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  • Writer's picturegheverly

Choosing Climbing Gym Software - What to Look Out for and What Features to Prioritize



Author's note: This is not a sponsored article. These are insights on the more widely known climbing gym software offerings based on nearly 25 years of operating experience and working with almost a dozen clients who are currently unsatisfied with their software.


 
So you run or want to run a climbing gym. It's a big endeavor, and what climbing gym software solution you choose is a much bigger deal than you think it is. Choosing between Rock Gym Pro, Mindbody Online, Approach, Beta, Capitan or others needs to be a much more strategically considered decision than you think. Your gym management software is about so much more than just how much it costs or waiver capability.

HOT TAKE: MOST OF THE FEATURES AND BENEFITS CLIMBING GYM SOFTWARE COMPANIES TALK ABOUT ARE NOT THE ONES YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT

I've worked with every platform out there in our industry today. I've run gyms on most of these platforms, I've spent hours in demo sites, and have worked with clients opening gyms and vetted softwares and with clients looking to make a switch from their current solution. Many of my partners in the Rise Above Consulting Network have endless experience with these platforms as well across a multitude of use cases. I can confidently say I have a very good understanding of the positives and negatives of each.

First, let me get this out of the way: Yes smooth and efficient operations are important and having software that supports that is key. But managing efficiency at the front desk is standard operating procedure for any smart business, it is not a growth strategy. Weirdly, almost all the options out there seem to focus their messaging on the most basic of features:
  • Member check in

  • Document management (waivers, etc)

  • Event calendar/bookings

  • Point of Sale


I cannot stress this enough: Do not base your decision on these 4 features. Every option on the market has these features and they all do them fine enough. Some better than others yes, but this is not the highest value feature set for climbing gym software. And, unfortunately, the reason you see a lot of focus here from the providers is because many of the options out there don't do a good job at the feature sets that actually make a material difference in your business' success so they focus on these ones. This article will not focus heavily on the easy checkboxes that basically everyone hits like connection to a payment processor, or connection to accounting software such as quickbooks. These are important but ultimately all offerings will get you there.

OK, So what in the heck should I be basing my climbing gym software decision on?


All of the decisions you need to make can be daunting

 

***The below list is NOT exhaustive but are some of the things often overlooked which are incredibly meaningful and almost all of my clients wish they had thought about before making their choice***

AT THE END OF THE DAY, YOU WANT SOFTWARE THAT HELPS YOU GROW YOUR BUSINESS NOT JUST MANAGE IT

The ability to access your data and drive decision-making

The fact of the matter is, you are creating a TON of meaningful data every day that can elucidate customer and member behaviors. This data, when accessed and analyzed properly can unleash an enormous amount of decision making capabilities that will grow your business. Some top data points I like to look at regularly:

  • Cost of customer acquisition

  • Customer/Member lifetime value

  • Conversion rates

  • Churn rates

  • Check in behaviors

  • Purchasing decisions

  • and on and on...


You should dig in HARD on how the reporting works for the software. Do you have complete access to the database or is it locked down? Can you export your database via a .CSV or similar file type so you can manipulate that data? Do you own your data or does the software company? That's an important one because it can affect what you can do with that data, what data you have access to, whether or not you get a copy of your database if you leave, etc. Does the software have any API connections with Business Intelligence (BI) tools (Approach does for example)? Spend a lot of time here because some of these software companies have extremely lackluster reporting and if you want anything outside of their canned reports there's a cost associated.

***An important note here: Do you have the skill/capability in your organization to analyze the data? Having a gigantic spreadsheet or report doesn't do you much good if you don't have the capability to analyze the data. This is where a BI tool can help with visualization, but then you need to have someone that knows how to use a BI tool. Keep all of this in mind

Marketing funnel tracking

This is HUGE one. And not many of the climbing gym specific software companies have this sorted out. If you want to know how well your digital marketing dollars are performing, this is a must. I'll give you an example marketing funnel:
50% off Day Pass Instagram Ad:
  1. Customer clicks on ad, lands on your website to buy the day pass

  2. They click "buy now" which is in a widget on your website from your software provider

  3. When they click "buy now" they domain hop from your website to your software's website via the widget (IE: they go from examplewibsite.com to something like examplewebsite.softwarecompany.com)

  4. They either purchase or don't.


So a couple important things are happening here.

