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Trad climber
4 Corners Area
Oct 14, 2012 - 11:22am PT
The best climbing gyms have killer bouldering facilities. A climbing oriented weight room is essential, too (campus boards, systems wall, free weights, cardio, etc . . .)

Jim Henson's Basement
Oct 14, 2012 - 11:40am PT
Well. first off.. good luck with this. I'm in the SF valley and would gladly jump ship from Boulderdash for some variety and a better membership deal. (Don't get me started on Boulderdash's eF'd-up guest-policy.)but I digress...

Some good suggestions. Cracks and dihedrals/corners are the biggest deficits in the local gyms here.

B day parties, parents looking for activities for their kids, and date night "let's try out climbing" type markets are probably a big part of the gym income. So,now you have to think about education for a short term audience, have employees who are good at this type of customer and routes that cater to them.

I agree that this is an unfortunate reality of making money off a gym so you need to cater to it. Figure out a marketing plan and hire some employees who are great with kids.

Good bouldering is an obvious must.

Social climber
Joshua Tree
Oct 14, 2012 - 01:17pm PT
Birthday parties, youth teams, date night, first timers...this will be crucial to making the $$$$ bottom line. Plan for it.

At the same time, these things can conflict with your dedicated core who are there to train. Figure out a way to separate them or harmonize them. Youth teams can be especially problematic as they cluster and can dominate entire sections of walls. Bday parties tend to be on weekends, not usually a big deal.

Crack rack. There's a gym in Michigan, Planet Rock that has a very good example. This is the best, cheapest, least space demanding way to get effective crack terrain. Cracks that are molded into the wall (aside from maybe some wide things where you need that extra depth) are not typically very good for training. Side by side, fixed width wooden cracks like the crack rack are nice. There used to be a thread on that the guy who built it put up some photos. unfortunately routesetter closed shop...maybe contact Planet rock directly.

Setters. This is a hard one because the turnover is very heavy. Forget about a paid head setter and volunteer staff, you will need paid staff, period. Ideally, a 10,000ft2 gym would turnover the entire terrain every 2 months or less. Fresh terrain is the lifeblood of your gym for regulars, especially at the higher end of ability levels where there will be less things at their interest level anyway. Your head setter needs to be $%^&ing strong, a V5/5.12 guy ain't gonna cut it. You need someone tickling double digit V-grades and sending 5.13 at least. If you think of your head setter as a min wage, bs job, you will get min wage bs setting. The two most imporant jobs in the gym are publicity/marketing and head setter.

Always, always have enough holds on the walls that people can warm up. Many gyms only set holds for specific routes on the lower part of the walls...sometimes this is fine and you can traverse around and warmup, sometimes it's jacked because there will suddenly be V5 sequences to link holds. Stick a load of footholds at traverse level that aren't part of routes and leave them there (change them up from time to time, but the point is you should always be able to traverse a long section of wall never seeing a sequence harder than say 5.9-10b)

No $%^&ing slacklines in the middle of the gym.

Autobelays are bitchin for people doing PE work or partnerless.

Set with tape. Yes it's a PITA to maintain and it isn't cheap for you. But setting on hold color/type is equally a PITA for the climbers because it limits what can be set, and once chalk gets on the holds (or depending on lighting in the gym) it is almost impossible to tell grey from purple from black, red from pink, etc. I've climbed and set in gym that did it both ways, I will never join a gym that sets on hold color (even if they have superior terrain, auto belays, and other things I's THE reason I train at my current gym and not Hangar)
Jebus H Bomz

Reno, Nuh VAAAA duh
Oct 14, 2012 - 01:22pm PT
No $%^&ing slacklines in the middle of the gym.

God-fvcking-damn, you could not call that better. I hate that sh1t. They're usually a nuisance, and often a hazard.


Oct 14, 2012 - 03:53pm PT
Good setters are a must.

People will forgive a short gym or short wall if its convenient, but shitty setters are SUCH A HUGE TURN OFF.

Yes, the overhanging lead cave is going to be a huge pump-fest due to the nature of the climbing, but that doesn't mean everything needs to be a pump fest, you can actually make interesting climbing indoors.

P.S. Anybody know who "RZ" is at Planet Granite? that guy (gal?) sets the best indoor routes.
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Oct 14, 2012 - 04:29pm PT
Homo slab! easy to set up, sheets of plywood with a few dimes glued to it!

