25 Years of Fitness profiles -- Retired / Out of Industry / Others - SNEWS

25 Years of Fitness profiles -- Retired / Out of Industry / Others

A silver anniversary is nothing to gloss over, and the fitness industry has plenty to celebrate -- yes, even in times of adversity and economic hardship. Take a moment to realize it is indeed very youthful as far as industries go, and then just look at all it has accomplished in the last 25 years. We sought out stories and insights from leaders who were around 25 years ago, asking them varied questions about their roots in the industry, influential moments and products, as well as the future of specialty fitness and the industry as a whole. See what these retailers and manufacturers, who have since left the industry or are on the outer periphery, had to say about the growth of the industry...
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A silver anniversary is nothing to gloss over, and the fitness industry has plenty to celebrate -- yes, even in times of adversity and economic hardship. Take a moment to realize it is indeed very youthful as far as industries go, and then just look at all it has accomplished in the last 25 years.

We sought out stories and insights from leaders who were around 25 years ago, asking them varied questions about their roots in the industry, influential moments and products, as well as the future of specialty fitness and the industry as a whole.

See what these retailers and manufacturers, who have since left the industry or are on the outer periphery, had to say about the growth of the industry:

Chuck Alchermes

Tom Doyle

Albert Kessler

Leo Rubstello


Chuck Alchermes

Natural Health • Founder

Entry into the fitness industry

I went into the business at the tender age of 24 back in 1976. My father was a chiropractor who had a strong belief in the holistic approach to life. He instilled in me many of the ideals that shaped my life and business. I started a health food store and sold martial arts supplies. I got into the fitness industry when a writer for one of the muscle mags stopped in my store and suggested I sell weights and benches like a health food store in Bloomfield (Wonder Health, which has since closed).

I began to sell the strength equipment, but saw the future was not just for the muscle heads but for general health and fitness, so I moved into cardio equipment. Back then, the height of technology was the Tunturi Ergometer bike, the Avita rower and the Marcy home gym. Treadmills had 1/2-horsepower motors and 14-inch belts.

My first store was 1,500 square feet. After five years, I moved to a 2,400-square-foot store, and in a few years, I had expanded again to a 4,800-square-foot store. Finally, I expanded to a total space of 9,600 square feet and was one of the largest fitness stores in the country.

Reactions of public, friends and family

Over the years, the public’s view of fitness changed from one of bodybuilders with freakish muscles to one of being “in shape,” and from just muscles to one of athleticism and health. I think Dr. Cooper was very instrumental in getting the public to understand the importance of cardiovascular fitness and helped create the general idea of being fit to live a more full and healthy life.

Influential moments in fitness history

The expansion of health clubs was one of the most important things as it exposed the public to higher-quality equipment and programs and created demand for the home market of higher-quality equipment. Unfortunately, the clubs also had a high degree of sleaze factor and used a hard sell to get members that created a certain amount of distrust in the public as they realized, first, that they would have to work hard to get in shape and, second, that the clubs really didn't care about them once they got their money.

Significant product of the last 25 years

The most innovative product was the Tectrix computerized bike that allowed the user to follow his progress on a screen and simulated uphill and downhill courses. It was way ahead of its time. Or should I say Wii ahead of its time?

Future of the fitness industry

I think the industry is currently lost and needs to find new ways to reach the consumer and convince them that fitness is something to be concerned with all year-round, and not just for a few months each winter. The shrinking season and the economic downturn are a double-edge sword that is going to decimate retailers and the vendors unless they can find a way to actually stimulate demand. The industry should be promoting health and fitness the same way that the outdoor industry promotes itself, as a unified group that will reap the rewards of a greater market by advertising what fitness can do for you. I think the future will see the fitness industry having to consolidate with other complementary products, such as outdoor bikes, food supplements, yoga and other mind/body products. It may very well go full circle and be just a part of a Super Sporting Goods store. Products will have to involve the customer and they must show the customer the program that will give them results!


Tom Doyle

National Sporting Goods Association • Vice president/information and research

Entry into the fitness industry

I have spent the past 35 years with the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), 25 of those years heading the association’s consumer research efforts. Musing on a period of time that covers the SNEWS 25th Anniversary, I am struck by the trends and the fads that have taken place in those years.

Clearly, fitness is a trend, and a very positive one. When NSGA did its “Sporting Goods Market in 1984” report, the fitness equipment market totaled slightly less than $1 billion. In its “Sporting Goods Market in 2009” report, that market reaches $5.3 billion. Twenty-five years ago, fitness equipment represented 12 percent of the total sports equipment market. Today, it represents 21 percent of the total sports equipment market.

Significant product of the last 25 years

Of course, we all know that treadmills dominate fitness equipment purchases -- 60 percent of the $5.3 billion market this past year. But that was not true 25 years ago, when treadmills represented less than 5 percent of the fitness market. Then, stationary exercise bicycles dominated. They captured almost 30 percent of the market.

