Internet equipment manufacturer and retailer Smooth Fitness will be rolling out its first pieces of equipment -- home gyms and treadmills -- that will be sold at traditional specialty fitness retailers.
The line, called "Evo by Smooth Fitness," will kick off with three home gyms and three treadmills and will hit brick-and-mortar retailers around the country starting in mid-December.
"The dealers are looking for something new and different," Smooth Fitness President Joe Alter told SNEWS as he and his reps began road shows in November. "There's a whole lot of me-too product out there."
The Evo product will not be sold on the web, but will be promoted on the Smooth Fitness website (www.smoothfitness.com) to leverage visitors researching equipment but who may not want to buy something like a treadmill on-line, Alter said. They will be directed to traditional retailers for the Evo product.
"We can drive traffic into stores," said Alter. "It's not as if people are beating down the doors for any one brand name."
Although Alter says Smooth Fitness has been successful, there remains that large group of consumers who simply will not buy big-ticket items on the Internet. Numbers of those willing to buy on the web will still increase, but the ratio will never flip-flop, he believes.
"We recognize most people want to try treadmills," Alter said his sales staff explains to retailers, "so here's your shot to get this traffic."
In working with Smooth e-tail product rather than against it, he said retailers will gain easy sales. Prices are similar but the Evo product (www.evofitness.com) has several features that will make it the "gold line" of the Smooth product, he said, and "way cool." The product is made by Taiwan-based Greenmaster, the second largest fitness equipment manufacturer in Asia.
For example, two Evo treadmills (1CD and 2CD) have a patented feature called "Motion Control," which allows users with a wave of their hand over a sensor that gauges light reflection to adjust speed up or down. That allows runners and walkers to keep their balance better and not interrupt a workout. The sensors are outside the range of arm swing, so a user must rotate the arm from the elbow outward and wave it on the outside of the frame to achieve a change -- making it unlikely any accidental speed changes will occur.
In addition, the treadmills have an optional Swing Arm cushioning system that is visible on the outside of the front of the treadmill on both arms of the motor shroud. "It has a lot of sex appeal," Alter said. Another feature is an optional built-in CD/MP3 music system called Smooth Music.
Prices will range between about $1,500 and $3,000, he said -- the "bread-and-butter price point." But, he also said since they are shipping direct to the retailers, the margins would be bigger. The company is currently signing up retailers and will cap at about 200 -- all of whom will have exclusivity in their areas.
"We want to change the margin structure for dealers," he said. "It's not a 40-point industry. We'll make it a 50-point industry."
SNEWS View: Alter has always been a savvy marketer, not afraid to jump into industry gaps, to fill them, and -- sometimes -- to take the heat from the industry that has never quite learned how to deal with e-tail. Instead of dealing with e-tail, most in the industry have simply tried to ignore it or simply call it the Big Bad Boogyman and the source of many if not all ills. Once again, Alter has taken the matter by the horns to mesh brick-and-mortar and Internet in a way that could complement them both -- becoming somewhat of a "clicks-and-mortar" retailer, which have been some of the most successful. He may even steal some sales from Smooth to promote Evo, but those sales would have likely been hard-won.
Treadmill features are smart, although we want to test the Motion Control speed adjustment. What if somebody comes up to lean on the rail and talk to you on the treadmill -- and picks the wrong spot to lean? And, of course, built-in music systems are an idea whose time is long past, yet so few are doing it.
Retailer reaction at first we expect was cautious at best. We envision crossed arms, narrow eyes and cocked heads: Who is this fast-talking e-tail guy in here trying to convince me to sell his product? But it seems the retailers are coming around, perhaps even eager to sell the product that, one, won't step on toes with Internet sales and, two, will still use the Internet to a sales advantage. We for one are interested to see how the rest of the industry reacts and how sales progress, especially since price has become a huge motivating factor for consumers.