Today, I interviewed Kat Friel of Rock Spot Climbing about their team building business. We specifically talked about the South Boston location, and how Rock Spot Climbing works with corporate and college groups to facilitate better communication, trust and team work.
You can listen to the full interview below. This articles also includes my research on Rock Spot Climbing, including information about the location, facilities, pricing, demographics, safety information and more.
Let’s get into it…
Rock Spot Climbing Highlights
To be honest, before this call I didn’t know much about rock climbing and I knew even less about how it works as a team building activity. It turns out that not only does rock climbing meet a lot of the needs for a group looking for a fun, physical activity but also has great opportunities for improving trust and bonding over the experience.
Here are some highlights:
- Rock climbing really is an “all person” sport, Rock Spot Climbing has members as young as 4 and as old as 70;
- You don’t need a lot of arm strength because rock climbing is mostly about leg strength, “if you can climb a ladder you can climb a wall”;
- Climbing is a great sport for beginners;
- Even though rock climbing sometimes gets categorized together with “extreme sports”, it’s actually quite accessible and relatively safe;
- A typical event is 2 hours, but you can do a longer event that includes more time on the wall, advanced training, team building games, etc.
- Rock Spot Climbing has facilitators and equipment to accommodate a wide range of disabilities, including specialized training for blind individuals, and a climbing harness for folks with limited mobility;
- There is a dining area / private room so you order pizzas or do another catered meal after your event. You can do a bar as well, but after your climb!;
- On the issue of safety, Rock Spot Climbing takes precautions to ensure the safety of your team.
How to Find Rock Spot Climbing
As of November, 2016, Rock Spot Climbing has four locations, including two in Boston, MA, and two in Rhode Island. This review is specifically about the Rock Spot Climbing at 30 Old Colony Ave Boston, MA 02127. You can click that link to determine your route. If you get lost, call the gym at 617-269-2084 for assistance.
Team Building Activities at Rock Spot Climbing
Even though team building activities and corporate off-sites have become more popular in the last two or three years, team building has actually been a thing for decades. Rock Spot Climbing has been facilitating team building activities for 10+ years, which has given them the time and practice to develop a high level of expertise.
The basic act of rock climbing is inherently a good team building activity because it demands collaboration, trust and clear communication. Plus, rock climbing is just a fun way to get a little exercise and blow off steam after a tough project or quarter. Your event is augmented with team building elements, e.g., you can add a game where trivia cards about your team members are posted up around the gym so that you first retrieve them and then answer the questions. This trivia game is a great way to learn odd facts about coworkers that may not otherwise come out in regular conversation. You can enhance your team’s visit to Rock Spot Climbing further by reading this guide about rock climbing for team building.
Is Rock Spot Climbing Safe?
I asked Rock Spot Climbing about safety concerns related to bringing your employees for team building at their Boston gym. The company website has a few mentions of waivers, so is it dangerous? Rock Spot Climbing’s answer was clear, “waivers are standard across the climbing industry.” The company shared that climbing is inherently dangerous, because you are climbing up a wall, but they take all safety precautions including safety equipment, training, etc.
You may want to do additional research to ensure the safety of your team. Here is an article about the safety of rock climbing in general and here is a Quora thread where people share first hand accounts regarding safety and some of the risks involved.
Interview With Kat Friel, Marketing Team Lead at Rock Spot Climbing
Michael: Alright, so my first question for you is I’ve done some research, I’ve learned all about Rock Spot Climbing, but I’d like you to tell me in your own words what is Rock Spot Climbing?
Kat: We’re an indoor rock climbing facility with four locations throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts. And our goal in to provide indoor climbing for all ages and all abilities.
Michael: Cool. How did the company get started?
Kat: I’m sorry?
Michael: How did the company get started? Where did Rock Spot Climbing come from?
Kat: It was born out of a gym called Rhode Island Rock Gym that existed in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the two current owners just met in college, started climbing at that gym, and it came up for sale, they felt potential, bought it, a couple of years later moved it to our current location in Lincoln and then in 2009 we opened our second location up in Boston, and rebranded the Rhode Island Rock Gym to Rock Spot Climbing.