Within the fitness equipment category, we have seen fads also. Some might prefer the word “changes” or “shifts,” but I will stick with “fads.” Remember the rowing machine, the home version? In 1985 and 1986, about 1.8 million units were sold each year. NSGA stopped surveying the rowing machine 10 years later, when consumer purchases had dropped to 139,000 units.

Certain items appear to be more cyclical. The multi-purpose home gym seems to be one of these. More than 1 million units were sold in 1985, but sales then went into a multi-year decline. Then, sales again exceeded 1 million units in 1993, with the same type of decline following. Sales bounced back in 1999, approaching 1 million units that year and held at the million-plus level for the following several years. Then, sales began trending down in 2004 and have continued to “go south” since. But, the nice thing about cycles is that they do end, and a rebound should be coming soon.


Albert Kessler

Health Equipment of South Texas (HEST) • Founder

Entry into the fitness industry

We first started HEST in 1981 in Corpus Christi, Texas. I was a manager for an oilfield company and had Paula quit her job and run our first store of 1,000 square feet. I would assemble and deliver products in the evening between 7 and 9 p.m. Finally, in 1985, I made a decision to quit the oilfield and devote my time to the commercial side.

Reactions of public, friends and family

When we first opened our doors, I think the public and a lot of our customers were skeptical. Some thought we were ahead of our time, and some asked if there were enough people interested in fitness. Our friends and family thought we were crazy; 26 years ago fitness seemed to be an option, and now it's a way of life for some, and some have no option -- it's a matter life or death. Our showroom back then was cement-filled weights, Marcy weight machines and free weights, Walton manual treadmills and DP bikes. It's amazing how far equipment and research has progressed over the years.

Significant product of the last 25 years

I feel the most significant product was the treadmill, and the most innovative was the elliptical. Ellipticals jump-started the industry mid stream by introducing no-impact, load-bearing movement, which also created more in-depth research on this new movement.

Future of the fitness industry

I have always said that someday health insurance will be based on a person’s activity or fitness level, and your equipment will forward each workout to your insurance company for monitoring purposes. Manufacturers that continue to think out of the box will continue pushing the industry forward. In the future, manufacturers need to team together and push more on preventive health with our government and insurance companies. They should get certain fitness equipment classified as durable medical equipment, so they can be prescribed by the medical professional and can be tax deductible.

The future of specialty fitness retail

A specialty retailer in the future is really going to have qualified sales consultants to handle the next surge of consumers that are in the worst shape with more health issues. They will be looking for expert advice knowing they will not get the questions and answers they need from big-box stores. Specialty retailers should have the mindset that they are in the business of prescribing a product that can change or save someone’s life. It takes qualified sales consultants to ask the right questions and then say, “This is the right piece of equipment for you, and this is why.”


Leo Rubstello

Exercise Equipment Center • Founder (retired)

Entry into the fitness industry

I was the retail coordinator for Oregon Athletic, starting in 1962. I left there in 1974 when I was 52 because I wanted to start my own business. I was selling exercise bikes at Oregon Athletic—what we’d call “a piece of shit” today—and they were selling well but my boss scoffed at it. I realized it was much better and easier to make money selling a couple of bikes than 10 pairs of shoes. Things went off in my head. I told my wife, Faye, and she said, “I’m with you.” That was the best pep talk I ever had.

Reactions of public, friends and family

I had two kids in college, a comfortable home, and friends and family would ask me, “What are you doing, Leo?!” When we started the exercise business, the family stepped back aghast. The biggest thing we had to get over was the thought that fitness was a short-lived pop fashion. I think we finally got over that in about 1982. That’s when the industry was finally getting organized, and we had real engineers instead of folks working in their garages.

Influential people in fitness history

One, Aerobics in New Jersey and Jerry and Tom Staub. They were quality. They were family, and if you paid your bills, they took care of you. Their product was so good. Two, Parabody and Jerry Dettinger. They were quality people, and we sold a lot of their product. Three, Ivanko and Tom Lincir. He was the only guy to call the bank for me to support me.

Future of the fitness industry

I don’t even buy green bananas. I’m day to day. I don’t want to talk about the future. We went through the glory days, and the business treated us well. I’m 84 years young.


If you liked this supplemental material to the SNEWS 2009 Fitness magazine’s article celebrating 25 years of fitness, then you’ll like all the rest too. Be sure not to miss additional commentary from retailer long-timers, more from manufacturer long-timers and some insights from those who are retired, out of the industry or from other related groups.

In addition to the photos in the magazine we have more, with full IDs and other information. Don’t miss vintage photos from manufacturers, vintage photos from retailers, vintage photos of people, and classic photos of old and original equipment.

Then, if you are wondering who is in and what is pictured in each photo on the grid on the Table of Contents page of the magazine, you can find those IDs by clicking here.

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