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CEO oversees merger of climbing gyms uniting East and West coasts

Robert Cohen is CEO of Columbia-based Earth Treks and Planet Granite, climbing gyms that recently merged.
Robert Cohen is CEO of Columbia-based Earth Treks and Planet Granite, climbing gyms that recently merged. (Handout)

Seven weeks into the job, Robert Cohen is presiding over a marriage of sorts — a union of East and West coast climbing gym brands.

Cohen, a longtime Patagonia executive, is the CEO of newly-merged Earth Treks and Planet Granite.

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Earth Treks opened its first indoor climbing gym in 1997 in Columbia, a facility that expanded recently. It has since added gyms in Timonium and Rockville and is opening another in a few months.

Planet Granite, its West Coast sibling, has three gyms in California — in San Francisco, Sunnyvale and Belmont — and one in Portland, Ore.

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Cohen said his goal is to maximize the best of both brands without losing the essential character of either.

“The DNA is fairly similar,” said Cohen, who also has held positions at Gap, Old Navy and Nike. “One of the commonalities beyond the obvious as rock climbing gyms is they are committed to exceptional gathering places for climbing, fitness and yoga enthusiasts.”

A recent Time Magazine piece said rock climbing may be “the ultimate full-body workout.”

Cohen said the company won’t be rebranding.

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The gyms “will say either Earth Treks or Planet Granite. We’re going to look at what is the most recognized brand in any market and stick with that.”

Cohen said he still is assessing what works, and what might be improved.

“I get to a la carte the best of both gyms,” he said.

He said he is studying not only climbing, but other offerings.

For example, “right now, I’m trying to understand how is yoga working at Earth Treks,” he said.

When they first opened in the 1990s, Planet Granite and Earth Treks were among fewer than 20 commercial climbing gyms in the United States, according to the merged company, which says there are now more than 425.

The merger was announced in November. Earth Treks partnered with Tengram Capital Partners, a private equity firm specializing in consumer brands, with a goal of creating “a brand with a truly national footprint,” the company said in a news release.

The gyms offer day passes as well as memberships at various prices. Their formula emphasizes socializing as well as exercise. After several hours of climbing, people usually need a break.

“If you walk into the gym, there are tables and chairs where you can chat people up,” Cohen said.

The company, with more than 700 employees, has nine gyms, with more coming soon in Hampden at Union Collective and Englewood, Colo.

“Our intention is to nearly double it in the near term,” Cohen said. “In a perfect world, I’d love to have 25 to 30 gyms in four years. Climbing is definitely taking off.”

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