Factory Fitness founder Reibel now leads Bladez fitness

Kris Reibel, founder of Indianapolis, Ind.-based, specialty retailer Factory Fitness, has left the company he founded in 1998 where he also served as president and CEO, to become the director of fitness products at Bladez Corp.
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Kris Reibel, founder of Indianapolis, Ind.-based, specialty retailer Factory Fitness, has left the company he founded in 1998 where he also served as president and CEO, to become the director of fitness products at Bladez Corp.

Although Bladez is a fitness newcomer, making its debut to the specialty market last August at the Health & Fitness Business show in Denver, it has a longer history in making "personal transportation vehicles," known as PTVs, like scooters and carts. But watch out, SNEWS® was told, Bladez is preparing for a smash coming-out party at this year's fitness show in Denver.

"Although this was a very difficult decision" to leave the company he founded, Reibel told SNEWS®, immediately upon return from a three-week trip to Taiwan and Shanghai, China, "this is a tremendous opportunity to lead a dynamic new manufacturer and OEM supplier that is run by consumer product experts. Delivering high-quality products from Asia at competitive prices is the cutting-edge of the industry right now."

Reibel still has part ownership in Factory Fitness but said he hopes his partner buys him out. He told SNEWS he was partly motivated to leave the seven-store chain, which generated $6 million in revenue in 2003 (up 10 percent over 2002), because of changes that began after Life Fitness bought 49-percent ownership three years ago. He said he became frustrated with head-butting on strategic business decisions that left him feeling "like a ball in a pinball machine."

"I felt locked in a go-nowhere managerial position and the company seemed stuck in limbo," Reibel said. "I've always been a business builder -- not just a manager." Reibel's position at Factory Fitness had not been filled as of Feb. 20.

Bladez, which has divisions in PTVs, LCD flat screen TVs and monitors, IKEA-style furniture, and medical beds and furniture, is based in Irvine, Calif., with six manufacturing plants in Asia. In 2002, the company formed a joint venture with DK City, a factory in Taiwan that has been manufacturing fitness equipment for 28 years. After handling OEM work for several major fitness equipment manufacturers, Bladez debuted its own brand of attention-grabbing bright blue treadmills and ellipticals at The Super Show and the Health & Fitness Business Expo in 2003.

How does Bladez link things like PTVs, TV monitors and ellipticals? The website (www.ebladez.com) states: "Whether you are breaking a sweat, conditioning your body or conveniently traveling on a Bladez Powerboard from one destination to another, Bladez products will drive quality and high performance designed products to add value to your life."

Reibel is wasting no time on product development and brand recognition, although his job duties cover the gamut from budgeting, financial planning, sales and staffing for the fitness division. Now, the company has a line of four treadmills for $1,000 to $4,000, but he said he plans this year to have four to six more treadmills, two to four more ellipticals, as well as one upright bike, one recumbent bike and perhaps some strength products at the Health & Fitness Business Expo. Bladez also just introduced a Power Trainer line of treadmills at The Super Show in January, which will be sold for $400 to $2,000 at sporting goods stores.

Now, only a handful of dealers carry Bladez treadmills, but Reibel will work to expand distribution as he adds staff. "We don't yet have the brand recognition in specialty fitness like we do in sporting goods because of our PTVs," Reibel acknowledged, "and building a brand takes awhile."

For now, Reibel is keeping his home base in centrally located Indianapolis due to rigorous travel demands, but he thinks within a year or so he will move closer to the Bladez headquarters in Southern California's Orange County.

"This business is really growing rapidly, and this is an immense challenge for me," Reibel told SNEWS. "It's kind of like going back to the Wild, Wild West."

Reibel can be reached at krisreibel@ebladez.com.

SNEWS View: We were somewhat surprised to hear of Reibel's departure from the successful retail chain he founded hardly six years ago -- just as were the folks at Factory Fitness and Life Fitness (Reibel said they were "shocked," at best). However, we already thought the Bladez company was one to watch after we talked at last year's HF Biz show with its President and CEO Frank Finn and Director of Sales and Marketing Lenny Vainberg. We also tested some of the company's first equipment there (one treadmill even includes bioelectrical impedance to measure body fat), as well as stepped on some new stuff at last month's Super Show. It's pretty clear how a challenge-hungry industry veteran like Reibel would be eager to take on this demanding and multi-faceted role. We wish him luck and look forward to seeing the company's showcase at the show in August.

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