Frequently Asked Questions
Building a climbing project is a big undertaking. We're here to help! Before you dig into our FAQ's, the following terms will help you determine the scope of your project.
This refers to the square footage of climbing wall surface
The more radical the design, the more expensive
The higher the wall, the more expensive. Climbing walls typically range in height from 20 to 45 feet
If we can’t get a man lift into the space or have to carry all of the building materials up a few flights of stairs, it will be more expensive
Depending on climate and working conditions, outdoor climbing walls cost 25% to 50% more than indoor walls
Finding the Right Space
The two things I start with are budget and facility. Of course every project is restricted by a budget. You can either, start with a fixed dollar amount and work the climbing wall to fit the budget, or you can figure out the perfect size for the wall, then find out what it will cost and raise the dollars to pay for it.
Type of Facility? Who is the wall being built for and how do you plan to use it? Understanding what is the best wall for your facility is complicated but we would be happy to talk with you and make a recommendation.
When planning a climbing gym, among the most important decisions that you need to make is what size to build. You don’t want to build it too small and invite competition, but at the same time you don’t want to go too large either and waste money on start-up costs. Back in the early 1990’s when climbing gyms were few and far between, we used to think that they could only survive in a city of 500,000 or more. As the years passed and climbing became more and more popular we started seeing them go into and prosper in smaller and smaller communities. It is not uncommon now for major metropolitan areas to have 6 climbing gyms and communities of 50,000 to support a moderately sized facility. The size of a gym really comes down to the demographics. For example Boulder, CO, a city of about 75,000, has 3 climbing gyms which all do quite well. This city can support these facilities because it is filled with a very young and active population. On the other side of the coin, Orlando Florida, which has a population of close to 2 million, has only 2 gyms. There are some communities of 10,000 that can support a small climbing gym while other cities of 50,000 would probably have a hard time. As important as the total number of people that you have in your target market is the type of person that is there. My best advice, which has remained the same since the early days, is that if your “gut” tells you that your area can support a gym then it probably can. You of course need to put in the do-diligence and complete a more scientific study of your demographics to prove this to yourself (and to your investors), but it is very rare to have someone finish this type of study and come to the conclusion that it just isn’t feasible. The question soon becomes, “Ok, so what size climbing gym do I build?” The business plan consultation package that we offer addresses this and other issues relating to planning a climbing gym business. The formula for evaluating your market is based on real life historical data from gyms across the country and provides you the tools you need to accurately understand and assess your market. Once completing this study you will be able to accurately size your gym to discourage competition and maximize investor return.
If you haven’t realized it yet, there are two hard parts to developing a climbing gym. They are (in order of difficulty), finding a location and finding the funding. Putting together everything else is just a matter of time and effort. It used to be that finding the money was the hardest part, but now that there are climbing gyms in just about every major market, and with the popularity of climbing on the rise, it is relatively easy to find investors.
The real estate component on the other hand has become harder because of a typically good economy, low vacancy rate and reluctance of property owners to lease to non-traditional uses such as a rock climbing gym. For this reason many climbing gyms are being forced to develop a new property or enter build-to-suit deals in order to get the right building.
The type of building that works best for climbing gyms is a high ceiling warehouse. The general rule is – the higher the ceiling the better, though most gyms are in the 24’ to 35’ range. Typically these buildings are located in commercial or industrial parts of town. As a result, they are often a bit rough in appearance and don’t have the nice amenities of a retail type space. They are also much less expensive which is why a gym can typically afford to build there. Since a climbing gym is a destination, location is not nearly as critical as height.
One of the other challenges is to find a building with high ceilings and a reasonable sized footprint. Often the buildings that have 40’ ceilings will also be 50,000 square feet in size. Depending on the size facility that you are building, the footprint that you will need is probably between 6,000 and 12,000 square feet. Landlords are less willing to break up a large space because of the expense of building a demising wall and the added hassle of dealing with multiple credits.
To say that there is a typical way that our clients have put together the financing would be the most inaccurate statement of all time. Although climbing gyms are somewhat similar in the services they provide and the type of client they attract, the ways that the businesses are structured and the ways that financing has been raised are extremely different. I can give you some of the more typical scenarios though: The most common way that gyms get the money to start is where a small group of people (usually 2 or 3) get together and put together the business plan. Often they will have some of the financial resources between them (25 to 50% of the total start up budget). Usually this part of the financing comes from family money. They then go out and secure traditional bank financing for the remainder of the project. The reality is, if you have the money or collateral to back it up, the bank will loan you what you need. If you only have a great idea with nothing to back it, then a bank is not likely to take interest in your project, it would be too risky.
