Universal Gym, Reebok/CCS, Balanced Body: What do they have in common?

Let's play a game: Which of the past IHRSA top "associate member" or "supplier" companies still exist, are no more or have changed dramatically? You'll be surprised what SNEWS found when it took a gander through the list.
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Every year since 1984, IHRSA has awarded what it now calls its top “associate member” of the year, formerly called supplier of the year.

This year, the award went to Balanced Body, the world’s largest manufacturer of Pilates equipment, based in Sacramento, Calif. (www.balancedbody.com). It was founded in 1976 by Ken Endelman, who also took the lead on a lawsuit that gave the industry the ability to use the name “Pilates” for all classes and equipment based on the techniques of Joseph Pilates. (Click here to read a Dec. 4, 2000, SNEWS® story, “Pilates trademark overturned.”)

Despite Balanced Body’s longevity, let’s take a look at the rest of the list and play a little game: Name the IHRSA annual award winners that still exist. Here’s the complete list. Now don’t cheat and scroll below the list until you’ve made your own guesses!

2009 - SPRI

2008 - Matrix Fitness Systems

2007 - CSI Software

2006 - SCIFIT

2005 - ASF International

2004 - TRUE Fitness

2003 - Technogym

2002 - American Council on Exercise

2001 - Sales Makers

2000 - Schwinn

1999 - Reebok / CCS

1998 - Cardio Theater

1997 - Keiser

1996 - Precor USA

1995 - Universal Gym Equipment

1994 - Unisen, Inc. (Star Trac)

1993 - CYBEX


1992 - The STEP Company

1991 - Peak Performance

1990 - Randal Sports/Medical (StairMaster)

1989 - Paramount

1988 - Nautilus

1987 - Bally Fitness (Life Fitness)

1986 - RCM Systems (CheckFree)

1985 - Club Marketing & Management Services

1984 - United General Agency


Changes and biting the dust

Of 27 “top supplier” companies listed above, nearly a third (eight) have either dramatically changed due to ownership shifts, been through a bankruptcy or plain disappeared. Some took the big trip down a black hole less than a year after they garnered this award. Some had a few more years in them before life changed. Some still exist, but have new folks at the helm:

2000 winner: Schwinn – Schwinn Fitness won this honor in 2000, less than a year before its parent Schwinn/GT declared bankruptcy. It was acquired in September 2001 by Direct Focus (now Nautilus). Recently, in 2009, much of the Schwinn business was put on the auction block when Nautilus decided to get out of the commercial fitness business. Although Nautilus retained rights to the retail channel, Xiamen World Gear Sports Goods, an affiliate of Fit Dragon International, which is an affiliate of Land America, bought and is now running Schwinn commercial under the business name of StairMaster. (Click here to see a Dec. 18, 2009, SNEWS story, “Fit Dragon unveiled as Land America taking over Nautilus commercial as Core Fitness.”)

1999 winner: Reebok / CCS – Gone. The last remains of a few parts were carried away in 2002.

1998 winner: Cardio Theater – Acquired in 2004 by Precor (Amer Sports) when it acquired ClubCom’s entertainment division. Still operating as Cardio Theater.

1995 winner: Universal Gym Equipment – The epic brand went through huge ups and downs after being the go-to multi-station gym in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Ownership changes, increased competition and the march of time took its toll; Universal’s owner Flexible Flyer, which had acquired Universal in bankruptcy in 1998 (just three years after this award), declared bankruptcy itself in 2005. Universal’s assets were acquired by Nautilus in 2006 (click here to see a May 15, 2006, SNEWS story, “Nautilus snares Universal brand in court bankruptcy auction”). Since then, the band has been basically mothballed. Perhaps one day the name will be allowed to resurface.

1992 winner: The STEP Company – Another one bites the dust although the product and workout lives, as does Rich Boggs, the company founder, serial entrepreneur and fitness enthusiast who is now working on Body Training Systems … and who knows what other fitness endeavor will follow!

1990 winner: Randal Sports/Medical (StairMaster) – After becoming known as Stairmaster and taking over health clubs, the company declared bankruptcy in August 2001 (click here to see a Nov. 29, 2001, SNEWS story, “StairMaster Sale Looms”) and, in January 2002, was acquired by -- yes, you got it -- Direct Focus, now Nautilus. Like Schwinn, the assets were sold off in 2010 when Nautilus decided to get out of the commercial fitness segment. The new owner of the Schwinn commercial fitness also acquired rights to StairMaster and is running both companies under the StairMaster name (see above entry for Schwinn).

1988 winner: Nautilus – We know the roller coaster that Nautilus (NYSE: NLS) has been on, from being acquired in 1999 by Direct Focus to becoming the name of that company in 2002, to growing into the commercial business from its original Bowflex business, to watching its stock prices plunge to below $1 in early 2009, to selling off its commercial assets. As of 2010, it is regrouping as a pure retail and direct-to-consumer business, albeit much smaller.

1987 winner: Bally Fitness (Life Fitness) – In 1984, Bally acquired Lifecycle Inc., which was to become today’s Life Fitness, manufacturer of fitness equipment. In 1995, the Life Fitness division was sold to Brunswick (NYSE: BC), which is still the owner. Bally has been through two bankruptcies and reorganizations, one filed in late 2008 after one in mid-2007, as well as plenty of management scuffles and investor battles. (Click here to see one of many SNEWS stories, “Bally Total Fitness files for Ch. 11 reorganization -- again,” this one from December 2008.)



Still in the mix


Luckily, that leaves 19 companies that are still around -- not bad, considering -- although some of those have also gone through acquisitions or name changes and realignments, as noted:

2009 - SPRI -- acquired by Gaiam in March 2008

2008 - Matrix Fitness Systems

2007 - CSI Software

2006 - SCIFIT

2005 - ASF International

2004 - TRUE Fitness

2003 - Technogym

2002 - American Council on Exercise

2001 - Sales Makers

1997 - Keiser

1996 - Precor USA -- acquired by Amer Sports in 2002

1994 - Unisen Inc. -- now known as Star Trac

1993 - Cybex International

1991 - Peak Performance

1989 - Paramount

1986 - RCM Systems -- now known as CheckFree

1985 - Club Marketing & Management Services

1984 - United General Agency

--Therese Iknoian

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