Feature Article - April 2007
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Altitude with Attitude

Building Your Climbing Business by Catering to Kids

By Stacy St. Clair

Birthday parties also offer a great opportunity to introduce the sport to parents. Moms and dads frequently stay to watch the kids climb, Ronken said. When they see the kids laughing and enjoying themselves, they want to get in on the act.

The opportunity to give parents an up-close view of the facility translates into more family memberships. To make the gym even more enticing, Vertical Endeavors employees give visitors discount coupons to encourage a quick return.

"It becomes an event where oftentimes the parents get involved because it's so much fun," Ronken said.

In the end, making it fun is the most important thing a gym can do to ensure its longevity. Facilities that go the extra mile to show kids how enjoyable climbing can be solidify their own futures.

In order to achieve this goal, managers must provide a happy, safe environment from the moment the child walks inthe door.

At KidSpirit, a University of Oregon program that links students with young people in the community, instructors greet all their students at the door.

The instructors also work with the same students each week, so a bond develops between them. The college students—who also go by fun nicknames like "Bumblebee," "Rainbow" and "Rocket" to put kids at ease—also take the time to talk to their young charges so they have an understanding of their goals and abilities.

"It helps them feel welcomed," instructor Christina Bond said. "They know once they're in the gym that there's someone who cares about them."

It's also important not to overwhelm kids upon their first visit. Instructors need to listen to the young climbers' concerns and address them. For example, fears about the ropes breaking are easily addressed by explaining that unless climbers weigh more than a truck, they'll have no problems.

Instructors must realize that there can be various skill levels among kids in the same age group. Not every child will be able to climb to the top. Not every teen will be proficient enough to speed-race. Ronken addresses the issue by finding each climber's comfort level and helping them set reasonable goals.

"We work with all levels. We don't want anyone to feel left out," he said.

"We don't push that the child has to reach the top of the wall to be successful. We celebrate other achievements."

Once the child gets hooked on climbing, they become potential youth team and climbing camp participants. Though both programs can provide additional revenue and boost patronage, neither will happen unless facilities find ways to get young people in the door for that initial visit.

"The fist step is getting people in here," Ronken said. "It usually takes that first step to get the ball rolling."