ROCKWERX – A HISTORY!
The lineage of Rockwerx began in the summer of 1980 when Cort Gariepy had his first introduction to rock climbing at a Boy Scout Ranch named Philmont, located in Northern New Mexico. Cort had grown up in rural Massachusetts and had never experienced anything like the rock formations found in the West. He was instantly captivated by the sport. Unfortunately he wouldn’t get a real opportunity to pursue it seriously until 5 years later when he was living in San Diego and began climbing with a group lead by his future brother-in-law Dayl Wood at a once famous bouldering area called Mt. Woodson.
Cort continued climbing and became a guide during his college years at San Diego State where he lead trips to Joshua Tree, Taquites, and other local crags. He became an accomplished “trad” climber before that term was invented and completed nearly a dozen big wall routes in Yosemite and Zion.
In 1990, during his senior year at SDSU, Cort wrote a business plan with his partner Troy Chollar for a climbing gym business. This became the focus of his life for the next 3 years.
Cort’s first climbing wall construction project was in the garage of a rented house that he shared with 3 college roommates. He and Troy built a very elaborate wall that they and other local climbers trained on. The wall was impressive enough to land them the contract to build the climbing wall for the 1991 Southern California Climbing Championships, one of the largest climbing competitions in the country.
Cort and Troy, along with a host of volunteer workers built a very impressive scaffolding supported climbing wall in 3 days for this competition. One of the volunteers helping the construction effort was Corts future partner Scott Hansen. Scott worked 3 long days and was instrumental in the event going off.
Nearly a year later Cort and raised the start-up capital and secured a lease for a building for SolidRock Gym. Scott was brought onboard to work on the construction effort. Cort and Scott worked for 6 months building the gym and opened the doors in the summer of 1993 with the facility 2/3rd complete.
The gym was an instant success. It wasn’t long before people from other parts of the country were asking who had built the walls. A year later, Cort and Scott started SolidRock Wall Systems - a specialty construction company that built climbing walls.
SolidRock Wall Systems
SolidRock Wall Systems was the first company to offer a seamless textured wall system and offered a level of natural aesthetic and durability that made sense to prospective gym owners.
From 1995 to 1998 SolidRock Wall Systems grew to become the leading climbing gym builder in North America. The climbing gym phenomenon which had started in the West had begun to move East.
Cort, being from New England and having strong family ties to the area, thought it would be a good idea to establish a sales office in his home in Massachusetts which would make travel to East Coast locations easier. Cort and his young family moved to Barre, MA in July of 1998 and worked from a small office in his home.
The next two years were the biggest years for SolidRock Wall Systems. They moved into a 10,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Oceanside, CA and developed the NaturalRock product that would take the industry to the next level. The company was doing work for Disney, ESPN and other high profile customers along with building the biggest climbing gyms in the country. Cort was constantly flying to California to help run the business.
Rockwerx was founded in January of 2000 by Cort and life-long friend Richard Allan as a part time business offering portable climbing wall services in Central Massachusetts. Cort had accumulated 2 of the SolidRock trailer mounted walls from different East Coast promotional events and figured it would make for some easy cash. During this time Cort was still working full time with SolidRock doing climbing wall design as well as sales & marketing on East Coast projects but the amount of travel was becoming too much.
In August of 2001 Cort decided to sell SolidRock to Scott. SolidRock hired a new sales and marketing guy and though Cort continued to do design work on all of the big climbing gym projects as an independent contractor, he wasn’t involved in running the business.
SolidRock ran upon hard time over the following few years. Sales declined and debts grew to the point where it was forced to close it’s doors in early 2003. In the settlement agreement, Cort ended up taking over the GymRock product line which became the foundation of Rockwerx as a climbing wall construction company.
Rockwerx as a climbing wall builder started in 2001 with the building of the Rhode Island Rock Gym in Providence, RI. Cort was able to capitalize on the reputation and quality product line that SolidRock had built over the previous 10 years and used this to build this new company.
2004 brought onboard MetroRock, the largest climbing gym the company had ever built. That year they also built Climb Nashville, Edgeworks in Tacoma WA and several University projects.
Rockwerx built large climbing gyms in 2005 for The Gravity Vault and The Cliffs of Valhalla and in 2006 did the Rock Club in New Rochelle, NY, MetroRock II and Enclosure in Jackson Hole along with a host of smaller projects.
The Rockwerx world headquarters building was completed in 2007. This new 14,500 square foot modern fabrication facility on 45 acres is the envy of everyone in the climbing wall business. It provided the platform to expand the product line and bring back the NaturalRock wall system as well as develop additional products such as SculptedRock and Playground Boulders Rockwerx purchased the company Adventure Systems who produced a line of modular panels and associated gear to schools and recreation centers. This acquisition combined with the high end NaturalRock wall system gives Rockwerx a more complete product line than SolidRock ever had.
