Updated: Mar 11, 2018
"Let's build climbing walls!"
A strong work ethic, heart, creative thinking and collaboration: a strong foundation. Creating something meaningful and having a positive impact are the guiding principles behind the company that builds more than just climbing walls.
IMPACT Climbing is an innovative climbing wall manufacturer that stands behind the quality of its products and the integrity of its team; the journey of where it all began is in the history of the company written here. The purpose of sharing this journey with you is so that you get a feel for what IMPACT is all about and where the company came from. Although IMPACT is the new name that represents us now, it’s the only thing that has changed about the company. The structure of the company, the manufacturing processes, the owners and the team behind our products all remain the same. The name, IMPACT, carries with it a deep understanding of what it takes to build a strong team and good quality products and will serve to streamline our products under one company name. This is the story of where it all started for this Canadian company.
For me, this story begins in July of 2007, when I met Kyle Wilson, the founder of IMPACT. In those days he was a college student who, in his off time, worked with his dad in home renovations, enjoyed rock climbing in his leisure time and was working towards his Dive Master certification. I had graduated with my BEd in 2005 and was teaching Grade One French Immersion at that time. Within a year, Kyle and I were married, he had graduated from Seneca College with his Diploma in Recreation and Leisure services and now was tasked with answering this question: What am I going to do?
Kyle got a job working as the GM for a new climbing gym opening in Ontario, starting just as the construction of the climbing walls was nearing completion. Kyle really enjoyed being part of the final stages of construction and experiencing firsthand how things came together. It’s pretty incredible to witness all the work and people that come together to open a climbing facility. After a couple of months it became clear that working as a GM really wasn’t what Kyle was meant to do and so the gym and Kyle parted ways. We didn’t know it at that time, but it was a blessing in disguise. It sure didn’t feel that way in the moment. It felt like our world was caving in and it was terrifying! We both had a significant amount of student debt and our rent was high, but somehow we had to make it work. After all, it would be a short time until Kyle found another job, right?!
Have you ever been in a relationship or worked closely with a creative thinker? Creative thinkers can come in many shapes and sizes and can be characterized by any number of personal attributes. Creative thinkers are what our current elementary teaching strategies are attempting to build and instill in children today. Kyle is my creative thinker. Some characteristics that come to mind when I think about him are: highly independent, a risk taker, an analytic, a dreamer, a creator, a self- actualizer, a divergent thinker, passionate.
It’s fun when you start to really understand the kind of person you are and can start to envision a future for yourself, but the path isn’t always clear. After looking at the job market and not really seeing anything that sparked his interest, we made the decision that Kyle was meant to create. The more we thought about it, the more it made sense. Kyle grew up working with his dad in home renovations and later for other construction companies, and he has this knack for understanding how things work, which is just so cool! He decided he wanted to be part of the growth in climbing and help bring the sport to more people. He also decided that he wanted full control of his own destiny. Let’s build climbing walls!
This is the part where life stays scary for way longer than I had anticipated. How was this going to work? Climbing walls are really big… we rent a townhouse… both of our cars are being towed on a regular basis… we have no cash to infuse in a start-up business… how on earth do you start your own business…? Where do you find the customers? Just breathe!!
These are but a sampling of the questions you ask when you don’t even know the other questions you need to ask.
When you truly love someone it means you respect them, you believe in them, and you believe that nothing is more important than their happiness. Thankfully we both believe in following our proverbial “gut” and this felt like the right thing to do. And so it happened…I can hardly even remember how, but Kyle was awarded his first project, under the name Rock Climbing School, a small kids’ climbing wall at a fitness facility. Kyle did everything himself, he quoted the project, designed the project and built and installed everything. Wow! What a feeling, winning that first project. At the end of it all the client was happy and so were we.
In the spring of 2009, we decided that having a portable climbing wall would help us get the name out there. By setting up at various venues, we would be introducing more people to the incredible sport of rock climbing and sharing our product with the public. At this point we knew we couldn’t build the wall in the garage; Kyle worked with his dad to come up with a design and fabricated the portable wall in his parent’s backyard. Kyle was creating! Again I ask, do you know a creative thinker? There is nothing more energizing than being part of a creative thinker’s process! They exude passion and excitement and seem to be capable of things that I never even thought possible…like carrying a sheet of plywood in one hand up a ladder sixteen feet in the air and then placing the giant piece of wood onto a frame and somehow single-handedly fastening the wood to that frame. His brain works very differently than mine, because my brain would have said…”ah, that’s crazy!”
And so it was built, from a vision to fruition! It’s time to hit the fairs! We used Kyle’s dad’s trailer to haul the giant frame and climbing panels from fair to fair. It took 4 hours to assemble and slightly less than that to take it down. We were exhausted every weekend, but it was worth it. Everyone who climbed our wall was so happy; for many it was their first introduction to the sport and we got to be their cheerleaders. Long hot days, leaving your hands callused and your heart full of cheer. We were making an impact (however small), we felt good and we were making enough money to get by until the next construction project came along. Of course in between the weekend venturing we were both working like crazy; I was teaching and tutoring on the side, and Kyle was guiding people on outdoor climbing excursions and canvasing to find potential projects. We were making it work.
