The Story of How a Man Grew a Small but Healthy Wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu Mat Company into a Powerhouse of Innovation and Success… Dollamur

8 min read
Discover the Journey of Gary MacDowell, Mike Swain, and many others in building Dollamur to the Heights of the Olympics, USA Wrestling, and much more.

The Story of How a Man Grew a Small but Healthy Wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu Mat Company into a Powerhouse of Innovation and Success… Dollamur

Discover the Journey of Gary MacDowell, Mike Swain, and many others in building Dollamur to the Heights of the Olympics, USA Wrestling, and much, much more 

Location: Florida and Texas via Zoom

Interviewee: Gary MacDowell

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Photo’s by: Gary MacDowell

From wrestling on the vinyl side and cheer/gymnastics on the carpet bonded side to becoming the ultimate American-made athletic sports mats, Gary MacDowell is the proud co-owner of Dollamur Sports Surfaces.

The origin 

The beginning of Dollamur Sports Surfaces first started in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1996. MacDowell said he started with the company in March of 2004 and later moved his way up to purchasing the company with other partners 15 months later in May of 2005.

MacDowell shared that the funny part of his story and his start with the company came from simply meeting his friend’s next-door neighbor.

“… I happen to be at a friend’s house. And his next-door neighbor came over, who was the then owner of Dollamur Sports Surfaces. We got to talking over the course of several productive lunches about the in’s and out of his company. He then asked me, once we hammered out a plan for the company moving forward, to come in and help him run his business. And I said, sure, I’d be happy to do that.” MacDowell.

He said that this step was the start of the company’s journey into martial arts. While this was a new step for the company, this was not MacDowell’s first rodeo in business.

Photo by: Gary MacDowell…. BJJ training

MacDowell’s business prowess 

MacDowell said he first started in business working at Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco, in the commercial loan department. He worked with companies like Hewlett Packard, Intel, and Advanced Micro Devices.

Then afterward, he worked for Motorola and joined the team running the paging infrastructure division for the United States and, in turn, even picked up on the European markets.

He said his diverse background experience in finance and business helped him learn what was necessary to build a strong foundation for his company.

Photo by: Gary MacDowell…. Water jet cutting on mats

“This experience gave me some more background in terms of hiring good people, surrounding yourself with good people, creating a strategy, and implementing a plan,”  MacDowell said.

Market share and expansion 

Prior to the purchase, he and his partners noticed that the company was sustainable, durable, and had good brand awareness. The company had already established a steady cash flow, and at the time, MacDowell said the company owned about 75% of the market in cheer/gymnastics and about 40% of the market share in wrestling.

With a solid foundation, he said he knew there was a lot more they could do and build for the industry.

Toward the end of 2005, the company made its way into the home mat business. In doing so, the company then created a robust online store for customers to shop and purchase their innovative mats and several accessories. With these new advancements, MacDowell said he was inspired to call Mike Swain in early 2006 to grow this robust company to even new heights.

Photo by: Gary MacDowell…. Production line

A wonderful partnership

Michael Lee Swain is a four-time Judo Olympian and Olympic coach. Swain was the first Judoka from the Western Hemisphere to win a World Championship in 1987. That same year Swain started Swain Sports, which became a multi-million-dollar international martial arts equipment business.

MacDowell said it was almost like fate. After meeting with Swain, MacDowell learned that he and Swain had gone to the same college.

“I found out that Mike had actually graduated 10 years after I did at the same college which set everything off well… At this stage in our business we needed a strong brand and some specific expertise in the martial arts world to help us establish a dominant position in the industry, as opposed to just slogging through and figuring it out on our own,”  MacDowell said.

After selling his company to Dollamur in 2008, Swain now serves as vice-president for Global Martial Arts.

Innovation, crisis, and imitators 

Dollamur soon progressed to create a stronger marketing presence, established several trademarks for their products, and solidified two different patents on their Flexi Connect product line. They even broke into the broader fitness industry shortly after producing these innovations.  

The company later faced its first roadblock during the financial crisis in 2008. MacDowell says the crisis did not impact the company too extensively but did slow it down. He’s since said that the company has tripled in size within the decade.

