The-brand-formerly-known-as-Bollinger: Bell's relaunch into fitness begins in earnest

After buying struggling accessories brand Bollinger in 2002 then nearly disappearing after a couple of false starts, Bell Sports is re-launching its push into fitness, ready to tackle the accessories and education category across all channels.
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After buying struggling accessories brand Bollinger in 2002 then nearly disappearing after a couple of false starts, Bell Sports is re-launching its push into fitness, ready to tackle the accessories and education category across all channels.

Although this year will be a transition year, category director Simon Fisher told SNEWS®, the market will see some big things coming from the company that began in 1923 with auto parts and hot rods and slowly moved into helmets and cycling.

"We're planning on pushing the ticker," said Fisher, who started at Bell in fall 2006 as the senior product line manager given the task of re-thinking and re-shaping the fitness line.

At that time, the first step was easy: "We pulled everything back."

OK, not everything. Some Bell Fitness products and its Savasa yoga and Pilates products, introduced in 2004, remained at Kmart, which had been a big customer of Bollinger's. But other than a smattering here and there, the gear wasn't marketed and sold dynamically. A potential lurked and that was clear to the folks at Bell-Easton Sports, which was a market leader with brands such as Blackburn, Giro, Riddell and Easton, and has current sales of $735 million.

Fisher knows he and the company have to differentiate in some way to make an impact in the accessories world because otherwise a ball is a ball and a weight is a weight.

"You have to find your place in the giant spectrum," he said.

Its first step of many to come was the recent launch of the Bell Express 15 line of five workout kits (MSRPs $30) in partnership with volleyball star, model and athlete Gabby Reece. The kits include a piece of gear needed for the workout (for example, body balls, jump ropes or a balance board), an instructional DVD and a simple pedometer to encourage users to continue their push to daily activity even when not using the Express product. These first kits are aimed at the woman who may not workout, or hasn't in a long time because of a career and family, and claims not to have time, therefore they are all 15-minute programs.

"We have said, 'Let's break down every reason they have to not do it,'" Fisher said. These first products under the re-launch will be aimed at sporting goods and mass markets, but products exclusively for specialty are also in the works, with a launch expected in fall 2008. The emphasis for those will be on design and innovation.

"A dumbbell is a dumbbell is a dumbbell, that's true," he said. "But, for example, there's nothing to say it has to be round with two lumps on the ends."

They will be built and designed "from the ground up," he said, with different products, a different brand name, and re-worked packaging that will help deliver the message in a couple of seconds. The Bell Sports and Savasa lines will also be overhauled in the near future, he added. The goal is to get people into fitness with perhaps a simple Express product, which he called a bit like a "portal" to fitness, then keep them there and help them move up and along with other, more advanced products, leading them into different channels, he explained.

"We want people to come into the market," he said, "and then stay there."

The Express product is at www.gotogabby.com, and Bell's information is at www.bellfitness.com.

SNEWS® View: Not as if the accessories market is an easy one to tackle since for many consumers it does come down to price and accessibility to the product at the time of need. But if Target can sell a better bottle brush or teapot or laundry hamper through great design, then why can't an accessory company sell a better dumbbell, medicine ball or foam roller through great design? We see no reason why it's not possible and we look forward to finding out -- and sharing -- what Bell has in mind.

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