Charlotte resident and longtime professional tennis player Fred Robinson – ranked No. 1 in the nation for singles and doubles several times over his career – has dealt with his share of injuries.
But the 59-year-old was never satisfied with the wraps, braces or straps on the market.
Some didn’t stay in place. Others didn’t offer enough pressure. None of them stretched well enough, and they all absorbed moisture.
“We didn’t have what I thought was a high-quality gear,” says Robinson. “It frustrated me, and I thought, ‘Somebody needs to do something about this.’ ”
In 2008, Robinson started researching materials and manufacturing facilities, working with doctors and athletes, to develop what he believes are superior products.
And after two years on the market, Robinson’s Charlotte-based business, BodyHelix, has sold more than 100,000 pieces of compression gear for the knee, thigh, ankle, calves, elbow, bicep and wrist.
The products, manufactured in Greensboro and shipped around the world, are made from a natural rubber (latex-free) that the company says offers uniform pressure, doesn’t require any straps or Velcro, and can be washed and dried in laundry machines.
Robinson says his gear offers 300 percent stretch – more than the industry norm of 50 percent.
They cost $30 to $50 each, and are sold on the web at bodyhelix.com, and at different racquet clubs in the Charlotte area.
Robinson named the company BodyHelix because of the qualities of the double helix. “It’s circular and wraps around,” he says. “We have a helix that wraps around the body.”
Building a team: Though it started as Robinson’s vision, he soon realized he’d need help if he wanted to take his product to market.
So he enlisted three other recreational tennis players with complementary backgrounds: Tom Parker, an internal medicine physician in Charlotte; Steve Earp, an attorney in Charlotte (now in Greensboro) who filed the paperwork, and Bill Ashley, a Lake Norman resident with a career in manufacturing and industrial sales who now splits his time in Greensboro. The four now co-own the business, with Robinson as the largest owner and the leader of the creative side of product development.
“If you have a baseball team, you need more than a pitcher,” says Robinson. “You need a catcher and all the other positions, too.”
‘Putting them on real athletes’: Because of Robinson’s athletic connections, he had a number of professional athletes who acted as a focus group for their test products.
“We weren’t just sitting there designing them,” says Robinson. “We were putting them on real athletes and they’d come back and talk to me, and we’d adjust them,” he says.
One of his British friends, Stuart Martin, now a U.S. citizen, helped anchor BodyHelix in the European markets, Robinson says. Now a number of professional soccer, rugby and cricket players wear BodyHelix gear.
The Carolina Panthers as well as several members of the U.S. Olympic teams are also converts, Earp says.
Surprising publicity: The international demand for BodyHelix products has exploded in recent months, following an article that ran in U.K. newspaper The Daily Mail.
The article suggested that “notoriously injury-prone” Manchester United player Robin van Persie has been injury-free this season thanks to BodyHelix products and has recommended them to his teammates.
However, Robinson is quick to add that none of the elite athletes using their products are paid to wear or endorse them.
“They are not under contract,” Robinson says. “But they’re just one of the many elite athletes to wear our products.”
And that, he adds, is because they work.
“We felt if we made the best product in the world, people were going to want it,” Robinson says. “People flocked to (it.)”
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