Some new products on the market are wrangling to become “The Next New Thing” in cardio equipment, although attaining that crown means first overcoming leery dealers, retailers and consumers. But the pot at the end of the rainbow could be luring customers who are tired of the same workout.
Over the years, those shooting to be the next new trend have come and (nearly) gone – think ski imitators, lateral trainers, or standing bikes – while others have continued to linger without a huge audience– such as vertical climbing machines using both hands and feet.
Whatever a new piece’s fate, the battle for becoming the next sought-after piece is ongoing (Click here then scroll down to “Next New Thing” to see our 2003 GearTrends magazine story). Some of today’s pieces include lateral ellipticals, non-motorized “treadmills,” street-ready elliptical-like bikes and a rotating ladder to nowhere.
SNEWS decided to take a look at four new or fringe pieces, all of which seek broader acceptance. One piece of equipment – the Sproing machine – is new on the scene; but the others – like the Helix lateral trainer, ElliptiGO and Jacob’s Ladder – have been around for a few years, albeit not necessarily shouldering even near the sales of traditional pieces like treadmills or bikes.
Being the David in the battle with several Goliaths doesn’t stop the inventors.
“I think people want something new,” said Lenny Snyderman, creator of the Helix (www.helixco.com) lateral trainer.
Paul Toback, the co-creator of the Sproing machine (www.sproingfitness.com ) said he knows this is the case.
“I know consumers are interested in variety,” said Toback, who is the former president and CEO for Bally Total Fitness.
Pick me, pick me
Any new thing has its selling point, and these four pieces are no exception.
In 2008 Lenny Snyderman unleashed his Helix lateral trainer at IHRSA and then took it to the Health & Fitness Business Expo (click here to see a 2008 SNEWS story). The machine mimics, as Synderman said, a rumba dance and veers away from the traditional walking-like front-to-back motion that treadmills and elliptical trainers employ, opting instead for a side-to-side pedaling motion.
“Ultimately it’s really a new category of aerobic fitness,” Snyderman said.
Toback, who developed the Sproing product with Steve Lenz, former vice-president of engineering for Life Fitness, said he feels the same about his piece. Sproing provides a soft surface on which people can run, do lunges or other movements like squats – sans motor but with digital feedback and measurement. It also provides bungee-like cords (which also double as resistance bands) to hold users while they’re exercising to provide stationary resistance training – think running with somebody holding onto you so you don’t go anywhere. Click here to read a SNEWS story about its introduction at the 2011 IHRSA show.
“It’s something new,” Toback said. “People are sold on the concept when they hear it. People want something to absorb the impact.”
Bob Palka, who purchased the patent for Jacob’s Ladder (developed by Steve Nichols in 1994) revived the product in 2004 shortly after he tried it. Palka said he isn’t trying to convince everybody his product (www.jacobsladderexercise.com) is for them; nor is he trying to steal users from treadmills or ellipticals.
“It’s a unique piece that is not for everybody,” Palka said. “It’s not a replacement for treadmill walkers.… We really look to complement the full cardio line.”
The ElliptiGO, too, isn’t really competing with any gym products, and it’s actually designed for outdoor use. Still, it has used fitness shows as its launch pad (click here to see a story from the 2010 IHRSA show). The ElliptiGO (www.elliptigo.com) is now being sold in most of the top specialty fitness stores. Co-founder Bryan Pate said he hopes people who like to run and bicycle outdoors would give it a shot, although if an indoor exerciser uses it an alternative he wouldn’t complain. On first glance, it looks like a bike -- but one that uses a traditionally indoor movement; users power it by standing tall on elliptical-like pedals.
Easy on the body
Some of the products claim to be easy on overworked body parts like the ElliptiGO and Sproing, which make claims for being easy on the knees, and Jacob’s Ladder, which claims to soften loads on the back.
Snyderman said the Helix takes care of both strength training – including toning of the core, glutes, and inner and outer thighs – and aerobic training in one workout, which appeals to women.
“Seventy percent of women never go into the strength room,” Snyderman said. “It works a lot of the inner thigh and outer thigh, which is what most women think is their No. 1 problem.”
Smithville, Mo. Anytime Fitness owner Sonya Price heard about the Helix through a newsletter and purchased one for her club at the end of 2010. She said her female clientele loves it.
“They love it because it’s not like your traditional elliptical and treadmill,” Price said. “Women like that adductor (and) abductor machine because it targets our thighs, our butt, our inner thighs and outer thighs, and to put cardio with that is an added bonus.”
Toback said the Sproing also provides and aerobic and strength-training workout. The machine has two interchangeable surfaces – a soft surface pad (filled with high-density foam) and the slightly firmer surface (filled with air).
Toback said the softer surface is like running on the beach.
“I used to like running on the beach and the reason I loved it is because the sand provided an unstable surface that made it more challenging to work out,” Toback said.
The ElliptiGO also provides a low-impact running experience, Pate said.
“We’re trying to take everything that’s good about running – how effective it is as a workout, how enjoyable it is, how comfortable it is – but get rid of the impact,” Pate said.
