By Chris Meehan | Oct 27, 2014
Founded: 1989 (as Boulder Rock Gym); 1994 (as Eldorado Climbing Walls)
Employees: 39 (6-8 new positions in 2015)
CEO Jerad Wells builds some of the world's biggest and best climbing walls from a small Boulder shop, with industry-defining results.
"We don't build climbing walls or facilities for climbers. We build them for everybody else and we create climbers," explains Wells.
The Boulder-based company, which recently received the Wright Award in recognition of its role as a Colorado lifestyle leader for positively impacting the business environment in the state, built its first rock wall at the Boulder Rock Gym in 1989.
"We kept getting requests from others around the country to help design their walls and we thought, 'Shoot, we'll do this as a side gig and build a couple of rock walls -- maybe build five or 10 and that will be it,'" Wells says. "Lo and behold, the requests kept coming and the opportunities became pretty impressive. At that point, we sold our climbing gym to Boulder Rock Club and started full-time as Eldorado Climbing Walls." That was in 1994.
In the 20 years since, the company -- one of the first rock wall companies in the U.S. -- has established itself as one of the leading such companies in the world. Among its impressive accomplishments are a scaled recreation of iconic Devils Tower at the Campbell County Recreation Center in Gillette, Wyoming, and the world's largest rock wall at the Boy Scouts of America Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia.
The rock wall at the Boy Scouts' facility has 60,000 square feet of climbing surface, according to Wells. "We put 40,000 scouts through it as part of the National Scout Jamboree last summer in over a week's time."
The company's markets include "commercial climbing gyms, military, high-end residential, collegiate, [and] K-12 type of markets," Wells says. "Our biggest opportunity for growth in terms of the national opportunity is in the climbing gym market." He explains that indoor rock walls can deliver a return on investment upwards of 300 days a year, whereas outdoor walls are limited by weather and other factors.
Interest in indoor climbing walls has increased in the past few years. "In 2015 we'll have nearly 50 brand new commercial climbing walls, five or six years ago we would have had four or five. The sport and thrill and excitement behind indoor rock climbing is growing by leaps and bounds. So our largest opportunity is continuing to do what we love."
Eldorado will only make about five or six of those climbing walls in 2015, with other companies making the rest. "We like to stay small. We don't take every opportunity that comes our way simply because I like to keep my team really poised and solid," Wells says. "It takes a lot for us to bring new folks in and grow, and our growth must be really calculated. The cost of bringing in a new team member with all the training that has to go to it is expensive. They have to be jacks of all trades in terms of steel structures and concrete structures and woodworking."
That, and the company has maintained a small work space since its inception. "We have a 6,500-square-foot manufacturing facility," Wells says. "It's not very big by construction standards and considering the size of stuff we build."
Despite the small work space the company continues to build some of the most innovative climbing surfaces in the world. The company has a number of products, including the REALRock system, which is custom-designed for facilities and can be built to resemble boulders, pinnacles, cracks, arêtes, archways, overhangs, dihedrals, and more. Its other rock-realistic surface is SHOTRock.
"With our SHOTRock system we're able to emulate just about any rock style in the world - even down to the feel and the strata," Wells says. "That sets us in a very unique space. We also have products that are really geared toward really high performance. So they're going to be be more smooth and really the routes are going to be dictated by the placement of the handholds."
For the Devils Tower project, explains Wells, "We scaled it down and mimicked a couple of classic routes on there. The biggest compliment we got is we had some locals tell us that it climbs a lot like the tower. We were grinning ear to ear."
Challenges: More competition and innovation. "There were three or four providers a couple years ago now there are 12 or 13," Wells says. "The typical challenge of manufacturing is: Are you going to keep up with the challenges or stay tried and true?"
Opportunities: "Competition is not just a bad thing it's helping to grow the pie a bit," Wells contends. "We have some new products we're excited to get out into the world. We're excited to explore the international market with our modular product line." The company will target the Asian and European markets with the modular line, he says.
The company is also increasing its focus on the youth market. "Serving that youth market is our best opportunity to really grow our sport long-term," Wells notes. It follows that the company is increasing its offerings for YMCAs and other youth-oriented facilities.
Needs: "Our biggest need is production space," Wells explains. "It's only a matter of time before we've outgrown this space."