Fitness companies dabble with rebranding, reinventing

We've noticed in the last couple of months several companies that are "re-inventing" themselves in some way, be it through marketing collateral, designs, products or all of the above.

We've noticed in the last couple of months several fitness equipment companies that are "re-inventing" themselves in some way, be it through marketing collateral, designs, products or all of the above.

Consider: Horizon Fitness hired a firm to analyze the consistency of its message and products; SportsArt America has been slowly working to re-align its products and marketing to match one message; Nautilus has been tirelessly revamping and re-aligning its product lines to fit together as a package in the last two years; and Bodyguard has shifted its message subtly to make clear that "value" can also mean a better look as it redesigns products.

Oh, these aren't the only ones, for sure. Even Precor has worked in the last year to revamp marketing with a lighter feel that addresses the public's need to Just Move a la Nike's Just Do It. And of course a gaggle of companies are expanding into different categories or buying and licensing others that do have those categories. Although the industry is consolidating more and more, it's also in some ways reaching out to become more and express itself to the public differently.

But for now let's take a brief look at the four transformations SNEWS noted before and at the Health & Fitness Business Expo:

Bodyguard -- Always a solid, functional, reliable and value-oriented line, Bodyguard was also … well … a bit boring in its look. Don't get us wrong. It had great product, but these days with less to tweak in mechanics, it's become more about the aesthetics. Even with equipment that worked divinely, someone might be able to sell something else better because it just looked sleeker. And that's what Bodyguard has been all about of late -- as Mike Cochrane told us: "Redesigned machines that look better and look like they are worth the money. Can't just put a bigger motor in there -- aesthetics is critical now." Its image of solid middle-ground value won't change, however, he stressed, although the company is shifting its message a bit to slightly higher quality product that justifies the price: "Obviously, we feel the pressure at retail from imports." As a part of all this are new specs, new names and new pricing.

But, like with others, if you don't have the collateral to go with the equipment, nothing flies right. Bodyguard has new ads starting, as well as new brochures (even meeting with a New York ad agency). "The product look is totally different, and I'm coming off a week-long photo shoot with cool images that we will use in new materials," Cochrane added.

Horizon Fitness -- Speaking of imports causing others to take a second look at themselves, along comes Horizon, which has been part of the impetus for a number of other companies to compete harder. But that doesn't mean the Johnson Health Tech company has it all right and doesn't have to dabble in re-inventing. For the last eight months, Horizon has been "deeply involved" in "redeveloping the Horizon brand," Mike Olson, marketing manager, told SNEWS. Despite success, there were a lot of inconsistencies in strategy and message, and places where the company in its huge growth curve had sort of fired from the hip. In working with ad agency Hanson Dodge, he said, the company is developing a "strong, consistent brand."

For example, the former S-Class line of product (S standing for Specialty, if you read between the lines) will be re-launched as the Elite series. But that's not just in name. The re-launch includes redesigns from the console masts and up. And the former M-Class series (M meaning Mass merchant for those who like trivia) will be simply the Horizon line, and will be focused on the company's sporting goods retailers. Of course, like the others, these aren't just name changes, but design, spec and price changes too. The Elite series pieces will have black-and-white ads and catalogs that look classier and imply performance, while the Horizon series will be in color and emphasis lifestyle and health benefits for the entry-level consumer.

Nautilus Health & Fitness Group -- Here the story continues as the "old" company becomes "new" with its integration of lines and prices not only from the Nautilus acquisition in 1999 but also from that of Schwinn Fitness (2001) and StairMaster (2002). The company has had a lot on its plate to try to work out which brand fits where in the lineup with which equipment and what message. The company continues to re-align its Nautilus and Schwinn brands so there is less overlap in price and features, with Schwinn sliding lower to fit below the points hit by Nautilus CV, which was just introduced a year ago. The StairMaster brand is being re-invented to fit at the top end of the brands as the company's club models -- expect more on that at the upcoming Club Industry show.

Not to say the row hasn't been a tough one to hoe -- there have been so many changes in employees, location, product, brands, messages and leadership that it's felt like one big transition for the last two years. But we note the branding and inventing is beginning to fall into place and expect it will shape up solidly in the next year.

SportsArt America -- Last year we wrote about the new logos, marketing images, booth graphics and the re-launch of some of SportsArt's treadmills that hadn't gotten the attention they deserved a year earlier (partly because of a lack of promotion). The re-inventing process continues as Marketing Director Scott Logan is fully into his second year back at the company after a short hiatus away. He and the company have been working hard to add interesting features into product (for example, seatbacks on high-end recumbent bikes this year that had the comfort and look of Hermann Miller dot-com chairs), as well as to continue the branding message.

"It's all bringing cohesiveness to the line and to the look," Logan said about the new brochures and other collateral launched at the August show that now jibe with the brand message and its other promotional materials in look. The company has also made an effort to more clearly delineate what is a high-end retail product and what is a club-level product, especially since 60 percent of its growth is in the commercial sector. Now it tags its home product as "residential," its high-end home and light-commercial-grade product as "performance," and its club-level equipment as "commercial."


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