Trad climber
Oct 14, 2012 - 06:20pm PT
so someone here must own a gym, and someone must think like an MBA. So what's the math of opening a gym. I have no money so don't worry, I'm not going to compete, but I'm curious what it looks like. I figure the owners of Mission/Ironworks clubs must be rolling in the bucks by now. ha

So, what is rent on 32000 sq ft? What's the buildout cost? Whats the labor? How much can you charge? How long does it take to ramp up your membership? How big of a base community do you have to pull from? I'd love to see the equation putting all this together. If you know the figures but don't know how to build an excel model I'd even be willing to help you out just for fun.

Oct 14, 2012 - 06:45pm PT
Think about putting in a horizontal ladder, 8 or 9 feet above floor. Like you see in some playgrounds. A very versatile apparatus that is also a good conditioner.
beef supreme

the west
Oct 14, 2012 - 07:15pm PT
carlo, you may have seen the 'smart ass' remarks less than helpful, but like you said, starting off the thread with a MP audience didn't necessarily.... oh, f*#k it. nevermind.

but seriously, bars and strip clubs make all the money!! I'm telling you what, bar on top of the bouldering cave! I'm just throwing out real money making solutions! I have yet to be into a gym that I really liked, maybe you can start up the right one! maybe a hooka lounge?

cracks, bikram, sauna/ steam room would also be good additions.

Big Wall climber
Oct 14, 2012 - 07:37pm PT
my advice is to start up an ice climbing gym.

i'll be the first to say that only cuzz i work at an ice rink :)

i'm still waiting for a venture cap to help me out.

good luck i'll visit if u open in the valley.

Trad climber
Asia, Indonesia, East Java
Oct 14, 2012 - 10:51pm PT
A small coffee-shop with snack-bar, depending on food laws in your state's laws could generate some extra income too. You don't need to do this yourself, you can do some form of revenue sharing and outsource it.

Boulder climber
Braintree, Ma
Oct 20, 2012 - 03:57am PT

To Guangzhou: I certainly plan on making the gym as festive and creative as I can, because I know that those minor efforts will make a huge difference in the attitude and atmostphere of the gym.

To Spider Savage: Yes I will die someday, but doubtfully from starting a climbing gym, but then again who knows! There are plenty of climbing gyms that do make a profit over $15K, it's just a matter of how much effort you put into making an good gym and making your customers happy. I agree that you make more profit mostly comes from birthday parties and group events, but your members are what pay for a good majority of your overhead. Climbers aren't all that poor, if they were there wouldn't be climbing gyms.

To Couchmaster: I don't really get what you mean by "Why get all huffy yourself?" I agree that climbers do have money, because all of the climbinggear is pretty expensive. Every extreme sport has costly gear, which is why only so many people even do it.

To Prod: I do plan on having a variety of textures, so that it's not all the same stuff, because that does get boring after a while. And I will have a section of crack climbs.

To Jebus H Bomz: I was thinking of how to make it inviting for the "let's try out climbing" type of people, and I came to the same conclusion of having staff walk around helping out and advise new people on technique and safety. I also haven't seen much attention to crack climbs to the gyms I've been to, but I think a huge part of it is that people don't know how to approach it and are scared to. So I plan on having minor intro classes to expose beginners and regular climbs to the concept of crack climbing. Also, I definitely will have Auto belays, I know how crucial they are. Thanks for the luck!

To justthemaid: Yeah I refused to join Boulderdash, cause of their crazy policies and didn't care for the environment all to much. I will definitely make sure to offer better membership deals and offer more climbing features.

To Elcapinyoazz: I will check out Planet Rock's setup and see how I can incorporate it with my design. Solid Rock in San Diego has a crack tower, which enables you to have a variety of crack routes since they consist of panels, rather than being created into the walls. Setters are important, if not the most important part of a climbing gym. Having a strong dedicated head setters, though isn't easy to find, but I will of course try the best I can. I will be a taped gym don't worry. I've climbed at places that do colored holds and they aren't fun, especially when they don't wash them and you can't tell. As for slack lines, I do plan on having one but I will make sure to place it in an area that isn't hazardous for everyone else.

To Jebus H Bomz: I personally enjoy slackline and know of other climbers that do as well. No matter what I won't be able to make everyone happy, but I will certainly try to section things off.

To Crasic: I agree that overhanging is a good thing, but to not overdue it.

To Jon Beck: I don't know what a homo slab is.

