Sears has introduced and is quietly testing sales of three new pieces of cardiovascular equipment from Horizon Fitness called "CFS" at several Seattle area stores, SNEWS has learned.
The CFS equipment, which stands for "Core Fitness Systems," is not identified by label as Horizon equipment, nor is it identifiable -- unless someone were very savvy about industry brands, looks and characteristics.
Since the test began in early October, sales and customer reaction have been so positive, Horizon representatives said, that Sears immediately put the equipment on the Sears.com website where it is available nationally for purchase. The equipment could be sold around the country at dozens of Sears stores by January, but a Sears' spokesman was not available for further comment about the merchant's plans.
"They're really really happy with the product, its aesthetics and its quality," said Mike Olson, Horizon marketing director, confirming to SNEWS the product was from Horizon. "And they're happy to have something new."
New CFS features compete with Icon equipment
For years, Icon Health & Fitness has had nearly a lock on the Sears exercise equipment department with its Pro Form, Weslo and NordicTrack brands being nearly the only ones available. Now, go to www.sears.com, search for "treadmills" and you'll still come up with about 12 to 15 models, depending on the day, with the only exception to Icon product being the single CFS treadmill. Same goes for stationary bikes and elliptical trainers -- the three categories where Horizon has introduced a piece.
"It's big," Olson said. "We at Horizon are very excited about the opportunity to grow with the biggest fitness retailer in the United States."
What that means, however, is the company will now work harder to produce different product lines in order to give specialty fitness retailers what they need with the company's Elite series, to provide sporting goods dealers product to fit their customers' needs with the Horizon series and, now, to supply Sears with the new CFS product designed for the mass merchant.
"We're really motivated to do business with Sears under a private label," said Matt Elmborg, Horizon vice president of sales, "but our specialty and sporting goods channels are still a major focus for us.
"Plus, it is important for us to clearly establish product differentiation for each channel," he added. "We understand and are aware of the different needs of each channel and will have a custom offering for each one as we continue to grow our channels of distribution."
All three pieces have bright, blue, back-lit consoles that are an immediate eye-grabber. They are dubbed "WOW" consoles -- partly because that's what most people say when they see it because it's so clean and bright, Horizon representatives told SNEWS.
But the treadmill has a feature different from any other currently on the market. Above the console, there is another attachment (picture available only at www.snewsnet.com and not in the PDF news digest) that has two small pods hanging off each side. Those are what the company calls "dual-action core conditioning pods." Walking users can hold onto grips, with one in each hand, and pull back and forth on the cords attached while maintaining a natural arm swing and walking gait. The motion, which is intended to add upper-body exercise, is built on an independent pulley system -- with the cables wound up inside the pods and with about 3 pounds of resistance per arm. The action can be compared somewhat to the arm motion of the formerly popular cross-country ski simulators -- without the complexity of coordination.
"We're marketing it as a truly dual-action treadmill," Olson said.
Mystery shopping at Sears
At a Sears store in Seattle, a SNEWS mystery shopper compared the ProForm 580X treadmill, the NordicTrack C1800i treadmill and the CFS RT1 treadmill -- all models being sold for about $900 to $1,000. On a short shopping visit, the CFS treadmill was described by our shopper as the quietest, and most stable and solid while running, with the WOW screen being the simplest to see and easiest to figure out. Plus, the CFS had holders and adapters for CD or MP3 players -- considered a positive. All three fold for storage and have built-in fans. The SNEWS shopper wasn't convinced of the viability of the upper-body pods, however.
The saleswoman told our shopper that "Sears is offering this equipment now because it's made by Horizon, which makes a lot of gym equipment and is of very good quality." She also said she personally liked the line a lot and had bought the treadmill for her own home.
To read about and to see the equipment, go to the www.sears.com treadmill, elliptical or bike pages.
SNEWS View: Sears has been very careful in bringing in this equipment -- taking much more than a year of negotiations, we hear from insiders. We think that's partly because Sears may not want to endanger its relationship with Icon, which has been a nearly exclusive supplier to the national chain for quite a few years, obviously with good results for both parties. But competition is a good thing, especially if consumers are offered more choices; we hope Sears takes the CFS line national as it seems to expect to do. This also means a lot for Horizon Fitness, still a bit of a newcomer in the fitness industry after only about five years in business. It could mean HUGE growth -- we might even guess the possibility of doubling sales based on the kind of numbers and impact Sears can have. With that kind of revenue growth, Horizon should have an increased ability to improve its specialty and sporting goods lines to boot. We know the company won't allow one line to infringe or endanger another since all three channels have different demands.