Feature Article - April 2004
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Hitting the Wall

How to boost climbing wall attendance

By Kyle Ryan


Activities
Group events

Membership dues only go so far, so hosting any number of group events helps create extra revenue. The Countryside YMCA's climbing wall will sometimes be booked a year in advance by groups who want to use it. Staff will come in after hours to belay groups that have rented the YMCA, or they will show clients how to belay and supervise people using the wall.

Birthday parties are always popular, as are corporate team-building activities and things like group-climbing lessons. All of these types of events generate revenue, but finding them can be difficult.

"It's kind of hard to go out and get it, at least that's been my experience," Petraitis says. There's word of mouth…other people just look on their own on the Internet and find some climbing wall that provides that kind of service—which is basically all of them—so they pick the one that's closest. It's a bit hard to actively pursue, other than doing what you can to let people find it on their own."

Programming

Petraitis has approached local schools to talk about after-school programs, but with no tangible results so far. Kids' programming, though, can mean financial security down the road.

The Boulder Rock Club has it in spades: two junior teams (a recreational one and a competitive one), youth sessions (weekly climbing after school for five weeks for kids as young as 6), youth classes and youth-certification programs so kids can learn to climb without adult supervision.

"What's great about those is it's long-term security in terms of looking at it from a business point of view," O'Connor says. "You bring kids into the recreational team and have a good time, then they move on to the competitive team. Then they hit 17 or 18 and are kind of old for that sort of scenario, so they just joint the gym as regular members. That perpetuates our membership base."

The Countryside YMCA has had luck with summertime climbing camps for kids. Part of an 11-week adventure camp, the climbing part spends four weeks on the wall.

While facilities will focus quite a bit of attention on kids' programming, less attention goes to adult programs beyond lessons and price specials. The Texas Rock Gym in Houston offers "Yoga for Climbing" classes to help its members stay flexible. The Boulder Rock Club has personal trainers who help people with movement and technique.

O'Connor concedes, though, that he has to maintain a careful balance when it comes to programming.

"It's weighing membership needs vs. programming needs," he says. "If I did too much programming, we'd lose membership and crowd them out. Like I said, it's a great problem to have, that we have enough members to have to worry about that. Really the bottom line with programming is consistency and making it easily available."

It's a lot to keep in mind, but Petraitis can summarize it pretty easily: "Make it a place where climbers can see it as in some way a positive destination, whether it's just having fun socializing or training to get better," he says.

The buzz behind climbing walls may have mellowed, but that doesn't mean walls are now financial burdens. In one regard, they still are status symbols that show a place's activity diversity—but walls with people on them are infinitely more valuable.