Northern Lights taps Canada plant for new low-priced light commercial line

Using the advantage of cost-effective Canadian manufacturing, Northern Lights will introduce a line of light commercial equipment with prices that, in some cases, will be a third less of most comparable equipment manufactured elsewhere, SNEWS has learned.
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Using the advantage of cost-effective Canadian manufacturing, Northern Lights will introduce a line of light commercial equipment with prices that, in some cases, will be a third less of most comparable equipment manufactured elsewhere, SNEWS has learned.

"Because of the dollar exchange rate and the efficient way Northern Lights has been setup for manufacturing, it's able to offer some eye-opening prices that will offer dealers quality equipment with great margins," Jhan Dolphin, director of U.S. operations, told SNEWS. "My biggest fear is the prices will be too low, and the product won't be taken seriously."

The new line -- called Vector by Northern Lights -- will launch with eight pieces shipping in late December. The company is now finishing product testing. As the line develops, another six pieces will be added, Dolphin said.

With more companies looking to Asia to lower manufacturing costs, Northern Lights has found Canadian production to be the best avenue to lower costs while maintaining quality. The Northern Lights line was begun by Canadian retailer Fitness Depot and is manufactured out of a facility in Cornwall, Ontario, near Montreal. Dolphin said that the company keeps costs down and quality up with efficient production and high-tech equipment including lasers, robotics and electrostatic paint lines. The dollar exchange rate for exporting to the United States, of course, helps boost sales because of the value to U.S. customers.

"Who would ever have thought that the commercial manufacturers would go overseas, but competition is forcing them to do that," Dolphin said. "So if a Canadian manufacturer can make product that's quality, no one's going to have a problem with that because the logistics, including shipping, also make good sense.

"Plus, it's still North American-made and not associated with Taiwan or China -- Canadian quality typically gets respect."

U.S. Northern Lights dealers whom Dolphin has already contacted are excited about the addition of the line, he said.

Jerry Greenspan of Exercise Equipment Experts in Columbus, Ohio, told SNEWS he "sells the life out of Northern Lights" because of how well it is made but also because it typically costs 20 percent to 25 percent less than similar pieces by other companies. Although he hasn't seen the new line yet, he expects to carry it because "I like selling what I believe in."

"We're always happy when we have better margins, but that's the second in importance," Greenspan said. "It's really the quality that matters."

Still, Northern Lights will never displace "the Cybexes of the world," Greenspan said, since some people will still want to pay more for a name and the cache that may hold.

Dolphin said for example a Vector Bicep-Tricep combination machine with a 200-pound stack and a hefty footprint and framework will retail for about $1,300 when most go for between $2,000 to $2,300. Other machines, mostly multi-exercise, in the series will run between $1,200 and $1,700. Features include 2-by-4-inch heavy steel framework, 4,000-pound tensile strength cables, instructional graphics on each piece, weight stack enclosures, laser-cut and solid steel weight plates with sound-dampening pads, and solid steel polished chrome guide rods.

"We didn't say, 'Let's come in and beat the pants off people.' We just said, 'Let's make it the best we can,' " Dolphin said. "We don't want to gouge people. The price is the price."

SNEWS View: "Who woulda thunk?" is right about the fact that Canada may turn into a North American haven for inexpensive manufacturing! It reminds SNEWS of a recent visit to Romania where we discovered major Italian and German shoe, boot and clothing manufacturers moving in to setup quality manufacturing that was closer to home, easier to ship and easier to oversee than Asian plants. We hear that the success of Northern Lights since its introduction to the U.S. market about four years ago has prompted other U.S. companies to look into our northerly neighbors as a manufacturing home -- and we hear from a couple of fitness equipment companies that they are also eyeing former Eastern European countries as a possible manufacturing home.

Asia may work for some, but there is always the sweat over getting the product here (as evidenced by some burned companies on the heels of the dockworker labor disputes) as well as the battle to offset the always-lingering cloud of poor quality that can hover over Asian-made products -- whether it's true or not. And, as retailers point out, to say something is North American-made -- even if that means Canada -- can still help make a sale. Northern Lights may surprise the pants off some who are already in or trying to get into the burgeoning light commercial market, while leaving others to scramble hard to catch up.

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