“I don’t need help managing my online reputation because our reviews are great and word of mouth is our primary source of marketing.” We hear these words time and again from climbing gym operators who are looking to run their business on a shoestring budget. This approach is common for startups, but to grow you have to cultivate your reputation. Think of word-of-mouth marketing as people planting seeds for your business, and your online reputation as the fertilizer; the customers may help plant the seeds, but the business needs to maintain its growth by nurturing those seeds.
In this article, we’ll address key factors that relate to your gym business’s growth and brand recognition, and what we can do to help interest in your gym sprout and flourish.
Generating New Leads
Based on our analysis, a majority of climbing gyms already rank on the first page of Google searches in their area. In the climbing world, showing up on the first page of Google isn’t an achievement—it’s expected. The industry, in most markets, simply isn’t saturated enough to not show up on the first page when someone in your local area searches for “climbing near me.” Many gym operators see that result and think their job is done, but here’s why it is not: “Climbing near me” isn’t a popular enough search to grow your business. In fact, the only people who will be searching for “climbing near me” will already be interested in climbing, and the industry isn’t big enough yet to rely on existing interest alone to grow your business, year over year, without cultivating new interest.
In the world of climbing gyms, there are generally two primary business models: The first model relies on diehard climbers who have monthly or annual memberships and desire to keep their gym kid-free and not crowded. In order for that kind of gym business to grow its reputation and attract serious climbers, the operators may find it beneficial to be hyper-focused on creating an experience that engages the climbers and celebrates their achievements and failures alike. Gyms that are serving climbers well on the wall and sharing videos of their climbs on social media appear to get more online engagement.
The second type of climbing gym business model is the model designed to attract families, new climbers, kids, and aims to operate as a fun, entertainment facility. In order for that gym business to grow from its online reputation, it must attract prospects from broader search bases on Google and other search engines. Every weekend should be viewed as an opportunity to get five new families to come into the gym. The most reliable way to do so is to build an online reputation that gets your business ranking well for broader searches a family may be typing into Google on a Saturday or Sunday, such as “fun things to do near me”, or “family fun in my area.” Showing up on searches like these is a clear indication of a stellar online reputation.
Five new families of four people every weekend is twenty new leads for a recurring membership model. Twenty new leads a week is 1,040 new leads a year. At a five percent conversion rate, you would have 52 new members a year. That’s 52 new people helping you out with the word-of-mouth marketing that many businesses covet most. In this model, your company would grow an additional $50,000-$100,000+ in annual revenue, before any other marketing efforts, for as long as it remained effective in sustaining that conversion rate.
How do we start ranking well for those kinds of searches? This is the question you should be asking yourself, and the answer is simple: consistent reviews, star ratings, keywords, and responsiveness to your reviews. None of these parts of the equation should be surprising. Receiving more reviews equates to more keywords being tapped, giving a gym business more opportunities to respond and trigger more keywords.
Of course, your star ratings are important, and the good news is that most climbing gyms are already doing a great job at receiving 4.6 to 5.0 stars consistently. If your gym is not, then you need to focus on getting more reviews because the solution to pollution is dilution—which is to say, your star ratings will more accurately represent the quality of your service when the rare bad reviews get outnumbered by the many more good ones. And remember to always take the time to respond to reviews, whether good or bad.
The next piece of the online reputation puzzle is your social media posting, presence and profile. Practically every gym operator is doing social media in some capacity, but the general sentiment we’ve observed is that almost everyone feels clueless when it comes to knowing how much revenue or conversion their efforts are driving. Operators are also finding themselves in a reactionary state on social media, in which it is a piece of work crammed into the middle of someone’s day to get something out at all. This approach to social media marketing results in inconsistency, low engagement, and relatively low brand recognition or excitement.
So, how do we fix this approach? First off, we can’t control what other people do, but we can control our response. And becoming consistent in how we respond is crucial for climbing gym social media. Focus on posting consistently, and posting quality content that engages people. In speaking with gym owners every day and viewing their gym’s social media profiles, the takeaway is overwhelming: Videos of climbers climbing is the thing that gets the most engagement. Our profiles need to be celebrating the people on our walls. Every. Single. Day. Gym businesses that are recording climbers (with their permission) and sharing their climbs, cheering them on, and making them the stars are crushing the social media game, and their businesses appear to have more potential.
Getting footage of climbers at the gym solving problems, conquering obstacles, and outright failing are all great ways to engage your community. People feel seen and supported when the staff at your gym spend time with them, watching them climb and getting a video, and these climbers become the ones who engage with your online content and help promote the stoke. There’s a reason why amusement parks sell photos when you get off the roller coaster: It creates engagement, and the same principle can help you build a community of engaged members at your gym.
Streamlining Reputation Management
The problem is, all that work takes time, and there are always other responsibilities that require staff attention throughout the day and interruptions that come up. To recap all the things we need to do to cultivate a stellar online reputation that converts online interactions into in-person experiences at your gym:
- Create unforgettable experiences.
- Capture and share those experiences.
- Get more five-star reviews.
- Respond to those reviews.
- Rinse and repeat.
It’s not rocket science, but it does take time.
But what if you had a tool that aggregated all your social profiles under one roof, and tracked all your reviews, star scores and posts? What if this tool automated the process of requesting a five-star review, and even the process of responding to each and every review? And what if it also allowed you to plan and schedule when and where each and every social media post went out? Is there a tool that would give the staff at your gym more time to record members’ best moments, and streamline the job of posting to socials, getting reviews and responding to those reviews?
Reputation Management through Approach does exactly that, helping our gym partners improve their online reputation through consistent automation and the ability to plan and schedule their social posting so they can be proactive as opposed to reactive.
And for the diehard climbing gyms out there, as we head into the winter season and the serious outdoor climbers shift their time to indoor climbing, ask yourself: “If they found you online, what would draw those serious climbers to your gym? Does your reputation exude your gym’s essence? Does it appear they will get better by coming to your gym?”
Every weekend, people everywhere make the decision to go out and do something that breaks them out of their routine. That something might be coming to climb at your gym, but for that visit to happen they have to know you are there. So, if you want to grow, set your sights on showing up for those broader searches where the weekenders are looking for something to do.
Prioritize posting, responding to and getting reviews, and committing to spending more time capturing your visitors’ moments together, because that’s what people come back for. As we all know, somebody’s first climbing experience could end up being their last, so remember: You only get one chance to make a first impression.
About the Author
Luke Miller is a business consultant currently working with Approach. With a strong focus on business development and strategy, Luke aims to solve everyday business challenges with out-of-the-box thinking. From medical spas and plastic surgery practices to gyms specializing in niche offerings, Luke enjoys the process of digging into specific business models to determine where processes may be streamlined and where revenue can be driven.
This story was paid for by the sponsor and does not necessarily represent the views of the Climbing Business Journal editorial team.
Approach is a fully integrated, customizable gym management platform that helps you manage all elements of your climbing and fitness offerings. From membership management and comprehensive calendaring to your point-of-sale system, our unified platform streamlines your operations and helps you grow your business. From the onset, we have focused on capturing data that would scale and give business owners visibility critical to growth. We are dedicated to constantly adding features and maintaining a product that is evolving with the industry. Request a demo today.