standard belay lesson has the technical training and assessment portion dialed, member acquisition should be your staff’s next priority. These skills should only be utilized by instructors that are already extremely proficient at conducting effective belay lessons.

 

Discovering the Occasion

What brought your class into the gym? Is it a current member bringing some non-climbing friends? Or is it a group of coworkers? Is it some friends looking for a fun way to be more active? Could it be a date? Discovering the occasion either by asking or deducing is a smart way to create personal connections with your students.

 

Instructor Introduction and Learning Names

Remembering and using names during lessons is the quickest way to make your guests feel welcomed and comfortable. Make sure you keep in mind that a non-climber walking into a climbing gym can be an intimidating experience. Being recognized and having someone remember your name could make the difference!

 

Patience

Belay lessons can be incredibly stressful for your more nervous guests. This may cause them to fumble and make mistakes in the beginning. Being patient with those who don’t grasp the concepts naturally will create a encouraging and inclusive environment for new climbers. They are already out of their element just by walking in your door. Make sure your patience shows them they are welcome.

 

Humor

Like using your guest’s name, implementing humor into your lesson is another great way to make your guests feel comfortable. Once you've discovered the occasion and learned their names, you'll likely have a grasp on the type of humor that they may appreciate. I always tell my staff I want to hear their whole class laugh at least once!

 

Be Efficient

Leading an organized and concise lesson will be appreciated by your climbers, because they're likely excited to start climbing with their friends. If the lesson is disorganized and takes longer than necessary, you can expect your new climbers to become frustrated and impatient. It is essential that you stick with the goal of building technical competency among your new climbers. Creating an efficient and replicable lesson plan will manage time effectively and ensure you are delivering consistent information to all your students.

 

Have Fun

Belay lessons can be long and take up a large chunk of your new climber’s first day, but it’s possible to get creative and have plenty of fun along the way. If the instructor is having a good time, it's going to show in their belay lessons. If the belay lessons are fun, the guests will continue to feel welcomed and feel like they are getting a greater value out of their time spent at the gym. Show them that you want to be there!

 

The Bottom Line

The objective of the belay lesson is to create competent belayers in your facility. If done correctly, it will also set them up to fully enjoy everything your climbing gym has to offer. It’s also an opportunity to examine your customer service procedures. For example:

  • Have you given them an orientation? Show them around the facility and give them some inspiration on how to take full advantage of the facility to improve their fitness.
  • Have you told them about your grading system and what might be appropriate for them? Getting some direction to help them experience success will keep them coming back for more.
  • Did you give them a few quick climbing tips while they were doing their practice falls? Let them know about a couple basic techniques, like straight arms and standing on their toes.
  • Have you come back to check on them after 30 minutes to see if they've come up with any questions? Feeling supported by the staff will encourage your new climbers to stick with climbing.
  • Have you introduced them to other climbers at the gym? Creating a membership base where people know each other establishes a stronger community that’s more loyal to your gym.

Your focus should be on setting them up for a positive experience. As climbers, we know what keeps us coming back. Let's try to show them what that is.

 

Christopher Stango Head ShotAbout Christopher Stango

Christopher is the Gym Manager at Sun Country Rocks in Gainesville, Florida. He has a background in restaurant management honing techniques in customer service and operations, which he is now applying to the indoor climbing industry. He has gathered nearly a decade of experience in restaurant management and has been climbing almost as long.

 

Tags:  belay lessons  customer service  member acquisition 

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