Back when we were the country’s first nonprofit bouldering gym, it was an easy call to make. We started out in a little storage unit and it was janky matresses on the floor and old clocks on the wall – nothing to steal, no reason not to trust. The storage unit had 24/7 access, and we had jobs and school to be at, policing the woodie was not in our best interest.
That attitude has stayed with us all the way to becoming a for profit with multiple locations.
24/7 has a myriad of benefits for your community.
- A safe place – as a woman, it was nice to go somewhere with a locked door that I could work out in the early morning and late nights
- A third space between home and work to relax or do homework/work distraction free
- A healthy alternative to other activities that happen late at night
- Access to those who do not have traditional days (bartenders, third shift workers, etc).
It also can benefit your bottom line.
- If you choose to go unstaffed: less staffed hours = less part time payroll
- Also for unstaffed: hire better employees = shorter, more convenient hours are appealing to employees
- Member-only benefit helps sell memberships, even if they never use the special hours
But this is the special sauce: it changes your business model
Instead of being a “gym” and a “service,” the nonprofit mentality we started with has to continue as long as you have 24/7 access.
Members and staff have to be taught to be responsible. This means:
- Acting in a safe and supportive member both in the gym and outside in the greater world, because encounters during unstaffed hours can lead to major problems if we do not vet who has access. I always say, if you don’t want a certain member in the gym alone with someone vulnerable, that person’s not a member. We trust our staff and members when they report unsavory behavior, and we’ll take community gruff for it every single time. You have to be ready to boot people for not being ideal community members.
- Teaching everyone that they are ultimately responsible for their own enjoyment: if a kid is acting like a jerk next you – you have to handle it as though there are no staff there to police it, because 60% of the time that’s the case. If you can’t and you don’t like that we won’t get involved, we don’t want you.
- Same with the equipment. Gym equipment should be organized and cleaned by members. If there’s something they want, a lot of times it’s donated before they even ask because of this self-reliance we’ve been able to carry forward.
- Teaching people they have to police the gym: consequences are harsh for rule violators and 24/7 can end with one bad incident. It’s trust based, and members have to be taught that, and they have to be willing to fight for it. We even have collateral people get so they can do it well.
But it’s risky, what about that?
My response here is, you own a climbing gym. You spent a lot of money on structures that people will tear their ligaments on and fall off of badly. You’re literally a risk professional. This isn’t different.
Your waiver is there to say: You understand this is risky. You accept that.
Anyone can sue you and anything can happen, but the question is how liable are you? Have you done your due dilligence?
Here’s our safety protocol:
- Locked door with access provided only to members who have received an orientation and signed a contract acknowledging all of the above.
- Sign at entry reminding them they are tresspassing if they’re not members during open hours.
- Video surveillance ALL OVER THE PLACE
- No access to ropes if unstaffed – you could argue we don’t need to do this, but some idiot climbing up without protection and falling could get killed a lot easier than a boulderer will.
- Speaking of, our routes are set so that if you’re not strong enough to do the whole thing, you won’t suddenly be spit off at the top and get hurt. The hard bits are beginning to middle, usually. People can’t get too in trouble that way. (It’s a good safety idea anyway)
But people will bring friends in
Yup, they will. It was a bigger problem when we were smaller because it was kinda like everyone’s gym. Now we’re fancier and there’s a natural fear of it that comes with it, I think. Plus, the cameras.
We have strong policies that punish the members if they let someone in – they have to pay a full month’s non autodraw member for every single person that’s not a member. And we know it’s them because of our scan records and videos. If they aren’t cool, it’s a quick ban (see comments above). Be beloved and people will protect you.
But they will steal!
Read that last line. Here are the things that have been stolen since the gym began in 2006: a $15 piece of wall art, a signed Chris Sharma poster to the gym (they left the frame). That is it. Not people’s arty chalk bags on display, not equipment, nothing. We have a member book library where you can borrow and return and people forget to return . . .
You can also count borrowed rental shoes (those are free, too) but we purposely make em ugly and uncomfortable and they’re easy to spot so people get shamed, and they never go missing permanently.
We opened our second location in an area known for increased crime and some gang issues. We waited a month, then quietly opened it. Literally non issue.
Okay, so what are the logistics?
You always ask about insurance first:
We are not inline with industry standards on this. I had some old guy laugh at me at a Climbing Wall Association event when he overheard me talking about 24/7 ten years ago, “That’s not industry standard.” Again, we’re rock climbing gyms . . . why does everything have to be industry standard. We’re based on a bunch of guys who didn’t want to go to work so they poached grocery store garbage bins and spent a lot of time drunk and high hammering stuff into rocks while scared. I digress.
CWA’s associated insurance won’t insure you. But guess what? Every year, my excellent insurance broker hands me a form that calls climbing holds “grips” and every year I fill it out, line out that word and replace it properly, and every year they give me a bill. It actually goes down year after year.
Not once has my insurance dictated to us what we have to do. We tell them. Then they tell us how much it costs. My agent says as long as we function like a climbing gym and stay in that lane, we can do whatever. If we start to veer, we ask him.
There are a few systems on the market because there are other 24/7 gyms out there. Unfortunately, they all kinda suck. It seems like the hardware that scans the card and turns it into info your software can check against is made by one person, usually in Germany, and your support is whenever they can get to it when things go badly. We ended up getting a back up scanner because last year a mouse chewed a wire, shorted it, and we were a month without the scanner because someone has to make it and ship it.
I would not recommend you use a software system that does not already integrate. In the 15 or so years we’ve had a software/door system, the bugs that happen from not being supported well have cost us lots of money, headaches, and sometimes community faith. That’s with a system designed to work with it.
24/7 isn’t for everyone. It isn’t industry standard. We’re rebels. Join us. 🙂