You are from Massachusetts originally – did a love for the Northeast bring you back? Why start up Rockwerx in the NE?
Answer: I was born and raised here in Central Massachusetts. I moved to California when I was 17 and joined the Navy. I fell in love with the laid back Southern California lifestyle and took up surfing and got really into climbing but my soul has always been here in New England. I realized it one day when I got up and saw that it was raining and decided to ride my mountain bike to work just to feel the rain. I guess when its sunny and 75 degrees every single day of your life, you ache for something a little different. I love the change of seasons and there is no place in the world that has it any better than right here.
Do you still climb often?
Answer: Not really but I still love it when I do get the chance to get out and do it. I think I was spoiled by having some really incredible climbing early on in my climbing career. Climbing around here takes a lot more dedication. Though I can’t blame it too much on living here in New England – I really stopped climbing seriously once it became a business. I was a really good climber back in the day. Then starting my first gym took so much time and effort that I just didn’t have the time to keep in shape. I went from being one of those guys at the crag who could do all the hard problems to being the guy that used to be really good. I guess I realized that I had reached the high point in my climbing career and just moved on to something else. I still have climbing in my soul though. I know what it’s like to dream about that route that you’ve worked on for weeks or months and can do all the moves but just haven’t linked.
What do you occupy your spare time with? Hobbies, pets, sports, family?
Answer: I have a wife and 3 kids now and I try to spend as much time as I can with them. We’ve really gotten into the motor sports since moving back to Mass. Dirt bikes, snow mobiles, 4-wheelers – you name it, if it has a motor and goes fast, chances are we are all about it. What are your goals for Rockwerx? Answer: My number one goal for Rockwerx is to build really cool climbing walls and have a great time doing it. If you spend any amount of time at our shop or around our crew you will pick up on this vibe. We work hard and play even harder. Everyone here has that thing they are passionate about whether its being in a rock band, blowing glass, or racing something with a loud motor.
Please provide some information about what makes Rockwerx unique, such as innovations in the industry, number of walls built, design approach, etc?
Answer: We are always trying to improve our products and give our customers the most for their money. Since moving into our new facility, we’ve made advances in productivity and invested in equipment that enables us to reduce labor costs and utilize materials more efficiently. We are able to buy raw materials by the truck load and realize cost reductions. Our walls are still very similar to the quality product that we introduced to the industry back in the SolidRock days. I truly believe that it’s the perfect product for most climbing gyms – a nice balance of aesthetics and durability delivered at a competitive price. Our prefabrication process is unmatched in the industry. Our ability to go from 3D CAD design to the production floor to shipping a job to the site is impressive. Our road crews are seasoned professionals and put up walls faster than anyone in the business. These guys make me proud every day of the week.
How many employees does Rockwerx have?
Answer: About 20
What makes Rockwerx stand out as a company against other wall builders?
Answer: There are other wall builders who have great products. I personally love the stuff that Monolithic is doing with their sculptural boulders. I wish that I had that kind of talent. EP’s panels are great if you want a modular system that you can unbolt and take with you. I think what we do better than anyone though is build big climbing gyms. Our start up consulting package is second to none and really provides the business foundation for anyone looking to own a climbing gym. Our GymRock product is the best value going and really makes the most sense for this kind of application.
What other pursuits does Rockwerx or the employees that work at Rockwerx enjoy (Rockwerx Racing, for example)?
Answer: Motorsports is big. I would have to say that 90% of the people around here ride something. If its snowing hard, you can bet we are taking the day off to go rip sleds through the woods. We make it a priority to have a good time.
When did Rockwerx move to the new facility? Why – was the existing facility inadequate, or was the construction of the new facility based on other determinations?
Answer: We started Rockwerx in the barn at my house. It was ridiculous. When we could afford it, we moved into a 3,000 square foot place a few miles away. It wasn’t really a commercial space and we had always had a hard time getting tractor trailer rigs in and out – especially in the winter. The company was being limited by our facility so we bit the bullet and bought a great piece of land – 45 acres – and built the new shop on it. The extra land gives us places to store all sorts of crazy things as well as room for our private dirt bike track.
How big is the facility in square footage and height? Why so big?
Answer: The shop is 14,500 square feet including the offices. I didn’t want to EVER have to expand again.
Please provide some unique info about Rockwerx Headquarters? Size of location, building, projects you have undertaken?
Answer: One thing that I’m really proud of is that we built this building ourselves. I designed it and our crews built it in between other climbing wall projects. It took us 2 years. I can honestly say that there were times when I questioned my own sanity for undertaking a project so large but in the end I’m glad we did it. The building came out great and now we are reaping the benefits. We can crank out work in 1 week that used to take us a month.