Behind the Desk… is an ongoing series that profiles people influencing and advancing the industry in gyms across the country. This month, CBJ heads to Central Oregon to talk about the fate of The Circuit Bouldering Gym in Tigard. Several months ago, the gym was at risk of closing due to eminent domain laws (specifically regarding a proposed railway line). However, thanks to some recent rallying by the Tigard climbing community and a subsequent unanimous vote by a planning committee, the railway line will avoid the gym.
Name: Danny Burkhead
Title: General Manager at The Circuit
Location: Tigard, Oregon
CBJ: What’s new and noteworthy at the gym these days, aside from this exciting news about the gym being saved?
BURKHEAD: Over the last couple years, we’ve remodeled our three current locations. Bathrooms, new gym flooring, retexturing/painting…. It’s important for our customers to see this and their membership dollars getting put to use. More recently, we’ve installed a MoonBoard and a Tension Board. Within the next the couple months we’ll be installing a second Tension Board as well as expanding our fitness areas. The timing of these improvements comes from maintaining a competitive edge, not just against the other climbing gyms in the area, but against yoga studios and regular weight gyms. The climbing gym industry these days has to offer more than just climbing, it’s what customers have come to expect.
But the more exciting reason for the recent improvements is prepping for our fourth gym to open located in Bend, Oregon, come November. As like most families expanding, you can’t neglect your other children, it’s not fair for anyone. The oldest should get as much as love as the newest addition. We knew that we would be busy with our Bend gym, so we put in a lot of hard work on the other three locations.
CBJ: When the Tigard gym was wrapped up in the whole eminent domain issue, you mentioned staying active in the community and in community politics. How can a gym do that without alienating a certain portion of its patrons? Any advice? In other words, what’s the recipe for being a good community neighbor?
BURKHEAD: We’ve been a member of our local Chamber of Commerce, which is great for getting know the feel of your surrounding community and happenings, political or otherwise. Joining a local Chamber of Commerce also comes with the benefit of networking: ‘You scratch my back, I scratch yours.’ This was one of the very reasons why one of our neighbors reached out to tell us about the potential eminent domain issue. We ended up making a coalition of sorts with the other surrounding businesses. And to add to that good neighbor feel, many times we give our neighboring businesses discounted/free passes and invite them to our customer appreciation parties.
CBJ: You have indicated that gyms must be willing to change. Can you elaborate on that and maybe give an example or two? How is running a gym now different than it was, say, five years ago?
BURKHEAD: Climbing gyms today versus even five years ago are completely different. Climbing is more popular than ever and with that more climbing gyms are being built. Customers have started to become accustomed to gyms with yoga classes, fitness classes, training apparatus, showers, saunas, and even bars! Owners and managers should be willing to always try to improve and change their facilities but also their operations. Myself, like most other managers, face a diverse amount of challenges. I never expected to become fluent in eminent domain law/procedures, but that’s what it took to help us fight this. On a daily basis, we need to have knowledge in human resources, marketing, labor laws, OSHA, accounting…and with that knowledge, we try to adapt to any situation. But sometimes you just don’t know what to do and those are the times you need to ask for help, lean on your team/employees, change a policy/procedure, dive into learning a new topic, be willing to admit that you don’t know or were wrong…to make yourselves better.
CBJ: Aside from visiting The Circuit, what are four or five must-do things in Tigard?
BURKHEAD: Our three current locations are based in Portland and the greater metro area. Tigard is a beautiful suburb of Portland. Just down the street from our Tigard location is Bridgeport Village, which is an awesome outdoor shopping complex with live entertainment year round, good dining, and a ton of other shops. Near our Portland locations, swing into the massive Powell’s Books, which covers an entire city block, or head up into the hills to visit Portland’s Japanese Garden for some quiet meditation. For something just over an hour away, take a hike up on Mt. Hood or head to the coast for a quick surf session. There’s always something good to be found here!
John Burgman is the author of High Drama, a book that chronicles the history of American competition climbing. He is a Fulbright journalism grant recipient and a former magazine editor. He holds a master’s degree from New York University and bachelor’s degree from Miami University. In addition to writing, he coaches a youth bouldering team. Follow him on Twitter @John_Burgman and Instagram @jbclimbs