Gravity Vault


Karen and Mark Davidson have always enjoyed outdoor activities, even before they had kids and adopted an active lifestyle as a family. Originally from England and Scotland, the Davidsons relocated to the United States and enjoyed the mountaineering and climbing options of the local mountains. The Davidsons soon began to wonder if they could turn their new hobby into a business. They determined that the best way to do this was by opening an indoor rock-climbing facility. This business would meet the needs of a wide range of climbers, from those who want to enjoy the sport year-round to those who are looking to build climbing skills or just have fun.

Mark, who has previous experience in construction, visited an existing climbing facility in the area and found it poorly operated. Knowing he could do it better, he had already started putting the pieces in place to build a business from the ground up when he came across a company called Gravity Vault. He really liked the business and the owners, who were offering franchise opportunities.

After conducting some market research and finding plenty of demand but no real local competition, the couple signed a franchise agreement and began searching for a suitable location to open their own Gravity Vault.


Finding a building that has the necessary height and space for a business like this is a challenge. The climbing wall requires 35 feet of clearance inside, which quickly ruled out a number of available locations. Fortunately, they were able to find a landlord who was willing to modify a building to meet their specific requirements.

The construction process involved demolishing the existing space and constructing a new 10,000 square foot section of the building to accommodate the climbing wall and an additional 2,000 square feet of lobby and office space. Once the building was located and the constructions plans finalized the next step was to obtain financing to complete the project.


One of the advantages of launching a franchise business is that Mark and Karen were able to fast-track the process by tapping the resources of the franchise advisors, who helped them with building the business plan and securing funding. Also, the couple had previously worked with the Small Business Administration (SBA) in another area and knew about some of the excellent opportunities that would help them get a loan to launch the business.

Early in the process, they met with the local Business Development Center and the local Chamber of Commerce, where their contacts strongly recommended KeyBank as the best source for an SBA loan. They connected with the right KeyBank professionals and immediately noticed a difference from their previous banking experiences, where they had been frustrated by the slow pace and a lack of understanding of their goals. By comparison, they were both amazed at how quickly their KeyBank SBA Relationship Manager was able to get answers for them, particularly when the construction ran over budget and KeyBank increased the loan amount to cover the overage.

Karen says that the advice and support provided by KeyBank made all the difference in navigating the loan process. She notes that communication was the real key. In their eyes, the biggest benefit of the SBA loan program was the ability to get in with a very low down payment of just 15% and finance the balance of the start-up and construction costs.


Gravity Vault opened for business in mid-February, with Karen overseeing operations and Mark handling the business side. The business is already drawing a steady stream of customers with programs ranging from memberships and day passes to beginner classes and birthday parties. Mark and Karen are planning to host kids’ camps over the summer and will continue to add other options as the business grows.

The couple is very happy with the way the business came together and the important role that KeyBank and their local contacts played in making it all happen. Expansion to other locations is certainly a consideration, and Karen notes that KeyBank will definitely be part of that growth. In fact, they are both recommending KeyBank to other business owners who are looking for a partner to either get started or take the next step in expanding.

“We are not afraid to ask questions, and KeyBank was very patient with us. Not only did we get clear answers, but we got them quickly and in a way that helped us understand all the options so that we could choose the best loan program for our specific needs.” – Karen Davidson, Co-owner, Gravity Vault