Lifeline USA now headed by former Horizon fitness exec Bill Sotis

Bobby Hinds was just a kid from Kenosha, Wis., who boxed. But it was his passion for fitness and his enthusiasm for a boxer’s simple workout tool, a jump rope, that became the seeds of his company, Lifeline USA. Now 78, Hinds this month handed the reins of his 30-year-old company to Bill Sotis, formerly a senior vice president at Horizon Fitness.
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Bobby Hinds was just a kid from Kenosha, Wis., who boxed. But it was his passion for fitness and his enthusiasm for a boxer’s simple workout tool, a jump rope, that became the seeds of his company, Lifeline USA.

Now 78, Hinds this month handed the reins of his 30-year-old company to Bill Sotis, formerly a senior vice president at Horizon Fitness.

The arrival of Sotis, now president and CEO, allows Hinds to continue to oversee his company but from the sidelines as chairman. And Sotis can turn a fresh eye on what he says is a wealth of possibilities in the “portable fitness” product business established by Lifeline, which a decade ago was reported to have $12 million in sales. When Johnson Health Tech consolidated its three brands (Matrix, Vision and Horizon – click here to read that Sept. 5, 2008 SNEWS® story, “Johnson Health Tech brands to continue as-is after U.S. subsidiaries merge”) Sotis said the offer for him to head up the Johnson business in Australia wasn’t going to be the best for his high-school-age kids. Right about that time, he met Hinds, also based in Madison, Wis., and everything clicked.

“It was one of those ‘one thing leads to another’ conversations,” Sotis told SNEWS.

He said Lifeline (www.lifelineusa.com), which has done much of its business direct-to-consumer and in the institutional/professional areas, has potential at retail, particularly specialty.

“There are opportunities to take this further into retail,” he said. “We’ve barely scratched the surface at specialty.”

Meanwhile, Sotis is heading up what is nothing short of an entire relaunch, including new hires, new sales staff (there was no sales staff before except Hinds, he said), new branding, new packaging, new marketing, new website and new product (some of which was already in the works) – you name it, it’ll be reworked and freshened up, he said.

“There is a little bit of Business 101 being applied,” he explained.

Not to say he doesn’t have his work cut out for him. Accessories, especially items like rubber resistance, stability balls, cords and medicine balls, are seen by many as a commodity. Sotis realizes they will have to work hard to sell their differentiation and articulate it well, just as other accessory companies are now doing.

“It’s not just a band,” he said.

For Lifeline, it will look to “harness the power of resistance bands” in their sales approach and it will work hard to educate consumers so they know what to do with products.

The turnaround will be quick: Sotis (who can be reached at bill@lifelineusa.com) said that the start of the new look and new products will begin to come out in about 90 days.

--Therese Iknoian

SNEWS® View: Sotis knows about branding and company development but the challenge to set apart Lifeline as THE accessory/rubber resistance/portable fitness company is huge. Spri, GoFit, Altus, Valeo, Sportline and others have all undergone changes of one kind or another to help them become more than a commodity, while others never were able to make that step. We’ll look forward to what comes down the pipeline in a few months.

–SNEWS® Editors

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