Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

'Outdoor gym gear worked out well for us'

Pair see demand for new equipment rise

New equipment: Richard Stuart with the shoulder press for outdoors

The Great Outdoor Gym Company Ireland is one of our newest businesses, but is set to make a recognisable mark on the Northern Ireland landscape.

It has already sold fitness equipment to Lisburn City Council, which has been installed at its Wallace Park, and contracts for parks run by other councils are expected to follow soon.

Richard and Karen Stuart are already proven business leaders, as they also run the successful Garden Escapes company. Garden Escapes and the Great Outdoor Gym Company Ireland share premises and personnel, with equipment sold by the Great Outdoor Gym Company installed by Garden Escapes.

For Richard, moving into fitness equipment for adults in public places is a natural progression from work he had been doing previously.

"I have been working with playgrounds for about 10 years," he explained.

"I was a designer for five years and I left that job in 2007 and then set up my own company Garden Escapes.

"It was about this time last year that we noticed a greater interest in outdoor fitness equipment. We were looking to be a distributor, but we found the leading company seemed to be the Great Outdoor Gym Company in Great Britain."

As a result, Richard and Karen took on a franchise arrangement with the GB operation and it has the only franchise contract in Ireland.

At present, the Great Outdoor Gym Company Ireland does not have any dedicated staff, but that will soon change. There are plans to recruit both a design administration assistant and a full-time sales representative.

Richard is confident that business will grow significantly. Having won the first contract to install equipment at Lisburn, many councils from both Northern Ireland and the Republic have visited Wallace Park and have been very impressed with what they have seen, Richard said.

"There are a lot of companies trying to get into the act of outdoor fitness equipment," he added.

But some equipment on the market has proved to be of short life and in some cases, there have been issues with health and safety.

One council with parks adjacent to the sea has indicated that it will specify the Great Outdoor Gym Company equipment in its forthcoming park refurbishment contract - on the basis that it comes with a 10-year guarantee and is likely to withstand the rigours of a strong sea wind. The franchise holder is currently working with the British Standards Institution to develop specific British Standards for outdoor play equipment and is then likely to be the only provider of outdoor fitness equipment that will meet these standards.

"Our main customers will be councils and schools," said Richard.

Councils are keen to install equipment as part of their drive to improve health and fitness among their local population.

The Lisburn equipment was launched by Northern Ireland Health Minister and MLA Edwin Poots, who made the connection between fitness and good health.

As the equipment is free to use, it assists residents to use gym facilities which they otherwise may be unable to afford.

The equipment is also attractive to schools that do not have the capital budgets to build their own gyms, but have sufficient funds for outdoor facilities. "Secondary education is a big opportunity," said Richard.

"Outdoor gyms are going into five secondary schools in the South Eastern board area."

Since the launch of the Wallace Park facilities just two months ago, there has been a surge of interest with a variety of new contracts and expressions of interest. "Our equipment is now beginning to be specified in contracts," said Richard, giving him the strong expectation that there will be a strong flow of orders in the coming months.

Good news for the Great Outdoor Gym Company is also good news for the health and well-being of Northern Ireland.

It's a win, win.

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