To Rockermike: There's no one exact formula, but I go with what I know someone can correct me if I'm wrong.
How much to build the place has to many variables, so not going to bother.
Average cost of climbing wall is $35 per sq ft.
Your price depends on your competitors, you look at how much they charge and what they offer. If you can do better and give more then you can charge more. How much more exactly? Best way of finding out is asking people in your community, and that should give you a rough idea.
Increasing the amount of members you have all depends on how you run the gym. If you have a quality gym people will join.
How big of a do you need community is another tricky one. It really depends on your business model, if you are formatting something for kids well you don't need that big of a community, since children are everywhere. If you want to target a different audience that requires more research.
Some climbing wall companies have consulting packages that help you determine the right size and give you a formula, but like anything it's not exact. It's just a really really good guess conducted from the observation they have done on the gyms they have helped build.

To Jogill: I have heard of a gym that has monkey bars with that kind of concept, something I thought was a pretty cool idea. Thank you for reminding me.

To Beef Supreme: I agree with you it was completely my fault. Taking everything you said into consider I thought of a good idea. When you go to top-out a bouldering problem, there will be a stripper waiting to hand you a shot. And every time you help sign a person up you will be granted access to the hookah theme strip club, that will be attached to the gym.

To Toadgas: I'll make sure to have male strippers as well, so that I am not being sexist or unfair. Ashtrays will only be at the top of routes in order to give climbers something to reach for.

To Pyro: I found a climbing company that does ice walls and I thought it would be a great idea. Only problem is that the area I'm planning to open my gym gets insanely hot during the summer, so I would have to see the cost of maintaining such a wall.

To Guangzhou: I was planning on having some type of smoothie bar after I had the gym establish and running for some time. I don't want to focus on too many things at the beginning.

Once again thank you guys for all the feedback. The more input I get the better of a gym I will be able to create.

Carlo Cherisier
David Plotnikoff

Mountain climber
Emerald Hills, CA
Oct 20, 2012 - 06:31am PT
crasic wrote:

P.S. Anybody know who "RZ" is at Planet Granite? that guy (gal?) sets the best indoor routes.

Bob Zambetti is a lone wolf among the PG Sunnyvale setting crew. He is older and much more experienced than most setters. What puts him in a league of his own: He actually studies people of different sizes and shapes climbing the routes. One cool cat.

People bitch about bad setting all the time. It's the favorite pastime in the gym. But how many people recognize really thoughtful practitioners of the art? Sunnyvale has several -- such as RZ, Adriel Rodriguez and Art Balaoro.

Oct 20, 2012 - 06:49am PT
Some great thoughts up thread, in particular restroom with changing clothes area for both sexes, that could be lockers or at the least benches to sit. Air conditioning is a biggie, I would oversize as your customers are going to be near the ceiling a lot, hence warmer than a normal building's calculation. A dedicated area for birthday parties i.e. table and chairs to open presents, cut the cake etc.A lounge area for parents, spectators and visitors who won't be climbing. Enough benches with storage underneath for the climbing area, so people don't have to wait to sit and shoe up. Lastly keep the gym clean in particular the bathrooms, and as noted above use colors, colors, colors on your walls. Mark your routes with same colored holds not tape, and place a route card by each route in a proper holder not tape that will get scuffed off. My thoughts.

Social climber
Dalian, Liaoning
Oct 20, 2012 - 07:09am PT
Location, location, location!

Dalian is a city of six million without a climbing gym!

Except for a few poorly maintained walls in some of the nicer hotels here.
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
Oct 20, 2012 - 09:17am PT
Carlo, if build it. I will pay to climb there.

Trad climber
Asia, Indonesia, East Java
Oct 20, 2012 - 11:56pm PT
From a climbing gym owner.

Not sure who it was, but if your gym is only turning over $15,000, you're doing something wrong. Don't believe climbing gyms are profitable, check out the back of climbing magazine and see how many of them they are across the U.S. Still a young industry,but plenty of money.

Once you have a 3-D module of your gym, consider offering a pre-opening membership special. This could help pull existing climbers away from where they are currently training and towards your location.

Consider offer a what ever % discount to other climbing gym members for day use of a trial membership to your place. This may enticed them to at least come try your gym. If you don't get people in the door, you can get new members.

Allow new/first time climbers to try climbing anytime, don't have the "I never climbed before" class at a specific time. Everyone on your staff should be able to teach the basics, and anyone walking in should be able to tryright than and there. (Impulse)

Some price/membership promotion we ar currently using:

Monday to Firday, get here before noon, pay half price for day use. (Nice for college kids)

10 day trial membership. This membership includes all rental gear for ten days. (We use to have two weeks, but move it to ten days as an experiment. Works out better.

We offer a limited day membership. People choose the two days a week they will climb. (Monday and Wednesday or Thursday and Sunday) This is a special reduced price. Very profitable for us, not sure why people like it.

Punch cards.

