Former GAA stars on a roll with their innovative resistance-training tool
Two ex-senior Gaelic footballers have put their experience on the field to work in their business
For a decade John Paul Mone and Dermot McArdle played Gaelic for their native Monaghan at senior level. They learned many things but it was a heavy defeat to Fermanagh in June 1999 that taught them a lesson that has led to their current business venture, RAMfit. "At county level money is not a problem but at club level it is a little bit different," says Dermot, so as Fermanagh was a team of similar size and resources to their own they both realised it was a question not of getting more resources, but of making the most of what they already had.
After a BA in Maths and Geography and an MSc in Computing and Information Systems, Dermot spent four years as a secondary school teacher before setting up his first business, Gaelic Performance, in 2005.
That company now mostly sells gloves and mouth guards, indeed their Viper Glove is the most popular in Gaelic Football. John Paul, who holds a Diploma in Business Studies, worked for a time in sales, becoming head of sales for MG Furniture - a job which saw him building relationships with customers across Ireland, the UK, America, Europe and the UAE.
He and Dermot were still very much in contact, John Paul is married to Dermot's sister, and their interest in sports, particularly in sport science, endured.
"John Paul and I were always interested in the performance end, in strength and conditioning, improving performance on pitch for the players and reducing injury. A lot of clubs were using powerbags which are very useful for Gaelic footballers, but they need to be replaced very often and couldn't be used on the pitch because they get wet and soggy. There was a need for something else, so we scratched our own itch," Dermot says.
Foam rollers are often used for muscle recovery by sports people and physios and he and John Paul wanted to create something that would cover all bases, exercise and recovery, be durable, affordable and weather-proof.
They developed what would become the RAMroller. "When we gave it to people to test the shape and design was in the shape of roller, so the first thing is it provides the ability to recover, for instance at half time to subtly roll out muscles and fascia.
"We don't prescribe something as gospel but there is some research that there is a benefit [from foam rollers]. The second is because it's weighted. It's the only weighted roller in the world - it challenges the body differently which increases your body's ability to resist and prepare for the unknown."
It is essentially a resistance-training tool which can be used not only as a means of training, but to aid recovery. "It had been a sort of spin-off of Gaelic Performance but then two and half years ago we decided, because it has applications across multiple sports and fitness, to set up a separate company.
"We wanted to appeal to a large audience interested in injury prevention, improving the quality of movement rather than bulking up. We also have clients in the US who use it successfully with people with Parkinson's who say that it makes them feel safe. With the RAMroller is you very quickly understand it can work for you.
"The learning curve for kettle bells, for example, is too steep in my opinion, where our product is very intuitive to use. We also have hundreds of videos on the website on how to use it because obviously that is important."
They targeted some key figures in the sporting world and, having got good feedback from sporting amateurs and professionals on the prototype, word within the fitness and sporting community started to spread and Dermot and John Paul went on the road.
"We got in car and went to gyms - we're in over a hundred gyms now. We also approached Monaghan Enterprise Board, and they were very helpful. We weren't too sure about direction and our mentor helped us identify a narrower path and that has proved very successful. Then, as they have seen we are serious company making sales, they gave us funding that allowed us to manufacture and engage with consultants in the US to explore that market. The support has been fantastic, they're always on end of phone.
"Everyone has a business idea and they have seen so many ideas and have no vested interest so they're great to talk to, sometimes to hear the truth is the best."
The RAMroller is locally manufactured and made of entirely recycled materials. "We have three local people employed full-time as well John Paul and myself doing all the marketing and sales. We use recycled rubber, tyres that we get from a company in Louth." The aim is that by the end of 2017, 90pc of the raw materials that go into the products will be sourced locally.
With a view to broadening their distribution network across the globe they have exhibited at FIBO, the world's biggest international fitness show. They found the experience worthwhile, with four of the 12 contacts they made there yielding results. The RAMroller is currently being distributed in the US, UK, Germany and India.
They're currently in talks with a major chain in the UK but remarkably two military forces are interested, "Yes, they're testing with a view to replacing their sandbags."
The company's latest expansion is to have started running certification courses for trainers, "It's a two-day course based around what we call 'movement innovation'," Dermot says.
"It gives you the tools for you to design your own workout. Each person's training needs will be different, and we encourage trainers to come up with their own."
They recently certified their first 12 trainers in San Diego and will shortly host another in Austin. Their first RAMfit Certification course in Dublin will take place at the end of August with US fitness guru Mark De Grasse.
"The certification is focused towards people who want to start up their own fitness business, or gyms that want to add a new class to their offering. The trainers go away with 16 rollers each, then we encourage them to promote their products so they can train themselves. It's word of mouth selling, we want a tool to sell itself. They range in price from €65 to €90 and we give a lifetime guarantee, on our Facebook page there is a video of a lorry driving over a RAMroller!"
RAMfit has three other products in development that act both as accessories and as standalone products. They also hope to go into schools.
"The worst thing you can see is young kids in the gym and their form is poor, but from 14 onwards our product can be used safely for strength training because the learning curve isn't very steep and there isn't the same scope for injury. We would also feel that with the RAMroller they can use it at home and as a coach you can coach with just four or five key movements."
With such scope for expansion it seems like the world might be RAMrolling soon. "We're proud Monaghan people, we're small a county and we like to be ambitious," says Dermot.
"Martin McVicar from Combilift has come on board as a director with us and they employ 400-500 people, they're another Monaghan LEO success story actually.
"It's like everything - it's hard work but we're making progress every single week, so it's very positive and we have big ambitions for the company."
Sunday Indo Business