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Tough Mudder without the tear gas


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Intense workouts are the rule at Tough Mudder Bootcamp

Will Dean, CEO and founder of the extreme Tough Mudder endurance events, is broadening his portfolio beyond the now-infamous obstacles such as Arctic Enema and Electroshock Therapy—which are basically what they sound like, but safe enough to insure—into the cutthroat world of franchised fitness.

Seven years after first founding the Tough Mudder events, Dean launched Tough Mudder Bootcamp that’s one part low-cost, no-judgment fitness center and two parts a training camp for aspiring and returning Tough Mudders. As he launches his latest venture, he’s hoping his next big idea is as socially sharable as the brand’s endurance races that have grown popular enough to be broadcast around the globe, both on Facebook, CBS Sports and Sky Sports.

Tough Mudder’s rise has been legendary, with the torturous-sounding events now regularly held in 10 countries around the globe, with thousands of enthusiastic participants tattooing the brand’s logo on their bodies. Placing himself on the older end of the millennial generation, Dean said Tough Mudder Bootcamps fulfill the same priorities as before: health, wellness, teamwork and inclusivity.

Will Dean

Founder Will Dean started the franchise after first producing Tough Mudder events, which have challenges like Electroshock Therapy and more.

“It was becoming very clear to me that experiences over material possessions were the currency and preferences of young people,” he said of his seven-year ride into fitness infamy. “Eighty percent of business is probably luck, and we were in the right place at the right time, to be perfectly honest with you, and we grew very quickly.”

Dean sees the new fitness centers as a community hub for fellow Tough Mudders, keeping them in shape in the off season, introducing a new crop of fitness masochists to the events, while also bringing a new, more fun offering to the red-hot exercise industry.

“Almost 15 percent of all the people who sign up to our events don’t come. It sucks for them and, frankly, it sucks for us, as well,” Dean said. “I had my customer insights team dig into why that was.”

The team’s results weren’t surprising to anybody who’s flubbed a fitness-related resolution: Life gets in the way. Diving deeper, they realized that individuals are more likely to regularly train if they’re part of a group. In addition, workout burnout can set in when exercising becomes a workaday routine and trainers lack a specific goal to work toward.

“People that have varied workout routines are far more likely to follow them,” he said. “It needs to be an experience and it needs to be fun—just lifting weights gets boring.”

His research even led Dean to do a little investigative reporting at big-box gyms where countless customers said they weren’t in better shape than they were a year or two ago.

Fueled by the enthusiasm of his findings, the Tough Mudder corporate team built a small, prototype fitness center to put some of their ideas into practice.

“It was a pretty rough and ready prototype, and it kind of looked like a movie studio set with drywall that we put up, but it was perfect for what we needed,” he said. “At the end of it, I said ‘Great, now we have to knock it all down and build a true showroom here in Brooklyn.’”

Tough Mudder

A database of Tough Mudder event
customers will boost gym openings, its founder believes.

With Tough Mudder data showing where the brand’s enthusiasts already live, Dean’s corporate team is looking to meld fitness fun with data that, in his view, suggests there could be several thousand Bootcamps in the U.S. alone—which led him to franchising.

That database, he added, will help new franchisees get several hundred customers through the doors right away, which is the key to getting up and running without losing money after the grand opening.

Dean’s concept is designed to work in 2,000- to 3,000-square-foot spaces, and intentionally designed to get the best workouts with “simple stuff” rather than the expensive equipment at many established gym chains. Dean estimates all-in investments under $300,000. The first Tough Mudder Bootcamp is set to open in the Boston metro area near the end of 2017.

Captivating trainers, he said, have a much bigger impact on participants, rather than top-shelf machines. Simulating the Tough Mudder experience on a smaller scale, many of the workouts are two- or three-minute activities that allow customers to finish with something that reinforces the benefits of teamwork and provides an entertaining component that Dean feels is missing from more traditional workout facilities.

While the Bootcamps will strive to include a taste of the visceral thrills that are the Tough Mudder hallmarks, there won’t be any live wires or tear gas involved.

“My hope with the gyms is that what we create is now a way for people to experience some of the values of Tough Mudder in an environment that’s less of a commitment,” he said.

“Doing an hour-long class, it’s cheaper, it’s close to your home...and it creates a way for people to get familiar with the product in a safe environment.”

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