Jumping into the arena of lifetime warranties, SportsArt America has added a limited lifetime guarantee on the frame and the motor of its three top-of-the-line 3100 treadmills.
A lifetime warranty -- in most cases for original purchasers only -- is common on frames alone, but extending that either to the motor or "bumper-to-bumper" (for example, also on electronics, parts or labor) is a step that only a handful of manufacturers of home treadmills have taken.
And no company has taken the bold step to make such warranties standard on treadmills with list prices under $2,500 -- except SportsArt. The company offers a lifetime guarantee on the frame and motor, five years on the bed and belt, and two years on the rest of the parts, said Scott Logan, marketing director.
"We have almost seven years in the U.S. market now, and 20 years internationally," Logan told SNEWS. "We have good documentation on warranty issues and enough data compiled now -- enough to have confidence in our move."
One of the first to venture into the lifetime arena was Landice in fall 2001, and the company still touts "Lifetime Warranty" in huge bold letters on the website page that greets visitors at www.landice.com. That warranty applies to its home treadmills, but those all retail for about $3,000 to nearly $6,000.
Spirit Fitness added lifetime warranties the same month, then grandfathered the warranty to treadmills sold three months earlier at the 2001 August Health & Fitness Business show. At that time, the warranty was made available for an extra $175 on the company's then so-called top gold and platinum models and one folding 277 model (ranging in cost from $2,000 to about $3,200). Now, the company offers limited lifetime warranty for no extra charge as a standard feature on the company's two top machines -- the SR475 with a list of $2,700 and the SR480 for $3,000, Spirit's Vice President of Sales Woody Fisher told SNEWS. Below that, customers may pay an extra $150 to add a lifetime on the 277 (a folding tread that lists for $2,500) or the 247 (the non-folding version that lists for $2,000). On those two, standard is lifetime on the frame and the deck.
"We said, let's just put it in the two upper models and say, here it is, and make it as simple as we can," said Fisher, who called the warranties a good selling point for retailers as well as good for consumers.
A month after the moves in 2001 by Landice and Spirit, True Fitness added a limited lifetime warranty on three models -- 500, 540, and 550, ranging in list prices from about $2,600 to $5,400 -- but for an extra $200.
Other companies selling equipment at comparable prices to SportsArt, such as Trimline, Vision Fitness, and Pacemaster, show more limited warranties on their websites. For example, already offering a warranty that is broader than most companies do, Hebb Industries' Trimline has a far-reaching 30 years on the frame on all models, 30 years on the motor on higher-end models (10 years on others) and either one or two years on parts, electronics and labor, depending on the model. Also a step above many, Vision touts lifetime on its frame on high-end models (9500-9700), with 10 years on the motor, three years on electronics and parts, and one year on labor. Other models (9000-9450) still offer lifetime on frame, 10 on the motor and one on labor, but drop to two years on electronics and parts. Pacemaster has a more typical offer of lifetime frame, then five on motor, three on parts, and one on labor.
In higher-price categories still for the home, Precor has lifetime on frame and welds, a solid 10 years on parts and wear items, and one year on labor. Life Fitness has one of the shortest for higher-price models with lifetime on frame and its "Lifesprings" shock absorbers, but five on motor, three on parts, and one on labor.
"It's turning into a warranty war," Fisher said. "But what it comes down to is the strength of the manufacturer."
SNEWS View: If you can't lower your price anymore and still make a profit on home models, then offer a better warranty? That seems to be the dance. Perhaps it's just wacky, but it's what may drive sales against the competition in today's tight economy. We hope it doesn't bite companies down the road since there can be big costs associated. For example, True Fitness used to offer some lifetime warranties a year or so before Landice, then called that off and later added the more limited version for the extra cost.
Of course, two things can help companies that choose to take this step: One, most treadmills are used for walking at speeds that aren't much faster than about 3 mph (not too taxing on motors, really) and, two, most companies have enough limitations in the teeny-tiny print to protect them, including usually the exclusion of normal wear and tear and other such oddities as spilling things on the machine or motor, power surges, and the like. Of course, like many bigger-ticket items (cars, computers, refrigerators even), a big lemon is usually going to make itself obvious in the few first weeks, so the lifetime talk may end up being just a great selling factor -- but that can't hurt, now, can it?
The next bastion that may be targeted by The Warranty Wars (the next step after The Motor Wars of yore where the call-to-arms was, "Mine is Bigger than Yours") is the commercial sector, with some companies now considering whether to move there with limited lifetime offers. We think that is a potentially more dangerous move for the bottom line since commercial units can get beaten up or may not get serviced well. Sure, in the down economy this can help sales, but can a company possibly pull back again completely when sales go up when the economy improves? Steps like these need to be taken very carefully.