Study the Industry
The steps below will act as a guide if you are serious about opening your very own rock climbing gym. It is always recommended that you consult with a business attorney before making any concrete moves in this endeavor.
The popularity of indoor rock climbing gyms has grown tremendously over the past 10–15 years, with more niche experiences also becoming in demand. Rock gyms that offer “bouldering” — meaning free climbing experiences using smaller rocks mounted to the walls — have taken off in just the last five years (since 2017). The site 99 Boulders presents statistics on the growth of the industry and how it has far surpassed anything else in the gym and health world.
That said, now is an ideal time to capitalize on the popularity of this activity.
Build your Business Plan
As you will tell your future clients, you need to have a vision in mind before you set out on your journey. Opening a rock climbing gym is no different. In order to preempt any hiccups or potential issues, you must start this process with a solid road map, which will come in the form of your business plan.
The main components of a business plan can include (but are not limited to):
- Executive Summary. Here is where you detail what your business is all about and what your goals are for your gym. It’s essentially a declaration of who you are, what you will provide to your customers, and how you will go about doing that. You should have clear experiences in mind for your customers, no matter if they are loyal, membership-paying ones or customers who drop in only a few times using day passes. Think of this section of your plan as answering the “how” and the “why”.
- Market Analysis. In this section, you will put forth the research on the rock climbing gym market as a whole, including the demand for the services — especially some of those niche climbing activities — as well as any potential setbacks, and other factors that are in play. You might also want to study your competition, too, so that you can offer insights into what you are up against when it comes to other gyms. As of 2021, the U.S. counted just over 500 rock climbing gyms, meaning it is a popular activity but the market is not yet saturated. You have a decent pool from which to draw your research.
- Marketing Plan. You might be the most prepared person in the world, and you might think that by simply opening your doors, you’ll have a line of customers just waiting to sign up for memberships, day passes, and rock climbing parties! The truth is, you are going to have to put in the work if you want a steady client base! Your business plan will have to address how you plan on reaching your clientele and what you are going to do to get your name out there. It is important for you to outline exactly what means you plan to use to market your gym, be it through social media, a website you build (or will pay someone else to build), etc.
- Products/Services Overview. In this section, you will get into the specifics about what you plan to offer. Will your focus be more on gaining steady memberships, or will you focus on those drop-ins and day passes? Will you market to a younger crowd for things like birthday parties, school trips, and summer camps? The clientele you plan to attract will determine how many people you hire and how much equipment — as well as what sizes — you will eventually need to purchase.
Register your Business
Once you have crafted your business plan, you will have to decide how you want to register your business. There are a variety of classifications when it comes to this process, known as business entities. These business entities include:
- Sole proprietorship
- Limited Liability Company, or LLC
First, you should choose a name for your gym that you will register as your official business name. Be sure to check with your state and the federal registry to make yourself aware of other business names so as not to either duplicate or have a name that sounds too similar to another rock climbing gym. Try to get creative in this process.
Second, decide what kind of an entity you’d like to register as. Recall that an LLC, or a Limited Liability Company, is an entity which protects you as the individual. Should your gym be sued for any reason, your personal assets would be protected. Remember that anyone who steps foot into your facility is going to have to sign a waiver and a release form, including minors.
Third, register for all of the necessary taxes. You can do this easily by first applying for an EIN, or an Employer Identification Number through the IRS website. Then, be sure to register for the required state and federal taxes.
Finally, be sure to secure all of the necessary business licenses that come with starting your own business. Your local government should be able to assist you in determining all of the permits you also need to obtain to ensure that you are complying with health and safety regulations. To help you navigate this journey, it is always recommended that you consult a business attorney, as stated above.
Claim Your Location and Equipment
Rock climbing gyms, as you can imagine, require a lot of internal space. High ceilings and a spacious layout are absolutely key to offering the best experiences to your customers. It is not uncommon to find a rock climbing gym as a standalone structure simply because of how tall you might want your building to be.
There are, however, rock climbing gyms that can exist in a shopping plaza or that are connected to other buildings. These gyms have made use of whatever vertical space available to them, but also they have used the horizontal space at their disposal. Think of climbing horizontally across a wall that is speckled with small rocks — kids especially love it!
In order to fill your space, you will have to spend some of that start-up money on equipment. Depending on the size of your gym, you could find yourself spending anywhere between $200,000 and $500,000. This includes the climbing and safety equipment, chalk, marketing and signage materials, decorations, and more.
Hire your Team
One of the biggest mistakes a business owner can make is putting his/her trust in the wrong people. For this reason, it is crucial that you build the best team you can for your gym. You should prioritize and have a preference for employees who have a background in working and/or engaging in rock climbing and who are also knowledgeable as well as personable to your future customers. You also want them to be reliable, trustworthy, and quick-thinking in the event of an emergency.
You’ve done the research, established your business entity, found your location, and built your team. The last step before cutting that ribbon is to market yourself. How are you going to let people know that you’re opening your doors? If you don’t mind word of mouth and going around on foot, a great way to advertise yourself is to hand out flyers throughout the community to let people know that you’re open for business.
You might also consider taking out an ad in the local newspaper or working with one of the restaurants in the area to see if they will let you advertise there (think of those diner menus that feature local businesses). Talking to the local schools and summer camps in the area is also a great way to drum up business, as those two locations will yield you big groups in the form of trips and parties.