Rockwerx is known throughout the climbing industry for its high-quality, durable climbing walls. What might be lesser known is their equally robust full-package consulting service, geared towards helping new entrepreneurs through the many-layered process of opening a new climbing facility. Complete with their now famous GymCalc algorithm program, Rockwerx is devoted to further developing the climbing industry by helping new owners navigate the transition from being passionate dreamers to successful gym operators.
*** [Original article from Climbing Business Journal here] ***
Consulting Service – With You at Every Step
Mike Lambert is the CEO of Rockwerx, and the face of Rockwerx consulting service. Lambert’s expertise has a deep root in personal experience. When he was 24, he built a business plan and secured financing for a new climbing and ninja-warrior training center, slated to be the largest in his region. Due to a last-minute investor pullout, the project stalled, but the experience of designing everything by himself up to the final stages was invaluable. “I went through this process without a team, and learned much along the way,” Lambert says. “That journey, mixed with my time consulting and now managing Rockwerx, has provided me with a unique insider perspective on climbing gym startup and operations.”
Since joining Rockwerx, Lambert has walked dozens of clients through the process of starting successful climbing facilities. “Climbing gyms are projects of passion and as such they should reflect the passion of their owners,” he says. “My job is to help clients build the gym that gets them the most excited and fits their wants and needs best, while also being a successful business model.”
When asked what opening a new gym entails, Mike just smiles. “Oh boy, there is so much. First off, where do you want to build? Can that area support a gym? What size gym can that area support? Bouldering gym or a full-service gym?” And that’s just the tip of the boulder. Lambert helps clients make decisions about everything, from who the gym is aiming to attract, the feel and vibe of the space, whether to renovate or build from the ground up, and deciding on the best avenue of funding for the project.
Opening a gym is a lot of logistics—which is why it’s so valuable to have an experienced hand to help steer the project. Without having a pre-planned road map, even the smallest snags in the process can be costly. Bob Begin, the Principal Designer at Rockwerx, emphasizes the importance of addressing potential challenges as early possible. “If someone thinks something might become a problem, we always want to point it out and discuss it as a team. It’s a lot cheaper and faster to talk through the options before anything is built.”
Bridging the Gaps
John Hester chose Rockwerx to help him and his team launch and open Agility Boulders in Capitola, California. “Climbing is a passion for my partner and myself,” he says. “Being a part of a community is a passion for us too. We wanted to live in a small California coastal town and start a community disguised as a bouldering gym.” That dream became a reality and, in May of 2021, Agility Boulders opened their doors. “Rockwerx offered a competitive package with an all-around-can-do approach that resonated with us. We only had a small business background, but not in climbing. Rockwerx helped bridge some of that gap.”
Bridging the gaps can show up in different ways for different clients, and different projects. One of the strengths of the consulting service is offering new clients exactly what they need and want. “Some clients come to us with an idea and not much more, and we help guide them through the decision making process,” says Lambert. “We also have clients who have done plenty of their own business planning and they simply want to use our consulting services to validate and verify the conclusions they have already come to.”
And no matter what the experience level, or size of the project, the consulting service is there every step of the way, and beyond. “The real value of our consulting package is in the time we spend talking, dreaming, brainstorming and solving problems and ideas,” says Lambert. “When you become a client of Rockwerx, you are our client until your project is complete. Even once your project is done and your gym is opening, we will always be here for support and additional guidance when necessary.”
GymCalc – The Tool of the Trade
The indoor climbing industry is young, and Rockwerx has been a major player during the growth, expansion and popularity of this growing sport. Rockwerx has built over 100 commercial climbing facilities, with countless smaller walls in businesses, schools and homes. They have tracked data over a variety of these projects and developed what is now a legendary excel-based algorithm program: GymCalc.
“GymCalc is an Excel-based program that breaks down demographic data to help make high-level decisions for your future climbing facility,” says Lambert. “From identifying the right size facility for your population to identifying start-up and construction costs, to start-up assumptions and a 5-year income and expense report, GymCalc is integral in our consulting process here at Rockwerx.”
“When you are about to open a new business and plan to use your own money, or someone else’s,” says Begin, “It is important to understand where every dollar will be spent, and at what stage your gym should become profitable. No matter the client, location or scale of the space, the main goal at the end of the day is to make money, not lose it.”
To that end, GymCalc is scalable and adaptable, and easily tailored toward any gym project. With its built-in algorithms, it can run cash flow scenarios and business plan strategies that can help a new owner plan the ideal programming for their given demographic. “The value is in the program’s ability to guide the user so they can learn what each empty data cell means and how it will affect the bottom line, from the first month to several years out,” says Begin.
In conjunction with GymCalc, Rockwerx uses GIS mapping software to precisely compile data about a region’s demographic. This data is crucial to picking the right location and deciding on a size that matches the demographics of the region. Trying to find this data on your own can be an arduous task that often leads to incomplete and inaccurate results. “Now we are able to produce demographic reports with unmatched accuracy in minutes as opposed to hours,” says Lambert. “We can produce apples to apples comparison reports for any addresses in the United States, so time is spent making informed decisions and not just looking for answers.”
Facility Design – Balancing Form and Function
Each new gym project is unique, and much of that comes down to the design. Whether it’s a ground-up build or the repurposing of an existing space, a well-designed space can not only enhance programming but can offer a certain personality and vibe that invites customers to enter, engage and return. Bob Begin, the Principal Designer for Rockwerx, approaches the interior space from an architectural background, where he has always focused on that fine balance between form and function.
“I always like to treat each design as a new opportunity to create an engaging space that people will want to climb, watch, socialize and operate within,” he says. “Sometimes function will overrule aesthetic and sometimes aesthetic will take the lead. You have to be fluid in order to achieve a balanced design.”
When designing a space, the possibilities are endless. With hundreds of successful projects in their portfolio, Rockwerx is not afraid to think outside the box in order to maximize the space’s potential and the overall goals of the owners.
“Standard level floor plans and mezzanines aren’t the only buildable opportunities. If you follow what we design and build at Rockwerx, you will see a lot of projects that have multi-level structures―boulders stacked on boulders, with a training cave inside, or a multi-level ship with an integrated slide, plank, rope swing and helm. The possibilities are infinite. It just takes some creative thinking and coordination to plan out the details.”
Hester recalls the design experience for Agility Boulders. “The design process was not only highly productive but also fun. The collaborative nature of such a project requires all involved to be open-minded and playful while getting the job done. The Rockwerx team really shined.”
Besides the in-depth design, Rockwerx walls are known in the industry for their durability and quality. Many of their first projects from decades ago are still in great shape. “If you get a climbing wall from Rockwerx,” says Lambert, “It is going to last as long if not longer than any other wall in the industry.”
For many climbers who have spent time in climbing gyms, the name Rockwerx is a familiar one. For eager entrepreneurs looking to open a climbing facility, the name Rockwerx could be the difference between success and failure. “Our goal is to help design and build as many great climbing walls as possible,” says Begin, “in the hope that what we create will help future climbers continue to grow the love for the sport and keep challenging what we believe to be the limit of climbable possibilities.”