The 8th annual Climbing Wall Association Summit kicked off last night with the much anticipated keynote address from Dan and Dave Chancellor from So iLL Climbing Holds and Climb So iLL. According to the CWA, the Summit is the world’s only professional development conference for climbing gym owners, managers and gear suppliers.
The So iLL brothers were introduced by Walltopia CEO and founder, Ivaylo Penchev, who set a tone of optimism for the evening. Referring to the revival of the US economy, Penchev enthused, “Now is the best time in our industry … there is work for everyone, and everyone in our industry is happy now.”
Due to an unexpected family emergency, Dan Chancellor could not attend the keynote, so his brother Dave delivered his prepared speech, in addition to his own unique performance to a standing-room-only crowd.
From Dan’s perspective, So iLL has been lucky to be part of an industry that is entering a period of unprecedented growth. “We’ve had a unique opportunity to grow our business as the industry has also grown, and let’s face it, climbing is blowing up,” he said. With this growth there is tremendous opportunity, adding, “I believe everyone in this room is in the right place at the right time.”
The presentation highlighted the many trials and errors So iLL has faced since they started making climbing holds when they were attending college during the day and pouring holds all through the night on the porch of their rental house. From dealing with slow dial-up internet, losing their first major shipment of holds in the mail, to scavenging used beer cartons behind liquor stores because they didn’t have enough money to purchase boxes, the company has come a long, long way.
Along the way So iLL has learned a lot about getting from “poor to professional”. One of the main lessons Dan hoped to impart was the importance of being professional and hiring experts, particularly for marketing and brand development. “Market your products like a professional industry,” he urged. “And sorry to break it to you, but the days of clipart are over.” Dan encouraged everyone in the audience to reach out to professional marketing agencies so they can compete in today’s market.
“I know it seems crazy to hire a branding company to help you, and yes, I’m sure there is a high school kid out there you can trade for a free membership, but things are changing,” he said. Using low cost resources to do your branding and marketing might have worked in the past when there was little competition and before you had to spend a lot of capital to open a gym. “So don’t build a $10 million dollar climbing gym and only invest $10,000 dollars in the marketing of your business, it doesn’t make sense.”
After a brief interlude of promotional videos and dancing with a giant iron palm, Dave shared the story of Climb So iLL’s development from an old abandoned power plant building to an award winning climbing complex and high-end restaurant. The building is listed on the National Historic Register and is located in a community improvement district and transportation district that qualified for $12.5 million in financial incentives from the federal and state level.
The keynote was the official kick-off to the two-day conference, but there were multiple clinics and pre-conference presentations earlier this week, including a USAC Level 1 route setting clinic and half-day and full-day presentations on Rock Gym Pro software, climbing gym start-ups, adaptive climbing and rope access techniques for routesetters, among other topics.
CBJ is excited to be the Summit’s first official media organization to cover the event, and look forward to providing complete coverage from the keynote to closing ceremony.