SBA loans are available but in general they are a lot of hassle. They will typically want even more collateral than a private lending organization. Then again, sometimes it is the only way that you can get something done. Another option we’ve seen is where a group comes up with all the money with no financing at all. This type of scenario usually involves more family money, quite often all or most coming from one persons’ family. Another scenario that I have seen play out is where the small group solicits investors and sells ownership to a large group (15 to 30) of limited partners. This kind of structure requires some legal work upfront to make the offering legal, etc. Normally this is done when one of the initial group members is an attorney or has close ties to one. It is a tradeoff between risk and equity. The person who puts in the most risk will get the most ownership of the business. The more people involved, the more the risk is shared but the harder it is to make decisions and move quickly.
Multiply the length of the wall by the height of the room. Then multiply this number by a factor of 1.3 to account for the articulation of the wall surface. This total is a good estimate of the square footage of the climbing wall.
Climbing Wall Design and Construction
Our products are custom climbing structures, specifically designed to your facility, programming and space requirements. We can work with almost any budget. The walls are prefabricated in our factory and shipped in pieces to your site. Construction and assembly is done by our road crew. Our climbing walls are extremely durable and are backed by a 3 year warranty against manufacturer's defects. This does not cover wear-and-tear or modifcations after installation. We also offer First Ascent modular panel systems that require less customizing and easier installation.
Our walls contain a multitude of angled faces to challenge all types of climbers from first time beginners to seasoned professionals. We can even incorporate ledges for rappelling and stations for ropes course or team building elements. In most cases if you can imagine it, we can build it.
Yes! We provide the following services: design, engineering, fabrication, installation, all necessary climbing gear, holds, staff training, inspections, flooring, and extras like: washrooms, change rooms and front desks.
Design of your climbing walls will typically take 2 to 3 weeks. Once the final design has been approved the engineering can begin. Engineering will take 2 to 4 weeks depending on the complexity of the structures. Prefabrication of the structure then requires 1 week per 2,000 square feet of wall surface. Once prefabrication has been completed and the wall components have been shipped to the site the onsite installation can begin. Our crew can install 1,200 square feet of climbing wall per week.
First Ascent modular panels they are built to order and typically ship in 2 to 6 weeks depending on the type. The more expansive the wall the longer it takes to make.
If the facility is going into a leased space that does not require major interior renovation, the average start-up cost ranges between $250,000 – $500,000. This assumes a climbing wall size of 4,000 to 12,000 square feet. The cost of the climbing wall in this scenario will be approximately 60 to 70 percent of the total start-up cost.
If the facility is purchasing land, constructing the building, and doing the complete interior build-out, the cost of the project can range from $500,000 to $1,500,000 depending on location. In this case, the climbing wall would represent a much smaller percentage of the entire cost.
Height, size, location, location access & timeline are all factors that must be considered when pricing a climbing wall.
The safety record on our climbing walls is incredible. One statistic that our industry uses to illustrate the safety is that there are fewer injuries per participant in artificial climbing walls then there are in bowling. It is only the perception of climbing outside on real rock that is dangerous. Using a controlled environment, modern safety ropes & harnesses, and welded steel anchoring systems really makes the whole thing a lot safer than most people realize.
Climbing Gym Operations
The rate is typically between 2 – 3% of your revenues. For example, a gym that does $750,000 in climbing wall related revenue (excluding equipment sales, rentals, etc.) would be looking at an annual insurance cost of about $20,000 for the year – just one of the costs of doing business.
It has been our experience that climbing gyms that also offer a full retail store do not do as well (financially) as gyms that do not offer retail. Our theory for explaining this is that retail requires a good deal of effort and most people that operate climbing gyms do not have the time to do a good job at retail. The effort that they do spend on the retail store could be spent developing or promoting new programs at the climbing gym. This will return a much stronger return on the time investment. Our standard recommendation to gym owners is to not offer retail unless they have experience in this area. It is often better to lease the retail to a local mountain shop that is in the position to do this area of the business much better. This leaves you, the gym owner to focus on your core business, which is the operation of the climbing programs.
We do not place a minimum age on participants. Our rule is that any child that wants to climb can try it. We have special safety harnesses that are designed for very small children. It is not uncommon to find children aged 3 or 4 that want to climb; however most children are too scared to really try it until they are 5 or 6. It really depends on the child.