From Garage Wall to National Chain: Monk Expands in the Netherlands

Monk's first climbing space
Monk Bouldergym, a Dutch climbing gym chain, was established in 2008 in Eindhoven and has since expanded throughout the Netherlands. (Pictured: the first Monk facility before relocation; all photos courtesy of Monk Bouldergym)

Monk Hilversum
Hilversum, Netherlands

Specs: This past March, climbing gym developer Monk Bouldergym opened a new bouldering-focused facility in Hilversum, Netherlands. With the spring Hilversum opening, Monk now operates five bouldering facilities throughout the Netherlands, with a sixth gym planned to open in June. According to Bruno Geurts, Monk manager and co-owner, the story of Monk begins with his brother’s garage homewall. After years of patronage from climbers throughout the region, the garage homewallers had to move locations. Instead of building another homewall, Monk’s founders opted to build one of the first commercial gyms in the region, thus bringing the Eindhoven location to life in 2008. “Commercial walls didn’t really exist back then in the Netherlands,” Geurts tells CBJ, noting some of the closest gyms were small locations in nearby Belgium and France. “After ten years or so, gyms were popping up everywhere around Europe. Every [major] city now has multiple climbing gyms.”

The Monk founders' garage wall
The founders of the Monk climbing gym chain started small, with a garage homewall visited by local Dutch crushers.

Monk took part in the European climbing gym boom, eventually expanding to Northern Amsterdam in 2013 and then Rotterdam, Southern Amsterdam, Hilversum and (in June) Hasselt. As homewallers first, operating numerous commercial bouldering gyms in the Netherlands wasn’t the end goal for Monk’s founders. “We had our own pace,” Geurts says. “We didn’t do anything because we needed to, but just because we liked to. We open gyms when the time is there, and everything feels right.”

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The Hilversum location was one of Monk’s opportunistic openings: The building became available to rent and was quickly identified as well-suited to their vision. “We are not really rushing anything, but we always keep our eyes open and, if anything comes up, we take it seriously,” says Geurts. Becoming eager to expand, the owners first contacted the landlords of the facility in the summer of 2022 and were open nine months later. Geurts recalls opening the gym so quickly was challenging, but the facility was too nice to miss out on. The former office supply center is spacious, with nearly 24,000 square feet of floor space, and it has ample natural light (“coming in from every direction”) and efficient heating and air conditioning; it’s also located downtown and close to public transportation (a train station), an important factor for the gym developers.

Climbing at Monk Hilversum
With nearly 24,000 square feet of floor space, Monk Hilversum has space for resting between burns, calisthenics and conversation.

The Monk operators have found that facility design is as important as location. “We tried to make a lot of design choices for the walls that [incorporated aspects of] the best walls we had in our other gyms, including the old garage that it all started in,” describes Geurts. “And the floor space in the gym is at least or even more important than the amount of wall that you have in the gym.” The size of the Hilversum location has provided room for training options to be added—such as a Moon board, training wall, campus boards, and a calisthenics area—without crowding the gym. But providing “high-quality boulders” at the gym is the main focus. “We put a lot of effort in our setting, and we try to aim for a diverse and accessible product,” Geurts says.

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With their growth, a challenge for Monk has been maintaining continuity across locations. “You try to go for a certain quality, but the bigger you get, the harder it gets to deliver,” explains Geurts. “It’s easy to peak once; it’s really difficult to peak all the time…It’s not hard to sometimes have a good crew and sometimes have good boulders, but it’s really difficult to deliver continuously.” He advises other gym operators to stay true to themselves and their goals, while being honest about any shortcomings. He also recommends looking to businesses outside the indoor climbing industry to learn from their success. “You can take a look at a good restaurant to see what’s so good and then try to translate that to elements you bring back in your own place,” he suggests. “Look at what makes an interesting place so interesting and what elements are important there.”

The bar area at Monk Hilversum
The amenities at Monk Hilversum include a modern bar for food and drink after a gym session.

Walls: DreamWall
Flooring: Flipp
CRM Software: Bizzcloud, Lightspeed
Instagram: @Monk_Hilversum

In Their Words: “Stay close to yourself and to your own beliefs. Do what you believe is interesting and nice and do your own thing. Don’t do things because you think that’s what people want or that’s what’s most profitable or what is expected. Really stay close to how you feel your gym has to be. Stay close to what you think climbing is about and don’t focus too much on the rest.” – Bruno Geurts, Monk manager and co-owner

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