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Feature Article - April 2007

Altitude with Attitude

Building Your Climbing Business by Catering to Kids

By Stacy St. Clair


It's boom time for climbing walls in the United States. They can be found in recreation centers, health clubs, schools and malls. They offer creative architectural focal points and provide endless hours of enjoyment to the current generation of extreme sports enthusiasts. The first indoor climbing gym opened nearly 20 years ago in Seattle and featured real rock glued to painted plywood panels. Today, there are literally thousands of places to boulder and belay.

There are currently 9 million so-called urban climbers in the United States. That's an impressive 3 percent of the population, and the growth in climbing interest shows no signs of stopping. Membership in USA Climbing, the organization that governs the sport, boasted a 290 percent increase over the past four years.

The sport has grown, in part, because it offers climbing opportunities to people who otherwise might not have access. Don't live near the mountains? Live in a rainy area? Don't know how to climb?

None of these things matter if you have an indoor wall.

"There's growth every year," said Anne-Worley Bauknight, executive director of USA Climbing. "We expect that to continue."

In order for that to happen, however, climbing facility managers must be proactive in selling the activity to the public. And as part of those marketing plans, facilities should make a concerted effort to target teens and tweens.

Why go after the youth demographic?

First and foremost, young climbers are likely to become lifelong climbers who will help maintain the demand for indoor walls in the decades to come.

Secondly, they're less likely to go to the gym on their own. Kids often bring friends with them, therefore introducing even more people to the sport.

And finally, teens and tweens offer multiple chances for revenue opportunities. Kids are a godsend to pro shops because their constantly growing bodies are in frequent need of new shoes or climbing gear. They also host birthday parties at climbing facilities, giving managers a chance to showcase their walls to other potential new patrons.

"It's extremely important to tap into the youth demographic," said Paula Sessa, a Dallas-based climbing wall consultant. "Gyms that don't make an effort to attract kids and teens are putting their businesses in jeopardy."

Fortunately for recreation managers, youth-oriented marketing is easy, practical and relatively inexpensive. With a little expert advice, you can turn your gym into a kid-friendly facility without alienating your adult patrons.

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