When a group of world legends in exercise and bodybuilding are united in their opinion of an equipment supplier, one should take their word for it – especially when that group includes Powerlifting legend Louie Simmons; twice Britain’s Strongest Man Eddie Hall; IFBB pro bodybuilder Ben Pakulsk; and seven-times World’s Strongest Man finalist Terry Hollands. They all recommend Watson Gym Equipment, which is designed and manufactured in Frome, near Bristol, England. The company was founded in 1999 is still headed by Simon Watson, who also designs its equipment. At the beginning of 2017 it opened a new factory, in order to cope with demand.
”The expansion is all about capacity,” said Nick Strong, production manager. “This new factory gives us the opportunity to get more done. Our business is booming and we are only getting stronger.”
In addition to commercial gyms, sports teams and private individuals in the UK, Watson Gym sells to Australia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and across the world. Its equipment has the reputation of being pretty much the best you can get. The difference becomes apparent even when one looks at something as modest as dumbbells, which are the basis of pretty much any strength activity. But there is more to Watson Gym dumbbells than simply a couple of weights attached to a bar.
Appliance of Science
“It’s actually very sophisticated; there’s a lot of science behind it,” Nick explained. “Ours are machined from stainless steel; either end and the shaft are made into a single, welded piece. They are completely solid.” Most gyms still use old style, bolted units. Over time, wear and tear takes its toll, parts come loose and things shear off. Watson Gym’s are safer; they will not break because they are one, complete unit. The dumbbells also feature rotating grip, which reduces muscle and fibre strain. Nick believes that it is the only company in the world currently making dumbbells this way. They also feature an endplate, which carries branding and the equipment’s’ weight in kilograms. Standard branding is Watson but a commercial gym’s logo could be incorporated. It may not sound like a major thing but, in a competitive world, differentiation and brand strength is important. SSC Laser’s relationship with Watson Gym started small, with the endplates, and grew from there.
“It’s so good to get someone who understands our values,” Nick continued. “SSC really get it. When we design a piece of equipment, we want to be sure that it is the best it can be; they are completely behind it, same as us.” Watson Gym orders hundreds and hundreds of endplates, for example, and SSC sends each customer set in a separate box. Other companies just put everything on a pallet and send the whole lot over, for the customer to sort out
Watson Gym, the world’s leading manufacturer of specialist strength equipment for gyms, partners with SSC Laser to deliver the quality on which it has built its reputation.
Ease of manufacture
Watson sends its designs to SSC, who lasercut the components and send them back as labelled kits, ready for assembly. The company’s Power Rack, which is used for bench pressing, demonstrates the point.
”As well as cutting the square section tube, they laser cut all the bolt holes for us. It is all tabbed and notched so when we get it, we can simply slot it all together and weld it up, which speeds up production no end,” said Nick, who then explained about something that looked like an abstract Christmas Tree; it’s actually a revolving dumbbell storage rack. SSC sends the components to Watson Gym as precisely cut flat pieces of steel, with tabs and slot holes ready cut.
“We get these cut and folded by SSC,” he said. “We used to do the folding ourselves but they have the ability to do it absolutely precisely, and in volume. We assemble the pieces and weld it to finish. It saves us so much time.” Another example came in the shape of a six-section zig-zag barbell bar.
“The ‘zig-zags’ are there for your hands, your neck and shoulders,” said Strong. “There’s no room for variation and error; they have to balance all the way along the bar. SSC Laser cuts and notches a single piece of tubular section steel very precisely, so that we can weld it together very easily.” The speed and ease of manufacture is not at the expense of quality; if anything, SSC’s involvement enables Watson Gym to enhance it.
“We started using them when we were not happy with existing suppliers,” Strong explained. “SSC were very keen to get our business so I and a colleague went over to their Bristol branch, had a tour round, got a feel for them and then trialled them a few times to see how they performed. As soon as we started working with them we could see that the quality was there, and so was the service.” The relationship is flourishing despite the fact that SSC may on occasion be more expensive than competitors.
“You can always find someone who will do something cheaper but if it isn’t right, all we can do is reject it and then we’re back to square one,” he explained.
“Our relationship with SSC has made a difference to our processes and efficiency, definitely,” he said. “It’s been evolution and gradual development, rather than a great leap forward. Things in our new factory are a lot cleaner and we’re moving more and more along the lean manufacturing route. With the ability to do extra things in house, coupled with SSC’s lasercutting, we will make another huge step forward.”
The Watson Gym showroom on sit looks like a modern, well-equipped gym. It has racks of dumbbells, along with chest presses, pulleys, lateral pulldowns, something called an Animal Cage, a vertical leg press and an Animal Leg Press, which looks as if it could be used to restrain large and unruly beasts; that’s not far from the truth, as it’s pretty common equipment in major rugby teams. What is clear, what radiates from every piece, is quality.
“Quality is the watchword,” Nick Strong agreed.