The company has also partnered with many large federations such as USA Wrestling, USA Judo, and Flow Wrestling and Grappling. With constant improvements and new partnerships, MacDowell is proud of how far the company has come.

Photo by: Gary MacDowell…. Production line with mat unrolling

MacDowell explained that many competing companies have tried to copy their products and re-engineer what they have helped to build and have failed. He said the successes and failures of the company’s U.S. competitors are a testament to the work he and his team has put into their product innovation.

Where Dollamur excels

He said there are three areas that Dollamur excels in that keeps the company growing. “One is the quality of the product.”

MacDowell and his team always look for improvements in the company’s products. “The second part of it is our brand awareness,” MacDowell explained.

The team works hard to put money and sweat into strengthening the company’s message to consumers.

“I think that the Third, and maybe the most important, is a testament from our current customers,” MacDowell said.

Customer feedback is the most crucial element to Dollamur. They value the feedback they receive from customers and focus on their comments about the durability and safety of the company’s products.

“They can talk about the durability of the product, the safety of the product,” MacDowell explained, “And we get a lot of input from athletes.”

Achievements

As the company grows, so does the supply and demand. One of the greatest achievements, according to MacDowell, was their joint venture in China with Flexi Roll Sport in supplying mats at the Olympic level. Together they provided mats for the Rio Olympics in 2016 and the most recent Olympics, Tokyo 2020.

“Our mats span across the globe in numerous industries and sports… Everything from home GYM’s and clubs to tournaments and cheerleading camps, to grappling events, and even the Pan Americans, U.S. Olympic trials, and Olympic games.” MacDowell shared

However, despite this growth and market reach, due to the current pandemic, they faced some unexpected challenges, such as having to temporarily shut down the company in March of 2020.

Covid and mats that heal

MacDowell said that due to their mats being used not only for sports but also for physical therapy and in hospitals, the state of Texas gave the company an exception and was allowed to continue fabrication of mats during the pandemic.

“We actually filed some paperwork with the city of Fort Worth, Texas, to give us an exemption because we were making mats that were going into physical therapy facilities and hospitals and care facilities,” MacDowell explained.

Photo by: Gary MacDowell…. Heat treating a mat

Exploding new market segment 

There was actually a massive surge in the company’s sales because martial arts and fitness studios, and really the whole sports industry was closed for long periods, and people started to do their workouts at home and thus needed individual home mat systems.

“What happened when those combative facilities closed down…. wrestling gyms, fitness centers etc., everybody moved inside,” MacDowell said, “that led to a significant surge in our home business segment.”

The setbacks of the pandemic only led him to move forward in his company and adapt when needed… rolling with the punches but getting stronger with every blow.

Additionally, Dollamur will be moving into a larger facility that will position the company for future growth and product innovation so they can continue to hone their competitive edge in the market.  

He further explained that they are always looking for potential ways to help the company grow organically. They are actively looking at how they can upgrade their product lines, which is ultimately one of the most significant components in keeping that competitive edge they have established.

Their WHY as a company 

Even though the company has grown so much over the years, they never want to forget their central message. Which is “For those of all ages interested in sports, especially Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, and Judo, that even if you are not the best at first, you will improve and can be the best with time, dedication, and discipline.”

Essentially, choosing to be your best and showing up day after day no matter what obstacles or challenges you face because you have a goal and a dream to reach… that grit to only settle for success…. This is how people of success and champions are built, and Dollamur is fueling the way for thousands upon thousands of people and athletes to turn their dreams into reality one day, one moment at a time.

MacDowell compares the growth of an athlete to the development of his business; it started as a small idea and grew organically into a mega-company.

Photo by: Gary MacDowell…. Example GYM

“It takes a lot of experience, it takes a lot of knowledge, it takes a lot of practice, it takes a lot of aches and pains. And it’s no different than establishing a business and running a business,” MacDowell shared.

The most prominent message MacDowell hopes to send to instructors teaching these sports is to focus and concentrate on their students.

He says instructors should always stay up to date on the latest training, the latest motivational videos that they can provide, and give students a pathway to success through dedication, experience, and hard work.

It was a pleasure interviewing Mr. MacDowell, and we at Rolling Times are very excited to see what Dollamur has right around the corner in 2022.

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