Nautilus to launch new direct-sell TreadClimber

Calling it a "revolutionary piece of cardiovascular fitness equipment" and claiming the creation of "a whole new product category," the Nautilus Group will introduce the TreadClimber Tuesday in New York.
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Calling it a "revolutionary piece of cardiovascular fitness equipment" and claiming the creation of "a whole new product category," the Nautilus Group will introduce the TreadClimber Tuesday in New York.

The TreadClimber is said to combine the movement of three popular fitness machines -- steppers, treadmills and ellipticals -- because users walk on a moving belt like on a treadmill but with their feet on separate platforms that move up and down like steppers. It will be sold direct-to-consumer, marketed alongside the company's Bowflex and the Nautilus Sleep System.

"We believe TreadClimber will allow users to achieve significant weight loss and fitness results. TreadClimber offers an innovative, cardiovascular workout with a low-impact design, cushioning users' footsteps, and limiting stress on the joints and muscles," said Randal Potter, president of Nautilus Direct, in a prepared statement issued on Friday. The company declined any additional comment until the launch on Tuesday afternoon.

The TreadClimber is now live on the web (www.treadclimber.com) and shows a shorter treadmill-like machine (48 inches long) with the deck separated lengthwise into two independent stepper-like platforms the company calls "treadles." Users can also apparently turn off the belt rotation and use it like a stepper. All demos and photos show models holding onto short stubby handles on each side.

The top-model of three will sell for $2,200 and can go from 0.7 to 4.0 mph with 12 "intensity levels" and offers a 5-3-2 warranty on motor-electronics-hydraulics with three years on "other parts." The mid-level will sell for $1,800, offers identical speed and intensity settings, and has a 3-2-1 warranty (two on other parts). The lowest-price model shows a list of $1,500, offers speeds of 0.5 to 3.8 mph and has a one-year warranty.

The site touts the TreadClimber as allowing you to walk and climb simultaneously as you are stepping vertically and horizontally. The direct-to-consumer sell also includes claims about its ability "to give you results faster than any other aerobic workout," and says users can "burn calories, melt fat, and lose inches," "guaranteed."

Official statements and the website claim independent research results from New York's Adelphi University, Human Performance Laboratory "proved that TreadClimber burns calories 129 percent faster than a treadmill, when set to the same speed of 3 mph."

Others in the industry have told SNEWS that whether the machine can deliver the workout with a smooth feel can't be judged until it's tried out.

"I think this idea has merit considering that treadmills are still popular and also considering at one time that the StairMaster was the hottest thing out," said Joe Alter, president of Smooth Fitness. "But that up-and-down dropping effect could be tedious. But it could also be great. I just have to try it."

Jerry Greenspan, the retail-owner of Exercise Equipment Experts in Ohio who also has degrees in biomechanics and is a physical therapist, said there is "no carry-over to the real world" since users aren't using their upper body and aren't forcing their balance to be trained. He added, "It looks like a fancy stepper."

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark on "treadclimber" was originally filed for in 1995, but abandoned in 1999. A second application was filed by Synergy Fitness Inc. Corp. in Ohio two months later, but abandoned in early 2000. Files show Nautilus Inc. filed for its trademark on May 2, 2002, but it has not yet been registered.

Either way, interest in the company went up, although stock prices didn't do the same. On Friday, prices on the New York Stock Exchange closed at 13.89 or down 2.18 percent.

Daytraders who buzz around the Yahoo chat boards had posts that flipped both ways. On Friday, one said, "This product enters a crowded field. While it purports to offer the benefits of a treadmill and stairclimber in one, it appears to do neither. With a top speed of 4 mph, its appeal is going to be limited. People also like the inclusion of the upperbody as is found on many of the ellipticals out there."

Late Thursday, another had said, "When you think how many $$'s Bowflex has made over the years, and this is only the third product that the company has launched in direct marketing, this is a big event -- and my impression is that they've gotten to this point with this product only with a huge amount of technical and marketing research. Time will tell whether it will be a big success or not, but expect at the outset that it's the sort of pivotal event that will open up the eyes of analysts and -- knowing that NLS management knows this business and has decisively concluded that this product is a "GO" -- a few quarters down the road it will most likely lead to significant increased sales & earnings estimates going into 2004."

SNEWS View: We too can't fully judge the TreadClimber until we have tried it, although we agree that Nautilus doesn't launch something like this on a whimsy. Meanwhile, the direct-to-consumer marketing hyperbole has begun -- with statements about guaranteed results, better workouts, faster training, etc., etc. We'd love to see a direct product -- be it treadmills or hamburger grills -- sold without such claims that are usually taken out of context or uses statistics that are molded to fit the company's needs. Heck, we all know you can twist statistics to say just about anything you want. For example, on the TreadClimber site, there is a comparison of calories burned per hour, but it takes a TreadClimber number from its own unpublished research (and as we all know, research needs to be peer-reviewed and replicated for real legitimacy, and this hasn't been) and lines it up against numbers from a site called www.caloriesperhour.com, which is run by a retired grandfather who says upfront he has no technical background in exercise; he has simply culled numbers from different places and estimated when needed so they'll fit his calculator. I'm not saying these are bad numbers, but that doesn't instill a lot of confidence, now does it?

Every company in the industry is in a race to be the first with "The Next New Thing" in fitness that will rocket to the top of the heap (like the elliptical by Precor did in the mid-90s), but whether this is "It" is yet to be decided. Whether it's It or not, the effort to take the industry a step further, raise a little excitement in the media, and get the public more interested in working out can all be called good stuff. If we could only tone down the hyperbole…

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