Each time a treadmill comes off the line at Life Fitness’ Franklin Park, Ill. factory, a factory worker climbs on and make sure everything works smoothly. It's been standard practice since 1991. One day last week, though, Life Fitness President Chris Clawson took on the tester's job.
His slacks and his dress shoes didn’t stop him from walking a few minutes on the 120 volt treadmill that will be sold somewhere in the United States. Clawson (photo, right) didn’t give any hints as to where that particular machine will ship because the lucky purchaser will receive a “Golden Ticket” and super-secret prize package.
Clawson was the honorary tester because it was the 500,000th treadmill the company had produced, marking a milestone that traced back to the original Life Fitness treadmill, the TR9500. Now, the company has several models of treadmills in 11 lines (five commercial and eight consumer). It will launch a mid-price range Activate line (for cost-conscious health clubs or hotels) at IHRSA in a few weeks, along with some other new products.
Clawson, who’s been with the company for 18 years, said he feels great about reaching the half-million mark. “I remember when we had only two treadmills,” he said. Even then the treadmill was — and remains — the company’s best selling product.
Clawson called the TR9500 a “tank,” and so did customers, he added.
“It had gigantic rollers,” he said. “Our rear rollers were 12-inch rollers. They were bigger around than a football. The motor was underneath the unit and didn’t have a motor cover.”
The piece's (photo, left) continuous, bright blue belt made it stand out from other treadmills and there was nothing particularly special about that first console. Now the company offers various console options from those with automatically adjusted elevation, interactive heart rate features and televisions among other features.
But out of all of the company’s technological features, it is most proud of its green technology, Clawson said.
“You remember Kermit the Frog,” Clawson asked. “We were green long before being green was cool.”
He pointed out that the company’s stationary bicycles and stair climbers have been self-powered for more than 30 years, and it recently enlisted Intertech, an independent company, to test its products and found that they used 52 percent less power than some competitors. He declined to specify which.
“It’s kind of like miles per gallon on a car,” Clawson explained. “If you look at the old cars how fuel efficient they are, today’s cars are faster, they handle better, they get a whole lot better fuel economy. Not only are they more efficient and easier to use, but they’re also using a whole lot less power.”
Despite that commitment to ecology, the company has significantly increased its production since it started manufacturing treadmills in 1991.
Life Fitness went from producing 10 treadmills a day in 1991 to around 170 currently, and the challenge has remained making the treadmills compliant with rules from the various countries where they are sold.
“You have to anticipate those regulatory changes and keep up with where you have to meet different requirements,” Clawson said. “You have to make sure your products are safe to use and effective.”
For right now, the company is looking forward to attending its 31st IHRSA, where Clawson said he hopes people will stop by and visit because, “We’ve got a couple surprises up our sleeves.”