How to Start a Rock Climbing Gym

Rock Climbing Gym Image

An indoor rock climbing gym provides members and visitors a chance to exercise while developing their rock climbing skills. There are “runs” that are made for beginners, and very difficult runs made for advanced rock climbers.

Learn how to start your own Rock Climbing Gym and whether it is the right fit for you.

Start a rock climbing gym by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your rock climbing gym. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

  • What are the startup and ongoing costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening a rock climbing gym?

You will need to lease a very large space with extremely high ceilings. A typical rock climbing run can go up at least three stories. As such, most rock climbing gyms are located in industrial areas.

If you cannot find a space with sufficiently high ceilings, you will need to pay for the demolition of the structure between the floors and put in stronger support structures to allow for enough space for the rock climbing walls.

You will also need to make sure the building has very strong support from above for safety ropes to catch any customers if they happen to fall. You will buy need to purchase custom-made hand grips ($5 to $15 a piece) that can securely mount to the rock climbing walls. These are made from very durable plastic and are shaped in different ways to mimic the types of surfaces and crevices one might encounter when trying to rock climb out in the real world.

Typical startup budgets look like this:

  • Formation of an LLC and getting business permits - $1,000
  • Paying the lease deposit on a 10,000 square-foot facility - $25,000
  • Getting building permits for the reconstruction - $2,500
  • Remodeling expenses - $100,000 to $150,000
  • Signage - $5,000
  • Furniture and Fixtures - $30,000 (this includes showers, restrooms, and the wait areas)

What are the ongoing expenses for a rock climbing gym?

You will have to maintain the equipment in perfect condition and pay for the replacement of anything that is worn out or in bad repair. Depending on the size of your gym, plan to budget around $500 to $1,000 per month for this.

Utilities will be ongoing. For a 10,000 square foot facility, it is about $1,000 to $2,000 per month to have lighting and heating or air-conditioning as needed. Depending on the locale, this utility expense may be much higher.

You will also need phone service, a decent Internet connection, and a web hosting service that together might cost about $150.

Your marketing expenses will probably be modest, except you may have the expenses of an online marketing campaign. Allow about $200 to $1,000 per month for marketing expenses.

Your staff, trainers and safety personnel will also need to be compensated according to their level of experience.

Who is the target market?

Because this is a specialty area, the best customers are rock climbing enthusiasts and people who are curious about this sport and want to learn more about it.

How does a rock climbing gym make money?

Consumers will typically pay for a gym membership, which could be on a monthly or annual basis, or they might pay a fixed rate per visit.

How much can you charge customers?

Daily use fees can range anywhere from $10 to $20 per day, with monthly fees typically around $50 to $75, and annual fees anywhere between $350 to $550 per year.

How much profit can a rock climbing gym make?

The key to making profits is to have enough paying members and daily-use customers to make more than the costs of operations.

A successful operation, depending on its size, will have up to 1,000 members and earn up to $650,000 in gross revenues per year. After facility expenses and paying employees’ salaries, the owner of such a business could earn around $250,000 in gross profits before taxes.

How can you make your business more profitable?

You can also add a shop in your gym to sell equipment and related accessories used for rock climbing. Another great idea is to have food and beverage service for those that want to relax a bit after using the gym. You can sell tours to local real-world rock-climbing experiences as well in order to make extra money.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your rock climbing gym is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.

You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

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For most small businesses forming an LLC is a great option, but if you still want to weigh all your options check our our article, What Structure Should I Choose for My Business?

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a rock climbing business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits

For information about local licenses and permits:

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

Release of Liability

Liability waivers are essential since consumers will be in high risk environments, climbing at considerable heights and partaking in intense physical exertion. For this reason, your gym should require all visitors wear protective gear and also follow a set of safety rules to reduce the risk of accidents. An example of facility rules can be found here.

Though climbing facility waivers should be custom-made, sports center waivers can serve as helpful examples.

Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional release of liability form for your business when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.

Music Licensing

In order to play music in a rock climbing gym, permission must be acquired from the composer or license holder. Typically, it is possible to obtain a “blanket” license allowing a businesses to play music owned by a large catalog of artists and recording studios. Such licenses can be obtained from Performance Rights Organizations, such as ASCAP and BMI.

Certificate of Occupancy

Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to an Indoor Rock Climbing business.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for you business’ location to ensure your Indoor Rock Climbing business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

STEP 8: Define your brand

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

How to promote & market a rock climbing gym

Making affiliations with local gyms to give their members a free day-pass can drum up new business. You can also offer students at nearby high schools and colleges student discounts. The biggest rock-climbing gyms advertise in rock climbing magazines, although this is very expensive.

Most of your new customers will come through word-of-mouth, so encouraging existing members to bring in new ones by giving them discounts or a free membership extension is a good idea. For example, if a current member brings in a new member who signs up for an annual contract, you could give them one free month’s membership for doing this.

Sponsoring local contests for rock climbing events both in the gym and out in the real world will also help the gym gain more public attention.

Having a great website that is marketed online using good search engine optimization (SEO) is important as well.

Finally, placing flyers or other ads at related business and giving a commission to those that bring new customers is a good way to build up the clientele for a new facility.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

Besides the marketing methods detailed above, the best thing is to offer a discount to existing members for renewing their membership for longer periods.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Start A Rock Climbing Gym In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

This is a recreational gym where people come to learn how to rock climb. These gyms typically offer three types of climbing:

  1. Top-rope climbing – Where you are always protected by a safety rope in case you fall.
  2. Bouldering – Where you climb short distances without the aid of ropes.
  3. Lead Climbing – Where you go first to set the supports in place for those that follow you from below.

Most owners of rock climbing gyms are also avid rock climbers. However, anyone who loves exercise and the thrill of a good challenge could succeed in this business.

Rock climbing gym owners also need to be sensitive to any possible safety concerns to ensure that their visitors have a fun and risk-free experience.

What happens during a typical day at a rock climbing gym?

Owning a rock-climbing gym is like owning a bowling alley or a health & fitness center. Your daily duties will be to make sure the safety equipment is in good condition, the place is clean, and your support staff is always ready to help gym members and visitors.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful rock climbing gym?

Being a skilled rock climber is helpful. Also having a knack for teaching this sport and encouraging others, regardless of their skill level, is important.

Creativity is also an asset, as you will need to come up with different runs to meet the various skill levels of all your gym members, from beginner to advanced. This will make sure everyone who comes to your gym will have a rewarding experience.

What is the growth potential for a rock climbing gym?

Each location will attract a certain number of customers that has a tendency to level out over time. The way to expand is to create new locations. College towns and places with lots of energetic young people are good locations to consider for expanding operations.

TRUiC's YouTube Channel

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Take the Next Step

Find a business mentor

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

How and when to build a team

Add staff and consider adding instructors if you also want to offer one-on-one or group training programs.

Read our rock climbing gym hiring guide to learn about the different roles a rock climbing gym typically fills, how much to budget for employee salaries, and how to build your team exactly how you want it.

Next Steps

Get more ideas with our Business Ideas Tool.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

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