12 Nov Know your Inventory
Climbing gyms are uniquely situated to provide members with a constantly changing and new exercise experience. This coupled with a quantifiable way of demonstrating progress and advancement through level of difficulty of routes and boulder grades keeps climbers returning. With that in mind, routesetting and Setters are now considered a key components of managing a successful gym. Routes constitute the inventory of a gym and good routesetting is the ultimate reason for climbers to return. Professional setters help make the gym experience interesting and rewarding and keep members engaged.
With Status Comes Scrutiny
The costs of opening and maintaining a gym are growing as fast as the indoor climbing gym industry is expanding across the world. At the center of every climbing gym are the routes and with them the Setters. The routes are the inventory and the Setters control the product. This new found focus and importance brings with it a level of accountability. Like any part of a business, there needs to be a way to assess product quality and analyze the use of the inventory. There is also a need to assess Setter workload and quantify work, as well as incorporate rest, training, actual time for climbing and overall well-being of the Setters.
According to the Climbing Business Journal “Gym Trends of 2017“, in 2017 43 gyms opened across the U.S. New gyms opening up means an increase in demand for setters. Finding, hiring and training good people to be professional setters is hard and takes time which has created a shortage of setters. Leading gyms understand the importance of routesetting for a positive and engaging customer experience and are starting to pay top dollar for good Setters. Finally, Setters are receiving the recognition and the respect that they deserve. However, with the focus on route and boulder design comes accountability. For the most part Setters enjoy a significant amount of autonomy when working within the gym. As competition between gyms starts to heat up, this could mean that gyms will want to control the Setters more and remove much of the autonomy that Setters have traditionally enjoyed. This poses a number of new questions for gym managers. How does one go about evaluating a Setter or assessing the quality of a route? Is there a way to determine the Return On Investment of a Setter or a specific route? These question come up periodically and are hard to answer. What skills and competencies make a good setter? There are hard and soft skills that come into play. For instance, is he or she a team player, listens to criticism, is eager to try new things, engages with the Setter community as well as the gym members?
First the gym has to understand its inventory, in the same way it does with anything else it offers to its members, from drinks to energy bars and climbing gear, as well as classes. The gym has a point-of-sale (POS) system that helps management identify what sells and what doesn’t. Is there anything like that for the most important product, its routes and boulders? The gym has various wall types, thousands of holds and hundreds of types of holds and different ways of climbing from auto belay, bouldering, top roping and leading. A gym can have anywhere from tens to hundreds of routes or boulders but what does it is know about this inventory? If there is not much knowledge about what is being “sold” at any point in time how do you make decisions about what to “offer” in the future? How do you create a way to engage with your customers and help them become better climbers? The first place to start is with data analytics. In a gym, this is hard. It’s not as easy as a POS system, there are many facets to routes and boulders.
Some of the best ways to determine quality of a route and setter are obvious, climb the routes, watch others climb them and listen to what they are saying. It is pretty simple really. Listening and watching members climb is the best way to get feedback. This gives someone good empirical evidence but that is only one route by one setter at any given time. How do you perform a yearly evaluation on a setter? Do you even care about doing one? Is it really worth the effort? Maybe as a manager, you have a general idea about the way a Setter has performed over the year, but for an annual review, how do you objectively quantify that “general idea”?
How does a gym or setter manager quantify routes or setters over a period of time? Over multiple terrains, routes, boulders, grades etc? A starting point would be for gyms to develop a system that tracked and accounted for these types of attributes as well as others and to use the data collected to analyze setter performance across various competencies.
Each gym could come up with their own nomenclature for styles (kids, powerful, balance etc) so that it made sense the specific needs its members. Gym’s would be able to determine how many different styles of climbs were on their walls at any one time, they could see which setters are creating what types of climbs and using which holds, and which terrain and see this over time.
A system like this could be used by the gym members as well. Gyms could use the data created by the setters and use it to engage with and help their members to become better climbers. Imagine a scenario in which a setter creates a route on the wall and then enters it into a system, where he or she can add attributes about the hold type, style of climbing, grade etc – whatever you want, then when a member climbs it that info is recorded about the member. We all know that we like to do what we do best and not work on our weak spots. To get better as a climber, we need identify our weaknesses and work on them. The system can aggregate the data about each climber, what styles or walls he or she tends to climb and which ones he or she avoids.
A system like this can have multiple uses throughout the lifespan of a climber. The system could understand the progression of a climber over time and with the input of a professional coach or trainer, present to the member training regiments, ideas and protocols that will help the member progress.
Not all gyms will want or need a robust platform but all could benefit from sharing information with their setters and their members.