Recent events have accelerated the growth of the home fitness equipment sector and the demand for Canadian-made products. For one Edmonton manufacturer, the opportunity is impossible to overlook.
Being in the Right Place at the Right Time
“In the last year, we realized there’s a gap in the market with regards to Canadian-made equipment,” says Jessica B., Vice President of Retail Operations with Squat Racks Canada. She and her partner Ryan B., the company’s Vice President of Research and Development, are uniquely qualified to observe the subject. Both are steeped in fitness and have manufactured products like oilfield down-hole tools for over a decade. “For the most part, Canadian consumers selections of barbells, weight racks and the like have come from overseas or the U.S.,” Jessica says. “There really hasn’t been an easy-to-access Canadian option.”
COVID 19 has made that issue more imperative on two fronts. Gym closures and self-isolation have boosted the home equipment market. Meanwhile, Canada’s reliance on other countries for short-supply necessities like masks and respirators have spurred nationwide demand for more products manufactured at home. However, these trends began long before the pandemic. Back in 2013, Business Development Canada highlighted both our aging population’s growing demand for health-and-wellness products and a growing perception of Canadian-made products as high-quality items, worth paying more to obtain.
Having the Right Stuff
“So we took our experience and our passion for fitness and decided to bridge that gap between consumers and what they’re looking for,” Jessica says. Other Canadian companies have seized upon the same idea, but Jessica doesn’t perceive them as competitive threats. In fact, her company has done business with them. “We’re not really fishing in the same pond. I'm happy to support them at any time, and I think it goes both ways.” However, there is one crucial difference between her company and many of the others: “They don't necessarily manufacture here. So in the last few months when the market demand has gone up, we've seen both Canadian, American companies of all types end up with little or no inventory.”
This is where being an experienced, established, local manufacturer really comes in handy.
“Edmonton is a huge manufacturing hub,” she says, which might surprise many who view manufacturing as Ontario’s sole domain. In fact, Alberta’s capitol city has a conveniently large supply of steel manufacturers. “Having access to raw materials and third-party vendors has been a huge, huge advantage for us. Being able to manufacture in Canada allows us to ramp up production and not have to wait on anything as the demand goes up. We typically keep stock of everything, but if there's something that we need to turn around really quickly, we’re also able to do that – just because of the infrastructure of the manufacturing industry in Alberta.”
The difference is in the details.
“It’s the things people don’t think about that are the most complex,” Jessica explains. “Squat racks, for example, are very large, so you have to have a lot of people to move them around. You have to have a lot of space.” She adds that shipping heavy equipment is another challenge, but it’s one her experienced team is prepared to tackle – including plans for fast, efficient and cost-effective home delivery as well as eastern warehousing to serve customers nationwide. While Jessica oversees these and other day-to-day operations, Ryan supervises equipment design innovations that will reflect well on his company and this nation’s manufacturing sector, as well.
“He's got a very intelligent team working for him,” Jessica says.“We have to make sure we stay true to our Canadian-made quality. Our goal is rolling out equipment that meets the highest standards for strength and aesthetics.” A product like a barbell might look like a straightforward piece of steel to the untrained eye, but tooling in knurling and mastering heat treatment and the proper installation of unseen bushings and bearings is complex and precise work, designed to give the user a smooth and productive lift every time. That same attention to detail applies to squat racks.
A Rack to Remember
“Anything dealing with weight has to be safe, first of all,” Jessica explains. For example, the Progression Xplode Apollo Power Rack comes with four angle brackets and bolts to secure it to the floor - although it’s already one of the most solid and stable cages on the market.The Apollo Power Rack is now available through Flaman Fitness, which that knows what made-in-Canada success stories are all about. Flaman started in Canada (Southey, Saskatchewan to be exact), is proudly Canadian-owned and operated, and has been headquartered in its home country since its beginning over 60 years ago. A good part of that longevity is owed to a high standard for quality and next-generation advancements created with this nation’s fitness enthusiasts in mind. If a Canadian company like Squat Racks Canada can deliver that, Flaman is proud to present it to customers.
“Our racks and stands are typically 20 to 30% heavier than other racks of comparable size,” Jessica says. The Apollo features 11-gauge steel construction – thicker than most other 2” X 2” square tube frames. It makes for a stronger, sleeker and more compact product. It’s one of many features that demonstrate Canadian fitness equipment manufacturers can and will take the lead as innovators.
“We've done a lot of proprietary stuff.” Jessica points to the company’s J-cups and self-centering design - both created in-house. “We also have dip bars attachments that secure to both sides of the squat stand for maximum stability.”The design team focuses on cutting-edge ideas, rather than re-inventing what’s already been done. “And we’ve gotten excellent feedback so far.”
Consumer Inspired Innovation
Hearing what customers think is much easier when you’re closer to them – another benefit of Canadian-manufactured equipment. The company’s two strongest consumer markets are regular health-conscious individuals who work out three or four times a week, and elite athletes with voracious appetites for powerlifting and cross-training.These diverse audiences have one thing in common:
“Our customers are so active on social media – not just with us but with each other,” Jessica says. Their opinions have been integral to the design team’s success. “We've been able to tweak things as needed to and even come up with specific products in response to what the people want. That's been a huge advantage for us because we can do it quickly and at a good price point.”
A Canadian Success Story?
It might be early to declare the mission accomplished, but Jessica sees good reason for optimism: “The demand for domestically made products has gone up significantly in the last like six months to a year. So it's been a really good opportunity for us to connect with the community and get the feedback that they're giving us.
“It's exciting to work with Canadians and bring them the products that they need. I would happily suggest our stuff can stand up and beat any big manufacturer in North America. I'm confident in saying that.”