In Part 1 of our series, we discussed the dream of opening a climbing gym; how to know if opening a gym, working at a gym, and managing a gym business is right for you. We also talked about the process of creating a business plan and financing. Pretty heavy stuff for Moja Gear!
In Part 2 of our series, we meet with Obe Carrion. Obe is an incredible climber who has made a fascinating career out of climbing. From being a professional climber, a coach, and even a product designer, Obe is in the process of making another exciting transition to climbing gym Owner.
Moja Gear last caught up with Obe Carrion a few years back. Check out the 2016 interview here.
Obe Carrion became a professional climber out of necessity. Scraping enough money together from competitions to pay his bills and build his name in the industry. Obe is also well known for having coached prodigy Ashima Shiraishi. Obe used his climbing expertise and urban upbringing to bring a new flavor to rock climbing gear as a designer for Mad Rock.
When Obe reached out to Moja Gear to let us know that he would be opening a rock climbing gym called METHOD Climbing + Fitness, we asked if he would be willing to share the experience with our readers. What climber hasn’t thought about opening a gym? Maybe we can all live vicariously through Obe’s adventure..?
So Obe, it’s been a while since our last interview. What have you been up to the last few years that has led you to now opening a climbing gym?
After working as a product designer with Mad Rock, I moved to Massachusetts to work as the Director of Operations and Director of Coaching with a climbing gym company. I spent three years helping them grow, and got to the point where I needed to evolve.
I’ve always wanted to open up a gym. I’ve always wanted to be a gym owner. I had an amazing opportunity in meeting partners, and we’re all doing this right now.
You say you’ve “always” wanted to own a gym?
Yeah, I’ve always wanted to open a gym. I mean forever, forever, forever!
Even before leaving New York for the first time, I’ve always wanted to be a gym owner. I’ve always had a dream to open a gym in a place like my hometown and provide an opportunity for kids to climb. So, it’s kind of interesting now because I’m getting that opportunity in Newark [New Jersey]. Newark is very similar to Allentown [PA], my hometown. There’s a lot of similarities; a lot of underprivileged kids.
Just like Allentown, Newark is going through a revitalization, an amazing revitalization process. Positive things are happening all over the place in Newark.
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There are a lot of different roles at a gym. How comfortable are you with all the different positions? And have you ever been involved with a gym opening before?
I’ve definitely experienced all the facets of indoor rock climbing. I’ve been a setter, I’ve coached, I’ve managed gyms … every aspect.
A long, long time ago I was working for a gym at New Rochelle called the Rock Club and I got hired there before the gym opened.
Starting a business is risky. How did you convince your partners to join in this venture?
I met my partners at one of my national training camps their kids attended. We just got to talking, and I mentioned to them that one of the biggest things that I would love to do is create some type of team of underprivileged kids, city kids. I grew up in the inner city, in the urban atmosphere. I’d love to take a group of city kids like that and get them to the Nationals somehow.
I was explaining this to Min, before we were partners, that this is something I’d like to do. At that same time, both she and her husband were in the process or looking to start a [climbing] gym.
At a certain point, I was really tired of working for owners in the gym business. I wanted to be an owner myself, so I sent a random text message out to them and asked: “Hey, you guys still interested in putting this thing together?” She replied “Hell yeah! And ironically, we just found a location for this!”
So, the day that I texted Min and asked her if she was interested in having the three of us join together to build this project was the exact same day that they just walked out of a meeting looking at the space where we are building our gym, METHOD Climbing.
No kidding. Great timing! How did you go about deciding that this would be the right location for a gym?
Well, obviously the demographics. It needs to be in a place where you have the people to support it. Newark has a few colleges in the area, there are a lot of young professionals, a lot of people traveling in and out of Newark going to the city [NYC], and a lot of young people there.
Also, you have to know where a gym is needed. I think of Newark as the kind of place that has a lot of people that would benefit from being introduced to climbing.
There’s a lot of challenges that the kids in that area go through and hopefully climbing could touch their lives and help them turn [their lives] around.
I feel like that’s what happened to me. So it’s nice to be able to be in a city where you could provide some positive influence.
Your idea of building an urban team and serving that community through climbing is inspiring. How will these visions, combined with your experience as a climbing gear designer, appear in your new gym?
High-end experience. Rather than focusing on stats like the most routes or the tallest walls, I want to focus on what climbers and gym members need to improve and enjoy their time climbing.
In the boulders, we’re gonna have a circuit system where the colors of the boulders represent a certain circuit. We’re going to be focusing on competition style climbs, not your traditional commercial gym setting where it’s like right hand, left hand, right hand, left hand. We’re gonna have it be really creative … pushing all kinds of cool ideas to raise the bar of the climbing gym experience in the US.
One thing I will be doing differently is taking care of our employees. I think that’s one element that gets overlooked … It’s definitely important to take care of your employees and create a family. It’s not just a place where they work, it’s a place where they have their families. We’re all tight-knit, working on a common goal of making that place awesome—making METHOD [Climbing + Fitness] awesome.
Interested in working for Obe? Apply here.
There’s a really cool video of you with Mad Rock, designing the shoe. Can we expect to see some of those product designer skills to show up in your new gym?
Yeah, when it came to working with these gym designers from these companies it was kind of hard to get our idea across. So we ended up hiring a really good friend of mine, Jason Kehl. We hired him to help design the walls and it’s kind of funny because the videos that I made with Mad Rock, we hired him to do those, too.
I really enjoy working with Jason and he gets it. Definitely a pleasure to work with him.
Is there a lot of red tape or regulations you have to work through?
Yeah, there’s permitting and insurances that you need. And it all varies from city to city and state to state. Everything has to get pushed through engineers. There’s a list of questions that the general contractor asks, there’s a list of questions that the people who own the building ask, and criteria that they need to be met. There is no governing body but there is a process that you’ve got to go through.
Not a lot of general contractors are familiar with climbing walls, so it’s really interesting convincing the landlord and the general contractors that it’s safe–you’re actually kind of educating them at the same time.
Has there been anything along this process that was a lot harder than expected or is it taking longer than expected?
Actually, things have been progressing fairly well. When you’re projecting when you can open, a common thing is to get ahead of yourself. People ask me “Hey when are you guys going to open” I’m like “Soon.” You know, “As soon as possible!”[The whole process is] like trying to coordinate an orchestra. It’s a lot of moving parts and oftentimes you find yourself delayed. So the timeline thing is a hard thing to predict and plan for.
We got very anxious and we put in an order for holds a little prematurely. So now I know, do not order your holds or volumes until the wall manufacturers are starting. It generally takes three months to build a gym, but it only takes two months to get your holds. So we’re sitting on 15 pallets worth of climbing holds that we won’t be able to use for months. They’re stored safely but we definitely could have waited.
But other than that, everything is moving smoothly.
Some final advice for those looking to open a gym:
Be prepared for delays. Like many building projects, opening a gym can be a notoriously delayed process.
Appreciate things moving slowly. Because at least they’re still moving.
METHOD Climbing + Fitness – Coming early 2020
16 Lombardy St, Newark, NJ 07102
Visitors to METHOD Climb + Fitness can expect to have a full-service experience in the lower level of the historic Walker House in Newark, New Jersey. Equipped with a state of the art fitness area, a cafe, retail area, and of course—a large selection of creatively set bouldering and top-rope climbing.