Sole to supply 150 Hiltons with on-call, guest-room treads

Sole Treadmill may be a relative newcomer on the cardiovascular equipment block, but its fresh concept has taken hold -- landing it a contract to provide its treadmills to 150 Hilton Hotels by the end of the year.
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Sole Treadmill may be a relative newcomer on the cardiovascular equipment block, but its fresh concept has taken hold -- landing it a contract to provide its treadmills to 150 Hilton Hotels by the end of the year.

Founded by two former employees of Icon Health & Fitness, who stayed close to Icon's Logan, Utah, offices with Salt Lake City headquarters, and two other partners, Sole designs and supplies treadmills built specifically for easy moving around hotels and in and out of rooms.

Hilton, which announced the program May 20, was convinced after a pilot program late last year that put the treadmills into five different types of Hilton properties in five different markets, Hilton Spokesman Thomas Wingham told SNEWS. Already, the equipment is in 94 Hiltons. The number available to guests at each hotel will vary based on its size and customer demand, he said.

Actually, a brand under the company Fitness Equipment Services, Sole so far only deals in treadmills (six models with list prices from $1,500 to $2,600) built for the company by Spirit Fitness and also sold at Galyan's. Sole's hotel program includes working with the hotels it supplies on maintenance and service -- something that helps convince the hotel properties to take on the concept.

What that means is hotels in the program -- also Kimpton Group's Hotel Monaco, and select Omni Hotels, with a test program currently at Marriott -- aren't necessarily shopping around for other types of equipment or brands to have on-call for guests. Yet.

"As the program evolves, we may explore different fitness services and amenities," Wingham said.

Hilton fitness centers won't change, he said, but this will allow guests who desire privacy or have strict time constraints to book a treadmill for their room in advance for an additional $15 per day -- or once a guest arrives if one is available (www.inroomfitness.hilton.com). With the option for in-room fitness, "we're just providing another choice," Wingham said.

The treadmills (www.soletreadmills.com) have narrower frames for fitting through doors and hallways and into elevators, larger 5-inch wheels for easier moving, folding decks, and a 10-year motor warranty and lifetime deck and frame warranty.

The seeds for the company were planted in January 2000 when the partners, Will MacFarlane and Dave Babcock, former Icon employees, and current vice president of operations Steve Gasser, cruised a trade show to talk to treadmill companies to decide who would or could work with them, MacFarlane told SNEWS. The current models only have subtle differences from Spirit models, including differently shaped front handrails, bigger wheels, and narrower frames, but more drastic differences will come in coming models, he said.

"We're trying to get the mainstream business traveler, the people who go on the road for three or four days and are used to their routine and frustrated when they can't get their workout," Gasser told the New York Times in a recent story. Recently, traveling celebrities willing to pay the price for moving and assembly have had professional exercise equipment delivered to hotel rooms, but it was difficult to move about and could cause noise and vibration problems for guests below or beside the rooms. That led to the idea to design sturdy but portable machines that can be moved from room to room, Gasser said.

SNEWS View: This is one of those times when a lot of folks must be whacking themselves upside the head and saying, "Now why didn't I think of that?" It's obviously not enough for a treadmill to be foldable to be maneuvered around a hotel, so the extra features make the program more attractive to hotels. And, heck, hotels don't have fitness equipment service staff so that addition really makes it a no-brainer since many hotel surveys and business traveler questionnaires these days show that the travelers want to keep up their program but find it frustrating. We will betcha that Sole won't take long to get into other types of equipment too: Think ellipticals and dumbbell sets or even portable home gyms.

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