New kid Octane Fitness rolls out ellipticals

As if there weren't enough fitness equipment manufacturers trying to get a slice of the retail pie, enter another company -- Octane Fitness. But it's not trying to be all things to all people, as the trend seems to be of late. In fact, it just has ellipticals.
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As if there weren't enough fitness equipment manufacturers trying to get a slice of the retail pie, enter another company -- Octane Fitness. But it's not trying to be all things to all people, as the trend seems to be of late. In fact, it just has ellipticals. Not only will it only deal in ellipticals, founders have based its rollout this month on just two products. That's right, two pieces of equipment.

"I wanted to focus on one category," said Tim Porth, founder and vice president of R&D and marketing. "We wanted to be small, nimble and get stuff done, and make the dealer and customer happy."

Both Porth and his Octane partner Dennis Lee come from Life Fitness where Porth had finished his stint there as senior business director for cardiovascular, and Porth was the vice president of consumer sales. Both had a drive to have their own business.

"This is a great way to go," Porth said. "I wanted to be able to do the right thing and to be able to do it the right way. What it comes down to is, are you making a different for the customer and does it matter?"

Octane's first ellipticals arrived at select midwestern retailers in late November. The first one in a Second Wind store in Minnesota on Nov. 26 didn't gather much dust -- two hours later, it was sold. And boy was that customer surprised to have the company founders from their Andover, Minn., offices show up at her house for installation and a photo op to boot!

Porth said by early 2003, they will be at about 250 retailers, but they are starting slowly by launching at Second Wind and in the Denver area and in Texas.

The products (www.octanefitness.com) are the Q35 and Q35e, with suggested retails respectively of $2,199 and $2,599.

What set them apart, he said, are their smaller size and quiet operation, as well as a smoother feel than others.

"It all starts with the feel," Porth told SNEWS. For example, he said the foot platforms sit lower so the machine is less intimidating and easier to access. Plus, the spacing between the platforms is a narrow two inches. Because it's so low to the ground, it also doesn't demand such a high ceiling. In addition the drive is in the front, allowing it to be a smaller, shorter unit. In addition, the articulation of the pedal allows the motion to feel more natural and allows a user to keep his or her heels down.

One programming feature that's never been done before is a random access "X-Mode" that flashes directions to a user about what to do such as squatting, pulling on arms, going faster, etc., all of which are computer-selected and will be different every workout. Since a user is forced to watch the console and respond with an action, he or she is distracted and, in turn, stops clock-watching and the workout goes faster.

"People get so complacent especially when they're watching TV," Porth said.

Other programs are heart rate based using intervals, hills and speed.

How will little ol' David compete with the Goliaths out there? Porth said dealers find it refreshing that they aren't being strong-armed into stocking a company's entire product line. Octane does ellipticals. Period. Plus, the margins will be as good as any in the industry, he said.

"What it's going to come down to is," Porth said, "does this machine feel good?"

He thinks the customer won't have a hard time deciding.

SNEWS View: With mergers happening right and left and seemingly every company out there rolling out expanded product lines, it is refreshing to see one with two products in one category -- and an involved owner really vested in making it right. If a company can't compete by virtue of its large size, then it can perhaps compete on the other end of the spectrum -- small, nimble, customer access and narrow product focus. We actually tried a couple of the prototypes a few months ago when Octane was holed up in a hotel room in Denver when the Health & Fitness Business expo was going on, and we were impressed with the feel.

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