Toronto welder starts making his own fitness equipment to help with shortage

Home fitness equipment has been incredibly hard to come by throughout the pandemic as lockdown restrictions have forced gyms to shutter and people have been looking for ways to stay active at home as a result.

But where some saw a problem, Toronto resident Mike Kaufmann saw an opportunity.

"When the gyms all shut down, I said to myself, 'How am I going to stay fit here?'" Kaufmann, who lives in a small downtown Toronto condo and considers himself a fitness enthusiast, tells blogTO.

Kaufmann says he'd been working for his father's company, Concise Custom Metal, for more than a decade when lockdown restrictions first hit, and he decided to use his years of experience in welding and metal fabrication to make his very own squat rack that could easily be stored and stacked in his small living space.

His initial goal was not to start a business, he says, but rather to fulfill a need he himself was experiencing. But when his fiance at the time, now his wife, saw the finished product, she urged him to start selling it online.

And so he did. Kaufmann began selling his first fitness product, called "The 6ix Indy Stands," on Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji last spring, though he says he never expected demand to pick up the way it did.

But as other fitness equipment companies continued to face supply shortages and lengthy wait periods, Kaufmann says he was able to get products to his new customers far quicker than the average business.

"From there people kept asking me for custom inquiries, which gave me new ideas for different products," he says. "It was word of mouth that just kind of blew it up."

He then began selling his products through Instagram, and his wife made him an official website in July, which is when Kaufmann says the whole thing started to actually feel real.

"It didn't feel like just a hobby anymore," he says, "it felt like an actual business."

Kaufmann now sells between 12 and 15 different products on his website, Squat6Stands, including a recently-launched apparel line.

The welder says he's especially proud of the fact that all the vendors he works with are Canadian, meaning all of his products are designed, manufactured and built right here in Canada. 

While he never imagined his idea to create a single product to stay active throughout gym closures would turn into such a success story, he says he has his wife — who he married during the pandemic — to thank for it.

"I owe a lot of credit to her," he says. "She really pushes me when I don't want to continue."

Beyond his partner, Kaufmann says he also never imagined he would develop such a supportive, enthusiastic client base that champions his work at every turn.

"I wouldn't be where I am today without the awesome customers that I have and the community we've built, which is something I never expected," he says.

"They back up your business, they make you feel like what you're doing is awesome and that's been great for me, especially during a pandemic. These people could go anywhere but they chose me, which is why I bend over backwards to try to get people what they need."

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