The Gravity Vault indoor rock climbing gym has opted for slow and steady growth since it was founded in 2005, and today has two locations, with plans to expand via franchising. That's made it an exciting time for co-founders Lucas Kovalcik and Timothy Walsh, who today were presented with the New Jersey Small Business Persons of the Year award by the Small Business Administration.
SBA-backed loans from TD Bank financed the first location in Upper Saddle River in 2005, and the Chatham facility in 2009. Within the next 12 months, the partners plan to open a third company-owned Gravity Vault in Hudson County, with the first franchise to open in Middletown in the fourth quarter of this year. Projections are for the company to have about 60 employees by year-end, Kovalcik said.
Related: NJBIZ Small Business Week coverage
Kovalcik said Gravity Vault — a membership-based gym where individuals come to climb — caters to children as young as 5 years old, and also offers corporate team-building programs, birthday parties and scouting events. And when the economy took a major dip in 2008 "we actually found ourselves getting busier, because people were spending even more time with us," he said.
The idea was to make sure the concept was on a sure footing before expanding. "We opened our first facility and worked out all our programs, and then four years later opened our second location," Walsh said. "We probably could have been more aggressive but our plan was slow growth, to prove this model."
Walsh said the plan is for three to five company-owned locations, and to open three to five franchises in the next 12 to 24 months.
Both partners said they were honored to be recognized by the SBA. "To be able to share our passion for climbing and spread it throughout this community is something special," Kovalcik said.
Al Titone, SBA New Jersey district director, said the Gravity Vault co-founders "have taken their passion for rock climbing and turned it into a thriving business." He said they are "living the American dream — going to work and loving what they do."