The ElliptiGO 3C model (three-speed) is for flatter terrain and the 8C (eight-speed) model is for hillier terrain.
Pate said he and his partner modified the elliptical motion to make it more like running.
“We lengthened the stride length,” Pate said. “The stride length of indoor ellipticals wasn’t as long as we’d like.”
As to be expected from its name, Jacob’s Ladder is designed to emulate ladder climbing with an adjustable speed for the turning rungs.
“The first thing I thought was, it was an aggressive workout, and I liked it immediately,” Palka said. He first showed the equipment at IHRSA in 2004 and has been at that and several trade shows since.
Jacob’s Ladder has been featured on the television shows “The Biggest Loser” and MTV’s “Jersey Shore.”
There are some unique characteristics about the piece,” Palka said. “The first is that it places the user on a 40-degree angle to put the spine at a more neutral position and take the stress off the back; and the second is that it’s self-paced so the higher you go, the faster the rungs go.”
Slow sales starts
As with many new products, some of these non-traditional products have experienced slow starts.
“We haven’t really struggled to sell (the Helix), it’s just a little slower than the normal massive introduction some of these machines have,” Snyderman said. Once people try it, it doesn’t take much to convince them the machine is effective, he said.
For now, Snyderman is focused on commercial sales – as are all except the ElliptiGO -- and his marketing strategy is word-of-mouth and getting well-known industry people to promote the machine (retail model MSRP $1,499).
Pate said he found letting people (especially athletes) test and talk up the ElliptiGO is the best marketing strategy for their company. Heads swivel when it powers down the street since it’s bike-elliptical combo is unexpected.
Palka emphasized how important it is to let people try the machine (retail model MSRP $2,495) because that’s when they’re able to make a connection.
Palka said every small company has the same questions. “How do you market (the product) effectively with limited resources and how do you get the biggest bang for your buck,” he asked.
Pate said when there’s something new, it’s always a matter of convincing people the product works.
“The first generation (of the product) really does work but it takes more effort to convince people that’s the case and that the product really delivers what it’s designed to deliver,” Pate said. “The first time you see something you always think it’s a gimmick.”
Unlike the others, Toback said he hasn’t faced many challenges marketing his product, probably because it’s so new on the market.
“The response has been really positive we have lots of interest and orders for our first production runs,” Toback said. The first production runs are due to arrive in August.
ElliptiGO retailer HealthStyles Exercise Equipment owner Dave Sheriff said the ElliptiGO is one new product he has on his floor.
“It’s a very newsworthy piece but it’s a very new piece in the marketplace and it’s not inexpensive,” Sheriff said. The ElliptiGO, which has two separate models – one priced at $1,799 and another priced at nearly $2,399. “It’s like purchasing a good quality road bike.”
Sheriff said many of his customers like the ElliptiGO but admitted, “There’s a little sticker shock,” Sheriff said. He said it goes away when “they start to know and understand and experience it.”
What does it take?
For retail storeowners, bringing a new piece of equipment onto their showroom floor is a big decision and sometimes they pass up the new equipment because it’s too costly.
“With the economy the way it is people are slow to make purchases,” Snyderman admitted. “There’s not a big buying swell out there.”
Sheriff said when he’s evaluating a new piece of equipment he looks at the quality, the warranty, the packaging, the marketing plan, and whether the product is doing well in both the commercial and retail markets. He said he advises his sales associates to “Know the product backwards, forwards and sideways” and to “make sure you get on the product” and you demo it fully. He also said he wants his associates to listen to customers’ needs and find products that fit those needs.
Pate said he advised sales associates along those same lines. He hopes they will know his product and how it works so they can answer common questions customers might have like whether it’s hard to balance and whether it has to be pedaled the whole time.
“The seller has to be a believer,” Pate said. “They need to spend some time on the bike.”
Though Bert Sorin, owner of Sorinex Exercise Equipment in Irmo, S.C., carries only one of the featured products (Jacob’s Ladder), he said sales associates should aim to educate the customer when dealing with new equipment.
“You don’t have to convince them, you just have to teach them the benefits of training and how you train,” Sorin said, adding, “The equipment becomes a solution versus something they buy.”
Skepticism is healthy
Jerry Greenspan, owner of Columbus, Ohio-based Exercise Equipment Experts said he thinks storeowners should be skeptical of new equipment. The biomedical engineer and physical therapist said he looks at the engineering behind a machine and analyzes any potential injuries to the customer – in addition the cost of the machine – before he makes any purchases.
“Here’s the question: Who’s looked at the potential injuries these machines may cause?” Greenspan said. “People come up with fitness ideas and they don’t look at the potential injuries it can cause. They only look at the positive it can give.”
He said he’s considered bringing in only one of these four products – the ElliptiGO – but he hasn’t done it yet because he’s still trying to assess the demand.
But, aside from determining marketability, Greenspan acknowledged, “It’s a cool device.”
-- Ana Trujillo