Although Nautilus continues to deny the Trimline brand of treadmills is being mothballed, indicators – silent and otherwise – speak volumes.
Starting nearly a year ago, rumors began to circulate that Nautilus, which acquired the Trimline brand (Hebb Industries) when it bought Schwinn Fitness in bankruptcy auction in 2001, was dumping Trimline. Schwinn had bought Hebb and the basic but popular brand of Trimline treadmills in 1998.
On July 1, 2005, a Nautilus spokesman told SNEWS® in an email when we inquired about the brand being discontinued, "Nonsense. Why would we do that?"
Of course, despite having a presence on the Nautilus.com website, the treadmills haven't been at many shows lately and where Nautilus displays the logos of its brands on some web pages, Trimline's is missing (Click here for an example and note the logos of the other brands on the right sans Trimline).
But that's not all: SNEWS® has heard from retailers who said they have been told by their Nautilus reps and other Nautilus managers that the Trimline brand is "history" and will disappear as soon as the company sells the inventory it has in a warehouse.
"The name is going away," an insider source told SNEWS®. "Trimline is being discontinued."
After the emails and calls started hitting us all over again this spring and we began to ask around yet again, we again went back to Nautilus and were told in an email on May 16: "We don't expect to discontinue the Trimline brand or cause it to disappear."
If you remember, Nautilus announced the closing of its Tyler, Texas, manufacturing facility in April, which is where Trimline treadmills have been made. Seems the manufacturing of other products made there has been moved to other U.S. facilities or to Asia, but Trimline's manufacturing has not been shifted anywhere, sources told SNEWS®. When the plant closes for good in August, Trimline as of now does not have a manufacturing home.
When we approached the company and its spokesman Ron Arp on May 26, Arp said, Nautilus has "plenty of Trimline product in inventory" and is not discontinuing the brand. When asked about the location of manufacturing, Arp said no place was set at this point. "We have different plans,…" he added. "It's not history."
Different is possible, but look at this:
>> In press releases on and prior to April 17, 2006, the corporate description at the bottom of each release named a "brand portfolio that includes Nautilus, Bowflex, Schwinn Fitness, StairMaster, Trimline and Pearl Izumi…."
>> In press releases after April 17, 2006, the mention of Trimline in the lineup is gone. "It's an accident," said Arp, who oversees corporate communications.
>> In a press release dated May 16, 2006, Nautilus announced it added "sixth leading brand to fitness portfolio by acquiring Universal." Then it names its other five brands as Nautilus (that's one), Bowflex (two), Stairmaster (sic…three), Schwinn Fitness (four) and Pearl Izumi (five). Wait, where's Trimline? Wouldn’t that be seven?
>> In a May 16 email discussing how the Universal brand may fit into Nautilus company strategy, Arp wrote: "We follow a consumer, brand, channel approach. Enthusiasts align best with Nautilus, StairMaster and Pearl Izumi and would find products under these brands mostly at commercial facilities and specialty retailers. Participants align best with Bowflex and Schwinn Fitness, and are mostly available at retail and direct locations." He added that the company doesn't address the segment it calls "occasionals" or those who work out only up to once a week. Note there is no reference again to Trimline in the corporate strategy.
"We have to do some repositioning," Arp said on May 26. "There's no doubt about that."
SNEWS® View: Granted, Nautilus has turned into a collector of name brands -- as much of a name as there can be in fitness – and Trimline certainly is a bit out of its league among the other brands Nautilus purveys. Still, it has been a solid name, with a solid niche, and a good demographic following, with retailers who sell Trimline saying it does well for them. Too, Nautilus is a public company and, as such, there are huge limitations about what it can and can't say, when, where and to whom. We don't expect Nautilus to announce the discontinuation of the Trimline brand in SNEWS®; however, we do expect more than the run-around and word games if the name is going into a cryogenic state. Putting a trademarked brand name such as Trimline into a temporary cryogenic state for a season or two is not unusual. It would come as no surprise if the company could eventually decide it wants to use the Trimline name on something other than treadmills or even in other countries. You never know where that name could go (weight-loss and toning accessories?), and the company has never stated unequivocally it will continue Trimline TREADMILLS, only the brand name. Still, the industry is small enough and people talk enough that Nautilus might want to consider formally announcing its decision – whatever that may be -- instead of perhaps hoping no one really notices any change. After all, it is hard to imagine a company as large and as savvy about marketing as Nautilus has no idea yet what it intends for the Trimline brand name.