Michael: Got it. I imagine that there are some unique challenges with finding a location for a rock climbing gym and then running it as well, can you tell me a little bit about that?
Kat: I mean I can’t answer too much to that because that’s exactly my role in the company, that’s what the owners do, so…
Michael: Got it, no problem.
Kat: I manage the marketing and that’s my type of stuff, the owners are the ones who do that.
Michael: Good. Let’s take it to more marketing stuff then. And I think the right context for that is when did Rock Spot Climbing start offering team building events, team building activities, corporate events, etc.?
Kat: We pretty much offered them from the start, it’s obviously taken on different forms, and you know we’ve kind of fine-tuned the programming throughout the years. But we’ve been offering our current programs for years. Like I’ve been in this company for ten years and it’s, you know, we improved on it throughout the time but we’ve always offered some sort of team building programs.
Michael: Got it. It does seem to me that team building has been kind of on a lot of company’s radar for the last few decades but it seems even more popular in the last like 3 to 5 years.
Kat: Yeah, I mean we’ve seen an increase in people coming to our company and utilizing our services for that, climbing in general lends itself to being a really good team building activity. Whether people are learning how to belay and therefore having to interact and you know, bring in that trust element to just being on the wall and trying something new together as a group. You know, it was kind of a natural thing that from the beginning we would offer team building.
Michael: Got it. So to make it super clear for people listening or reading the transcript of this, what is belaying, can you tell me a little bit more about the interaction between the team members and how that brings them closer together?
Kat: Yeah, right, so belaying is when one person is essentially holding the ropes for the other person. So it’s a technique, we teach lessons on how to do it, you’re holding – the belayer is holding the rope, they use a belay device that takes the friction and then the climber is attached to the other end of the rope, so as they climb up the wall, the belayer pulls the slots through so the climber lets go, the belayer is essentially holding them back and they can come down when they’re done.
Smaller team building groups definitely do utilize that and we will teach them how to belay and they’ll belay for each other. It is a little bit of a time consuming process to teach. So many groups who just want to belay for a couple of hours will not do the belaying side, they’ll have our staff belay and they’re attending it or just climbing. And they don’t have to worry about learning the technique and making sure they’re safe doing it and all that.
Michael: Got it. I’d like to roll this back a little bit, how do companies find you? How do they know that Rock Spot Climbing even has this activity they can do with their team?
Kat: We advertise it on our website, we do some outreach, I do a lot of health fares, at various companies that people find us there. What we find most often is you know one person in a company or in a team is already a member or is a climber and they see this as a great opportunity to turn their co-workers on to the sport. Climbers tend to get a little obsessed and excited about this sport. So they’ll suggest it to whoever is organizing the team building, the programming and the team comes out and they have a great time, and the next thing we know is we’re booked by three more departments from the same company. So it tends to kind of be a lot of experiential word of mouth.
Michael: Got it. So I think that’s really interesting because a lot of extreme sports or more physical activities wouldn’t lend themselves well to that. I’m thinking of something like cross fit where people are so passionate. But if you brought your co-workers, it might be a rough time. Or…
Kat: Yeah, yeah.
Michael: Or something like motor biking or like cliff jumping, they’re just a little bit too extreme. But it sounds like rock climbing is something that’s accessible for like beginners, intermediate, advanced, it’s kind of good for everybody, is that right?
Kat: Yeah. And I think that’s why – because a lot of people think of climbing in the same category as cross-fit and motor biking, etc. or any of those extreme sports, that are not accessible, it often takes there being an existing climber in the group or you know, someone having brought their tools into a birthday party for them to see for themselves that it really is all ages, all abilities and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a fit, active 20 something year old or a middle-aged not so active person or overweight or whatever that really – there is something there for everybody, something that – we want them to feel good. And our gym specifically tries to ensure that and target those groups and make sure that really everybody can be a climber.
