Ken
Klimbz is the premier climbing gym route management and member engagement platform with website and connected app. Gym managers can analyze their routes, manager their setting team and receive feedback from their community. Gyms can run leagues, paperless comps and provide gym specific training for their teams and members. Members can track their climbing progress through clear data visualization, can interact with other gym members, and provide feedback to the gym setter team.
rock climbing, climbing, indoor climbing, route management, gym member engagement,
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Author: Ken

New climbing gyms open every month. Now climbers have more choices. Eventually the market will hit a saturation point and the “build it and they will come” model will start to break down. For locals where there was no previous gym or history of climbing, it can take time and energy to develop a member base and a community where there was not one previously. In areas where new gyms compete against older established ones, the new and shiney but the older gyms have an established community. Differentiation will make a big difference. Routesetting, customer service and community engagement are a few areas in which gyms can stand apart from each other. There are many ways for gyms to use these differentiation points to grow their community. Digital technology can assist and be one of many points, that gyms use in building out these differentiations. A digital system starts with route management but extends into all aspects of the gym community, marketing to events and coaching. Digital technology can be enlisted to help develop a new gym community or add value to keep an older gym member base and meet the new generation of climbers in their digital world.

Climbing gyms, climbers and the climbing industry have been slower to move into the technological age than other sports. Digital technology can help athletes understand their sleep, rest, food intake, strokes per minute, strides and more. For gyms, starting with a route management system is a logical place to begin using digital technology. However, when talking to head setters and gym owners I hear a few excuses, the two that I hear the most are:

    1. We have a spreadsheet system that works for us, why should we change
    2. We don’t want our gym members on their phones while at the gym.

 

Lets address point #2 first, at the gym I go to regularly, everyone has a phone out next to their chalk bag when bouldering or by their shoes when on ropes. And people are starting to climb with wireless earbuds so their phones need to be nearby. To be fair, some people call the gym a “no phone zone”. It makes sense. No distractions. But embracing the digital world does not mean gym members will be on their phones more than they already are. According to the AAC’s “State of Climbing Report 2019” – OIA’s demographic data suggests that if you head to the nearest gym or crag, and you’ll see a lot of Millennials: 65% of climbers are between the ages of 18 and 35″. This means that most of your gym members have grown up in the Internet Age. They expect things to be digital. They want to see information on their phones. It’s important to meet your clients where they are and how they view the world

As for point #1, change is hard. It does not matter what that change is. . In a recent interview on Climbing Business Journal, Danny Burkhead states: “Climbing gyms today versus even five years ago are completely different. Climbing is more popular than ever and with that more climbing gyms are being built….Owners and managers should be willing to always try to improve and change their facilities but also their operations”. Embracing digital technology can help improve both. Moving away from the spreadsheet and paper by putting that information online in a format that members can interact with creates all sort of engagement possibilities. With a digital system gym members can easily keep track of what climbs they have completed, which ones have taken more attempts and more importantly, a qualitative way to understand why some climbs are harder than others based on real data like the terrain, hold types or styles of climbs. 

From a gym manager and setter perspective, there are multiple reasons for moving away from the spreadsheet and into a digital system. Once a digital route management system is in place, it can be utilized by the different gym departments to engage with the gym community. Events like comps and leagues can take advantage of the ease of scoring. Training and coaching can keep athletes and parents of athletes informed and training can be easily analyzed. Marketing can use the system to promote fun climbing challenges. As well as providing an additional way to get feedback on climbs. Not to mention the helpfulness of the data when doing performance reviews for your routesetters.

Climbing leagues are becoming more and more popular. Leagues are great ways to meet new people and build friendships. From a gyms point of view, they can be a time sink with all the paper and tallying up, then posting info and getting the information out to the league. A digital system makes managing a league really easy. Gym members sign up to participate, then go online and join the league. Once they join, all the participants have to do is tick off the climbs they did on the night the league meets. The system does the rest. 

Comps are great to get climbers psyched to push themselves and test their limits. Comps can come in a variety of styles from points, to feet/meters climbed. A gym can sign up hundreds of competitors over multiple sessions. Keeping track of all the divisions and points can be hard using paper, not to mention slow in posting results. Using a digital system makes running comps easy and less daunting. All the scored climbs are already in the system with a points assigned. Competitors just join the comp. The system has a timer on it, so no climbs can be ticked before or after the allotted time frame. There are many ways gyms can use comps to engage with their community, they don’t just have to be formal events. 

