As the Founder and Managing Director of Sunshine Gym at Broxap, Rod Carter is now considered one of the world’s leading experts on outdoor fitness equipment.
We talked to Rod about how he created the company and how he remains committed to providing the best possible products and services.
How did you start out in business?
“I have always been a worker and at 13 had several paper rounds and later I graduated to being a DJ among various other jobs. Eventually I found my way into the aerospace industry where I apprenticed in mechanical engineering with Lucas and worked on planes ranging from RAF Tornados and Eurofighters to Airbus airliners but in 2002 I and a business partner designed and built an indoor skate park at Telford.”
What made you different from others in the industry?
“Coming from the aerospace industry where safety is paramount, I wanted to transfer that approach to our skating park. At that time both skateboarders and BMX riders shared the same space and inevitably there were lots of collisions and injuries.
What we did was ask them what they enjoyed and found they wanted different angles and severity of the ramps so we designed them specifically for each set of users and then built different lanes. By segregating them they can each enjoy what they want and in safety so it was a win- win result on both fronts.”
Did your approach pay off?
“Yes, it did and in fact it was so much safer that our centre became the first in the UK to pass RoSPA’s safety checks and after that lane separation became the benchmark for insurers providing cover for other parks.”
Can you give us any other examples of how you raised the standards?
“Around then I had also installed three play parks for Wolverhampton City Council and they were so pleased with them that they asked me to look at and fix the rest of its portfolio where equipment was breaking. An independent report had identified some 300 high and medium risk issues and they needed to sort it.
“In total we worked on 122 of its parks, sorting out equipment such as swings and roundabouts on housing estates and at other facilities. We discovered that welds were breaking and modified them to make them more robust and in just 12 months that list of 300-plus risks was eliminated, reduced to zero. It was the best ever result for the city council and the best rating recorded in the UK.”
Is this typical of your approach?
“It showed not just what we could do but what can be done when you put your mind to something and are determined to do the very best you can. That is how I have always approached tasks. If you get it right the first time it’s much easier, cheaper and quicker in the long run.”
How did the company develop from there?
“We found that the equipment was manufactured in China and flew out there to meet the company so we could tackle the issue at its source and as it happened what I found changed the direction of my life.
“Speaking to the manufacturer I soon learnt that they don’t have a problem of vandalism in China as we do here so they just didn’t have to make things as robust! They had one of their machines for testing and I broke it with the first pull. I redesigned it to be stronger and since then there has not been one failure.
“But it wasn’t just the robustness needed for our market but our safety standards too. For example, a lot of the equipment had external stops but if you have that you have a potential crush point so I went to the shop floor and designed and made internal ones instead.”
What was your next step?
“Well, at the time the Chinese company was making outdoor park fitness equipment almost exclusively for adults but I could see an opportunity for a much bigger, emerging and ultimately fundamentally important market, that for children and so I set up a new company, Sunshine Gym.”
Why would you think this could work?
“For the past several years governments have been warning that the NHS simply cannot afford to pay for the health problems caused by physical inactivity. It is not going too far to say that the health service faces bankruptcy if we as a country just keep on treating these conditions instead of preventing them. We have children with obesity problems and Type 2 Diabetes and this is neither right for them nor sustainable for the country.
“As well as that, recently published studies from universities indicate that even a slight amount of physical activity can boost a child’s classroom performance and results by up to 20 per cent.
“It is not just health and classroom work which improve because it helps kids to socialise and feel included and gives them more self-confidence. The case for getting youngsters to engage in and enjoy exercise is overwhelming and on several levels.
“Sunshine Gyms designs, builds and installs outdoor fitness apparatus appropriate for users aged from those at primary school through to young adults in colleges or universities, for hospital patients working on rehabilitation, community facilities in parks and local authority premises so it is a case of the right product at the right time.”
What opportunities are there for Sunshine Gym?
“Our apparatus is age-appropriate and we cover the entire spectrum from primary school children to pensioners.
“So, for example, because younger children (less than 1.4 metres height) should not really be doing strength-building exercise we provide them with equipment aimed at improving their balance, cardio health and flexibility through stretching.
“Sunshine Gym builds and installs outdoor fitness zones for local authorities, we can lay jogging paths in the bigger parks and we see that lots of clubs are now springing up for various age group such as over-50s who regularly use them. We design warm-up, cardio and strength areas and the feedback we get is that a lot of people who might have felt a bit unsure, or even intimidated at the thought of doing exercise in public, are now forming groups and using the facilities. Oddly, it is even helping gym membership. You might have thought that people would use our equipment and then not feel the need to join a gym but I was talking to the manager of one near a park where our outdoor equipment has been fitted who said he is seeing membership rise. People are enjoying their fitness routine and making it a part of their life.”
Is the work of Sunshine Gym more than just a business to you?
“Yes, it is, much more and it’s something I am truly passionate about. I don’t think sport at school is about being the best or for the elite. It should bring kids together so there isn’t someone standing on their own at the side of the room, isolated and left out. It should be inclusive and all children should be able to, and want to, join in. We design our kit to give them this and I think it is fantastic when we hear from the schools we have been too how much the pupils are enjoying using it together.
“I believe in the good it can do for everyone and I want to push it as far as I can. Perhaps I want this to be my legacy, that if I can improve the life chances for just one child I’ll be happy. Hopefully it will be a lot more than just one though!”.
What motivates you?
“I have always rolled up my sleeves and got stuck in. I believe if you are going to do anything you should do it as well as you possibly can, to not look back later and regret not having tried that little bit harder.
“Give it everything you have and if you are passionate about what you do, and you work and work and never give up you can achieve things you would not have dreamed of.
“I have done it and made sure my family is secure. Now I want to help other people improve their life chances and I think that what we are doing with Broxap and Sunshine Gym we can make a real difference.
“That is my goal anyway, that is why I still get out of bed at 5 in the morning and I think I am lucky to have that dream, that motivation.”