As outdoor fitness continues to grow in demand, so has business for UK-based BeaverFit’s military-inspired outdoor workout systems. Athletech News caught up with BeaverFit USA’s Dan Cowan and Nick Vay to talk about the company’s origins, its place in the outdoor fitness market, and the future of outdoor fitness itself.
From Hot Girl Walks to extreme hiking, outdoor fitness promises to be one of the most popular trends this year. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, exercise in fresh air was already on an upswing. According to a survey conducted by RunRepeat in 2020, 72 percent of gym members were expected to exercise outdoors in 2021. Across the country, there has been an explosion of open-air classes in everything from HIIT and military-inspired workouts to yoga and stationary cycling.
UK-based BeaverFit has reason to believe that outdoor fitness is more of a worldwide movement than a trend. Started by Tom Beaver in 2010 to develop training equipment for the British Special Forces, the company today provides outdoor and mobile fitness systems for military units, corporations, private gyms, universities, and health clubs. The company’s ability to provide “a quick and efficient way to create gyms,” no matter the location, has catapulted it into a fitness world powerhouse.
Dan Cowan, Head of Marketing at BeaverFit USA, recounted to Athletech News how company founder Tom Beaver got the idea for the equipment while working for his family’s bridge-building business: “Trying to find ways to train while building bridges, he started putting together his own outdoor training rigs. That eventually turned into attaching rigging to shipping containers.” News about the equipment developed by Beaver, who had been in the British SAS (Special Air Service) reached the UK military, resulting in the launch of BeaverFit, and the introduction in 2012 of the world’s first fully functional containerized gym. The following year, the company partnered with the US Navy to introduce the gym in the US, beginning a long run of supplying military and government customers on both sides of the Atlantic.
According to Nick Vay, BeaverFit USA VP of Commercial Sales, when COVID hit, BeaverFit’s already growing market suddenly exploded, because of the company’s expertise. “We’ve been doing outdoor fitness for a decade. This is all we’ve ever done. [Demand] was obviously accelerated by COVID, based on an inherent need to do it in order to keep business open. When I joined the team in 2020 the majority of our business was really focused and designed for our definite military partners and contracts.”
Vay credits the dramatic 5x-6x increase in sales during the first year of the pandemic to BeaverFit’s long-standing dedication to safely training active military members outdoors: “Part of it was obviously the growth in the outdoor fitness market, compounded a bit by the fact that we’ve invested in this part of the business from a human being and product development perspective. We’ve always served the outdoor space.”
Product evolution was key. “We’ve aggressively evolved our offering to better suit the broader commercial fitness market (gyms, studios, trainers, multi-family housing, hospitality, schools, universities, etc.). We’ve really softened the look and feel of our broader product range to make sure that we’re meeting not only the functionality requests for our customers but the aesthetic, which is always a really important part of any solution and sales-related conversation.”
According to Cowan, many health clubs, universities, and corporate wellness programs found adding outdoor equipment would help them expand their facilities and at the same time satisfy the growing demand for outdoor workouts, realizing “it’d be a lot easier to add that space outside versus trying to build or find inside space.”
Vay says that while the pandemic era demand was urgent, with the need for short-term solutions, an uptick in requests for well-planned, permanent outdoor workout spaces indicate that the opportunity is here to stay. “We created these quasi-temporary spaces and members, consumers, and individuals said, ‘We really like this. Can we take this away when things go back to normal?’ So, the gyms and a lot of our commercial customers have responded, ‘Well that’s important to you? Fantastic. Not a problem. We’ll turn the temporary spaces into legitimate, thought-out long-lasting spaces.’ [This] is where we’re getting a lot of our requests now.”
Mount Saint Mary’s University of Los Angeles said in a statement that their use of BeaverFit’s Performance Locker not only allowed “our facility to extend its footprint outdoors” but also fostered a true sense of community. They found that BeaverFit was “the only vendor with a product that was specifically engineered for outdoor use [and warranty-protected].”
