2nd WICS Connects at Exciting Time for Climbing

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The Global State of the Market session opens WICS 2019.
The Global State of the Market session opens WICS 2019.
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Two months before the first climbing Olympians qualified for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the annual World Indoor Climbing Summit (WICS) took place on June 19th-21st in Sofia, Bulgaria, connecting climbing business experts from around the world to discuss the changing climbing industry. Altogether, 290 professionals from 29 countries exchanged knowledge and experience and contributed new perspectives on the state of the industry worldwide – from developing to established markets.

The Difference Maker in 2019

Now in its 2nd edition, the program of WICS continues to innovate as the climbing industry evolves. In addition to practical lectures and workshops ranging from planning and constructing a climbing gym to managing day-to-day operations and best practices in routesetting, the sessions this year included several new topics. The secrets of funding through private equity and whether restaurants have a place in climbing gyms, for example, were explored in-depth.

“Our experience with private equity began in 2016, when we raised 2.5 million euros, and last year we raised 10 million euros,” says Steve Guillou, Co-Founder and CEO of Arkose, which operates 14 gyms in France and plans to open 30 new ones in Europe in the next 2 years. “My advice for people negotiating with funds is to be fast. You need the money now. Don’t wait. The industry won’t wait for you.”

Guillou shares Arkose’s success story during the Growth Through Private Equity session.

“Food and beverage can bring an additional atmosphere in a gym, more conviviality, more ways to meet people, and could bring additional traffic of non-climbing people who could become new climbers,” says Grégoire De Belmont, General Manager of Arkose, which runs high-end bars and restaurants in its climbing gyms. “It’s a real profession, so you must be professional at running restaurants and bars in your gym.”

The WICS program this year also incorporated the insights of related, more mature industries in order to learn from their experience. A panel comprised of experienced fitness industry professionals, for instance, presented on how to manage rapid industry expansion and shared some practices that could be relevant for climbing gym operators as well.

“The fitness industry has gotten really good at understanding how to lock a customer into their service, and some of that can be applied to climbing,” says Killko Caballero, Owner of Totem Escalade, a climbing gym chain with four bouldering gyms in Switzerland. “In many ways, I think climbing is the future of fitness because it’s fun, social fitness…You get fit without getting bored.”

The Future of Climbing panel interacts with the audience during the final session.

The Pinnacle of the Summit

The signature discussion of the event centered on the future of climbing, which sparked a discussion on whether the climbing industry will diverge from its roots as growth continues. Opinions were diverse, but many key decision makers of indoor climbing expressed the common goal to both retain the unique characteristics of climbing and introduce climbing to a wider audience. Most participants were optimistic about the horizons ahead and acknowledged the need to adapt and respond to the needs of expanding climbing communities.

“The first big change that I’ve seen in the industry is just the rapid, rapid growth…Our customer numbers, the number of walls and the size of the industry are all going up, and it’s a really exciting time to be involved,” says Rich Emerson, Chair of the Association of British Climbing Walls and CEO of the Climbing Academy Group Ltd, which runs two climbing gyms in the South of England and two more in Scotland.

“Climbing is at a crossroad, and I think the next few years will make a pretty big impact on where climbing goes in the future,” says Jeffery Bowling, Marketing, IT and Business Development Manager of Touchstone Climbing.

The sun sets during the rooftop celebration following WICS 2019.

The Grand Finale

The Summit finished with a rooftop celebration of climbing, the ideas explored together at the event and the opportunity to network in between sessions. Photos of the event can be found on WICS’s Facebook page, and check out the WICS YouTube channel for interviews with the speakers.

“The WICS team is happy the summit became a reality for the second time. All the feedback received has been positive and affirms that the 2nd WICS was a successful and useful event,” says Adam Koberna, President of the USA branch of Walltopia, the company that hosts WICS. “Next year, WICS will be one of the first climbing business events after the Olympics, the perfect time to continue the dialogue about the future of climbing and what awaits after Olympic exposure.”

The 3rd WICS will take place on September 16th-18th in 2020, only one month after the 32nd Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Follow the WICS website for updates and get ready with the teaser below.

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This story was paid for and produced by the sponsor and does not necessarily represent the views of the Climbing Business Journal editorial team.