Feature Article - April 2008
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Scaling New Heights

Harness the Popularity of Climbing to Take Your Facility to the Top

By Kelli Anderson

Service With a Smile

Keeping it challenging and fresh is certainly one part of the equation. Service-oriented staff would be the other.

"We try to build community," Chambers said. "I'd rather have an average-level climber but who is friendly and outgoing and wants to help people than the best climber. A new person will remember how they were treated, how they were helped and how our staff behaved. We're such a personal service society."

With a proactive approach to put everyone at ease, Chambers trains his staff to look for signs indicating that a patron may be puzzled about what to do next or where to go. Looking for opportunities to come to the rescue is all part of the package.

When the Greater Wichita YMCAs put in their second climbing wall in December 2002, they had certainly learned the value of good staff.

"It boils down to staff and leadership," said Dennis Schoenebeck, general executive of the regional organization. "Some kids aren't athletes—no self-confidence. We have life-changing staff with plenty of success stories. Good leadership has created a progressive program, and they've nailed it. Every time I go, the climbing wall is busy."

MetroRock, a world-class competitive sport climbing facility, also shares the view that hiring the right trainers is key, believing that to an extent climbing is all a service industry in which staff has a huge impact. Knowing safety requirements, knowing what it's all about is a good place to start, but it's also about a customer-friendly face and positive attitude. First impressions are especially important. Beginners will be more likely to become return clients when they experience a safe, friendly and enjoyable first visit.

If You Build It…

When it comes to first impressions, it also doesn't hurt to place a new climbing wall where everyone can see it—up front and center.

"When we opened our new facility one-and-a-half years ago, we included a climbing wall, a bouldering area and play area for kids to interact," Schoenebeck said. "They're in the lobby, and they're attractive and interactive. We knew we wanted it to entice participation. Location is critical."

The 40-foot freestanding structure is encased in glass, which can be seen by passing motor traffic and adds an additional "wow!" element. Thinking ahead, the YMCAs will have three such walls in different buildings but will ensure that each is different from the others to offer the variety that patrons are looking for in their climbing experience.

Space around a wall is also critical. Allowing room for climbers to sit while they wait for their turn, for family and friends to watch or even room to just lay down on the floor to problem-solve a new route is a must. Additionally, when there is a variety of climbing structures, it is important to make sure that one group will not be in the way of another.

Whether you are one of many who have discovered climbing's appeal and benefits for your clients or one of the diminishing holdouts reticent to venture into this fun-and-fitness territory, the fact is that climbing structures and programming possess ever-evolving and even yet-untapped potential. No matter your experience (or lack thereof), its revenue-generating power and multigenerational draw make its addition to your facility—or improving what you already know—well worthwhile.