Many climbers share the same long-term dream: to spread the joy of climbing by opening a climbing gym of their own. As the sport blossoms in popularity, so does the potential for climbing gyms to be productive and impactful business models.
It’s easy to see the benefits of venturing into the entrepreneurial world, but it’s not always an easy road. The execution is ripe with challenges, like picking the right market, finding a suitable location, and navigating the tricky waters of funding. The Gravity Vault offers a unique solution to the inherent challenges of opening a gym: franchising.
Franchising – Ownership With Experience
The Gravity Vault opened its first location in 2005, in Upper Saddle River, NJ. After opening two locations and honing their brand, they pioneered their franchising program, a first in the industry. The Gravity Vault’s first franchise agreement was signed in April of 2013 and opened in February of 2014.
Mark Davidson, the second franchisee, opened the doors of The Gravity Vault gym in Poughkeepsie in 2015. “Climbing can become part of a way of looking at life and overcoming challenges,” he says. “I wanted to open my first gym to introduce as many people to climbing as possible.” Scott Sklar, who just opened The Gravity Vault in Marin, California, wanted to blend his life-long passion into a life-long business model. “This is my not-ever-retiring retirement plan,” says Sklar, who previously spent a long career in business as an executive, entrepreneur, and board member before joining The Gravity Vault’s Franchise Program.
Franchising is a path that offers certain benefits. “While some individuals prefer to be autonomous, having a partner in the business can be the difference between success and failure in this industry,” says David Pihlgren, the director of Business Development for The Gravity Vault. “In the end, it comes down to mitigating risk. Starting a new business can be risky, but with an experienced partner, you can greatly reduce that risk and set yourself up for success from day one with franchising with The Gravity Vault.”
Their model for franchising is broken down into four key elements: Knowledge, Experience, Leadership and Partnerships. It starts right from day one, with knowledge about what works and what doesn’t. From choosing a market that is ripe for climbing, to understanding how to keep a business growing after the initial stages, The Gravity Vault is there every step of the way, with a track record of success that boasts eight franchise locations and twelve locations total. New franchisees can lean on the experience of overcoming unforeseen challenges, from site build-outs, to insurance claims, to simply creating a tailored setting schedule of route turnover that best fits a given customer base.
“Between the corporate team and the owners there is a great diversity of experience,” says Davidson. “From seasoned gym operators, to engineers and business managers. This diversity of experience is a key strength of the brand and provides a network of experience that translates into real world tangible value to a new franchisee.”
Being part of The Gravity Vault family means you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Franchisees have constant access to the leadership team, who are always available to guide owners to success. One large business hurdle is forming the connections and partnerships that help promote growth and foster community. Agnes Marisa has been a franchisee with The Gravity Vault since 2019. “The Gravity Vault provides not only the guidance on each step that is involved with finding, building and operating a climbing gym, but also, as importantly, all the various parties and business partners within the journey.”
The franchise model is designed to be a fast track to business success. “Our model is scalable and appropriate in all market types, from urban to suburban across the US and even across the world,” says Lucas Kovalcik, founder and CEO of The Gravity Vault. “It emphasizes spreading the sport of climbing in each community we come to.”
Community – Inclusivity and Belonging
Each of The Gravity Vault gyms, from the original location in Upper Saddle River, NJ, to the recently opened franchise location in Marin, California, has a distinct focus on the whole community. “We like to think we have something to offer everyone,” says Pihlgren. “We think anyone has the potential to be a climber.”
That concept that everyone has the potential to be a climber is threaded through every aspect of the business model. The Gravity Vault does not cater to any one demographic over another. “This is exactly why I wanted to open my first gym,” says Davidson. “We want to show everyone how awesome the sport of climbing is while treating them fairly and with respect no matter what their experience or background.”
In Marin, Sklar is focused on not just building community, but being a part of the Marin community. “We are going to make a real effort to reach out to the other communities in Marin County that are underserved for sports and recreation, by partnering with local organizations in those communities.”
While every location bears The Gravity Vault name, each location is unique, and tailored to the local member base. There is no cookie cutter floor plan—each layout is different and unique. The locations all feature local touches, from murals created by local artists, to the sale of locally made chalk bags manufactured by members. No matter where you are, The Gravity Vault strives to be a home away from home.
“We pride ourselves on introducing the sport of climbing to new people and fostering a very inclusive environment of belonging,” says Pihlgren. “Whether you are a first time climber, or an expert, you are always welcome and a part of The Gravity Vault family when you’re here.”
Since The Gravity Vault’s first gym opened in 2005 and the first franchise in 2014, The Gravity Vault has spent years refining the franchise model and developing a formula for success. New franchisees benefit from the knowledge, experience, leadership and partnerships of The Gravity Vault team every step of the way, from the build-out process to opening and operating a climbing gym.