Life Fitness: Essential brand, 2003

In the next two months, retailers across the country will be stocking up with a new Life Fitness brand -- Essential.
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In the next two months, retailers across the country will be stocking up with a new Life Fitness brand. Mind you, this is not a line of new treadmills or ellipticals or home gyms, but a new brand that will not even remotely give a consumer a clue anywhere you look on the product that there is a relationship to fitness equipment behemoth Life Fitness.

The "Essential" brand will be carried by Life Fitness retailers, rolling out this month with four bikes -- two upright and two recumbent -- with a cross-trainer and two treadmills to come in January. But don't be confused when you also see a "Life Fitness Sport" label at Omni Fitness outlets, the chain owned by Life Fitness parent Brunswick Corp. Life Fitness Sport is exactly the same product from shroud to seat, including prices -- except the name will be different in the Omni stores.

Both Essential and Sport lines will retail at lower prices than the regular Life Fitness product, completing the company's line to now include what it calls the "good" category as compared to the "better" or "best" categories of equipment. That also means the company will be attempting with this product to make sales at lower prices that it has normally in the past lost.

"Not everybody who walks in is able to spend the necessary amount to reach the quality of the Life Fitness brand," LF President Kevin Grodzki told SNEWS. "At the end of the day, let's face it, when a customer walked out with a competing product, we didn't get anything out of that."

The prices will be in the low-middle rung for specialty retailers, a "value product," according to Chris Clawson, LF vice president of consumer sales. That means the new upright bikes appearing later this month will be $900 and $1,400, and the recumbent bikes will be $1,200 and $1,800. Product appearing in January will be a cross-trainer (the company's version of an elliptical) for $1,900, and two treadmills, $1,600 and $1,800.

"These would be the Toyota to Life Fitness' Lexus," Clawson said. The product is still not entry-level or aimed at the cheaper lines sold by some sporting goods dealers, but will still compete with the likes of Vision Fitness, Schwinn and SportsArt America, Clawson said. But the company is not targeting the competitors, he said, but rather the price point.

Life is designing the product in the United States to Life Fitness standards, but manufacturing it in China to be able to get to these prices, Grodzki said. This is the first time in nearly six years the company has done any manufacturing in Asia, Clawson said.

"This has given us the unique ability to design products here," he said, "but not be burdened with U.S.-based manufacturing."

Although a separate brand, the company does not plan any separate promotions or marketing except at point-of-purchase, Grodzki said.

Why two names for the same equipment? Clawson and Grodzki said that was a decision made mostly by its retailers. Representatives of top retailers saw prototypes of the new product in August at a private meeting at the Health & Fitness Business Expo in Denver. Omni Fitness said it wanted the equipment but with the Life Fitness branding because Omni is related to Life Fitness and it wanted the connection. Other retailers wanted to differentiate the line in their shops from what Omni would carry. Retailer territories do not overlap.

The product literally will not share anything with Life Fitness product, Clawson said, from colors, to type of seats, design of consoles, logo and shapes, although he insists the company has not sacrificed biomechanics or safe and comfortable use. "It just doesn't look like Life Fitness and that was part of the program," he said.

This step into lower prices is one more notch for the company as it expands to cover more categories and price points.


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