Today’s guest, Jackson Scott, told his parents that he wanted to open a climbing gym, and although there was a lot of hard work along the way, the end result was Crux Climbing, which is operated and co-owned by Scott and his parents. It was a family dream that became a family reality. Scott talks about that process of starting a family-owned gym in this episode. He also reflects on some of the lessons learned within the gym’s first year of operations, offering advice to anyone else who might be dreaming of opening a “mom-and-pop”-style climbing facility.
00:00 – Intro
02:42 – Getting his parents onboard
07:00 – Educational aspects of gym ownership
09:43 – Does the family dynamic complicate business?
11:11 – Similarities and differences in operation expectations
14:14 – Feedback from members
15:26 – Using space efficiently
17:56 – Bits of wisdom acquired in the first year
19:29 – Most time-consuming aspect of gym ownership
20:35 – Advice for families looking to open a gym
23:44 – Closing
BURGMAN: When you sat your parents down and you explained to them that you wanted to open a climbing gym, what was that conversation like, and what was maybe the aspect of your “pitch” to them, for lack of a better word, that prompted your parents to get onboard and be supportive in you realizing this dream?
SCOTT: …They sat me down, actually, and they were like, “Hey, you need to kind of figure out what you want to do and get out of the house.” That’s when I pitched it to them. I just explained the whole culture of climbing and how it was a community I’d never seen before and everyone was super friendly and competitive, but a different type of competitiveness that I had never seen before. So I showed that to them, and they really liked that. I showed them my homewall with how it was set up. It was just a simple wall, but it had a couple different angles and it was enough, and I was just like, “We just need to blow this up just a little bit, nothing crazy.” They didn’t know what a commercial gym looked like, so I showed them what a top-of-the-line gym was and what a 90s-style, really small, tight-knit gym was…That’s kind of like what my homewall was too, a lot of homemade stuff…I really pitched that to them and, honestly, I definitely got lucky. My parents are wonderful people and they believed in me…
Have there ever been any instances where the family dynamic complicates owning a business?
…Overall, I would say that it’s wonderful, just in the fact that even though we’re a three-way owner, and they definitely have as equal a say as I do, they definitely still trust me, just like it was in the beginning. They know that I’m the one who is here, and I can see the flow of everything that’s happening and what needs to be changed.
They live two hours away. So, if I do need help with something, whether it’s at the bank or taking care of a certain bill or I just don’t have time for something—it does get difficult having time for everything. That’s the number one difficulty with it all. But I have been able to hire a few employees, students at the university who are very passionate about climbing, and they’ve helped me out a tremendous amount when I needed it.
How has the first year or so of operating the gym been similar or different to what you expected it would be?
I was really scared at first, right before we opened, obviously just to have people in here. I was like, “I’ve got to get the name out and get people here.” Because I knew if I could get them here that they would see the same vision I saw and would enjoy it, and hopefully want to start to build a community and friends…There were a lot of things to explain [at the start], but it was great seeing people’s faces, seeing something new in town for the first time, something new to try…There are definitely more members and there’s more traffic, and I think that’s just based off of word of mouth and people finding out about it. Definitely it’s the relationships…
What are the big bits of wisdom that you’ve acquired [in the first year]?
The most important one is that I’m not trying to “sell a membership” anymore. I am at the base of it, but at the same time, I’m not. I’m selling climbing to the person. I’m just trying to get that person into the community because of how I’ve seen it change the way I think and my whole life. I never would’ve imagined that I would be climbing at all. So, I definitely have shifted my mindset to “it’s not important whether they get the membership or they’re coming every week or the money; it’s about building a relationship with the person and just making them feel at home and at the same time introducing this awesome sport…”
If there’s another family somewhere who hears your story and gets inspired and wants to open up their own climbing gym in that same “mom-and-pop” model, what advice can you give to that family?
No matter what it looks like, or how many doors seem to close, don’t give up on it. Because those [gyms] need to exist…There’s something about the close-knit and smallness of the gym that people are drawn to. They feel like it’s something they’re a part of, and they are…Don’t give up on any opportunities that look like, “Oh, there’s just no way that we can make it happen.” There’s always a reason for something happening. Whether that’s losing the building that you wanted or having a hard time finding a company that’s going to build your wall for you, always look and keep sourcing out other ideas and options. Never just accept the failure. Always look for a solution.
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. Read our interview Meet John Burgman, U.S. Comp Climbing’s Top Journalist.