Johnson Health Tech unveils new North American center to customers

Three years after announcing the creation of a global think tank for the Johnson Health Tech brands, the company has opened a new $12 million facility on the outskirts of Madison, Wis., that houses not only the Johnson R&D staff, but also the headquarters for both the Horizon Fitness and Matrix Fitness brands.
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Three years after announcing the creation of a global think tank for the Johnson Health Tech brands, the company has opened a new $12 million facility on the outskirts of Madison, Wis., that houses not only the Johnson R&D staff, but also the headquarters for both the Horizon Fitness and Matrix Fitness brands.

Most of the more than 170 current employees have moved in to the 214,000-square-foot plant on a 15-acre site of Cottage Grove with the goal, as the company said, of creating a place "where next-generation fitness equipment is born."

As the company stated when it hired director Tom Moran to oversee a so-called Johnson Health Tech North America facility for research, design and engineering, the group would help bridge the gap to the company's headquarters in Asia. Now, with two of its three brands and the JHTNA team under one roof, product development should be even smoother, said Moran, JHTNA vice president of engineering.

"The advantage of being here under one roof is the synergy and the ability to interact with the designers and engineers … at JHTNA," said Nathan Pyles, Matrix president and Johnson's North American-based product chief. "You can have more of the watercooler type of conversations."

Some 160 customers, area dignitaries and elected officials, media and residents attended the ribbon-cutting and grand opening on Oct. 4 at the modern building conceived to allow plenty of nooks for impromptu collaboration and very few high-walled cubicles that would inhibit open interaction among employees. Even executive offices were ringed with windows, and many walls were floor-to-ceiling windows to let in sunshine and the outdoors. Still with lots of wide open space, it is planned to handle growth -- up to about 300 total employees -- for the next three years.

An open café and casual meeting area is directly at the front entrance, designed to promote casual coffee klatches, and Horizon and Matrix are housed on each side of a core that has shared services. The building, Moran said, is geared to allow Horizon, Matrix and JHTNA staff to access each other "without stepping over each other." Johnson Health Tech's Vision Fitness offices and staff remain at its Lake Mills, Wis., facility about 20 minutes east of the new facility.

Each company put its own stamp on its area, with for example Horizon President Bob Whip insisting on a small room with no doors and an espresso machine for drop-in meetings informally called the collaboration corner. Matrix's showroom also serves as the company's workout facility and is open all day for employees to use whenever they can. A full locker room is also available, as is an indoor bike storage facility to encourage bike commuting from Madison, for example, which is about 15 miles west.

At a short ceremony before an afternoon of informal mingling, CEO and founder Peter Lo, who came to the event from the company's Taiwan headquarters with his co-founder and wife Cindy Lo and Johnson President and son Jason Lo, explained how he had started the company, then Johnson Metal, with a $200 order for barbells from Ivanko. In 2006, global sales should reach $400 million, he said, with U.S. sales hitting about $250 million.

"It was a really small order, but a big step for Johnson," he said, re-iterating the publicly stated goal of being the biggest and best fitness equipment manufacturer in the world by 2010.

"We will invest in the equipment and people we need," Lo said. "This shows our commitment."

To the gathered crowd, including most of the 105 Horizon, 47 Matrix and 26 JHTNA employees, he added, "Let us work together and we can become the No. 1 fitness company in the world."

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