Auto Belay Benefits | Part 1: Competitive Advantage

This is the first installment of a series about how to apply business concepts in order to attract new customers and then convert them to members. Each week we will be looking at a specific business concept and explain how it relates to climbing gyms. You should be able to apply these business strategies to many facets of your business, even though the main example in these articles will be auto belays. In this post, I will be discussing how sustainable competitive advantage applies to climbing gyms. If you're interested in pricing strategies and sales forecasting you can skip ahead to Part 2, or you can skip even further ahead to Part 3 to read about how to add value for your customers by better understanding buyer personas.

Competitive Advantage

In order to be a thriving business that maintains success, in the long run, you need to have a sustainable competitive advantage. This means that you need to identify one thing you do better than the rest of your competitors and exploit that advantage as long as you can. There are many different types of competitive advantage. One common type of competitive advantage is product quality. For example, Whole Foods is known for its high-quality products. If you buy something at Whole Foods you know that it was made in a responsible manner using organic ingredients. You also know that you're going to pay a lot more than if you went to Safeway. The climbing world equivalent might be that you have the tallest climbing walls in the area, the largest selection of bouldering problems or you could have one of the best route setters in the country. How are you different than the gym across the street?

One very simple way of differentiating yourself from the competition is to install auto belays in your gym. If you are the only gym in your area with an auto belay, that is already a competitive advantage in itself. Auto belays can also help augment your competitive advantage. For example, if you want to be the best climbing gym in the area for new climbers auto belays can help. Auto belays are a great backup when teaching someone how to top rope belay. It's hard to get every detail correct the first time you're told how to do something. Using an auto belay as a backup will ensure that you don't die when your novice partner inevitably lets go of the rope or tries to go hand over hand. Furthermore, auto belays can help that novice climber move to the next level and start leading routes. Putting someone on lead for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. Auto belays will help build confidence in first time lead climbers by preventing that first whipper. Auto belays also make sure that accidents don't happen from back-clipping or z-clipping. Auto belays are a great training tool and can give your gym the reputation of being the best gym to improve their skills.

The point here is that you need to know what you do better than your competitors to add value for your customers. Members notice when their gyms invest in improvements and upkeep. Actually, it's even easier for members to recognize when their gym isn't. Think about your gym. Is your floor padding riddled with holes? How often do you reset your routes? Do you hire competent route setters that can set intriguing, creative routes? Is your hydraulic auto belay leaking oil everywhere? You need to provide your members with a quality experience even if you are targeting a low-price high-volume strategy. Giving customers a good deal doesn't mean that you have to sacrifice product quality. Sure the watch that you buy at Walmart will never compare to a Rolex but that doesn't mean it will fall apart the second you leave the store.

Now that I mentioned Walmart I'm obligated to discuss price based competitive advantage. Every single business class uses Walmart as the classic example of cost-driven competitive advantage. The source of Walmart's competitive advantage is its distribution network. Walmart's efficient distribution network limits shipping expenses so they can sell products cheaply to end consumers and still make money. Walmart has to sell an incredibly high volume of to make this strategy viable. If you are planning on attacking the other gyms in your area by undercutting them on price, you should make sure that you can maintain the proper volume of memberships and day passes. You also have to strictly manage your expenses and pursue efficiency at every turn.

An easy way to improve the efficiency of your gym is to install auto belays. Auto belays reduce staffing costs. This can be reflected in many different ways and mostly depends on the policies of your gym. Some gyms provide belay services for climbers without a partner. Having an auto belay in your gym frees up your staff to attend to more important matters. If your gym regularly hosts events like birthday parties, it's much easier to train parents to clip kids into an auto belay than it is to train them how to belay all together. Furthermore, one staff member or parent can monitor multiple climbing lanes at the same time with auto belays.

Another source of efficiency that can be gained from auto belays is spreading out attendance over the course of the day. If you are running a successful gym then your location probably gets decently crowded during peak hours. Auto belays increase gym attendance in off peak hours, this is because climbers don't always have to coordinate with a partner. This allows climbers to swing by the gym on a whim during their lunch break or when their partner is still stuck in the office. Climbers are also more likely to attend the gym in off-peak hours if they feel that they can get a quality workout in a short amount of time. When you're using an auto belay you don't have to wait for your partner to get a drink of water, flake the rope, put on their shoes, tie in, check their knot and harness, and then climb the route. With an auto belay, you can climb back to back routes repeatedly so that you can reach that critical pump much faster. This way climbers will be able to justify squeezing in a quick session before class in the morning. Getting members to climb in off peak hours reduces the congestion during those busy times. This means that you can get more climbers in your gym on a daily basis. There are only so many climbers you can cram into your gym during that peak time. Spreading out attendance over the course of the day means your gym can facilitate more members overall.

Are you making the most of your competitive advantage? If you try to be everything to everyone then you won't be anything to anyone. Know what you're good at. Know what you're better at than your competitors and focus on it. Integrate your competitive advantage into your holistic business plan and you'll achieve greatness. If you want to learn more about how to attract customers and convert them to members you should read the Part 2 of the series about how the elasticity of demand can help inform your pricing strategies and sales forecasting."

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