New Fitter balance gear heading to specialty retail

It all began with a visit by a Target product scout to Fitter International at a fitness trade show. Fitter hadn't ever thought of making a less expensive product for mass markets.
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It all began with a visit by a Target product scout to a Fitter International booth at a fitness trade show in early 2001. Fitter, a dealer in high-end balance and training products like wobble boards and exercise balls, hadn't ever thought of making a less expensive product for mass markets.

But the visit got founder and president Louis Stack of the Calgary, Canada-based, company thinking. Sure, he'd done well in the rehab, physical therapy and athletic trainer arenas with his high-priced, high-quality products -- balance products of expensive wood and other stuff built to withstand hours of use. Perhaps he should look at developing less expensive plastic products for the mass market?

The Target deal didn't happen, but Stack was on a roll. And once the passionate and exuberant Stack gets talking or moving, likely little will stop him. He is now testing several products and a new POP display at select retailers, and the company will roll out five new products under the umbrella "Fitter First Classic line" to be at retail in February. He will make the trade show rounds in January and February, showing at The Super Show, Snowsports Industries, Outdoor Retailer, and Action Sports Retailer.

After building his company on the Pro line of elite products, the nearly evangelical Stack saw the mass market, including specialty and sporting goods, as the next one to tap to spread the word on balance and core training.

"We're not trying to sell you the ball," he said. "We're trying to sell you the philosophy."

For him, the five products that will hit specialty retail -- a wobble board, a ball chair, sitting cushion and two others to be decided -- are just the start. He proselytizes "a daily active living philosophy." Now, the prices will be more enticing for the general consumer. For example, the Pro series wobble board has a suggested retail of $59.95, while the Classic's is $29.95.

Part of the entire process in the last year that led to this rollout included another loan, a higher credit line, a new manufacturer, hiring about 12 people, and moving to a larger office and warehouse space. He also worked with a company to develop a new image including logo and tagline (which now is: "to maintain better mobility for life").

Just this month an article in Inc. magazine (January 2003 issue) appeared about his plans, which Stack calls "the firing of the starter's pistol" for his expanded venture (www.fitter1.com). Meanwhile, in the past year, he's doubled his order from Roadrunner Sports catalog and projects revenues of about $4 million for 2002. Fitter now has 750 accounts in North America.

"This is an expansion of my brand and my name," he said. "It's taking it to the prevention side.

"We could focus on one market, but if you look at our target customer, they're getting older," he said. "We're best to be in as many places as we can."

SNEWS View: Balance training has been an increasing trend over the last few years, and the ever-passionate (call it obsessed perhaps) Stack could be positioned to own everything but the really cheap end of the market. Everyone from outdoor specialty stores to Western wear stores (no, really) are asking for the Fitter First product, and we're not surprised. Good balance and a strong core are key not only to all kinds of sports performance, but also to everyday living, including the simplest of activities like walking. But balance hasn't gotten enough attention, and we're glad it now is. And we're glad for Stack's "obsession." It would be one thing for Stack to be a niche leader in outdoor or fitness, but with this expansion he could become a mass-market leader in the growing wellness arena. We still aren't sure if Target is his market or will bite, but Stack could sell water to a fish. So we'll watch those aisles closely, too.

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