Bladez looks to establish multi-channel brand name recognized by consumers

Bladez burst onto the fitness scene 18 months ago with four bright blue treadmills. But don't blink twice: With the Bladez name already well-known for scooters and personal mobility, the company's fledgling fitness division has seen 500 percent growth in the last year and will have nearly six times as much equipment -- 23 different pieces -- at this year's Super Show.
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Bladez burst onto the fitness scene 18 months ago with four bright blue treadmills. But don't blink twice: With the Bladez name already well-known for scooters and personal mobility, the company's fledgling fitness division has seen 500 percent growth in the last year and will have nearly six times as much equipment -- 23 different pieces -- at this year's Super Show.

And the expanded lineup isn't just about treadmills, but also includes ellipticals and bikes.

"They'll see we're evolving from the one-trick pony," said Kris Reibel, who became director of fitness products for Bladez just over a year ago after leaving the Factory Fitness retail chain he co-founded a few months before it liquidated and disappeared. (See SNEWS® story, Feb. 20, 2004, "Factory Fitness founder Reibel now leads Bladez fitness.")

"What people will see for 2005 may shock them," Reibel told SNEWS®. "In the past, they've seen mostly treadmills, but as we go through this year, we'll have four to five new ellipticals of different types and styles, and we'll have bikes too."

Three brands and TVs, too
In addition to more equipment, the Bladez fitness division is also slowly expanding its reach into different channels with different lines, marching onto multiple fronts simultaneously.

"If we don't do it," Reibel said about the multi-channel charge, "somebody else will."

>> The Bladez-branded fitness equipment will remain higher-end and be sold at specialty as well as reaching into light commercial areas. This is what was introduced at the brand's debut at the Health & Fitness Business show in August 2003. The 2005 show will extend that line.

>> The Power Trainer name will also be a specialty brand, but will be the "entry-level" brand, with prices dipping as low as $500 retail with just a couple heading toward $2,000 and slightly above. "It's our in-between brand," Reibel said. "It's purely specialty fitness now, but we see that day where we'd perhaps have two versions of the Power Trainer product."

>> The new Ion brand, just introduced, will be sold at sporting goods as "Ion by Bladez." Products will start at $200 and go as high as about $3,000 at retail. "Ion will be a full-line of treadmills, bikes and ellipticals," he said. The different is that this line will have fully integrated touch-screen LCD television screens. Without the TVs, Ion product will top out at about $1,000, he added.

"The process to integrate is horribly complicated," Reibel said, which is why so few retail manufacturers so far have successfully integrated, manufactured and sold product with television screens.

Bladez will debut this product broadly at The Super Show in Orlando, Jan. 17-19, but don't expect to just wander over and get on a piece. The booth will be fully walled-in to allow the company to monitor who's looking on. At the show, it will also be talking to potential retail partners to decide who will carry the product, he added.

Is there a market for built-in TVs when so many people have TVs in their homes? Reibel said the industry isn't totally sure since so few products have been at retail. But Bladez and others with integrated product, including Life Fitness and Nordic Track, are betting on it. A user can have an individual experience and even easily plug in headphones.

"When you get on as a user, it makes it more personal," he said.

The TV will indeed be one of Bladez's first "calling cards" of features as a company as it moves into its second year. "It'll be our calling card for 2005," Reibel explained about the company that's "retailer-centric."  

What the future holds: Consumer awareness
So now the company as of next week will have nearly two dozen products and three brands. Reibel said in a year he expects the fitness division to have as many as 60 different products. It's partly able to work this way because it is one of the few manufacturers that is vertically integrated. Think of Johnson companies (Horizon, Vision and Matrix), as well as SportsArt and Spirit, he said.

But dozens of products, three brands and some TV screens isn't all that Bladez (www.ebladez.com) is about. With a solid foundation in sporting goods and mass merchants with its scooters and personal mobility devices -- the company will also introduce motorcycles and ATVs at The Super Show -- Bladez with its owner-manufacturer DK City in Taiwan sees the brand as one that could grow into a consumer-recognized name. Already, the name is in front of millions of consumers.

"We see Bladez as a national brand name we can work on," Reibel said. "We are creating brand awareness across all types of demographics, from your red-neck hunter to a kid on a scooter. We got something.

"It's trying to lay all the foundation. We know in five years we'll be much closer to being an actual brand," he said. "Bladez will be a brand."

SNEWS® View: Bladez fitness has managed to stay somewhat under the radar in its short time in existence. Nevertheless, from that first year when everybody was whispering about Bladez at the Denver show ("Who is that?"), the company has pulled in dozens of key retailers -- with its strength so far in the south and east -- and will probably double that by this summer. The way the company is structured, it's nearly looking like a Johnson. The difference being that instead of an Asian parent with three separately operated companies each focusing on a different channel, Bladez will be one company with different brands with different names each focused on a different channel. Although the company has stayed quiet, it's moving, wisely, and we wouldn't be surprised to hear a lot more from it and about it in the next year. Don't believe all that you see on the website, by the way; there's lots that's not there and may not be there so quickly.

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