Rocking on Amidst the Pandemic: Boulder Gym Founders Share How They Hang On

Boulder Movement

Ever found yourself shying away from a particular sport or seen someone doing so because of the challenge that comes with stepping out of their comfort zone? Jansen, one of the two founders of Boulder Movement, has been there.

“I was at a climbing gym when someone was figuring out a particular problem. Enter a younger, more experienced climber who completed the route on his first try, leaving the first climber with a look of disappointment. Sadly, I’ve never seen her at the climbing gym thereafter,” Jansen recounts. 

Boulder Gym Founders Share How They Hang On
From left: Jansen Ko and Joe Fu, founders of bouldering gym, Boulder Movement

“The lack of guidance and encouragement can be demotivating, especially for individuals looking to try out the sport for the first time. That incident made me realise how there are certain barriers of entry to the sport – and this was what inspired the founding of Boulder Movement,” he smiles.

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Not Just a Place to Boulder

Boulder Gym Downtown and Tai Seng outlets
Boulder Movement’s first established its outlet in Downtown (left), before opening a second in Tai Seng (right)

Founded in 2017, Boulder Movement is one of the newer kids on the block with three gyms across the island, with its latest outlet at Rochor that recently opened in June this year. Compared to its counterparts, Boulder Movement places more emphasis on opening up the experience to individuals who are new to the sport. 

“Bouldering was considered a niche sport,” Joe, the other man behind Boulder Movement shared. “We understand how daunting it can be to pick up something new, so we wanted to create a friendly and welcoming space, to provide a positive experience.” This philosophy has also led to the creation of climbing classes designed to help new climbers improve their technique.

“This is how we contribute our interpretation and aspiration to the climbing scene,” Jansen smiles. “We aim to grow collectively with the other players in the industry.”

Hanging on Amidst the Pandemic

Like most industries, the fitness sector took a big hit as the pandemic swept across the globe. During Circuit Breaker last year, fitness studios and gyms had to close their doors, causing an inevitable toll on the business. “It was quite a scramble,” the entrepreneurs shared. “While revenue fell to zero, our work didn’t. For starters, we had to address customers’ concerns on the validity of passes, which we ended up freezing and/or extending. Fixed costs such as rental, wages and website maintenance were also challenges we had to overcome.”

Boulder Movement maximised the Circuit Breaker period by refreshing the walls

As Singapore emerged from the Circuit Breaker (in 2020), business (very) gradually returned. Just when the situation was looking to stabilise, the Phase 2 Heightened Alert (HA) was announced. 

“We’ve been through this before, so we’re not entirely new to this” Jansen smiles ruefully, referring to the closure of bouldering gyms as part of the Phase 2 (HA) measures. While the business owners were somewhat prepared, having to keep up with the evolving measures has proven detrimental. For instance, in the short span of a week, measures pertaining to gym closures have seen quite a few changes.

“Businesses are meant to be in perpetual motion – the quick turnaround of measures breaks our momentum and makes planning our next step challenging,” the gym owners say, and continue, “Adaptability is really important, especially during times like these. For instance, we conducted virtual classes and introduced care packages.”

The business continued to pay their team bonuses in 2020 despite the dip in revenue – something the business owners thought was necessary to retain the morale of the team. “It’s important to give our team assurance – instead of worrying about their jobs, we wanted everyone to focus on ways to grow the business, to emerge stronger together.

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Facing New Challenges

In addition to existing challenges, the pandemic had also thrown a wrench in the founders’ plans. The team was gearing up for the opening of the gym’s newest outlet, only to be left with scrapped plans. “Our plans were in motion for months,” Jansen says. “The publicity was ready, routes set and we were raring to go.” 

Rising above the challenges presented by the pandemic, Boulder Movement managed to open the doors to its third outlet in June, after the easing of Phase 2 (HA) measures

However, due to Phase 2 (HA) measures, the gym had to postpone its opening, a week prior to the launch date. Despite this, the entrepreneurs remain optimistic, especially with the current easing of safe-distancing measures. 

Fast forward a couple of weeks, the newest gym has opened its doors. While climbers are gradually returning, guidelines such as reduced capacity and decrease in climbing time continue to pose challenges to the business.

In spite of setbacks, Joe and Jansen remain largely unfazed. On what keeps them going, Jansen says, “We feel motivated whenever we see climbers making progress and when they feel more confident in climbing. It’s also rewarding to see how Boulder Movement has transformed into a place for people to connect – to us, it’s about providing value to the community, to society.”

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