Oklahoma To Get New Climbing Gym

okc_2 From PRESS RELEASE Climb UP, a new modern climbing facility in Norman, Oklahoma seeks to build on the growth of climbing in the flatlands and will be the first full-service progressive climbing gym in Oklahoma.  The 12,000 sq. ft. space will feature a massive top-out boulder, a 70-foot long by 16-foot tall competition bouldering wall, a variety of top-roping, steep lead climbing terrain, auto-belays, a speed climbing training wall, hangboard area, film and slideshow venue, as well as a dedicated kids boulder, group area, pro shop, and a yoga studio. Owners Aaron and Lisa Gibson, the husband-wife team, are no strangers to the climbing gym world. They were the operators of Rocktown Climbing Gym in Oklahoma City and spent seven years as the visionaries that brought the silo gym national recognition. “This new gym has been years in the making,” says Aaron, “When I began climbing 23 years ago I imagined having a climbing gym here in my hometown. We finally have a chance to make that dream a reality.”  Aaron calls this new gym a “hybrid.” The makeup is close to 50% rope and 50% bouldering. It’s more weighted towards bouldering than most rope gyms because of the large student population (Norman is a college town, home to the University of Oklahoma) and ever-growing interest in bouldering but still has quality roped climbing terrain. From a business standpoint they felt the throughput of bouldering would allow more people to engage with climbing more frequently rather than waiting for a roped climb to open up. As such, Climb UP is not purely a bouldering gym, nor is it a standard roped climbing gym, but it can hold it’s own in either category. “We worked really hard on the concept and layout in order to maximize the functionality of the space while maintaining an openness that encourages people to explore, to observe, and to climb,” says Aaron.  While the Gibsons could have gone lower-budget on the walls and built them in-house, they felt that it was value-added to have a top-of-the-line brand, like Walltopia, construct the walls. “There is something to be said for name recognition and professional quality. We felt that Walltopia, with their product had exactly what we were looking for,” says Aaron, “We think it will be well-worth the expense.”
Photo: Walltopia
Photo: Walltopia
It’s one thing to have great walls but climbers will quickly tell you that it’s the routesetting that makes the gym. To that end, Climb UP will employ experienced setters that are USA Climbing certified. Likewise, all instructors will be CWA certified and all climbing guides will be AMGA certified. The goal is to bring a greater degree of professionalism to the gym and the community. Climb UP will have a strong focus on programming for young climbers, after school climbing clubs, climbing events, and will be a launch pad for outdoor enthusiasts.  “We took into account the large population of kids and young adults when thinking about our programming,” says Lisa. Climb UP is currently under construction and anticipates an opening date in November of 2014. Find them online at http://climbupgym.com.

Online Booking Comes to RGP

rgp-calendar-booking-2 Today Rock Gym Pro officially released a new online booking and calendar system to its gym management software. With these new tools customers will be able to reserve a spot and pay for belay classes, clinics, birthday parties, summer camps and special events from the comfort of their computer. Most importantly, these bookings will be integrated into RGP, meaning customer and payment information for classes will be incorporated into the gym’s customer management and billing system. It is estimated that RGP is used by approximately 90% of commercial climbing facilities in the US. Adding booking capabilities to the software is the biggest addition since RGP added digital waivers a few years ago. Andy Laakmann, founder of RGP, said that allowing customers to book courses and classes online was the number one requested feature from RGP users. “Of course, the online booking is actually just a small piece of the system. The true power is in the staff managing the schedule, bookings, events, and courses on a day-to-day basis,” he said. The release comes with a new tier of pricing. The basic RGP software is still free, but to take advantage of the new booking and calendar system gyms must subscribe to “Level 3 Premium Support” for $199 per month (a $73 increase over Level 2 pricing). This tier includes all the features of Level 2, including customer support, digital waivers and backups, plus the new calendar and online booking system. With this added functionality, Laakmann feels the new pricing tier is a great value. “RGP is a complete member management, point-of-sale, document management, and now calendar/booking system,” he said. He also thinks the tool should pay for itself. “The gyms using this system will absolutely see an increase in course bookings and thus revenue. Their customers can now book any event or course 24 hours a day with zero barriers,” Laakmann said.

Booking Meets Customer Management

The release follows several months of testing by a handful of climbing facilities across the country. Tod Bloxham, President/General Manager of Edgeworks Climbing, was one of the beta testers and was very pleased with the new features. They had previously been using Bookeo for the scheduling of classes and events, and found the system time consuming and fraught with problems because it did not communicate with RGP. “If we chose not to enter the Bookeo bookings into RGP, then we would have no visibility of customer history which would not help us if we are trying to solve customer issues or get accurate sales history,” Bloxham said. “With the new RGP Calendar/Booking tool we are able to not only seamlessly integrate our online presentation and bookings with our [point-of-sale] and customer database, but we can also setup resources, like our party room or climbing school van, so that they do not get double booked.” Since switching to the RGP booking tool Edgeworks has been able to eliminate a stack of reservation binders that were challenging to keep up to date, and now have all of their class schedules, class availability and payments in one place. Now when an event needs to be changed, whether it’s the time, number of spots, price or anything else, the changes are automatically updated into the calendar and online widgets, which saves staff time and reduces errors. Touchstone Climbing also tested the new tools this summer. Jeffery Bowling, Sr. Manager at Touchstone, says these were the last major components missing from the software. “Rock Gym Pro now does almost everything a rock climbing gym needs to run operationally,” Bowling said. “There are a few smaller features that would be nice to see added in the future, but we no longer feel the need to use 3rd party products.”
Online booking on Edgework's website
Online booking on Edgework’s website

A Complex Project

Laakmann says that building this new tool took 16 months. “It was a massive project. And I’ll be honest and say I underestimated the true effort required,” he said. “The amount of software code within RGP increased by 50% to complete this project. That demonstrates the scope.” He noted that there isn’t really a way to develop a ‘minor’ booking system, and that there are entire businesses dedicated to just online booking and course scheduling. The abundance of features included in the scheduling tool make it somewhat intimidating for managers trying to add all their events to the calendar. “The number of features can be a bit overwhelming on the admin side, but once setup it does a great job getting customer bookings,” Bloxham commented.

The Limitations

The system does have some limitations that require awkward work-arounds. For instance, the booking system does not have a shopping cart that allows customers to book multiple events at once, so if they want to sign up for three different classes they have to purchase all three separately (however their information is saved between bookings). The system also does not support events that span multiple days, so if you are planning an overnight lock-in, you must create a “two-session” event, one session that goes ’til midnight, and a second that goes from midnight until the morning. One of the biggest holes the beta users found was the inability to initiate recurring billing. This means classes or youth programs that are billed on a monthly basis are not compatible with the booking system. Users may also need to rework their class offerings before they can use the new tool for all of their classes. The online booking tool also cannot validate membership status, which means staff oversite may be required to ensure member discounts are applied properly.
Class description on Touchstone's website
Class description on Touchstone’s website

Coming Next

Bloxham at Edgeworks is already looking ahead to the next update. “The email communication to customers that book online is somewhat one sided right now; it sends out great confirmation related emails at the time of the booking, but the ability to follow up with customers after their program ends and email them links to customer satisfaction surveys or offers is something that we hope to see from RGP in the future,” he said. Laakmann is optimistic about where RGP can go from here. “This is a huge release,” he said. “Beyond just online booking and calendar management, this release serves as a platform for future features such as online gift card sales, online membership management forms, etc.”

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