Creating Success in a Dirty Business

Most entrepreneurs don’t want obstacles in their business, but for companies that offer extreme races, the more bumps, booby traps, and ditches the business has, the better.

Extreme obstacle course race events are held around the country and world offering varying levels of difficulty, length, and competitiveness. This type of racing is a relatively new phenomenon that has exploded onto the fitness scene. Tough Mudder was first on the scene, propelling the craze and mushrooming into a $70 million business in little more than two years.

Can other race companies be as successful?  In fact, this market is a good case study in how a business can thrive even if it’s not the first company in the pool.  The keys are differentiation and expertise.

“One of the big problems in the industry is there are a lot of fly-by-night companies,” says Garfield Griffiths, race director and self-described “twisted mastermind” for Fearless Events of Florida. Some organizations put on a poorly run race and then move on, Griffiths says.

Participating in a poorly run event inspired him to decide he could do it better. After a career spent coordinating large events and teaching martial arts, Griffiths launched The Challenge, a five-mile mud and obstacle course that includes military-grade obstacles. These treats can range from plunging into an ice bath to climbing a cargo net to being “tarred” with mud and then feathered.  Unlike other races, it also includes logic puzzles and brain teasers, challenging the brain and the brawn. The crowning glory of the run is a series of seven major obstacles all combined into one concluding challenge. “We’re also going to have a hidden challenge… It’s a secret and it’ll be mind-blowing,” Griffiths adds.

Similarly, Sam Abbitt created Savage Race, which will run events in six states in 2013. Savage Race has built its name on having the most large obstacles per mile in a mid-distance race. Abbitt caters to serious competitors as well as the more casual participants. These events run a separate competitive wave. It’s also one of the few races where all participants are timed using a microchip. “Most people finish in 60 to 90 minutes… other people walk the course,” Abbitt says.

Running a race is also what led Abbitt, who was already a Crossfit enthusiast, to start his own extreme race business. “I had a great time and there weren’t many competitors in the market at that time,” he says.  The serial entrepreneur often runs in his own race anonymously to assess the experience people are having.  “The experience is what people pay for,” Abbitt explains.

Indeed, the extreme obstacle race is an experience that many groups-corporate as well as social-seek out to promote bonding and team building. “It’s a great excuse to be with friends and family and do something out of the box,” Abbitt says, adding that the teamwork element also attracts office teams and gym buddies. “It’s a great outlet for people to show off what they have trained for in the gym or at home.”

Claiming another niche, this spring Griffiths will launch the first Mud Mingle in Key Biscayne, Florida, where singles will get down and dirty in the name of finding love. Because obstacle races are such a hot activity right now, participants generally sign up months in advance, giving Griffiths a social challenge. “A lot of people don’t want to admit they’ll still be single in three or four months,” Griffiths says.

Image credits: Savage Race

About Vera L. Dordick

Vera L. Dordick is principal with Tangible Development LLC, public relations practitioner, and creative provocateur. At Tangible Development, Vera specializes in crisis management and public relations but has a particular interest in creativity training and helping companies foster more creative environments. She also blogs on the Albany Times Union website on marketing and creativity. Vera holds a BA in Journalism and Russian from Indiana University and an Associate degree in Culinary Arts from SCCC.

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