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Volume 22 No. 48
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Plugged In: Rob Dickens, Rugged Maniac

Rob Dickens and Brad Scudder dug into their own savings to launch Rugged Maniac in 2011. While it’s been tough going at times as they duel for market share with better-funded competitors Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, a $1.75 million investment from Mark Cuban on “Shark Tank” last year allowed Scudder (CEO) and Dickens (COO) to expand. Dickens’ vision for the future: To keep the group’s profitability high by making Rugged Maniac’s race days so much fun and so accessible they don’t need to market.

We offer our runners the option to be timed, and only 3 percent choose that option. People aren’t really doing this because they’re hypercompetitive and they want to show what they’re made of. They’re doing this because it’s fun, it’s crazy, it’s physical.

On Rugged Maniac’s customer return rate: We make our customers happy. … For example, I hate to see lines anywhere at our events. I don’t want to see lines at food, I don’t want to see lines at beer, I don’t want to see lines at bathrooms, I don’t want to see lines at obstacles on the course. Some of our bigger competitors, you might have to wait 15 minutes to get over one of the obstacles, and that really dampens the experience for most people when you’re running and you have to wait 15 minutes just to take your turn. Those type of things I just do not want to have happen at our events. We strive very hard to make sure the customer experience is great and participants want to come back year after year.

On the sustainability of the obstacle race business: I think [critics] think it’s such a crazy concept, right? “You’re running around, crawling through mud, jumping over tires: Surely, this can’t be sustained.” Well, I think it goes back to the thing where people equate obstacle with Tough Mudder because it’s the biggest one around, but Tough Mudder is such a unique concept, being so long and with such a hard-core brand image that, yeah … you need serious training in order to do that and you’re not going to attract a whole lot of people with a sport that requires that kind of training. But with a 5K version, people can do that with no training, and you really remove one of the big obstacles, no pun intended, to the sustainability of the sport.

On growth amid an increasingly crowded market: We try not to go head to head because it just doesn’t make business sense. If we know that Tough Mudder is going to be a certain weekend in Salt Lake City, we try to put at least 30 days between our event and theirs. It just makes good business sense. But for the most part, we’re attracting a little bit different crowd than Tough Mudder. The people that are coming out to our event, some of them are hard-core athletes, but a lot of them are not and those people are not going to do a Tough Mudder no matter what weekend it is. I’d be more concerned about a Warrior Dash because that’s really just a fun event. … We’re not too concerned about competition, but it’s just not good business sense to schedule one event around another big event.

— Ben Fischer