Bowflex, long known as a strictly direct-to-consumer fitness product, has hit brick-and-mortar in what is being called "a retail test" by company founder and CEO Brian Cook.
"It is a test to determine the demand for Bowflex at a retail store level," Cook told SNEWS. No end is set for sales at retail.
Although the company has declined to officially disclose the three test markets or the number of test stores, SNEWS has learned that all Chicago Home Fitness stores have been carrying Bowflex since early January and we've been told sales are going well. So well, it seems, that Gart Sports now says it will start carrying Bowflex this month.
"We spent hundreds of millions of dollars advertising and selling the Bowflex through our direct marketing channel and, in doing so, recognized we have created a strong demand for the product," Cook said. "We have decided to test distribution through the retail channel because we believe there is a large market segment that does not purchase products direct, which is relatively untapped."
The company expects to evaluate other retail opportunities and whether it should expand its brick-and-mortar presence based on results of this test, a spokesperson said. That's partly because the Vancouver, Wash.-based, company -- initially founded in 1986 as Bowflex of America, then becoming Direct Focus and now as The Nautilus Group -- has gained a better understanding and a more sophisticated infrastructure within the retail channel based on its acquisitions of Nautilus, Schwinn Fitness and StairMaster, the spokesperson said.
SNEWS View: Since many people still remain hesitant about buying a product like this sight-unseen and untested, this is a smart maneuver. Someone can still go test it, then think about it and still buy it direct if they want, or at the store. The retail sales should indeed boost overall sales. Of course, some believe the goal is to increase sales more dramatically and broaden awareness even more widely before the main patent expires in April 2004, which has been the big talk in financial calls with analysts in the last year. Note we say "main" patent. There is actually more than one patent, and only one expires next year, which means some people could be in for a big surprise if they think patent limitations are dead in a year.