Fitness equipment with a cause

Fitness companies and non-profit organizations increasingly are looking for ways to strengthen their relationships and push common goals surrounding better health. One popular avenue has been special edition fitness products, branded with the non-profit’s message. SNEWS® takes a look at a few of these latest products and what they’re trying to accomplish.
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Think of it as advertising for a good cause.

There’s plenty of blank space on those fitness bikes, treadmills and workout stations viewed by hundreds of people every day in commercial gyms.

So, an increasing number of fitness equipment manufacturers are partnering with non-profits to design new special edition products to fill that space with the charity’s message and donate a portion of sale proceeds.

And it’s not just about donating space and money. Fitness companies are looking to continue strengthening their ties with charitable causes, especially because so many of the non-profits they’re benefitting share their same goals – improving the health of people. There’s also an element of what marketers call “passion marketing,” which allow companies to create a tie to their consumers that goes beyond the equipment itself.

SNEWS® looked at a couple of the latest fitness products for a cause out on the market today and what they’re hoping to accomplish.

Making the connection

For Life Fitness (www.lifefitness.com) in Schiller Park, Ill., there was no debate for what cause the company wanted to support, President Chris Clawson told SNEWS. Employees wanted to tackle amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“It has a deep connection with the roots of our company,” Clawson said.

Life Fitness, which is now owned by Brunswick Corp., was co-founded by Augie Nieto, a key figure in the fitness industry and someone who has been battling ALS since 2005. He and his wife, Lynne, co-chair Augie’s Quest (www.augiesquest.org), the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s ALS research initiative, which has raised $26 million since 2006 to date.

Life Fitness has supported Augie’s Quest from its start, but the company is always looking to do more, Clawson said. The idea arose to introduce a limited edition Augie’s Quest LifeCycle Exercise Bike (pictured right), which will debut at the IHRSA fitness trade show in San Francisco on March 17, 2011.

A single, one-of-a-kind, Augie’s Quest LifeCycle with higher-end finishes, such as chromed elements, will be auctioned off for the cause at IHRSA. Then a limited production run of the bike will go on sale about mid-year 2011 with a portion of the proceeds going toward Augie’s Quest.

There are many other fitness products debuting with a drive toward charity. In late January 2011, Johnson Health Tech debuted (www.johnsonfitness.com) its Livestrong LS28IC, a limited, special edition of 500 indoor training cycles honoring the 28 million people living with cancer. With each purchase, $1,000 from the $1,699 price tag will be donated to Livestrong (www.livestrong.org).

Since 2009, Cottage Grove, Wis.-based Johnson has been the licensed manufacturer and distributor of Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong branded indoor training cycles, which are committed to raise a minimum of $4 million for the cancer-fighting cause.

“It’s an extremely strong brand with a global reach and an emotional connection that resonates with people,” said Mike Olson, executive vice president of retail at Johnson. “It’s another way for us to reach our customers, and at the same time benefit Livestrong. One of the things they (Livestrong) talk about is cancer prevention through a healthy lifestyle, and that aligns with our company – there’s strong correlation there.”

Products that stand out

Just because the special edition products are about charity doesn’t mean marketing isn’t involved. Fitness companies are going extra lengths to make sure the products are noticed in gyms and at home. Attracting attention to the product, and therefore the charitable cause, is a main goal.

The LS28IC (pictured left), available only direct to consumers through Livestrongfitness.com, was designed to stand out from Johnson’s other Livestrong training cycles available through Dick's Sporting Goods, Olson said. Its higher price tag isn’t because of the large donation to Livestrong, he insists – it reflects the high-end quality and uniqueness of the product.

LivestrongCycleLS28IC.jpg

The LS28IC is built to a commercial, rather than consumer, standard with stainless steel, larger cranks and more fore and aft adjustments. It also features road bike-inspired drop handlebars wrapped in tape. Its design is symbolic with the number "28" badge up front, representing the 28 million cancer survivors, and seven stars lining the seat post, denoting each of Armstrong’s Tour De France wins.

At Life Fitness, a sales price and donation amount for each Augie’s Quest LifeCycle to be sold is still being determined.

“This has never been a sales pitch,” Clawson insisted. “It’s a natural for us. Augie believes in this and we believe in him. He wants people to be focused on this cause.”

And that’s where the product becomes more important than the money, Clawson said. The Augie’s Quest LifeCycle features the non-profit’s logo and quote from Nieto: “From success to significance.”

“I’d argue that this has a lot more effect than a cash donation, which we already do,” Clawson said. “This has a lasting effect and special meaning. We’re hoping people will say that ‘I can buy an Augie’s Quest LifeCycle for my exercise facility,’ and that it will carry a message that will resonate with people at the gym. They’ll see it on a daily basis, ask questions, and get involved.”

A team effort

When non-profits and charities team up with fitness companies for the special edition products, they’re not just lending their name and membership, company officials said.

They’re usually involved in the design and development of the product. The Augie’s Quest LifeCycle, for example, was one of the last Nieto would oversee as president of Life Fitness – then just another product, now one of significance. And Lance Armstrong provides feedback on all the Livestrong cycling equipment. The charities also use their celebrity founders to attract social media attention to the products through personal tweets and Facebook posts.

For the past two years, Cybex (www.cybexintl.com) and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (www.bcrfcure.org) have teamed up to sell Cybex’s pink treadmill, but the contribution doesn’t end at the sale. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the Medway, Mass., company will donate 10 cents per mile logged in by users of the treadmill to the research foundation.

Building that symbiotic relationship between the company and charity is important for success on both ends, said David Frey, president of Marketing Best Practices Inc. (www.marketingbestpractices.com), a Houston-based small-business marketing firm.

“Try and choose a charity in which your target market would participate,” Frey said. “Charities, like businesses, are interested in building their membership base.”

Beyond the products, there are numerous opportunities to cross-market, he said.

“Don’t think that charities are oblivious to your motivations, Frey said. “Most charities today understand your secondary purpose, and are experienced at helping you receive a return on your charitable investments.”

Beyond the company and charity, the ultimate goal is to get the entire fitness industry involved with a cause, Clawson said. He is humbled when his competitors cross lines to help with Augie’s Quest.

“They’ve been very generous,” Clawson said. “That tells me that this is something bigger. It’s not just us, it’s not just Augie, it’s not just ALS – it’s the entire industry getting involved.”

--David Clucas

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