Business Spotlight: Learn How Dbgear Powerlifted Its Way To Success
The expression "small business" often makes me think of little quaint stores, restaurants, and hair salons. However, small businesses actually are a core part of our economy, probably its heart and organs, encompassing a far wider variety of products and services than those that immediately come to mind. These enterprises often derive from a dream or a personal need, and survive as long as their solution responds to other people’s needs as well.
Today you’ll meet a PhD lecturer from the University of Vermont, who is also a snowboarder, weightlifter, punk rocker, skateboarder, and a motorcycle aficionado. Dylan Burns is anything but ordinary - and, as you will find, neither is his business, Dbgear.
Dylan was first introduced to weight lifting at his local YMCA as part of the after school fitness program they offered when he was in 6th grade. "This got me hooked", he says, "I absolutely loved the challenge of weight training." After that first contact, he never stopped training, and he even competed in a few powerlifting meets, NPC bodybuilding shows, and CrossFit events in his college years.
The small business he started came in response to a need he found while weightlifting. As he explains..."Throughout my years of lifting, I used both prong and lever belts, but was frustrated with the limitations of adjustability, along with the fact that they could not be adjusted on-the-fly while lifting. The lever belt could only be adjusted in 1-inch increments, so many times it would be a little too loose, or a little too tight. In order to adjust this, I would need to take the belt off and unscrew the buckle, move it to the next available holes, and screw it back on"
From the gym to the university - and vice versa
Dylan’s background in mechanical engineering, as well as his experience with snowboarding, played an important part in how he solved this problem. “In the late 2000’s I began work on my dissertation ‘Ambulatory Lordosimeter Measurement and Feedback Control of Seated Posture’.”
On his PhD, he collaborated with a medical team. They used a belt similar to a weight lifting belt to hold in place a device that measured the curvature of the patient’s lower back. Due to the importance of precise data in the research, the correct adjustment of the belt was key. “Much of the research and clinical testing that I conducted during my PhD would be what fueled my desire to develop my own lifting belt, and what would later launch the start of Dbgear.”
The belt he developed uses a ratcheting buckle, which allows for on-the-fly millimeter scale incremental adjustments in tightness. According to Dylan, the majority of current weight belts still relies on a standard adjustment of 1-inch increments. “In addition, my belts offer 1 button quick release function on the buckle, thus making it easy to take it off quickly to transition between exercises. That same ease transfers to putting it on, since the ladder strap easily feeds into a ratcheting buckle.”
Maximum life and durability
Besides coming up with clever solutions, a lasting business also needs to assure the quality of the product. For Dbgear, that means belts “designed for maximum life and durability, allowing it to be taken on and off repeatedly, withstanding the wear and tear of hard gym use. Another key attribute is the minimized number of components, which keeps this lightweight belt sleek and low profile, suitable for Olympic lifting styles.”
Solving the need
Even though Dbgear’s website shows many different products, I found that Dylan’s hands - with the help of one employee - are the ones crafting the majority of his inventory.
"I had some sewing experience that my Mom, Karen Burns,
taught me when I was younger. I also learned much of the leather work from a friend of mine who was an experienced
When I decided to start making the belts myself, I contacted my friend and went back to NY to stay with him while he trained me on the basics of leather working and how to use an industrial stitching machine (Cowboy CB4500) to stitch the thick leather belts.
These skills, along with a lot of trial and error, helped me to discern the best methods and materials to create quality lifting belts."
Even the buckles he uses are designed by him. “I am the design engineer for m2 inc, a small Vermont company that produces these buckles. I have been working with them developing and testing ratcheting buckle technology since 2008.”
Dbgear, which started as a solution to flexible waist adjustment and easy set up and removal of weight belts, nowadays responds to a plethora of different needs. According to Dylan, a great part of Dbgear’s inventory additions comes from input from their customers, which has allowed them to grow and thrive, even when the surrounding circumstances aren’t that favorable.
Finding new needs to solve
“Typically, we add new products and items on a monthly basis” , says Dylan. “We are constantly designing and testing new ideas and making prototypes. Many of these new ideas come from customer feedback, requests, and suggestions. We have been expanding our leather work into other areas outside of the gym and fitness community. Some of the new products include gun belts, knife sheaths, dog collars, bondage and S&M gear, bags, purses, motorcycle accessories…”
From these suggestions also sprouted different products that were no longer exclusively made of leather. Keeping up with the requests meant branching out. Dylan became partners with Thomas Lowell on 2 Bros Printing, “so we are able to design and print all of our own apparel (while bringing in additional revenue by printing for other small businesses).”
Even the knee sleeves and wrist wraps - which are commissioned out - have Dylan’s touch. “I did the initial design and testing for these, but they are produced by an outside manufacturer.”
Thriving during hard times
Keeping up with demand also means being aware of changes in one’s surrounding. Dbgear has recently added face masks to their catalog. “Since businesses have been opening back up recently, a lot of them have been requiring their staff and/or patrons to wear masks. We have been producing several different styles of masks to help make them more readily available for everyone. In partnership with 2 Bros Printing, we have also been able to do things like create custom logo masks for businesses.” And, after many years, Karen Burns’ sewing talent comes into play once again: “One of the mask styles is even hand stitched by my mother, Karen Burns.” he shares.
One negative impact the Covid19 pandemic did have on Dbgear as a business was removing fitness expos and competitions, which are usually a great way for them to gain visibility. Still, they remain strong in online sales on Etsy and Ebay. “Also, we participate in virtual fitness expos. Through our website, you can buy our products and also contact us for wholesale accounts for gyms and nutrition shops.”
Attributes for success
I am personally not a weight trainer, but Dylan’s trajectory fascinates me. It reminds me that not settling when we face discomfort can lead to achievement and success. It also sheds light into the advantages of being open to listening to others’ ideas and to the strength of partnerships. I wish Dbgear maximum life and durability, like the quality lifting belts they started with.