PUBLISHED: 4:00 PM on Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Young entrepreneurs climb from IT to outdoors retail
Jeremy Hansen has run his own business in Juneau since he was 13 and is now the CEO of Hansen Gress, a local IT company. His business partner is Tyler Gress. Brandon Howard is a student at University of Alaska Southeast and an employee at Rock Dump Climbing Gym. The three of them climb together, so the business savvy and the love of the sport naturally lent itself to starting a small shop called Balance Climbing. The new business is made up of Jeremy Hansen, CEO of Hansen Gress, Tyler Gress, vice president of Hansen Gress, Brandon Howard, manager of Balance Climbing and Hunter Brown, a sponsored climber.

What gave you the idea for a store for climbing, yoga and outdoors?

We're all friends and climbing is something we enjoy. There are some very good climbers in Juneau, and there are some fun places to climb in Juneau, but there are limited resources and virtually no cohesive climbing community. Nationwide, climbing is exploding, and the scene in Juneau is more active than we've ever seen it. We came up with the idea for our store last month and three weeks later Balance opened. We are located in the Rock Dump climbing gym, and climbing gear is our focus. There has always been this relationship between climbing and yoga because there's so much crossover mentally and physically. A lot of climbers use yoga to balance their life, so it makes sense to carry yoga products. We also have a good selection of apparel. Nothing too technical; other shops around town do a great job with outerwear and cold weather gear. We are more focused on casual and athletic clothing - in the climbing industry this stuff is called lifestyle clothing. It's clothes that you can climb in, go to a yoga class in, or go on a hike in, but still wear out and about every day.

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  From left, Jeremy Hansen, Brandon Howard and Tyler Gress at their new shop for climbing and yoga clothing and equipment, Balance Climbing, which is located above the Rock Dump in Juneau.
Why do you think climbing has gained popularity recently?

People are more concerned with their health and fitness, but they are looking for workouts that offer more than your typical treadmill-running and weight-lifting. Once they start climbing they find out that aside from the physical part of it, there is this great mental part to climbing as well. In fact climbing is a very balanced sport, with equal parts physical, mental and technical skill. Progressing your climbing takes work in all three areas at the same time, and figuring out how to climb a route that you weren't able to climb a week earlier is really rewarding. It's an activity where you really notice the improvements and you get hooked.

What tips do you have for someone interestedin climbing, especially who may be intimidated to try?

Go down to the Rock Dump and give it a try. That is the best way to find out if climbing is for you. If you don't like heights, gradually get used to climbing higher from the ground up, or try bouldering. Bouldering is climbing low without a rope and focuses more on the movement. At the Rock Dump, there are more than 100 routes, and there are walls of all heights and difficulties, so it is something that you can ease into.

What kind of equipment is needed for climbing, and what kind of financialcommitment does it take?

Climbing can be gear intensive, or very minimal. If you want to go bouldering outside, you need little more than a pair of shoes and a crash pad (a large foam mat to break your fall) which you can get for a little over $200 all together.

If you want to climb with ropes, it is more committing as far as gear and money goes. But for that, you basically need shoes, a harness, a rope and some carabiners.

This would be an initial investment of about $350. But almost everyone starts in the gym using the rental gear there then buys some basic personal gear once they find out how much fun it is. You can get shoes and a harness for about $150.

How does your experience already owning anIT business, help prepare you for this business endeavor?

Some of what we've done as an IT company is to help small businesses in Juneau get on their feet. For a startup, there's often an overwhelming series of hoops, intricacies and gotchas. Since we have worked through a lot of these things with other business owners, we were able to draw from that experience to get our doors open sooner.

Our experience in design, project management, and simply working together was key too. We are very proud about how fast everything came together and how good the shop looks. We have our first orders in now and we are ready for the holiday shopping season.