This past Sunday I attended the opening of the first Parkour and Freerunning-centric gym in Philadelphia, the HFS Parkour Gym.
It did not go well.
Finding it was easy enough and the neighborhood wasn’t bad, especially considering that Philadelphia is notorious for having some less than savory locations. And I will get to some of the better points about it in a second, but here’s a list of the too-many issues I found at the opening and after spending an hour training inside.
- There was no sign for the gym. Nothing outside, nothing inside, not even some balloons. If a friend of mine hadn’t already been there I would have walked right past it.
- The atrium/lobby area was dark, empty, and again had nothing to show that it was supposed to be a grand opening.
- Once inside the space itself, the initial sight of everything was underwhelming. Lighting was dim, just like the lobby, and signs of construction were everywhere. It looked half-done just by first sight.
- The bar and scaffolding setup was shaky. Not just shaky, dangerous. There were only two anchor points on the walls, one of which had only ONE screw in the mount. The floor mounts were similar, with one anchor having only two of the necessary four screws in place. Only one person at a time could use the setup, and that was if other people held the bars steady. I’m a decently heavy guy so I didn’t even attempt any swinging on the main section because of this.
- The large climbing box and walls that surrounded the sections had rough edges all around with splintering wood. I was picking pieces off to try and smooth it out the entire time. On top of that, many of the top wall edges weren’t flat or flush, instead consisting of a plywood sheet that just ended abruptly, allowing your fingers to curl around nothing.
- The spring floor…had no springs. Not that I could see anyway. It was quality blue cheerleading mats (not taped together though) but it was just sitting on a lightly raised plywood floor.
- The building’s walls had exposed wires and screws and other assorted rough bits. Everything had to be inspected twice before touching, just to be safe.
- The trampoline and mats in the corner were okay, if a little bit on the small side.
- And at the risk of repeating myself, there was again nothing to say this was a PK/FR gym. The only names or signs anywhere was the clothing section off to the side.
To see some of what I’m talking about, watch the first minute of this video from one of the guy who was there. You can actually see me at the beginning, inspecting the bar setup.
Though all negatives, the worst was what I heard about the event itself: it wasn’t open to the public. That is, as part of a “performance team” (Pinnacle Parkour) I was allowed to train on the equipment for free…but no one else could. If you weren’t a part of the performances you could only watch. And you had to PAY. You read that correctly. If my information is accurate you had to pay to watch people train, even if you came with the “performance teams”.
Speaking strictly from a business perspective, this a terrible way to show the value of your gym. Parkour is still such a new thing that giving people every opportunity to try it out, especially at the grand opening, is a must to get people interested. This is the equivalent of hosting a backyard BBQ and asking people to pay to watch you and your friends eat.
I promised to talk about the positives though, so here they are.
- The space itself has great potential. With some better lighting, more clean-up, and utilization of a small loft area above the entrance, this gym could be an awesome diamond-in-the-rough type of place.
- The atrium/lobby section, just like the main gym, has great potential to be a cool hang out spot and a place to advertise the HFS brand clothing, which do have some awesome designs.
- The music at the event was pretty good and the DJ obviously enjoying things, which is always a nice plus.
Basically, the gym felt rushed and, worst of all, unsafe. To be fair, the gym I work at hasn’t always been perfect (our first vault box designs were terrible) but we’ve always made sure we didn’t ask anybody to train on something we wouldn’t train on ourselves. This is not meant to be an attack on the HFS Gym, as I have high hopes for it, but its first impression has left me lukewarm at best.
So when opening a gym of your own, keep these things in mind…
STRONG EQUIPMENT, AND LOTS OF IT
LOTS OF SIGNAGE
OPEN GYM FOR EVERYONE
SHOW VALUE DAY ONE