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Climbing Gyms: A New Form of Community

Caroline Wu
Feb 23, 2024
Climbing Gyms: A New Form of Community

Almost two months into the new year, and how many of us have managed to stick to our New Year’s Resolutions, especially those pertaining to getting fit? According to a recent Forbes study, 48% of people say improving fitness is a top priority in 2024 while 36% cite improved mental health as a top resolution. What if there is a way to do both?  While your typical gym might see people running on the treadmill or lifting weights with headphones in place, a climbing gym can offer similar health benefits in a more relaxed and communal environment. In addition to being belayed or belaying others, one can also pick up tips while strategizing the next finger hold, or chat while awaiting a turn bouldering. This year, only 20% of respondents say they keep themselves accountable when it comes to sticking to their goals compared to 77% last year. Perhaps it’s time to find a workout partner.

Some of the largest climbing franchises in the U.S. include Movement Gyms, Central Rock Gym, and Touchstone Climbing.  These three chains have had pretty healthy year-over-year growth.

An illustrated map from Walltopia shows the status of these three larger rock-climbing franchises in 2020.  A few years later, new gyms have continued to pop up all over the country.

Walltopia Map 2.23.24
Source: Walltopia (2020)

At Movement Gym, their goal is “transforming people & our communities through the experience of climbing, yoga, and fitness.” With a host of centers in NY, MD, PA, IL, TX, CO, CA, and OR, the mindful approach is to help their climbers find the best version of themselves.  

Touchstone Climbing owns and operates 15 locations across California, and prides itself on being more than just a gym, but a community.  The first gym opened in the Mission District of SF back in 1994 and expanded within the Bay Area for the next decade.  2013 welcomed its first Southern California climbing gym at LA Boulders in Downtown LA.  It also includes a yoga studio, weight room, and cardio area.

One unique aspect of the Sacramento location is that it’s right next door to its very own brewery. Touchstone Brewing Company is a brewery, taproom, and outdoor beer garden. In addition to serving as an after-climb gathering place, it also hosts events like Comedy Night and Trivia Night.

Central Rock Gym has locations clustered in the Northeast, as well as in Florida.  Their focus on being welcoming and accessible results in a strong commitment to youth programs, member events, meetups, competitions, and fundraising events.  Per the Personalive dataset, the top three demographic segments across these various rock climbing gyms are Educated Urbanites, Young Professionals, and Ultra Wealthy Families.  Central Rock Gym leans more heavily towards Young Professionals, and has a larger proportion of Sunset Boomers than the other two chains.  Movement Gym is fairly evenly split between the top three segments. Touchstone Climbing sees nearly 40% of its clientele among Educated Urbanites.  

The university/postgrad population is attractive to many of these gyms, and thus there are locations such as Harvard Square for Central Rock Gym.  For Touchstone Climbing in Oakland, UC Berkeley is one of the top pre/post locations not including home or work for the customer journey

In examining Alcoholic Beverage Expenditures from AGS: Consumer Expenditures, we see that Touchstone Climbing really knows its audience. Compared to the Nationwide Index, their climbers are indeed above average in consuming out-of-home beer, so the brewery next door is a perfect fit.

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Caroline Wu

Director of Research,

Caroline brings expertise in retail, CRE, entertainment, media, CPG, and tourism, and specializes in synthesizing broad datasets into actionable recommendations for growth. She has worked as the US Director of Consumer Insights at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, VP of Retail Insights and Intelligence at Omnicom, and Senior Director at Kantar. Caroline holds an MA in Sociology from Stanford University and a BA in International Relations from Stanford University.

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