There is a lot of talk and expectations now that climbing will be part of the Olympics. Gyms are bringing in kids like never before, from camps to classes to teams. As a former gymnastics coach, I know that documenting workouts and progress for kids on competitive teams as well as recreational classes, for parents is very helpful. Kids love keeping track of what they are doing and seeing progress. Not to mention the parents who want to know why little Janey didn’t do well at the comp or didn’t make the cup to the competitive program. It’s really important for a coach to be able to document what kids should be doing and what they actually are doing. Workouts and exercises can be assigned to athletes who then complete them. Exercises can be climbing related like 4x4s or strength based like pull-ups or deadlifts and are all tracked over time. Climbing related exercises are gym based, so that the coach can specify exactly which climb the athlete is to do based on their knowledge of the climbs in the gym and the needs of the athlete. Climbs are assigned to the athlete and when they get ticked off in the platform, they automatically complete the workout. There is a lot that can be done in this realm to assist coaches and make climbers better.

Gyms have all manners of ways to get feedback. Negative feedback is easy to come by. What is harder to get is positive and useful feedback. The best one is talking directly to members. But not everyone, setters, climbers and gym staff, is comfortable with that method.  When a comment is added either through the app or website, the manager and setter both receive emails with the comment. This allows them to act on it if needed. Getting feedback from gym members is the goal. It doesn’t matter where or how this happens. The important thing to do, is to provide gym members with various ways to interact with the gym staff and the community, from a digital system to Facebook and pen and paper. Everyone is different and will be comfortable using different media to provide feedback. It is therefore important that gyms try different things. Not everything will work but as long as you make it easy to add a comment, provide a start and even more important, the gym staff responds. 

The main demographic of climbers is 18-35. They are digitally savvy people. They understand technology and are willing to interact with an app if it provides them with helpful information, not just a push notification. Climbing gyms are currently not meeting their customers needs. Gym’s need a platform for their members that helps them become better at climbing not just provide information about what is happening at the gym. A platform that allows gym members to track their session, see their progress over time and provide information that is personally directed to help them become better climbers. The information that helps climbers become better completes the circle of data analysis that gyms need to provide comprehensive services when it is combined with a route management tool. Climbing gyms need to embrace technology not just current trends but as a way to engage with their community and keep pace with the youngsters as they grow into climbers. A digital platform will not be used by everyone in the gym all the time. But it will allow the gym to connect with their community in many different ways than they are now. It’s time for head setters and gym owners to give up control of their spreadsheets and open up the information to the rest of the gym community to use. At this point in time, if your gym starts using digital technology it will be ahead of the curve and it can be a point of differentiation from the gym a mile away.

A few weeks ago, I met up with Chris, Operations Manager, Momentum Indoor Climbing,  while visiting Salt Lake City.  Chris agreed to answer a few questions regarding using a route management system and Klimbz in particular.

 

How long have you been using Klimbz?
To the best of my knowledge, Momentum has been using Klimbz since 2016. I am not 100% certain of when we actually started using the software.

How do you see a route management system helping your job?
As an Operations Director, the software helps me keep a birds eye on route and bouldering problem quantity, distribution of grades, and the distribution by routesetter. This helps me understand the product that is in front of our members and guests and allows me to make adjustments as needed. In a multigym operation, the dashboard is easy to switch between locations to take stock of the routes at each location.

How has implementing a route management system helped your gym?
The route management system has helped our routesetting and operations team become more aligned in regards to what types of routes we are providing the customers. It has also increased transparency between regions and gyms and provided easier tracking of trends in regards to gym usage patterns. For the customers, it provides easy pathways to locate new routes, routes appropriate for their skill level, and also a tracking tool to monitor progress.

Why should other gyms use Klimbz, or a similar platform?
Using a route management software is the best way to provide a comprehensive, real time assessment of route distribution within the gym. Coupled with a customer interface, users are provided with tools to track their climbing and progress and easy ways to locate new routes within their range and ability.

What are the benefits for a gym to use Klimbz?
The back end of the system helps bridge the gap between routesetters and operations. The setters will always have a good idea of the grade distribution and quantity of routes in the gym, but having easy to read charts and metrics helps the operations staff be more familiar with the setting in the gym and the oversight of customer needs.

What are some of the pain points? and how can they be overcome?
Perhaps the most painful part of using Klimbz or any other route inventory software is the initial transition from old to new. It takes time to learn the tool and how it works, and more time to train the setters, staff, and the gym users. Just remember that these tools will help your process, even if they are difficult to learn. There are some minor additional costs such as the label makers that print the route tags and the paper they use, but overall they are minor expenses.

Do you use Klimbz as a climber too?
I have never been a training focused climber that tracks all of my milage and grades so I do not rely on the tool in my day to day climbing. I do use Klimbz consistently during our gym sponsored Adult Bouldering League. During the months I am chasing grades for my team score, I find that the tracking and compilation tools are very useful! Maybe if I used it more I would be way stronger!

