Vertical Adventures, based in Columbus, Ohio, was seeing exponential growth in all areas of operations and needed to expand. After a long real estate search the VA team found a property mere blocks from their original location and set to work building what they called in their press release, “Ohio’s first indoor rock climbing facility to be designed and built from the ground up for climbing.” The new 15,000 SF building, which opened doors to members in November 2014, houses 16,000 SF of wall space, a huge step up from the 6,000 SF the members were used to at the original facility.
So what to do with the old gym? Instead of tearing down the climbing walls and selling off the building they decided to remodel and open it as a dedicated training facility for their growing youth competitive team. “Though the walls aren’t new, they are well-designed, and it would be heart-breaking to all of us to see them go away,” Matt Roberts, VA Team Coach, told CBJ.
From Old to New
Climbing teams are gaining popularity and growing bigger every year. As attendance rises these teams put additional pressure on their host gyms. Youth competitors need space on the wall and on the ground to train for upcoming competitions, and the more space they occupy the less space is available to regular members.
“Our youth program continues to explode. For the last two sessions, every class we’ve offered has filled. When we’ve added more classes, they’ve filled, too,” Roberts said. “There is always tension between program-and membership-based business that makes keeping up with that growth difficult.”
“A full gym and a robust youth program will always mean compromise,” Roberts noted. “Adult members’ experience is compromised by the crowding that the youth program would bring, and the youth experience is compromised by having to set for commercial membership. With two gyms, we can have the best of both.”
During construction of the new Vertical Adventures location the management anticipated that the new gym would be as full as the old one within a year. But would a stand-alone training facility be profitable? Due to the location, a quarter mile away, the VA team has the freedom to think about the training facility as an extension of the “big gym”. If it were further away Roberts said they would “probably just keep the original gym open under a membership model.”
Creating a business plan for a training facility was relatively easy and Roberts hopes to break even quickly. What’s harder to calculate is the financial impact it will have on the main gym; is there a financial return to providing a space that is not overrun by hyper-active children multiple evenings each week?
For Roberts and the owners it really came down to keeping their eyes wide open and making sure the members and the Youth Team were happy. “If it permits more and happier members at the new gym, and it allows us to better serve the youth program then that is a big win for the business,” he said.
The new VA training center is only the third dedicated climber training gym in the USA. As such the VA team knew they needed to make sure they were doing everything they could to make it a success. So they enlisted the help of ABC Kids Climbing out of Boulder, Colorado. ABC Kids Climbing was created in 2004 by Coach Robyn Raboutou and is quickly becoming a dominating force on the youth comp circuit.
ABC Kids licenses their training curriculum to Momentum in Utah and Planet Rock in Michigan. Vertical Adventures is the newest facility to sign on with ABC. According to JoAnne Carilli-Stevenson, ABC Kids Marketing Director, the license includes, “The brand, facility design, staff training and comprehensive curriculum for all pre-school and early elementary classes.”
Teaming up with ABC was an easy choice for the VA team. “When we first visited ABC Kids – Boulder, every detail in the gym was oriented toward their mission of teaching climbing, and that really resonated with us,” said Roberts.
They were also impressed with a turn-key approach to expanding their training program. “We could spend 2 or 3 years replicating the curriculum and facility, but how many families would we alienate during that time?” coach Roberts said. “We simply judged that it makes much more sense to go straight to the source. Now we have a partner with whom we can share what is working and what isn’t, and to accelerate the process of improvement.”
In particular, VA was keen on finding the best way to serve young climbers ages six and under. ABC has a program called the Monkeys, complete with a “Monkey Pavilion” at their Team ABC headquarters in Boulder, that is designed for this age group. “Six and under was an age group that we [felt we] could really cater to. So that is when we reached out to ABC and that is where our partnership is beginning.”
Even though VA has only licensed the Monkey program from ABC, the partnership is broader and includes, “cross-marketing of outdoor trips & camps, policy development and staff training” Roberts said. “Our partnership is one of complementarities.”
Coach Roberts and the owners of Vertical Adventures want their members to associate Vertical Adventures with excellent people, programming and facilities. “If we have the chance to collaborate with ABC in building a youth program, and that allows us to launch a fully-formed, excellent Monkeys program, to us, that choice is easy.”