This is the final installment of a series about how to apply business concepts in order to attract new customers and then convert them to members. The past few weeks we have been looking at a specific business concept and explaining 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 climbing gyms can benefit from creating value for customers. If you missed the first two installments, you can go back and learn about how competitive advantage applies to climbing gyms in Part 2.
Creating Value for Customers
It is absolutely essential to create exceptional customer experiences if you want repeat business. Providing value for your customers hinges on understanding who they are, what they want and what they expect. The best way to do this is to create buyer personas. Buyer personas are a representation of a customer segment based on market research and existing customer information. Having a buyer persona creates a concrete image of your ideal customer so that you can identify how different groups will react to your sales and marketing campaigns. Going through the process of creating buyer personas forces you to think about every aspect of your customer.
The more robust you make your buyer persona the better you will be able to understand the intricacies of your customer's behavior. When you're creating your personas you'll want to specify things like age, income, gender, education level and other characteristics you think are relevant. To start out you can create one or two personas and then write additional ones as you see necessary. For example, you could start with one persona for experienced climbers. Down the road, you might want to create a version for sport climbers, another version for trad climbers and yet another persona for dedicated gym climbers that have never been outside. If you need help getting started with buyer personas you can get a free template here. For the purposes of this article, we'll focus on two customer segments: the veteran climber and the novice climber. Let's call the male personas Novice Nick and Veteran Vic and their female companions can be Novice Natalie and Veteran Victoria.
Providing value to the veteran members in your gym is crucial because they are your long term source of revenue. They love the sport. They are addicted. They identify with the climbing culture and will climb for the rest of their lives. Veteran Victoria and Veteran Vic might cancel their memberships over the summer but you know that you will be seeing them again as soon as the weather turns. There is no off-season for these guys. They may be a bit picky sometimes but, if you treat them well they will reward you with their loyalty. What do veteran climbers value? Veteran climbers have a gym membership for two main reasons. The first reason is that they are addicted to climbing and can't stay away. The second main reason is that they need to train so that they can send their outdoor project.
The best way to fulfill these needs is to have route setters that set creative and challenging routes. Invest in an employee that can set high-quality routes and you will be reaping the benefits as long as they are on your team. The other way to add value for veteran climbers is to have a section in your gym dedicated to strength training. At a minimum, you need to have a campus board so that climbers can practice their campus-ing skills. Most gyms have a section dedicated to weightlifting equipment. Adding a hang board gives climbers a way to do pull-ups with a climbing application. Having a strength training section in your gym can also provide value for novice climbers that want to improve.
You can't ignore the newbies. If you can attract new members and then convert them to members you will be in business for a very long time. Inexperienced climbers are tomorrow's veterans. Novice Nick is going to buy a day pass because he wants to see why all of his friends are raving about this whole climbing thing. It's your job to make sure he falls in love with the sport. After Novice Nick and Novice Natalie realize that climbing is the best sport in the world you have to give them a venue where they can grow and improve. If you do that for them, then they might become lifelong customers. In today's world more and more climbers are being introduced to the sport via climbing gyms. People that have never tried climbing before want a safe environment to see if they like the sport. Climbing gyms are the best way of doing that short of hiring an outdoor climbing guide. Climbing gyms can provide value for Novice Nick by creating a safe environment that makes climbing easily accessible for people without any previous knowledge.
Auto Belays are a great way to get people without expertise started climbing. Auto belays are simple to learn how to use. Auto belays minimize the time between walking in the door to getting on the wall by eliminating the need to train someone to belay. All climbing gyms need to do is show people how to open an auto-locking carabiner and where to safely clip it to a harness. If you want to train someone to top-rope belay or lead belay auto-belays can help. Auto belays are the perfect backup when teaching someone how to belay for the first time. Think about it, did you belay someone with perfect form the first time that you tried to belay? It's nearly impossible that you can get to a point where 100% of customers are going to be able to belay perfectly the first time they give it a try. Using an auto belay to teach belaying gives climbing gyms the flexibility to allow members teach their friends this new skill. This provides an opportunity for climbing partners to bond over a learning experience, which will help with the community culture in your gym. Letting climbers teach their friends how to belay also frees up time for staff members and allows them to be more productive. Staff only needs to be present for the final approval and belay test instead of having to be there and supervise the entire learning process.
Auto belays are not limited to being a training tool for introductory belay lessons. Auto belays can help intermediate climbers learn how to lead climb and lead belay. Intermediate climbers don't even need a partner to practice lead climbing. All that they have to do is clip into an auto belay and practice clipping quickdraws as they climb. Another benefit of practicing lead belaying with an auto belay is that it eliminates potential whippers. Taking a big fall the first few times you lead climb can turn someone off of leading altogether. Using an auto belay to practice leading delays that first lead fall experience until you know that your partner can avoid back clipping, z-clipping and the other potential pitfalls of lead climbing. Having auto belays on your climbing wall is a great way to safely allow climbers to learn new skills. If you want to learn more about using auto belays to teach lead climbing you can jump down to the video.
Auto belays can also help add value for your customers because they are a great training tool. Auto belays are perfect for building endurance. Auto belays allow climbers to climb back to back routes over and over again. With an auto belay, you don't waste time flaking a rope and tying a figure-eight knot. With an auto belay, it takes half a second to clip a carabiner and another second to double-check your harness. Furthermore, you don't have to wait for your partner to get a drink of water, put on their shoes and take their turn climbing. With an auto belay, you don't even need a partner at all. This means that you don't ever have to feel guilty making someone your belay slave when you want to climb back to back routes to build endurance. If you want to learn more about using auto belays for endurance training you can jump down to the video.
Being able to climb without a partner creates an immense amount of convenience for climbers. Let's face it, one of the hardest parts of working out is finding time to actually get to the gym. It becomes even harder to make time for climbing when you have to coordinate your schedule and your partner's schedule. If you can get a great work out without a partner in a short amount of time creates opportunities to climb that were previously impossible. Suddenly your members can justify coming in for thirty minutes before work or during lunch. This creates significant customer value because your members can climb in off-peak hours where they have less competition to get on the routes that they want to climb.
Auto belays are only one way to add value for your customers. In order to add value for your customers, you have to know what they want. What better way to figure out what they want than to ask them? This can be as simple as having a conversation with the members you have the best relationships with. You can also ask your customers to fill out a survey. Anonymous customer surveys are a great way to get honest feedback. Another tactic that has been proven to be successful is to put a comment box somewhere in your facility. This gives your customers a format to express themselves and bring attention to potential problems that you may have never identified on your own.
You should always consider customer feedback with some skepticism. It's possible that you could have one very loud and expressive customer that has an opinion contrary to the rest of your members. It's also possible that your customers don't actually know what they want. As Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." If you ask people what they want it's possible that they will just tell you what other companies are doing. Steve Jobs was of the same opinion. He found that it's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them. Giving people something that they want when they don't know they want requires an in-depth understanding of who your customer is. This all circles back to knowing your customer segments. Someone is going to create the newest innovation in the climbing gym industry and it might just be you. If you have a great idea don't hesitate to test it out. Who knows, you might just discover a sustainable competitive advantage that will give your gym success for years to come.