Responding to specialty retailers who disliked seeing the Horizon brand in big box or mass stores, Horizon Fitness will at the coming Health & Fitness Business show officially launch its new brand, Advanced Fitness Group.
In planning and development for nearly two years, the Advanced Fitness Group (AFG) brand will join Horizon's multi-brand lineup that will allow each channel to better differentiate what it sells and the features offered. In fact, the name "Horizon" will be found nowhere on the promotional material or equipment (such as the advertisement seen inside the front cover of the 2007 GearTrends® Fitness magazine just out).
"The industry in general is becoming increasingly brand-conscious," said Mike Olson, Horizon vice president of marketing. "With this, you have exclusive differentiation with product combined with exclusive differentiation with brand."
Not only were specialty retailers feeling the pressure, he said, from growth in fitness equipment sales at sporting goods and mass merchants, but sporting goods dealer also didn't want the same brand sold at specialty.
"Our goal is to eliminate these pressures on specialty retailers," Olson said. "We wanted to build what specialty retailers could get behind and would help them growth their business."
Once only known as Horizon, the company, a division of Johnson Health Tech, now has several brands, including Tempo, sold at mass merchants; Merit, sold at sporting goods stores to meet that channel's opening price point; and Horizon, which is sold as a mid- to higher-price brand at sporting goods. In the past, the company had developed the so-called Horizon Elite series of equipment for specialty with specialty oriented features and prices, but the differences were still confusing to consumers, Olson said they heard, and the differences were harder for retailers to explain.
A number of retailers are already signed on for the AFG brand. Jeanne and Dave Sheriff of HealthStyles Exercise Equipment in Colorado said the name change was a good thing, although it may take a bit of explaining to customers at first who may come seeking Horizon from past reviews or magazine articles they have read.
"In the long run, it really is a necessity," Jeanne Sheriff said. "You have to differentiate yourself at specialty."
Dave added that Horizon didn't seem afraid to roll out the brand with the panache, promotion and support needed.
"They're going to bend over backward to market this line for specialty," he said. "The good far outweighs the bad."
AFG will launch between now and the fall with 18 products:
• seven treadmills, from $1,000 to $2,100 (MSRP), which are expected to be prototypes at the Denver show Aug. 2-4. The three higher-priced ones will include a 32-pin iPod docking station under a license with Apple that allows a user to control the device from the console, while the highest-end model will also include an integrated TV screen.
• five ellipticals, two incline (MSRP $1,500 and $2,000) and three regular (MSRPs $1,000, $1,200 and $1,700)
• five stationary bikes, which will be Horizon's return to bikes after more than a year away. The line will include three recumbents and two hybrid recumbent-uprights with MSRPs from $800 to $1,500. A feature offered on one will be a so-called "flight console" that is attached to the armrest for easier access.
• One home gym with an MSRP of $1,200 that is a hybrid with both traditional fixed arms and cables and a seat that can be removed for access with a stability ball or other apparatus.
"We're really focused on the customer experience," Olson said. "AFG is about smarter equipment that focuses on the user while our company sweats the details.
"We as manufacturers tend to over-complicate the product," he added. "It's the product geek mentality. And at the end of the day, you have something much more complicated than most consumers want.
"We need," he said, "to re-commit ourselves to the specialty channel."
SNEWS® View: Any number of brands has tried a multi-brand strategy in the past, some with more success than others. Think Life Fitness and True. The catch is getting the retailer to accept it so they know enough about it to actually sell it. The AFG strategy is the last piece in the strategy puzzle since the company began rolling out its other brands for other channels. With specialty of late questioning Horizon’s commitment (a voice that has been clear in our SNEWS® retailer survey the last couple of years), we expect this will appease the channel since its retailers now won’t have to sell against equipment with the same name but with a smaller number on the price tag. That’s of course assuming the brand can find its place among all the others fighting for floor space, and assuming Horizon sticks to the brand. We expect it will since this is not a company – we mean not only Horizon but also its mother ship, Johnson – to make decisions lightly.