Earlier this year on March 3rd, Nashville was hit by a devastating F3 tornado. It battered the neighborhoods of North and East Nashville and left thousands of people without power, some losing their homes and places of business.
The very next evening on March 4th, the largest fitness expo in the United States, the Arnold Strongman Classic, announced its cancellation due to restriction surrounding COVID-19 and safety precautions, an event that local apparel company, Barbell Voodoo, relies heavily on each year to generate extra income as a small business.
“Emotionally, we were hit like a rock. To have our city ravaged by a tornado and then immediately have to cancel our biggest travel event of the year, it was hard to find a silver lining,” co-owner Roy Mangrum recalls.
Launching in 2014, Barbell Voodoo typically travels to over 65 events per year, but the Arnold Classic is by far the biggest opportunity, attracting nearly 150,000 expo fans.
Amidst the chaos, Barbell Voodoo sprang into action though, turning a bad situation into a weekend for the better. “Once the van and trailer (prepped for the trip to Columbus, OH) was unloaded, we quickly went to several stores in the area and filled the van with bottled water, tarps, gloves and other supplies to donate to those in need around the city,” Roy said.
Around this same time, they discovered tragedy had struck CrossFit Hermitage. The gym had been completely destroyed by the tornado.
“It was tragic, but we saw this as another great opportunity to help the community we love and that helped us start our company,” Roy says. “We quickly created the ‘We Believe in Community’ shirt with 100% of the proceeds going directly to CrossFit Hermitage to help them rebuild. We really didn’t know how successful it would be, but we knew we wanted to do whatever we could to give back. We knew they would have done the same if they were in our shoes.”
Shortly after, the world would plummet into a global pandemic. Gyms and studios everywhere were forced to shutdown as we battled the coronavirus, followed procedures and took shelter in our homes.
“When gyms began to shutdown, scrambled to pay rent, and keep the lights on, we felt compelled to use our platform to raise money once again.”
“We started a program that allowed any and all gyms across the country to sign up, create a code, and donate 50% of all profits from every sale using that code straight back to their gym,” Roy explains. “This helped gyms pay everything from rent to utilities, to keeping their coaches on staff and ultimately give them a fighting chance when it mattered the most, something all small businesses were fighting.”
When gyms went into quarantine mode, no one knew how long or what economic impact it would have. “There was a lot of uncertainty. And we felt like our community should come first. My ‘guesstimation’ was 1-2 weeks, but, man, was I wrong,” Roy nervously laughs.
“When we got into mid-April, we slowly started to realize this pandemic was much worse than we originally expected and a lot of gyms were wondering if they were going to survive,” Roy says.
“We met with a company in Texas who had designed a community shirt with all of their proceeds going back to their local gyms and thought it was a great idea. With the help of another gym, CrossFit Carbide, we launched the UNITED Project to the Greater Nashville community, uniting all gyms in Tennessee under one cause.”
Under the United Project, all gyms that signed up received a link to promote and sell a “United” themed shirts. All sales from their link were donated directly back to those gyms, offering their members another opportunity to help support their gym during the crisis.
“The project was a huge success and shortly after we made the program available nationwide, offering the same assistance to gyms across the country,” Roy says.
But Barbell Voodoo wasn’t finished yet. In June, they launched the Change Project at a time when injustices in the African American community began ignite further conversation and the fight for equality.
“Again, we wanted to do our part for our community. It was honestly a no brainer for us,” Roy recalls. “The campaign donated 100% of sales to programs fighting injustices and racism in our country.”
In total, Barbell Voodoo has raised more than $20,000 to gyms in need and Black Lives Matter programs.
“As a small business, it’s extremely important to give back to our community. Because of them, we are the company we are today. And we will always be ready and willing to step up and advocate for them if they should ever need us.”
Roy Mangrum, Co-owner, Barbell Voodoo
As their Instagram profile proclaims, Barbell Voodoo has the “most puntastic shirts on the interwebs.” They ship worldwide and also have a custom apparel line called Barbell Voodoo Private Label. If you are in need of custom shirts for your gym or studio for any occasion, check them out @barbellvoodoo and @barbellvoodooprivatelabel on Instagram or visit their website at barbell-voodoo.com.