North Carolina Family Starts Construction of New Gym With a Youth Focus

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Ruckus Climbing Gym owners and daughter at the ground breaking
The Kilburns—pictured beside their daughter, Addison—broke ground on Ruckus Climbing Gym earlier this year, a roped climbing and bouldering facility being built in Greensboro. (All photos courtesy of Ruckus Climbing Gym)

Ruckus Climbing Gym
Greensboro, North Carolina

Specs: Ruckus Climbing Gym is expected to open in Greensboro, North Carolina, in March 2024, with owners John and Kendra Kilburn at the head of the self-funded project. The couple chose to build the gym from scratch, in the hopes of having more control over the buildout “without compromising the customer experience,” said John. The 13,000-square-foot facility will feature 12,000 square feet of lead, top rope and bouldering terrain on walls up to 42 feet tall, with 10 auto belays, kids climbing walls, a party room, fitness room, yoga studio and retail area.

OnSite

An aerospace lubricants engineer, John had long been looking to start a business of his own, as well. He and Kendra decided on a climbing gym after taking their daughter home from a competition in Asheville in March of 2022. They felt the climbing population of the Triad area—Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point—was underserved, with the availability for a gym like Ruckus. “We spent a great deal of time with Rockwerx, with whom we also worked on a consulting basis, looking over location circles…After considering several options, it was a clear choice to settle in Western Greensboro,” John explained. “The population, income and age demographics in this area proved to be the strongest in the Triad. It was important that we put our best foot forward with our first location to give us the best chance of success.”

The Ruckus building under construction
Construction of the new gym is well underway and will soon house a full suite of climbing and fitness amenities.

John also noted that he and Kendra were “looking at it through the eyes of our 7-year-old [daughter],” Addison, who John says “is too good for a kids area that’s just big holds for a starter climber, but she’s too short to reach some of these holds on a V4/V5. She has the skill set. She’s got the foundation for all that. She’s too small.” With their daughter and other younger climbers in mind, the owners are planning on investing heavily into youth programming and amenities, and being intentional about grades. After visiting Synergy Climbing and Ninja in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and noticing the gym’s youth grading scale, John is planning to implement something similar at Ruckus. “We wanted to not only focus on having an area for kids to try climbing for the first time and on a casual level, but have some legit and challenging climbing for kids with a smaller wingspan than adults,” John said, adding that attention has also been given to “the hard-core adult climbing community” and finding the right mix for Ruckus to become a “go-to spot for climbers of all ages and abilities in the Triad.”

John and Addison Kilburn climbing in Orlando
While not the only focus of the gym, owners John and Kendra did design Ruckus to be a place that younger climbers like Addison (pictured climbing with John in Orlando) could enjoy.

Following nearly two years of planning, John has five tips for anyone opening a new climbing gym:

  1. “If this is your first gym, I can’t recommend enough bringing on consultant help. We were so lost out of the gates with so many questions on where to start. Once we brought on Rockwerx, everything came into focus and it was go time. Our time frame would more than likely have been double had I not had industry consultant help.
  2. Talk to other gym owners. This community is incredibly helpful and genuinely interested in and excited about the growth and success of other gyms.
  3. Ask questions. No matter how much you think you know about business, climbing or both, opening a gym is a massive undertaking and you’ll want to learn as much as you can throughout the process from everyone involved.
  4. Get organized. Staying organized and on top of responsibilities guarantees steady progress. Having a handle on everything that needs to be done ensures that even during the delays and hiccups and everything else that comes at you, you’ll keep the positive momentum moving forward.
  5. Add 20% to your budget as everything is up, especially if you’re building from the ground up. We were hit by increases across the board during our design phase. I was also naive to the cost of items that I thought I had a grasp on until we got final quotes for our business loan. I’m not sure what I could have changed if I could go back and go through that part again, but I would have been better prepared for the fact I had to cut some items out for the time being.”
Eldorado Climbing

Walls: Rockwerx
Flooring: UCS Climbing
CRM Software: Approach
Website: ruckusclimbinggym.com
Instagram: @RuckusClimbingGym

In Their Words: “We have absolutely experienced challenges throughout—it’s part of what makes it fun and will make it all the more satisfying when we get to opening day. The great thing about starting a small business from scratch is that the to-do lists are endless. As such, with every delay and hurdle, we are able to pivot our attention to something else that we need to work on and push forward. Staying flexible, positive and focused on the end goal keeps us motivated through the unexpected hurdles.” – John Kilburn, founder and co-owner of Ruckus

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