Our fitness classes can be drop in with a Day class fee or a fitness member fee.

Marketing, Marketing, marketing. If you build it they will come just isn't true. People have to know you exist before they can come in your doors. You think everyone knows you once you're open, but they won't. I know some office workers two blocks away who had never heard of us until last week. (one year open)

We use facebook heavily. Everyone who climbs here and takes photos, we ask them to Tag our gym. Facebook friends end up in our gym the next day, even if just to look. Once on our doors, our staff gives the tour/sell pitch. Non climbers looking won't try unless you can explain to them why they should.

Consider using Groupon for your promotion. Helps get the word out very quickly.

Events, Events, Events. We had a Glow in the dark (UV Lights) climbing party last nights. Loads of new faces came just to see, some will come back. Newspaper and local television covered the event.


Santa Monica, CA
Oct 22, 2012 - 12:51am PT
I'd like to reiterate everything "On Your Left" said, we talk about these things all the time and have both been members at our current climbing gym for a long time. I am not happy with our climbing gym. Have discussed things with management who then point to ownership, claim their hands are tied, there's "no money" for this or that, and so on.

The route setting is terrible. Pay your setters, find good people, it's worth the investment. Frankly this is one of your very most important, if not the most important investment. If your setting is bad, if you leave the same routes up for months on end (yes, this gym does...sometimes as long as 4 months), if your routes all cater to one type of climber (tall, crimpy, open-handed, etc.) rather than offering a variety...then why would anyone leave where they are and come to you? This is especially necessary in the bouldering area - where the routes can wind up being set only by young, sometimes newbie, interested-only-in-dynos type guys. Variety, variety, variety. One of the hardest things you will do is try to have something for everyone. For example some very good, very experienced climbers will only climb moderate stuff in the gym, they're not going to risk getting hurt on plastic and they're there for maintenance. Also, some of us are not tall with a giant ape index. Ok, you get the picture.

Clean your gym. Clean everything. Clean the holds, clean the bathrooms and other common areas. If you have workout equipment, rubber gym matting, free weights - clean it all and clean it a lot. Our gym workout area is disgusting. Bathrooms/showers all of this stuff must be kept as clean as possible. I can't believe how much this is overlooked. To offer a workout area as well as climbing is a huge benefit, but not if the machines are filthy with dried sweat and it's a germ factory.

I would rant about the kids' birthday parties but do understand you've got to make this kind of money. Keep them separated physically from the general climbing area if you can. Keep them (and kids in general) out of the bouldering area. This goes to your staff...

The staff need to enforce the rules for safety reasons but also for the enjoyment of everyone. That means they don't sit behind the front desk, eating, talking, shooting the sh*t and basically not working. They need to be engaged, walk around, be professional (for example, don't yell at the 5.12 climber who accidentally skipped the bottom bolt on the dinky 30 ft. lead climb, in front of everyone and for 2 minutes straight. A quiet chat and some understanding and context, especially when you know this person, would be more appropriate)...

People upthread have talked about a separate area for beginners and classes. Very important - if you have the space to this it would be great. I've literally had a class teacher walk in front of me as I was roping up in front of a climb I was about to do and put his class on this climb. I wasn't standing there for my health or to watch his class...

Please, if you're going to allow food and drink in the gym, especially pizza and other food that tends to create a lot of mess and smell, have a designated place for it, so we don't accidentally sit in it or have it spill on our ropes, harnesses, etc. because it's on the benches in the climbing area.

Listen to the feedback of your customers and genuinely take it into consideration. You probably don't want them to sound like I do right now!

Not sure what you plan to charge, but there should be some specials like a family plan and if you can, some consideration taken based on what members are currently paying elsewhere. If it's good, people may be willing to pay more. Offering special events, hosting talks relevant to climbing and the outdoors would be great. Slideshows, readings, all that kind of stuff is fun, informative and helps create community.

Someone raised the point about your location being in the Valley and the weather - it will be hot, very hot and very muggy in the gym for a good portion of the year. Be prepared to spend a lot of money on air conditioning and/or electric for fans - you will need it. Be willing to buy fans or do something if your membership is telling you that it's too hot and smarmy.

I wish you were talking about opening on the Westside as we live and work over here and coming out to the Valley during the week is not really an option. But you never know - offer a great product and people will show up. Sorry if I sound cranky - hopefully some of what I've said will make sense and seem reasonable to you. Good luck!

Trad climber
Asia, Indonesia, East Java
Oct 22, 2012 - 03:10am PT
Route setting, I always remind my staff that our routes are our products for our members.

Great advice overall.
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