Case Study: Zion Climbing and Event Center

Zion Climbing and Event Center in Searcy, Arkansas, takes pride in providing a safe space for physical activities and community-building. Husband and wife duo Sean and Emily Hudkins started the nonprofit LLC in 2005, and they own the building. Most importantly, Sean and Emily focus on fostering an environment where everyone is welcome and feels empowered to challenge themselves.

The situation: Hiding in plain sight

Though Zion is the only climbing gym in Searcy and has a prime location downtown, people often don’t know it’s there. To combat this, Sean has held events, such as concerts and poetry readings, to bring more awareness to his gym. His goal has always been, as he says, “to do something that helps people stay in shape while bringing a new opportunity to the community.” He has worked hard to balance the professional but laid-back feel of Zion.

But his efforts didn’t result in more climbers. Sean wanted to have more of an impact on his community, while communicating that Zion is a place where adults and kids can go, and can take part in safe and professional climbing activities.

The problem: Lack of sustainability from lack of visibility

Zion’s current climbers and volunteers were loyal to the gym, but Sean and Emily needed to bring in more people to make the organization sustainable. “Our audience’s primary ages are 15 through 24 because they’re students who can get semester passes,” Sean says. “Zion provides a place for them to go and be active. It’s self-competitive. They don’t have to impress anyone but themselves.”

To get more climbers in the door, Sean needed to expand his nonprofit’s visibility. To do that, he needed to improve his communications. For instance, Zion already had a website, but it needed more representative images, direct calls to action and a mission statement, so people would better understand what the organization was about. The old website also featured dark images that didn’t capture the current customer base, which was made up of college-aged climbers from nearby Harding University. Nor did it convey the fun and excitement of being there.

Most of all, Zion’s feeling of community wasn’t something that online visitors could experience before they set foot inside.

When Zion was selected to be part of Deluxe’s Small Business Revolution, the climbing gym had a foothold to grow on.

The solution: A more effective website

When the Deluxe team began working with Sean, both parties knew it’d take a lot of work to make the nonprofit organization sustainable.

The Deluxe team’s plan for Zion focused on a new website. This website would be crucial in encouraging visitors to contact the climbing center for more information or to make a visit. And because Zion is a nonprofit, having a way for online visitors to donate to the gym was critical.

Additionally, the new website would need to be optimized for search engines and feature images that highlighted the gym’s “everyone is welcome” spirit.

Encouraging visitors with a strong website

The new website’s goal was to provide clarity for visitors and ways for them to learn more about climbing, pricing and safety.

To ensure it came across right, the Deluxe team worked with Sean and Emily to clarify some guiding principles. These would direct what the website needed to convey:

  • Visitors will always feel welcome and accepted
  • The climbing space is safe, inviting and affordable for all
  • Committed, supportive staff and volunteers are there for support

Assuaging customers’ concerns

The website presented a huge opportunity to feature Zion’s offerings and to ease parents’ minds about their kids climbing. The new website would feature a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section to address customers’ and parents’ questions. Clarity around what to expect and how the gym ensures safety would be comforting to climbing newbies.

In addition, adding online waivers to the site (waivers are a must for any climbing center) meant that climbers could fill those out ahead of time and start climbing as soon as they arrived.

Taking the website to new levels

On Zion’s revised website, the new homepage serves as a scrollable hub to introduce Zion and guide visitors to the information they need, quickly and easily. Here’s how:

  • The main image and copy — including the headline “Elevating Our Community” — communicates that Zion is a place for everyone
  • The homepage offers quick links to learn more about climbing, Zion’s rates and options for private events such as birthday parties and corporate retreats
  • Visitors can see that Zion features a mix of indoor walls, portable walls and team-building programs

Zion website

The Visit Us page provides online visitors with essential information including climbing pass details, rates and facility rentals, and provides access to the online waiver. It also offers details about birthday parties and group events.

Zion Visit Us page

To ease the nerves of a first-timer, the First-Time Climber page speaks to people who are new to climbing. Sean and Emily want visitors to know there is something for everyone at Zion, regardless of experience and skillset — and this page communicates that. It also answers common, frequently asked questions.

Zion First-Time Climber and FAQ page

Events shows upcoming activities, including music nights, dances and specials like half-price Fridays. It highlights the types of groups who may be looking for team activities, such as corporate teams or school groups.

Zion Events page

An About page and Contact Us page complete the website, so visitors can learn Zion’s mission and history as well as reach out to ask questions or get more information.

Zion About page

Zion Contact page

The Deluxe team also provided a cleanup of Zion’s Google and Yelp listings. They standardized Zion’s business hours on the listing sites, added images and coded those images with alt tags to provide the gym with more online visibility, and help get people to the website.

The results: New interest in Zion

Sean is hopeful to see how these changes bring in more climbers and believes that the strides they’ve taken will pay off. With all the calls and emails he’s gotten since the makeover, he’s confident that there will be four to five times the traffic based on the exposure from his website.

Sean says about the website, “It looks great. It speaks to who we are and who we’ve been for the past 15 years. Our professional and laid-back feel. It balances how it’s a fun community but also that it’s safe and parents don’t have to worry.”

Anchoring the nonprofit for the future

Beyond the online presence, Zion is going through other exciting changes. Emily is becoming the Executive Director of the nonprofit board, allowing Sean more time to focus on dreaming big and helping his volunteers. He always asks, “What could be? What are the possibilities?” He doesn’t want to ever limit his scope.

Since Small Business Revolution, Sean’s personal community has grown. He says “The relationships I have with the other five Small Business Revolution businesses and the camaraderie is something that’s really special. We’re all going through the same thing.”

Because of the makeover, Sean feels that the gym is sustainable. He says about the experience, “We were getting what we thought we needed — but we also got more than we knew we needed.”

Sean often asks himself, “What could be?” Now, with Zion’s new website, it could be anything this nonprofit sets its sights on. “It’s a great challenge to have,” he says.

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