True introduces "value" line called Fitline sans True name

True will introduce a line of "affordable" fitness equipment called Fitline this month. Specialty dealers will carry Fitline, and the equipment won't have the True name anywhere on it, its website or brochures.
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Launching by the end of the month at True specialty dealers nationally is a line of "affordable" fitness equipment called Fitline fitness that won't have the True name anywhere on it, its website or brochures.

The Fitline equipment (www.fitlinefitness.com) was debuted at a True dealer fly-in in late September, although several dealers who attended told SNEWS® they were still late-stage prototypes that were being finalized and they weren't fully able to assess them. The line has been unveiled with four fold-up treadmills (suggested retails, $1,300 and $2,000), three ellipticals (retails, $1,400 to $2,000) and two recumbent bikes (retails, $1,000 to $1,500).

"We realize there is a population of people who want good quality in equipment but at a more affordable price," John Conti, True national retail sales manager, told SNEWS®.

But when the company came up with the idea and started to implement planning for a value line that would hit just below its current lowest prices, Conti said True Fitness owner "Frank (Trulaske) was very clear we didn't want to cross it over: Fitline would be Fitline."

For example, True's lowest price treadmill, the Z4, has a suggested retail of $2,100 -- just bumping into the top of the new Fitline treadmill prices. If you add heart rate to the Z4, the price goes up to $2,400. The so-called True Classic line will "always have its place," Conti said, and it won't go away because of the Fitline intro.

The pieces are geared toward what Conti called the "value customer." The True's research showed that a value customers wants less expense but more bells and whistles, such as programming. The slogan on the website is "fits your budget, fits your lifestyle."

"We're trying to fit a niche of good quality product at a value-drive price," Conti said, "and we did it."

The website describes the equipment this way:
"Fitline is designed and built for the life you lead. For people who work 50 hours a week, have homes, lives, families and believe that fitness is important. Our equipment is designed with real life in mind…."

Dealers speaking up
Although True hasn't told its dealers not to say True is affiliated with the equipment, Conti said he suspects that some will mention it as a additional selling point.

"I like the idea that it doesn't dilute what we're doing with the higher-end True product," said Jeff Rowton, president of Knoxville, Tenn.-based, Exercise Essentials.

Retailers SNEWS® spoke to offered a wide range of opinions on the new line, with some saying they think they can sell it well.

"I was impressed," said Bob Lachniet, president of Fitness4Home Superstore in Arizona. "It hunts."

Others have a more tempered attitude and told us they are going to order a few pieces to see how it sells and decide after that.

"The product will sell itself if it's good," said Lloyd Springer, of The Fitness Shop in Oregon and Washington.

Rowton said he was pleased with what he saw at the fly-in. He noted that it seems to fill in some price gaps for them, and that he would try a few pieces of about three-quarters of the line to judge how it works out.

At least one True retailer told SNEWS® he is not going to take any pieces at this time.

"We are going to wait until we hear of other dealers being successful with the line," the retailer said. "We did not ask for the line, so we are not in a hurry to order it."

Looking at the equipment

From details offered by the company, website statistics and comments from dealers, the equipment appears to be sleeker, more basic-looking, with more silver and grays in color, with an emphasis on space-saving and perhaps less experienced exercisers.

Price points seem to aim squarely at Vision's lineup as well as some higher-end Horizon Fitness pieces, with some Bowflex treadmills also getting caught in price cross-overs, retailers said. One retailer said he thought there would be some "survival of the fittest" among brands.

The treadmill line includes four models, all foldable -- the T100, T200, T300 and T400. The 300 and 400 have 20-inch-by-57-inch running surfaces, while the other two shorten to 54 inches. Motor horsepower starts at 2, climbs to 2.5 for the middle two, then tops out at 3 HP for the 400. Conti said the back-lit LCD screens on the consoles were a particularly nice feature, as well as five "quick keys" that let an exerciser go directly to a specific speed.

The elliptical line includes three pieces, the E100, E200 and E300. All except the 100 have the back-lit LCD, and all use a front drive. Each has a 20-inch stride length, with the top-end one being self-generating.

The bike line for now includes only recumbents -- R100 and R200 -- with both being walk-through designs. The 200 is self-generating.

"Ideally, the customer is coming from the department stores," Conti said.

The future
True forecast that the equipment, as of this week still in ports, would start arriving at headquarters by Nov. 14, and get shipped off to retailers for arrival later in November.

Already, Conti said True is looking to expand, with an eye to an upright bike and perhaps some non-folding treadmills. Strength equipment and home gyms, so far, are not in the immediate future.

"The response from dealers has been more than we thought it would be," he added. "That shows us there is a need out there."

SNEWS® View: There have always been two ways for companies known for and specializing in higher-end and higher-priced equipment to enter the value arena: To NOT use its name so as not to dilute the brand, or to use the name proudly so as to take advantage of the additional selling point. Life Fitness, also more known for higher-end equipment like True, tried the new-name path with its value Sport and Essential lines and said it didn't work for the company not to take advantage of its name; Life has pulled those lines and has now launched Life Fitness-branded, lower-priced models. True has decided the opposite tack is the better one. Of course, we're not sure it truly makes a difference what the name is since the public as a whole doesn't really know most, if any, equipment names (except perhaps Bowflex, Nautilus, Everlast or New Balance, and except perhaps if they are devout health club-goers). But neither of those markets will float a retailer's boat. In fact, there are so many names out there that most consumers just feel overwhelmed going into stores and have really no idea which way to turn, leaning on the salesperson to direct them.

So, there is the catch: If the salesperson directs them to Brand X or Brand Y, then it will more likely sell better than Brand A or Brand B. If True can convince its dealers to push consumers subtly in the direction of this equipment -- assuming the dealers believe in it and need it -- then it could do well, very well. That raises another point: Do dealers and the market really need another line of equipment to sell at that lower price point? Is this for the retailers or for True? From our chats with a few retailers, the vote is split. That doesn't pre-judge whether the equipment is good or not-so-good since good equipment as well as not-so-good equipment can sell well. That just wonders aloud whose need the brand is trying to fulfill -- a brand that has done supremely well with its high-end product and perhaps less supremely on its lower-end equipment. And what about that matter of relationships, which are still a big deal in this industry? Why would a retailer want to push out a brand that has sold well for it and treated it well? It does seem that True is trying to stake a larger claim, perhaps in the process giving a not-so-gentle nudge out the door to another brand or two or three. We will wait and see in a year or so how the Fitline product and the name are being accepted, how other brands are faring in the battle, and how the strategy succeeds for True.

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