The Business of Fitness
Backstories behind 15 Austin-based health and fitness companies that are experiencing all-time success in their industries
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Step into any local gym, Crossfit box, or outdoor bootcamp, and you’re likely to see the familiar black-and-gray Dynamax medicine balls being used in creative ways.
Founded in 1985 by Bruce Evans, an athletic trainer at the University of Texas, and Jim Cawley, the fitness director at the Austin YMCA, the ball was born out of a search for a piece of equipment that could be utilized for high velocity, partner-based training. The two founders wanted a product they could use outside of the gym that was durable enough to withstand the high impact of training, but soft enough not to injure the hands of a training partner.
The University of Texas provided the perfect testing grounds, and the creators were soon able to launch the product out of the collegiate arena and into the professional market.
With such an organic beginning in Austin, Dynamax continues to grow and expand as a thriving international business. Having outgrown their original warehouse in Buda, the company’s manufacturing center is now housed near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
With a strong commitment to being an American-made product, the company has witnessed many market trend shifts and imitation products, but has stood by its rich heritage of being the original, American made, soft-shelled medicine ball. Dynamax balls now come in many different styles—including the latest Trey Hardee Limited Edition ball that says, “This is my medicine.”
– Kristen Turner
Ally Davidson, co-founder of Camp Gladiator, took a big risk—on her wedding day of all days—and little did she know that risk would later evolve into a bootcamp empire.
“The night before our wedding, my sister found out that the TV show American Gladiator was holding tryouts at a nearby gym the next day,” Davidson said. That morning, she snuck out of the house without Jeff [Davidson’s soon-to-be husband] finding out. “I was afraid he would think I was getting cold feet,” she recalled.
Nevertheless, Davidson made it to the tryout only to find 2,000 people in line.
“I knew I couldn't wait and make it to the church on time. So I threw on my veil and garter and ran up to the producer at the door. He loved that I was a real-life runaway bride and let me in,” she said. “I did 14 pull-ups and ran a 40-yard dash, then raced to the church drenched in sweat. I didn't even have time to shower before the ceremony.”
Davidson made the cut—and so did her new husband, Jeff—when the producers called them up after their honeymoon to invite them on a newlywed episode. Their American Gladiator debut inspired a movement.
“After we returned to our day jobs, Ally was restless. She was in ad sales, but she dreamed of gladiators and adventure,” Jeff Davidson said. “In the two months before the show aired, she realized we could leverage the publicity and prize money. We talked and prayed about it, and came up with the idea for gladiator-themed outdoor fitness classes and launched Camp Gladiator in Dallas a month after the show's finale. Within three months, 100 people had signed up.”
Ally hit the front lines, leading campers through workouts in their church parking lot and city park.
The duo moved to Austin when Jeff’s job relocated him. Soon after, the couple founded their indoor headquarters location (or ‘CG Arena’). Now, six years into the business, Camp Gladiator enlists more than 20,000 campers in four states (Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Florida), in addition to 1,500 at their arena. They also host an annual Camp Gladiator Games, as well as two annual seminar weekends for their trainers—of which, they have a total of about 300.
The couple’s vision for Camp Gladiator’s future?
“We want to continue to grow in every major city throughout the country,” Jeff said. Their mission is simple: Deliver a quality workout—60 minutes of amazing energy and attitude—in a way that is fun and affordable for everyone.
– Lauryn Lax
What was once seen as a niche need for only the most serious of outdoor enthusiasts, these super-insulated coolers can now be spotted in the beds of most pick-up trucks around the state.
Started by Roy and Ryan Seiders, brothers who grew up down the road from The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Yeti Coolers has become a household name to anyone in Texas who hunts, fishes, hikes, camps, or enjoys nothing more than relaxing with an ice-cold beer.
As the national leader in the premium cooler marker, Yeti, founded in 2006, has a loyal customer following.
That loyalty is what inspires the Yeti team to develop new, innovative products ideas like the Yeti Ramblers—personal drink coolers made with double-wall vacuum insulation.
The company’s ultimate goal has always been to offer a premium customer experience. At the Yeti office in South Austin, an entire hallway is dedicated to customer feedback.
“We don’t tend to focus a whole lot on if we’ve made it or not. Instead, we focus on improving every day, trying to take care of our customers, innovate, and get great products to the marketplace,” said Yeti COO Andy Hollen.
Being based in Austin is the “cherry on top” of working at Yeti, Hollen said.
Just like Yeti, Austin is growing, but its laid-back vibe continues to help the company and its employees stay cool and focused on what matters.
– Emily Laskowski
Founded in Edison, New Jersey, in 1967, Golfsmith has revolutionized the golf industry. The company began as a typewritten, hand illustrated catalog founded by Carl Paul and his wife, Barbara. A golf aficionado himself, Carl noticed the lack of distribution of the essentials in golf and set out to fulfill a need.
It wasn’t until his brother, Frank Paul, joined the family business that Carl moved the company to Austin. The first Golfsmith storefront was set in 6,000 square feet of unused army barracks space.
In 1992, the company moved its headquarters to its present location in North Austin. In 2012, Golfsmith joined Canada’s largest golf retailer, GolfTown, to form Golfsmith International, the largest golf-only retailer in the world. The Austin-based company now delivers custom golf club components to likeminded aficionados, amateurs, and pros around the world.
Golfsmith currently operates more than 150 retail stores in 30 states and runs an online store that offers merchandise including golf clubs from 18 different brands, shoes, apparel, carts, and putting greens. Stores are even equipped with training stations where you can work on improving your game. But the uniqueness of the company doesn’t stop there.
According to the Golfsmith website, they are the only ones in the golf club industry to employ a swing robot to test club heads and shafts for strength, accuracy, and distance.
The number of new players to the sport of golf may have seen a slump in the past few years, but Golfsmith continues to grow, innovate, and improve the face of their industry.
– Mercedes Cordero