Many people tend to confuse bouldering with indoor climbing.
To be clear, they are two completely different sports. When bouldering, you only need sports chalk and climbing shoes instead of complicated and expensive equipment such as ropes, harnesses and carabiners.
While bouldering requires significantly less endurance than climbing, this robust and dynamic sport definitely serves as a test for the individual sense of balance and muscular coordination.
When the Boulder Movement first opened in Singapore, there were already several bouldering gyms in Singapore, but they were not beginner-friendly or aimed at working adults.
Boulder Movement stepped into this space to provide that differentiation factor, and they are arguably the island's most sophisticated indoor bouldering gym today.
Although Covid-19 has caused some fitness spots to trip and fall, Boulder Movement is climbing to greater heights and has even managed to open two new outlets in the middle of the pandemic.
Founding of an inclusive bouldering fitness studio in which even newbies can gain a foothold
The Singaporean climbing enthusiasts Jansen Ko, 34, and Joe Fu, 32, opened the first Boulder Movement outlet in the OUE Downtown Gallery in August 2017.
Jansen and Joe's wife were climbing team colleagues at the university, so the two founders got to know each other and went on climbing tours together.
After graduation, Jansen maintained his passion for bouldering but was frustrated with the lack of bouldering halls that are both "comfortable and specially designed for working adults".
In addition, most of the bouldering halls were not exactly beginner-friendly at that time. "It's a shame that new climbers don't get a good start in the sport and leave their first session discouraged," said Jansen.
Together with Joe, he decided to address this problem by starting the Boulder Movement to give new climbers a safe space to discover the sport and gain confidence.
"Who knows? This could be the start of a life-long adventure for them, just like it was for me," he added.
Image credit: Bouldering Movement
As such, Boulder Movement offers climbing sessions and climbing courses specifically for different levels, from absolute beginners to experienced climbers. It is now considered one of the most beginner-friendly gyms that still offers challenging routes for experienced climbers to test their limits.
The sport is gender neutral, so women can perform just as well as men. In fact, the inclusive and welcoming atmosphere of Boulder Movement makes it very popular with female customers who make up the bulk of their customer base.
Customers always leave appreciative feedback on the welcoming and encouraging community of Boulder Movement, and the gym has since grown into a supportive place where strangers can make close friends while climbing.
They used their professional skills to bring the Boulder Movement to life
Juggling between full-time jobs and implementing her new business idea wasn't easy. Jansen soon found himself at a crossroads, had to dive deeply and decide what he ultimately wanted for his career.
He finally came to a conclusion and decided that climbing is his calling.
They pooled their savings to design and open their gym, and Jansen eventually quit his job as a real estate appraiser and left the franchises trying to focus on growing the business full-time.
“After seeing how many climbers start their journey at Boulder Movement and grow up to be such accomplished climbers, I feel emotionally fulfilled and satisfied,” Jansen reflects.
Founders Jansen Ko and Joe Fu / Photo credit: Boulder Movement
Joe, who is still a practicing architect at ONG & ONG, used his design and project management skills to open their climbing gyms. His expertise has proven extremely useful given the rapid expansion of Boulder Movement.
"Since I am an architect myself and Jansen, who comes from the real estate industry, we were able to examine the feasibility of the locations very quickly and effectively," he explains.
As a young father of three, Joe also had to work on his time management and multitasking skills, and learn to prioritize tasks to serve multiple roles.
Take bolder steps in the face of adversity
As new entrepreneurs, the two figured business wouldn't be that difficult and thought they would pick up momentum quickly. Although promising, the gym's initial reaction fell short of expectations.
Since their first gym was at the end of the Downtown Gallery basement corridor, there was very little traffic.
Boulder Movement Downtown / Photo credit: Boulder Movement
The founders initially relied heavily on digital marketing to get the business off the ground.
They made a lot of mistakes but quickly turned around to find out what would attract their customers rather than alienating them, such as understanding the optimal cost structure. They learned a lot by re-evaluating what customers wanted and keeping it going as the business went.
At first, the team struggled with a lack of capital, know-how and the pressing fear of failure and mediocrity. But with the support of their friends and family, they celebrated every milestone and learned in the process.
Today, together with a good team, you have built a robust system and are ready to face new challenges.
Opening of two new branches in the middle of the pandemic
Of course, new challenges arose in the form of Covid-19.
For one, their second gym in Tai Seng was scheduled to open in May last year, but construction was halted due to the Covid-19 breaker. For this reason, the opening has been postponed to August 2020.
They handled the design concept, rental negotiations, renovations and route adjustments through to hiring new team members, while at the same time handling the day-to-day operations for their existing branch. They even started marketing the new gym to existing and new customers.
