Feature Article - April 2009
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The Height of Adventure

Climbing Walls for Exercise & Recreation

By Richard Zowie

Getting Started

If you're interested in adding a climbing wall at your facility, two pieces of advice are generally offered: Do lots of research, and make sure you use an experienced builder. Check references? That goes without saying.

The world is filled with those who are great with their hands and pride themselves as jacks or jills of all trades. Still, unless you have solid experience, it might be better to leave it to professionals.

Besides finding a reputable builder, Raue suggests figuring out who your clientele will be and who will be long-term customers.

"You have the different styles of walls," Raue explained. "With some, the more realistic the wall looks, the lousier it'll be for climbing and route-setting. The ones that look like rocky structures can be much more limited in holds and placements. This limits the routes you can put up. At the end of the day the wall is only as good as the route setters. You can have a multimillion-dollar facility but with lousy route setters it's not worth a dime. People flock to small gyms that have great routes."

Construction can be an expensive business, and climbing walls are no exception. Powell estimated that for a 15,000-square-foot gym, going at $30 per foot you could easily spend $450,000 just for the walls. Adding proper surfacing, holds, harnesses and locker rooms means the cost can easily rise much higher.

Of course, there are also less expensive options available. Some manufacturers offer panels that can be added to the walls of your gym, and there is a unique product that turns the climbing wall into a treadmill-like amenity. You should talk with as many manufacturers about the various options available as possible. The right help will allow you to determine the best fit for your own facility.

Getting others involved in the building process, especially potential customers, depends on more than just the proverbial "location, location, location."

"In terms of marketing, you have to find out what customers want," Raue said.

Powell described the customer as the "million-dollar question" and said marketing can be tricky. "I have yet to find a magic bullet as far as marketing goes," he said. "At Peak Experiences, we have found that the best way to get people climbing is to create great routes that change regularly, and create a great culture that people want to keep coming back to. If you do that very well, then you get 'raving fans'—people who can't stop talking about you in ways that convince their friends, co-workers and neighbors to come and try. The vast bulk of our new customers are referrals from existing ones."