Michael: Is there a specific demographic that it is most popular with?
Kat: As far as our member base, so people who have memberships and come in and climb regularly as their sport and as their fitness, it’s probably around 20 to 40 as an age range, where kind of our key demographic is; young professionals essentially. But we have members in their sixties and seventies who climb regularly and we have youth programs that run for as young as 4 year olds. So we definitely do have climbers of all ages.
Michael: Alright, I’m imagining a 4 year old climbing the wall and it’s pretty adorable.
Kat: I actually started when I was 2 and a half as a climber, so yeah, it’s pretty good.
Michael: That’s cool, that’s very cool. Alright, so if somebody has found you for a team building event, either via their co-worker being a member or one of these health fares that you do, what’s the next step, I mean do they call you; what do they need to know, what do they need to prepare to come and do a team building activity with you?
Kat: Well, we find out what their outcomes are that they’re looking for, what their objectives for the program are. If they’re just looking for the team to let off some steam and have some fun together or whether they really want to work on communication? We’ve had some groups that, it was a team that worked in 2 remote locations and they’d come together once a year. So they did a 5 hour program that included a lot more communication games in addition to just climbing. So they’ve got a lot more of the element in it, but most of our groups just get a 2 hour you know, kind of fun element.
But once we determine that, then we look at schedule, number of people, you know, get a deposit and get going. Once they book it, everyone just needs to do a waiver in advance, wear comfortable clothing and show up ready to have fun.
Michael: Got it, it sounds pretty straight forward. So I heard that the main reason people come to you are either to kind of relax and let off steam, etc., maybe it’s the end of a big project or the end of a quarter or something like this, and then other people come specifically for improvement of communication or collaboration or this kind of thing.
I want to dig into that second one a little bit more because to me, I totally understand your expertise in climbing; I think people may not know that you are also experts in teaching communication, etc. So what does that part of an event look like?
Kat: So again, it’s really customized to each individual group’s needs. But what we see most often is – obviously no wonder if it’s 5 hours event – is that they want to have fun, to let lose but they want the team to really interact together. So one game, program will do. We have, it’s kind of a climbing game show essentially, you know, we customize it to the group, the group leader often will come up with questions, trivia questions, and depending on the goals of the organization, sometimes there’s questions about the company and their history, sometimes it’s questions about just general trivia, that one particular group I’m referring to did questions about people on the other team.
So personal questions, because they were trying to get to know each other more because they worked virtually. So it’s kind of a game showing off your teams, but the clues, the questions that they have to answer are attached to walls around the gym. So you have to have members of your team climb up to get the question. And then the team has to work together to answer the question.
So it’s a lot of – you know, they’re working against each other but they’re also working with their teams, when you do question about the team or about the company, it adds an extra element to it, and at the same time they’re using the climbing skills that they get in the beginning half of the program. So it kind of ties everything together.
Michael: That’s cool. That sounds like a lot of fun. It’s much clearer now. So I appreciate that explanation. You’ve mentioned a few different time ranges. You said some teams come for like 2 hours, 3 hours, some as many as 5. What’s the most typical for a group to come in?
Kat: Our most popular for timing is the 2 hour program. And that usually breaks down to be about an hour and a half of rock climbing which is the climbing where our staff is belaying for them, and then we do a half hour team building game even with the 2 hour program. That one we usually do a game called shark pit which is works on – you know, the teams have to work together to solve a problem, basically getting the whole team from point A to point B while swinging across a rope. So you don’t fall, it’s like playing with a child.
Kat: It’s really fun. But that’s our most popular, I’d say the second most popular is our 4 hour program which is essentially this 4 hour – essentially the 2 hour program and then they can either add on 2 hours’ worth of team building games, or they can learn how to belay and add on one hour team building games.
Michael: Got it, so really a lot of flexibility with how to customize it, etc. Interesting. Okay, so that makes a lot of sense to me. With the team building events, do you have any examples of kind of companies, groups that have come recently and kind of enjoyed it and seen great results?