How has using it helped you as a climber?
Again, I am not a training focused climber and thus I wouldn’t say that Klimbz has helped me with my skill or competency. That being said, I enjoy tracking my climbing during bouldering league to try and contribute to my team score! It is also helpful to keep track of which routes I have already ticked and which others still need to be climbed!

 

At Klimbz.com we seek to help gyms and climbers make better use of their indoor time and resources. One of the current challenges facing most indoor climbers is developing a system to analyze climbing and training. The Klimbz platform starts with route management and ends with user engagement. Taking the data that gets created when a climb is entered into the system by routesetters, we can then allow members to record and explore the effects of different training efforts on indoor performance.

Climbers, like all athletes, want to become better and stronger at at their sport. In the past, climbers “just climbed” to improve. The history of climbing as been one of outsiders doing their own things and not considering themselves real athletes. It turns out that climbers are amongst the strongest and agile athletes in world. But training how to train and what to do in order to become better seems daunting and brings up lots of questions; mostly around how and where to begin training. Much like changing a diet, the first place to start is by tracking what you currently do in order to develop what is known as a “baseline”. Creating this baseline, allows one to compare and contrast the effects of later training programs.

Climbing training is multi dimensional. Today’s climbers have many more training resources and tools at their disposal than in the past from bouldering to campusing, hang boards, rings, and the traditional weight room equipment. Keeping track of all these facets becomes difficult and time consuming. Obviously, to become better at climbing it is best to spend as much time as possible climbing. Gym climbing allows athletes an efficient way to use their time to improve their climbing. Climbing lots of routes in a relatively short gym session allows one to track all sorts of data points like: number pitches climbed, feet or meters climbed and terrain type to name a few.

The number of sends in any one session is a simple number to track but doesn’t account for the all potential information to analyze. A thorough analysis requires breaking down every data point each session and tracking this information over time. Tracking data quickly becomes complicated. Many companies have developed apps to track hangboards, campus boards and weight training. However, not much is available for climbers to track the full gym session experience. Ideally, gym climbers would benefit from one tool or app to consolidate all their indoor training efforts.

Gyms know exactly height of each of their walls. Wall height is just one attribute of the wall that is fixed and can be saved into a route management system. Feet or meters climbed is one data point that climbers like to track. But can be a bit of a pain to calculate on their own. The climber would have to know and keep track of the height of each wall at the gym, add up how many routes were sent per wall per session and add all this together. The gym knows how high each wall is, if the gym uses a route management system that includes this data, then all the climber would have to do is tick off sends and the system would do the rest of the work. This is just a simple example of how a route management system, like Klimbz, can support gym members and help them become better climbers.

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Climbing gyms, like any other business, need to understand their revenue, inventory, and customer base. Understanding how each of these affect business will help gyms make better informed operational decisions.

In order to adjust our business model, we analyze our different revenue streams; the inventory of the gear shop, the number of energy bars and drinks sold, and so on.  Modern POS systems help us to analyze these transactions and adjust our sales based on goods sold.

What about the climbing within the gym? How do you analyze the gyms most consumed product?  Most gyms still use some form of a spreadsheet to keep track of this info and while basic info can be logged, spreadsheets are limiting in what information can be analyzed.

The inventory of climbs within a gym has never been systematically tracked and analyzed in such a detailed way.  Often, most gyms track simple metrics such as grade density, expiration dates, setter names, and so on.  There is a lot of data surrounding routesetting that can be analyzed and used to aid in the decision-making process when looking at a business model.

Where routes are the “product” in which we sell,, climbing holds can then be viewed as the metadata of inventory.  It is currently extremely challenging to track this ‘metadata’, but technology is currently being developed to aid in the individual tracking of hold use.   For now and the near future, we can only analyze them in a general sense through the finished product. Holds can be broken down into various types: crimps, slopers, jugs, edges, pinches, etc. How are these hold types used around your gym? Do your climbs skew heavily towards only crimpy climbs? Is there a balance of climbing styles across all terrain types in your gym? Do your setters only set powerful, dynamic movement in steep areas?  With Klimbz, this info can be tracked, analyzed, and help affect positive change within your routesetting program.

As routesetting constantly becomes a sought-after profession, the need to be able to track growth of your setters also becomes apparent.  With Klimbz, we can show setter trends over time – does a setter only set a specific grade? Does a setter only prefer to set with pinches ? How about grades a setter generally sets?

Ultimately, it will be up to the gym owners and operators to evaluate their setting programs. Klimbz aims to assist you in the evaluation process by gathering data in a systematic and organized way so you can see the clear picture.

It’s time to get away from those spreadsheets and use a product designed for route management and user engagement.  Email me for more info today, info-at-klimbz.com. 

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?

Next Steps

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.

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