  • Google analytics will allow you (if you have it set up right) to see every click, time spent, etc from the ad to your website for every visitor. This is awesome, you know where people are coming from and where they went (Steps 1-2)

  • Only SOME software companies have the correct embed code, etc to maintain that data once the domain hop happens from your site to their widget on step 3.

  • If the right cross domain analytics are not set up, all meaningful data is lost when the customer leaves your site and enters your software's site and you can no longer draw a line from the entry point to the checkout. You might be able to make some loose associations of how many people came to the page and how many units were sold but it's not accurate.


This is a big deal because if you can't track from entry point all the way to the checkout you have very limited visibility into the effectiveness of your marketing. Dig in on this, make sure the widgets that will be on your site can track and give you the right analytics to be able to deploy your resources effectively and learn about your customer's behavior.

**Bonus Points: look at average load times of those widgets and the software on multiple devices and browsers. Load times are a big part of how you rank on Google and you don't want your widgets from a software negatively affecting your Google ranking. Some of the options out there are painfully slow.



Features that support good sales activity


As I mentioned above, managing the operations of your business is not a growth strategy. You have to take strategic control of your revenue. I tell clients all the time "switching to single ply toilet paper is not what will make your business successful, you have to get better at sales".

Sales is a relatively new concept in our industry. It's like a dirty word. I won't spend any time here talking about what makes for good sales strategies, I've given entire talks on the subject. But what I can tell you is that I have several clients right now who are transforming their organization into a more sales focused culture, are seeing incredible results, and are immediately realizing that their climbing gym software absolutely does NOT support their ability to have a high performing sales culture. Here are some of the key features to look for:

  • Reporting - see above section on reporting. Specifically though you want to be able to slice and dice your data based on an almost limitless set of overlapping criteria (just some of the ones I have used with clients recently that their software couldn't deliver so I had to build custom spreadsheets: members who bought a particular class in the last 90 days AND have an expiring membership in the next 30 days, parents with kids on the youth team AND who have a belay certification, 10 punch pass users who have visited more than 3 times in a month AND have remaining punches)

  • Either a good internal CRM (Customer Relationship Management) function or an excellent API with a third party CRM, but more likely the latter as all the options out there have a pretty lackluster internal CRM function. Reporting is key to this because if you can't segment your customer cohorts and behaviors well, your CRM activity will be far less high performing.

  • Any functionality that encourages engagement. For example, Capitan has an excellent check-in challenge functionality that is just one way you can proactively work to retain members. It's even better if there are automations for this based on customer behavior. For example, if a customer has a 10 pack and is checking in on their last visit, will there be a notification for staff at check in to sell them another? Will that customer get an email or SMS asking them to re-up?


I could keep going, it's a massive topic with a ton of area for improvement in our industry. But the key takeaways here are: don't settle for just "streamlining operations" from your software. Don't expect the tool to fix your problems, you have to have the resources, strategies and capabilities on the back end in your business, and focus hard on the features and benefits that will grow your business not just make the waiver process easy.

In Conclusion

So who are the winners? Who do I recommend? Ultimately it depends on the client's needs, and I always make a features, benefits and advantages list with my clients and ask them to prioritize those items: MUST HAVE, NICE TO HAVE, and BONUS POINTS so I can fully understand what is critical or not to their business, then we vet the software together.

BUT.


There are two overall top performers here across the board: Beta and Capitan. These two outperform the rest on almost every function in my opinion. Capitan is more focused on CRM type functionality with some really great tools, and Beta is building a really impressive all encompassing software that handles staff scheduling, route setting, client facing software, etc. Again this is not a sponsored article, these two are just genuinely the best in the game right now.




This is a big topic, I've only scratched the surface and tried to elucidate some of the often overlooked but critical considerations. Rise Above Consulting has decades of experience working with most of the software options out there. Not only can we help you vet the best option, we can also help you implement the right operational processes on the back end to unleash the capabilities of the tool. Hit us up to learn more


 






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