Kat: I personally don’t have permission from the companies to share their names…
Michael: Sure, no problem, I totally appreciate that.
Kat: Yeah, I don’t want to publish it, because they’re all big named companies and we need their permission to use their names for promotion.
Michael: Got it, I totally get it, a lot of the leads that come in through our sites are Google and Adobe and Oracle and they’re the kind of companies that you don’t talk about unless they say you can.
Kat: Yeah, I mean we’ve had some that came through with a third party that books it and we don’t even know who the actual client is until they show up. “I’m here for the blah-blah-blah family dating.” And I’m like “Oh, I was wondering who this 40 person event was.”
Michael: Got it. Interesting, very interesting. I’m curious about the waivers which as I understand would be a legal requirement but are there – what are the safety issues or concerns that people should be aware of?
Kat: I mean waivers are standard across the climbing industry. It’s – climbing is inherently dangerous. You know, we do everything we can to provide everybody with all the tools and information that they need to have a good time but it’s the lawyer’s make us do it. I don’t know what to say.
Michael: It’s okay, I get it, I’m not going to press that one. It’s more, I’m curious about it.
Kat: As a general thing, I know, our general phrase is climbing in inherently dangerous. And then the safety rules that we’ve set for us and…
Michael: Totally. And frankly, most stuff is kind of dangerous if you don’t follow the rules. For example, crossing the road.
Kat: Exactly, exactly, right. But the lawyers…
Michael: I get it. Okay, so how many people is this suitable for? Is there a range?
Kat: Again, it depends on what type of programming you’re looking for. The more you know, intense programs, I guess, the longer, more involved programs, you can do it better in groups of 25 or less. Just because you can have a lot more of that interaction, you get a lot more out of it, you can be more successful.
The shorter programs we can handle – you know, that’s good for any size, we have had groups over 100, I mean we have a group coming in to the South Boston gym later this month that is 300 people.
Michael: Oh wow.
Kat: Yeah, they’re not running as an organization because they’re large, they’re running a little differently. It’s actually not necessarily a team building activity; it’s a reward activity, so it’s like a special event for this group. And they’ll have like a caterer and they’ll have lots of things going on and our staff will be essentially in station. So everyone who comes in will get an orientation, learn all the safety rules and then they can kind of use the facility as they want and they’ll have our staff around to help them out.
Michael: Right. Do you see like college students and high school students as well or is it mostly corporate groups?
Kat: We do a lot of – actually the group that we’ll do later this month is college age.
Michael: Got it.
Kat: So yeah, we see a lot of both.
Michael: Okay, cool. And what about kind of a very general pricing. I’ll direct people to your website so they can get a real quote but like ball park per person and per event?
Kat: I mean our, at least the most popular one is the 2 hour program that’s $25 per person if you can have over 20 people, it drops down to $20. So that’s our standard event pricing.
Michael: Cool and very reasonable. And then I assume it goes up a little bit as they add the training and the activities, the games, etc.
Kat: Right, that’s for the 2 hour program. If you attend a 3, 4, 5 hour program, you’re adding more of the team building games, the price goes up because A, it’s a lot of programs but B because you know, depending on the needs of the group, we’ll bring in more of our higher level staff for this program.
Michael: Cool. I think I’ve just got one more question before we wrap up. And then I’ll be open to anything else that you want to chat about as well. But the question is you mentioned people associate rock climbing with more extreme sports and that’s kind of a common objection they have to coming in. Are there other common objections that you hear from people?
Kat: I think we most often hear “oh, I can’t do that. I have no arm strength.” Or you know, “I can’t do that, I’m too old. That’s for my kids.” And I think what people don’t realize is that climbing is actually mostly about your leg strength. You have a lot more push in your legs than you lave pull in your arms. So that’s usually the first technique you learn if you take climbing classes is not to use your upper body, and I think people are surprised at how successful they are with it. That it’s not as difficult as they thought it was going to be, that their body actually can do more than they thought, and that it’s ton of fun.