As an entrepreneur you have to advocate for yourself, because no one else will. At the end of the day you have to believe in what you are doing, regardless of what anyone else might think or say. What did that mean for Kyle? It meant continuous problem solving and finding creative solutions. Fabricating climbing walls out of your apartment is not a realistic long term strategy. As a forward thinker he decided to use the contacts he had made along the way. The company who built the original climbing walls for the gym where he worked was called Rockwerx, based in the US. Kyle had made a couple of contacts within the company and decided to reach out to them to see if they would be interested in working together. At this time Kyle had also landed a big project for a new condominium build in Mississauga; they were looking to have a climbing wall added as part of their fitness facilities. Kyle and Rockwerx came to an agreement that he would purchase the climbing walls from Rockwerx and work with one of their crews to install the walls onsite. Kyle would be responsible for managing the contract and coordinating the project, along with working as part of the installation crew.
You can’t even imagine (or maybe you can) how excited we were! This was huge for us! The paperwork we had to complete and all the processes and learning that happened as a result of this project were immeasurable. Things were looking up, and Kyle was excited to work with the experienced Rockwerx crew installing this project. Then we got a call telling us that the crew had been turned away at the border, being denied entry into Canada for some reason. What could we do? Panic? Cancel the job? Not a chance, we’d committed to the project (not to mention we had signed a contract and all the climbing wall components had arrived on-site). As luck would have it, one of Kyle’s good friends was in-between jobs and we were fortunate that he was interested in working with Kyle to help get the project done. Thank you universe for good friends! We were also able to hire another person to be part of this first installation crew. Now we had the stuff we needed and the people. So with enough people to do the work and a number of phone calls between Kyle and Rockwerx, the team completed the job as intended, on-time and with care. In the end this proved to be a great opportunity for Kyle to demonstrate his abilities in construction and in project management.
From there, the relationship with Rockwerx continued to grow, the two companies decided that Rock Climbing School should become Rockwerx Canada Inc. Rockwerx Canada would sell Rockwerx products and install the projects with our own crew. Rockwerx would add Rockwerx Canada to their website and direct all inquiries for Canadian projects to us. Rockwerx Canada Inc. was now up and running and operating as a stand-alone, separate company but in affiliation with Rockwerx US. This worked; we continued to grow, make mistakes and learn.
As a new and growing company there are so many lessons learned along the way: Paperwork; numbers; bookkeeping; filing taxes! Things get really confusing. But one of the most important lessons for us was something we hold close to our hearts: “It’s all about the people, 100% of the time”. One of the biggest challenges is to find people who want to work hard, and to do it for something you love. We get it. It can be challenging to work for other people and you don’t always feel appreciated for the work that you do. It took time, but we found the right people. We know we don’t always make them all happy, but we really do try to and we really do care. In our opinion, no one works harder than our team and they rock at their jobs!
By 2011, we had just been blessed with our first child and were outgrowing our living situation…mostly because Rockwerx Canada was outgrowing the garage and my awesome creative thinker was thinking outside of the box again, ready to create. So we bought our first house and rented an office and manufacturing space in Milton. Our first space was a 1200 sqft. unit at 400 Morobel Dr., with manufacturing in the back and offices in the front. Nothing fancy, but it was so cool! It was hard to believe we were ready to rent a space and the projects we were winning were becoming more interesting all the time. The connections made with other people, companies and customers were amazing!
I know it sounds like everything just kept turning up roses, but I am going to spare you the boring details of how sometimes things really sucked. And I mean really sucked! Despite best efforts there are always ups and downs in business. Every challenge is an opportunity for growth and a valuable learning experience, but it doesn’t always feel that way. It takes a significant amount of drive, commitment and intrinsic motivation to bounce back after facing serious challenges; and in many cases, the positives can be difficult to find. This is when you really have to take the time to reflect and to creatively solve problems; when one foot in front of the other may feel like walking in quicksand. This is when “together” really means something.
Our people are the foundation of everything we do. They impact our lives more profoundly than most, working hard every day for a company they believe in. Together we are strong. Together we make awesome things happen. I can’t emphasize the word “together” enough. In some ways, our team is like a pack of wolves. We share a similar mentality of extreme loyalty and devotion that binds the team together as one unit.
A change is coming
Up until 2014, the climbing walls we were installing were mainly concrete and fiberglass, along with some wood panels, which we manufactured in our shop. We were now able to source many of the climbing wall components from local Canadian vendors and ordered the rest of what was needed from the US. Kyle was itching to get started on some research and development to create a product that would allow us to install full gyms of wood walls. His creative mind never rests and he had some ideas he wanted to test. Concrete rock walls can look fabulous and make for great climbing walls but they are extremely labour intensive to install and really hard on the installation crew. It was time for a system that would be better for everyone, both customers and crew. A system that takes less manpower to erect and would give us the opportunity to compete for the wood wall projects. Kyle and the team went in head first to come up with, test and perfect our new texture and installation systems.