BeaverFit also accommodates customers’ precise visions and desires. Jim Fitzsimmons, Director of Fitness & Recreational Sports at The University of Nevada, Reno, calls the school’s customized BeaverFit Rig “aesthetically amazing:” “We threw BeaverFit some challenges in size and unique features. They responded to all of our needs and met every design challenge we gave them.” Besides the custom rig, BeaverFit also helped UNR convert a “rarely used lawn area” to an outdoors fitness yard. “People love the ability to go outside. Group fitness classes, small group coaching, and informal fitness all enjoy the space and appreciate the manner in which it is equipped.” UNR’s Fitzsimmons especially praises the BeaverFit’s J-Cups, (“the best I have ever seen,” Ace Bars (“they feel and work like no other”) and plexiglass back sides of their customized BeaverFit Rig.
Vay explains, “We take an integrative approach to storage, with the accessories and the products we use out there to try to create a cohesive outdoor functional and strength-training experience. We’ve invested a ton of resources into our manufacturing capabilities. If you want it, we could probably design it, deliver it, style it, and create it for you. Another one of our key offerings is working with our customers to say, ‘What are you trying to accomplish? What’s the space? What’s your budget? What types of functionality are you looking to include?’ and taking that feedback and actually creating something based off of the specific feedback that they’ve provided us.”
“When you’re creating any fitness space, it’s not just about the rig, the rack, or the steel products. It’s about the ancillary equipment, all the accessories that you want to use. So, of course, we have our own line of accessories that we provide that are all outdoor specific. We’re not putting a bunch of kettlebells, plates, bars, balls [and other products] that are designed for indoor use, putting them outdoors and they fall apart and go to crap in six months because that wasn’t their intent. We think about flooring and space design and how this interacts with other parts of your outdoor space. For us, it is taking that holistic approach of ‘Hey it’s not just about the rig, rack, storage, functionality.’ It’s about the flooring. It’s about the transition of that space. That’s been our approach and we’ve built the infrastructure to have all of those conversations and deliver all of those products.”
Vay is confident that the high standard of design and development that goes into each piece of BeaverFit equipment and outdoor space is matched by quality of production and assembly. He says, “We have a team full of engineers and designers on staff and we go through a pretty detailed design process for every product that we sell. From there, [it’s] being able to deliver high-quality products that are relatively customizable in a timely manner allows our customers to feel like they’re a part of that design process and really are getting a product that is specific to their wants, their needs, their requirements through specifications.”
“We sell really high-end equipment. We’re American-made. All of our products are sourced here in the States. It’s all designed to be used outdoors. We don’t cut corners, so I say the most positive point is nobody’s ever underwhelmed by the products we deliver and the spaces that we develop. One of the things Dan [Cowan] and I spend a lot of time talking about is how we market that message.”
Given the persistent rush of requests from commercial and military clients, BeaverFit believes outdoor fitness is here to dominate well past 2022.
BeaverFit’s mission to supply high-quality outdoor exercise equipment and the development of outdoor spaces has resulted in community building and unique outdoor training experiences for a variety of consumers. Cowan predicts a switch in the way fitness entrepreneurs or existing fitness chains try to expand their offerings outside of a singular brick-and-mortar physical location into different kinds of experiential training out and around in their communities.
The company continues to innovate. With the Beyond Trailer line, which Vay calls a “gym on wheels,” BeaverFit encourages customers to create their own franchise businesses: “We have a customer who went from a single trailer to buying three, four, maybe five trailers from us and essentially franchising this mobile gym concept to trainers around the country. He works with them on the training side of how to run the business but they’re getting the product from us.”
The on-to-go, mobile training aspect of fitness, which appears to be an integral and advantageous component of outdoor exercise, is also a cornerstone of another BeaverFit product called the HitchFit. One consumer of the mobile at-home product, which turns the hitch of a vehicle into a squat rack and pull-up bar, not only used it to help him train to break the world record for most muscle-ups in 24 hours, but also told BeaverFit it was “his best purchase of 2021” as it allowed him to train while he was away from home.
Vay feels that the company’s military roots have given it the ability to pivot and innovate, which will be key to helping its clients seize opportunity in the outdoor workout space: “Our commercial and consumer business has really just started to aggressively grow.”
Outdoor fitness is not only growing, but also evolving to adapt to growing insistence from consumers always on the hunt for choice and flexibility. As the fitness climate evolves outside the home, innovative companies like BeaverFit are poised to provide accessible and approachable ways to getting healthy in the great outdoors.