Michael: Okay, so it sounds like somebody even that’s just used to just a very basic level of physical activity would be a good candidate for this.
Kat: If you can climb a ladder, you can climb a wall. And even beyond that though, when we say all ages, all abilities, we mean it. We have trained staff at all of our gyms who have taken trainings for adaptive climbing so we have had climbers who are visually impaired, who have strength – or weaknesses in specific limbs, who don’t have specific limbs. We have a seat harness, that we can set up if a climber has limited use of their whole body and so it’s kind of a hoist we use if they can’t use their upper body, we have special aids for climbers who don’t – who have muscle weakness issues and you need a little assistance with that. So we can literally can get anybody up a wall.
Michael: That’s fantastic, I love that you’re able to accommodate kind of all people, all groups.
Kat: Yeah, we have a lot of groups that come and use us that work with kids and young adults who have various physical disabilities, and they love it. Because it’s such a freeing sport for those people. You know especially kids who often feel left out from sports with their friends, all of a sudden this is something that they can do and they can do it with everybody. So we can definitely accommodate anybody.
Michael: Cool, very, very cool. Alright, before we warp us, was there anything else that you think would be useful to share or maybe we could have gone a little bit deeper into?
Kat: So I mean I guess that this is focused on the Boston gym, right?
Kat: So that both our Boston gyms do have a space that teams can do meetings or catering or you know, kind of wrap-up sessions, if they’d like to afterwards.
Michael: Great, so do they provide the food? Or do you?
Kat: Either way. We have deals with pizza places, and you know we’re happy to arrange that, but they’re also more than welcome to bring catering in depending on the time of the event we’ve had groups that have brought bars in. It was their first climbing.
Kat: But South Boston actually has a private party room, a little lounge area that we can block off. And we’ve had groups that have brought in bars and caterers and had little buffets over there. The group on the 17th will have a caterer set up.
Michael: Cool, so somebody could come in, they could do their 2 hour activity, they could go and have a meal with their team and they could go like their little pep talk training thing…
Kat: Yep, yep.
Michael: For a really full experience.
Michael: That’s great, cool, well, thank you so much for chatting with me, I’ve loved learning about your business. To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about rock climbing so some of the analogies you made like being able to, you know, if you can climb a ladder, you can climb a wall, that’s really interesting to me. So thank you.
Kat: Yeah, no problem. Thank you!
Rock Spot Climbing Reviews
There are plenty of reviews for Rock Spot Climbing, and I recommend you do a quick Google search to find the reviews most relevant to you. You can also check out the detailed comments on Yelp, Trip Advisor and Facebook. As of 16/11/03, Rock Spot Climbing has 5 out of 5 stars based on 34 reviews on their Facebook Page.
Here are a few helpful reviews I found…
This one is about the difficulty level of rock climbing at Rock Spot Climbing:
I cannot recommend Rock Spot enough. The walls vary from semi-easy to very challenging and the floors are padded to prevent injury. The staff was courteous and very professional and the other climbers were very friendly. I can only describe the overall environment as supportive-multiple times other climbers would give me advice on how to improve and tell me which climbs they thought were best for beginners.
– Alexandra C., Yelp Review
And here is a review specifically about team building:
Great Team Building! Our leadership team went there to do some physical team building exercise. It was fun and exhaustive (for our hands). They have friendly staff who guide you throughout. Great for kids as well I imagine. Don’t fear falling down – they have got it covered.
– Salman K., Trip Advisor Review
One more, here is a review about Rock Spot’s staff:
First time climbing there and I fell in love with it! Every staff member I talked to was friendly and welcoming! Am definitely considering a membership.
– Ryan, L. Facebook Review
Have You Done Team Building at Rock Spot Climbing?
Did you and your team do an event or workshop at Rock Spot Climbing? I’d love to hear about your experience. You can leave a comment below with your review. Please include specific information about your team building activity, the industry you work in and details about the planning of your event. Thanks!