Scaling Up Your Climbing Gym & Keeping Culture Alive

Posted By: Christopher Oshinski CWA Blog,

Inside an indoor climbing gym under construction

While the latest industry trends suggest now is a good time to expand, there is a lot to consider before opening a new facility. Most notable—especially for smaller organizations—is how to maintain the culture we have developed with one gym at two, three, or five gyms. 

Article At A Glance

  • Writer: Christopher Oshinski, Sportrock Climbing Centers, VA., and writer with the CWA for two years. Chris focuses on social justice issues, coaching and training, and management.
  • Who Should Read: This is for senior managers, new owners, future owners, and current gym owners who are thinking about scaling their business.
  • What Will You Learn: The steps that should be taken to understand the culturally significant impact that a multi-gym operation will navigate once having more than one location.
  • Tie-Ins, Resources, or Further Reading: This pairs nicely with work by Kristin Horowitz on scaling your climbing gym.

In my discussions with some moderate-sized organizations (around 3-5 facilities), I found three common threads. 

Know Before You Grow 

Before we consider expanding, it is vital to have a fully developed mission and set of values that our gym embodies. 

Whether our emphasis is on community-building, route-setting, competition training, or accessibility, it behooves us to know who we are. Bringing a new location into line with this vision will be much easier and more successful if we do. 

Beyond a snappy synopsis on our website, our mission must be incorporated across all programs and departments, necessitating intentional hiring and leadership selection, and screening for individuals that will nurture our goals. This also requires unity in what our defined mission is, as we cannot have key people moving in different directions if we wish to find success, especially as we prepare to grow our company. It would also be impossible to hire the right people if our goals are ill-defined and ambiguous.  

It serves us to foster leadership with a global perspective; as we expand from one facility to two, each location must be seen as part of the greater whole rather than independent and separate from the collective vision.  

To be sure, each location will likely develop its own internal culture due to demographics, size, equipment, and the folks who work and play in our gym. But this is desirable, as it ensures some extra flavor and variety across our company! 

We do not want cookie-cutter facilities that offer the same experiences. These nuances allow us to creatively represent our vision in a variety of ways, especially through member events—the key is synchronicity across our gyms, not conformity.  


With so much at stake, as we expand, we must invest in our employees at all levels. While we have already unified our leadership team with our mission, a good organization is nothing without its core stakeholders, consisting of managers, staff, instructors, and setters. 

With most of these players interacting with our patrons regularly, the strength and vitality of our culture depend heavily on them. While an employee focus takes on many hues—communication and transparency are the big contenders in this arena. 

If our staff are also not on board with our mission, how can we expect them to deliver the message to members? Including them in conversations surrounding our growth and other big changes ensures a smooth transition during times of change, which are always challenging moments. 

For new employees, this message will be communicated during the onboarding process and reinforced daily on the job. 

At our new facility, we will also benefit from transplanting stakeholders—across the spectrum—to further represent our unified goal. This representation creates new and exciting opportunities for existing folks, and it nurtures the cultural growth we aim to achieve. 

Now that we have successfully shared the vision, we have all pistons firing to create it. Every interaction at the front desk, through our primary product, routesetting, and out on the floor further exemplifies the culture of our gyms. 

This, in turn, projects our ethos onto our members, who will be sure to have a comforting but unique experience at any of our locations. The ability of our key players to impact and enjoy every one of our offerings brings us to the final thread, that of regionality. 

Location, Location, Location 

Opening new facilities that are immediately accessible to existing members is an obvious return on their investment, but it is also a vital component to instilling our culture within a new facility. Hark back to the idea of “transplants.” When members know they can enter any of our gyms and receive the same stellar experience, albeit with unique trappings, we know we have succeeded in our cultural quest. 

This is impossible when we spread ourselves thin and open a new gym that is not accessible to our member base. It also makes employee relocation a logistical nightmare, further reducing our ability to embody our mission. Rather than spanning the country or jumping into markets in multiple areas, our gyms, and our communities, are better served by staying local. 

If our goal is to multiply our outreach and ability to influence the industry, these three components are essential to success. Our cultural footprint is immediately diluted by over-extending, lacking transparency with our stakeholders, and having a poor understanding of our drive. 

About the Author

Chris OshinskiChris Oshinski is the assistant director for Sportrock Climbing Centers Sterling, VA location, passionate for teaching youth and addressing inequalities. Having obtained an MA in Public Sociology in 2018, Chris loves to explore the myriad forms of agency vis-a-vis individual and collective efforts at fostering social justice and human rights.