Everyone was excited and worked at it until we had a winner! Velvet Grip (to receive its name much later) was born and ready to take the climbing industry by storm. The feel of our walls is really as it sounds; velvety but with just the right amount of grip. This was huge! Scuff marks from climbing shoes could be wiped away, and shoes (and people’s skin) last longer by climbing on a more forgiving surface.
We were ready to enter the market with our new product and see where it would take us. We quickly outgrew our unit at Morobel and moved to another unit in the same building that had more square footage, where we remained for just over a year before we outgrew that space too.
Behind the scenes, as Rockwerx Canada continued to grow and gain traction in the market, Kyle was continuing to innovate and further develop his products and his network in the climbing industry and beyond. We were no longer receiving requests for concrete walls and were focussing on producing high quality wood panel climbing walls. Kyle started a second company in partnership with the owner of Adventure Solutions, which became Adventure Solutions Canada Inc., innovating and installing adventure parks in Canada, including Zip Lines and Ninja Warrior courses. He shared many ideas with others and was part of the creative force that has helped the industry bring new and exciting climbing and adventure structures to the industry. He also briefly became the North American distributor for 360 Holds.
It’s crazy how things grow and change and take on a life of their own. It’s important to branch out because you gain perspective and experience but ultimately it comes back to the core. As Kyle always says “If you are not continuously evolving and changing, you might as well be standing still.” And we all know standing still takes you nowhere. Kyle is an entrepreneur through and through. He has vision; he is wildly creative; he is comfortable taking the big risks. He is my partner in life and in business and it works for us because we are not the same. I take comfort in his ability to take risks without freaking out. If the risks were to freak him out, it would be a very different story! Because being an entrepreneur and an innovator comes so naturally to him it makes things easier for me. I can support his vision and be part of his vision because he can clearly see where the path is going. Maybe I am not the risk taker, but I am the cheerleader and supporter of someone who is and am proud to be that person.
Toward the end of the summer in 2014, Kyle and I welcomed our second child into the world and I was planning to be home with the kids for the year. I got to focus on the kids and have a bit more time to help with some of the paperwork overload for the businesses. When Kyle and I were first married in 2008, Kyle had envisioned he would open a rock climbing gym. But you can’t just open a rock climbing gym; you kind of need money for that! So the idea was always swimming around in the back of Kyle’s mind. Before we moved to Milton, we used to drive to Milton up this one road, look at this particular building and say (jokingly, or…maybe not) “one day we will have a rock climbing gym right there”!
The data entry and paper work was now a significant monstrosity. It was an all-consuming never ending pile. I was loving being home with the kids and being a bigger part of Rockwerx. It was the perfect time to open a rock climbing gym, right?! When you spend all your time building really cool climbing walls for everyone else to enjoy you really start to get that itch to have one of your very own. So in my head it sort of played out like this: (Kyle) “Goodnight honey….Let’s open a rock climbing gym!” (Me, already half asleep), “sure honey, sounds good”, to then wake up the next day and think, “Was that a dream?” How on earth were we going to make this work? We already had two businesses, I was planning to go back to teaching, our kids were so little, Kyle already worked so hard. He’d lost his mind, or maybe it really was a dream!
That’s not how it happened, but I know there had to have a been a conversation at some point about opening up our own gym that led to a slight freak out on my part, which led to Kyle making everything ok again. We decided it really was the best timing. I would take a leave from the school board and help with the businesses and opening the rock climbing gym. I would become the master of all things paper! By coincidence (this part blows my mind), the building we jokingly said we would have a climbing gym in was just sold and came up for lease. Kyle made more connections and won the approval of the building’s owner to take over a portion of the building for rock climbing wall manufacturing and to house our showcase facility! The dream was a reality. We were in the building we dreamed about and our show case facility opened as ASPIRE Climbing & Fitness.
In January 2016, Rockwerx Canada moved into 104 Bronte St. N and built our dream facility. The planned opening date was October 2015, but when you are the wall manufacturer, other customers’ walls come first. The delay turned out to be a really good thing because we were able to begin building our ASPIRE dream team early on and have them be part of the construction, leading to the facility opening in April 2016. Building and opening ASPIRE Climbing was a completely different experience than any of the other businesses. It was completely our own, with our ideas put into a plan and brought to life.
ASPIRE is not just another climbing gym. It is a facility full of passion and pride. Just like our Rockwerx team, our team at ASPIRE is second to none. The team, together, is rock solid. They give life to the facility and help every customer “Experience More” when they walk through those doors. They embody the very essence of what Kyle and I hoped to achieve when opening ASPIRE: We aspire to be more than we are: to give more, to see more, to do more. Together this team “brings it” every day. What more could you ask for as an owner.