As it turned out, Jansen and Joe didn't intentionally open their second gym in the middle of the pandemic.
"It was more that after months of labor the baby was due and all we had to do was give birth," Jansen joked.
Boulder Movement's second gym in Tai Seng / Photo credit: Boulder Movement
When the Covid-19 restrictions on sports operations were announced, new guidelines were enacted, including restrictions on how many customers can enter the gyms and mandatory closings.
Some customers even canceled their subscriptions, and revenue dropped to zero during the two-month lockdown in 2020 and for another two and a half months in 2021. The latter was much more difficult for the team due to the “start-stop nature”. of measures.
The Boulder Movement team was tired and frustrated having to close and reopen at such short notice. In addition, the vague guidelines were also inconsistent, so that many operators in the climbing industry had difficulty interpreting and implementing their own rules.
While some climbing halls could stay open, most had to be closed. Unfortunately, due to the high risk and mask-off nature of the activities, Boulder Movement has been categorized along with larger gyms, although climbers have been wearing masks since the first breaker measures were introduced.
Bouldering with masks / Photo credit: Boulder Movement
Local authorities eventually realized that climbing was a low risk masked activity included in recent differentiated safe vaccination management measures.
Boulder Movement was back in operation, but not without a two-hour run time limit and a fixed limit on the number of guests.
"Climbers were used to day admissions before Covid, so there was a feeling of injustice that customers now still have to pay the same prices with less climbing time," said Jansen.
However, rents, salaries, and overheads continued to loom over the business owners' heads. Jansen and Joe even had to dig into their own savings to keep their business afloat by raising funds from shareholders.
They also resorted to government-subsidized funding in the form of a temporary bridging loan to try to overcome their growing liquidity problems by all possible means.
The two young founders held onto their gun and continued to focus on the people, the product and the bottom line in a specific order. They insist that running a business the other way around would be a disaster.
With weekly online check-ins, they were able to keep their growing team motivated and continue to pay everyone their wages, so that no employee had to accept a pay cut due to the bans.
True to Mark Zuckerberg's motto “move fast and break things”, the team has constantly refined its services in order to adapt to the constantly changing regulations.
The community was also flexible and grateful and responded well to the new measures. Your customers came back from each closure with more energy and enthusiasm, just happy to be able to climb again.
They also kept their customers by regularly switching to more lust. They update the routes twice a week to offer their climbers new challenges with the intent of providing specific movement lessons to achieve a range of learning outcomes.
Camaraderie and friendships forged in the gym are further evidence of their supportive atmosphere. Your on-site team even greets all customers by their first name and cheers them on as they climb.
In response, Boulder Movement received a surge of support from its customers. The team eventually decided to return the encouragement with a new and improved offer to give back to their enthusiastic fans.
By building the best facility they could afford, they wanted to offer their customers something even more exciting to look forward to.
Boulder Movement's third gym in Rochor / Photo credit: Boulder Movement
In May of this year, the third Boulder Movement outlet opened its doors in Rochor.
With more gyms, the team has a bigger work surface. You are now able to increase the difficulty to suit more experienced climbers.
Opening not just one but two fitness studios in the middle of the pandemic requires a lot of courage and confidence. “Even if the market is in decline, we must continue to offer our customers added value. Hopefully, when the market recovers, customers can come along, ”said Joe.
Bringing the boulder movement to greater heights
Co-founder Jansen Ko and team / Photo credit: Boulder Movement
Some evenings at the gym are magical. From strangers cheering each other on to people determined to get on with a project, these memories, while intangible, are incredibly fulfilling for Jansen and Joe.
As the founders grow their business, accessibility soon becomes their primary focus. They are looking for new ways to define accessibility beyond the limits of route setting quality and the beginner-friendly nature of their challenges.
They are considering whether to consider accessibility in terms of pricing as well, in order to extend inclusivity to customers who have been hard hit financially by the pandemic.
In addition, they are also thinking about new ways to make the Boulder Movement accessible to more age groups – for example, younger climbers between the ages of six and 13 can also enjoy climbing.
Accessibility as an ideal remains elusive, however; Jansen and Joe hope to find answers and solutions through more dialogue and debate.
The team has gone through great difficulties growing the business, and fear of complacency still keeps them awake at night. Even after the day is over, their heads are still at work, considering which new areas they should improve in.
Today, these millennial founders pride themselves on creating something so hearty out of nothing. With the vision of creating a company that customers and their employees are proud of, these guys take it step by step.
At the moment they are working on adding more value to their membership plans, but are silent about future plans. One thing is for sure, we can expect a lot more from Jansen and Joe in the months ahead.
“We want to push the boundaries for our customers and inspire them again and again,” says Jansen.
Featured image source: bouldering movement