Mike and Kappy broke more than a few barriers in the sport of gymnastics: they opened minds and new markets.
In those days, there were no female judges in boy’s gymnastics. Mike and Kappy changed that, too. One Saturday night at a judges meeting…
“You’d have thought I’d walked into that meeting with Bigfoot, when Kappy and I first came in. Their jaws hit the floor. They couldn’t believe I’d brought a woman with aspirations to judge boy’s gymnastics. Much to their surprise, Kappy knew more about skills and compulsory routines than most judges. She’d been immersed in the gym with me, as Che’s mother, since 1977. She studied and passed the judges test with flying colors. There was nothing they could say.”
Before the late ’70’s gymnastics explosion, judges in Georgia weren’t very familiar with age group boy’s gymnastics and their, then mandatory, compulsory routines. So, Mike taught the judges the compulsories, so they could judge meets.
While opening doors for boys gymnastics and female judges, Mike and Kappy also worked to meet the needs of American coaches, parents and athletes by filling in gaps for equipment, parts and later apparel in the US market.
When Mike started out, there were no real grips to speak of, just the palm guards he wore made from fabric similar to oil lamp wicking material.
“Young gymnasts couldn’t get real grips in the US. The only way to get them here was to import them from Europe. Before computers and fax machines, we would send individual snail mail orders, communicating back and forth via the post, all the way to Reisport in Switzerland. I would sell tons of them at meets. The demand was there, but US distribution was small scale. Our goal was to increase US distribution and get grips into the hands of US gymnasts!
On first request, Reisport refused us as distributors, but then when we told them we could triple the order of their US distributor, they set us up and we became the main US distributor.”
“Gymnasts used to send in tracings of their hands via fax or snail mail. Howard, our grips guy, had seen so many little hands that he could spot their grip size just by looking at them. He came up with a grips sizing chart for our grips which made ordering a lot easier. Since then many other companies have adopted it.”
Tumbling shoes weren’t available in the US, either. So, GMR became one of the largest distributors for ASICS Tiger tumbling shoes. Apparel, at the time, was made for adults and manufactured by a company named Zwickel. However, young gymnasts had to get their clothing remade. Mike adds, “The patterns weren’t right for young athletes, so Kappy and I got mad and decided to do it ourselves.”
At the USA Gymnastics National Congress and Trade show, Mike and Kappy met Kyoshi Takahashi and his wife Hatsumi, who knew how to sew. Together, they started Kyoshi USA which provided the gear for an apparel line of boys competition pants, shorts and shirts under the brand: 10.0, which is overseen by Kappy, as Co-CEO of GMR.
The equipment business that began in his apartment had begun to outgrow that space, too.
Kappy says with a smile, “It never really did fit.”
And, as Mike had grown tired of commuting to coach at the Atlanta School of Gymnastics, he took his friend and fellow coach, Bruce McGartlin, up on an idea to help with the rent at his gym, Gym America, by partitioning out space in the back for GMR.
Mike and his fledgling GMR worked out of a back office/warehouse space in the back of Gym America from 1980 until 1984.
As GMR looked to expand out from making The Mushroom™ into building spring floors and gymnastics carpets, Mike leased 10,000 square feet in the building next door to Gym America where he could create a space big enough to roll out and make large carpets and mats.
Mike hired more employees, including Ralph Pickett who taught himself to bind and sew carpets. Ralph and Mike have been working together for 37 years and counting! From that space came spring floors, gymnastics carpets, landing and folding mats with the GMR name on them. Things started to move!
Meanwhile, no one was selling parts for equipment, so Mike’s first catalogue became a source of parts for AMF equipment. Back then, when there was no Internet, you couldn’t just google for parts. Sourcing was a big deal. Mike saw that need and solved it.
“As the business grew, Kappy could then afford to take a salary for the first time in 3 years. She’d been teaching full-time, but quit to help with running the business while I was out selling and installing. Though, I was an accountant by formal education, Kappy taught herself and took over the books. She took over apparel design and product development, too,” Mike says with palpable pride.
“Kappy also brought GMR into the future by acquiring, in those days, cutting edge technology: the fax machine! We thought, “What’s the world coming to when you don’t use mail, you use a fax!”
“Kappy bought our first computer, The Eagle, to track orders. If she hadn’t bought that first computer, I’d never have gotten one.”