State of the Treadmill Industry 2015
Treadmills remained the most popular form of exercise equipment worldwide in 2015, as fitness continued its popularity and populations become increasingly overweight. Treadmills comprise about 55% of the home fitness market, with ellipticals at about 15%. The remainder is made up of stationary bikes and hybrids of these styles. All this is according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.
Robert Braun, VP of Sales at Treadmill World, says “The 2014 holiday season was marked by customers waiting for holiday deals, then finding that what they wanted was out of stock. As shipping costs have risen and free shipping has become more common, the costs of shipping equipment has gone up relative to the value of the machines. Thus, fewer lower end machines are made or sold.” However, Nautilus continued its push into the lower priced home market. Its T616 treadmill incorporates Bluetooth connectivity so users’ workout data can be synced with the Nautilus trainer app. Braun adds “The quality at the lower end continues to rise, along with the prices for those models.”
In November 2014, negotiations between the International Longshoreman Workers union and its employer, Pacific Maritime Association, resulted in labor slowdowns on the west coast, delaying deliveries of exercise equipment and parts to U.S. manufacturers and distributors. This in turn led to these businesses running out of stock on many models and disappointed consumers. The strike was settled March 2015.
In late 2014, Smooth Fitness ceased operations. Its remaining inventory and intellectual property was bought in foreclosure by Treadmill Doctor, which then sold the Smooth website and some other intellectual property to ICON Health & Fitness, while retaining the intellectual property related to parts and service. Smoothfitness.com now offers new Smooth-branded treadmills manufactured by ICON. The former Smooth Fitness is out of business, so is not honoring its warranties on machines bought before the sale. However, Treadmill Doctor still sells parts for these models. The Smooth website is being operated by ICON, selling new models labeled Smooth Fitness, but assembled by ICON. Braun of Treadmill World says “We sold a lot of their stuff, but the word is that they were spending too much for click. Apparently, this caused their profits to thin to the point that their institutional investor didn’t want to put in any more cash.”
In November 2014, Johnson Health Tech introduced a new line of Horizon and Vision treadmills with its new wireless connectivity system, ViaFit. ViaFit enables the user to share workout data with other fitness apps and devices. The machines connect to your home wifi through a free ViFit account and seamlessly syncs to other devices that you may be tracking workout results on. Johnson also introduced its Passport Player, which improves on the virtual running course programs offered by other manufacturers. In addition to the visual and incline changes that occur along a course, Johnson’s new program provides ambient sounds and a separate, larger screen that provides a more realistic virtual outdoor running experience.
Johnson’s commercial brand, Matrix Fitness, announced a 19 percent global sales growth rate for 2014. The company attributed the growth the new products and repeat customers. In October 2015, Johnson substantially increased its distribution of commercial fitness equipment in Canada by acquiring a leading Canadian commercial equipment distributor, STAK Fitness. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission fined Johnson $3 million for failing to report defects in its machines. Johnson’s Matrix Fitness Ascent Trainers and Elliptical Trainers apparently allowed a buildup of moisture from perspiration or cleaning liquids in the power sockets of the units. The agency says this buildup caused smoking, sparking, and fires. It seems the company made two design changes to fix the problem, but did not immediately report the incidents or design changes to the agency. Johnson recalled the trainers in January 2014, but it wasn’t until 2015 the fine was imposed.
In July 2015, ICON Health and Fitness announced it will eliminate the U.S. manufacturing of home equipment by cutting 400 employees and moving those operations overseas by the end of the year. The announced purpose was to remain competitive as the company expanded globally.
Most of the parts of ICON equipment have been manufactured in China for years now, with most assembly taking place in Utah. However, now most assembly of home treadmills will occur in China. The company also has plants are located in Taiwan and Pakistan. Assembly of ICON’s commercial brand, FreeMotion Fitness, will continue at the company’s Smithfield, Virginia plant. The company said it would renovate the space vacated by its manufacturing operations in order to “accommodate future growth.” ICON started manufacturing in Utah in 1987, after having been manufactured in other countries since 1977. It will continue its other operations in Utah, such as engineering, marketing, and distributing with about 1,500 employees.
A few weeks after ICON made its announcement, Moody's upgraded ICON’s corporate bond rating due to ICON’s “improved operating performance and enhanced liquidity profile.” Moody’s said that that ICON’s strategy of streamlining its manufacturing and expanding its distribution network should continue to improve the company’s performance. However, Moody’s also noted that its rating is constrained by the company’s concentration of customers and its limited operations outside of North America
If you're used to running on a treadmill and then go for a run in the great outdoors, one of the first things you might notice is that the real deal feels quite different. Tread runners often describe the difference as running less upright and feeling like the feet are pushing into the ground with more effort. In short, it's more challenging.
Those feelings happen to be real. While doing things like changing the elevation grade of the belt will help simulate what it's like to really run, traditional treadmills fall short of activating and conditioning the lower-body muscles the way they are trained during a sprint or a longer-distance jog.
Woodway introduced its Curve treadmill, a motorless model with a tread belt curved at the front and the back to better simulate the activation of muscle use while running on solid ground. The promise is that, because users need to dig into the front of the belt and push off the back in order to start the belt moving and keep it moving, they are working their lower body harder. See the image below.
Technogym, which calls itself the leading producer of design and technology-driven fitness equipment, introduced the first treadmill to be activated by voice commands. The model is called “Artis.” This user wears Google Glass, which works through UNITY, an android-based console display platform. Users can control the speed of the treadmill with voice commands, as well as see running data on their their headset and communicate with a personal trainer through a webcam. No word yet on availability.
According to an article published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Ohio State University has invented a treadmill that actually adjusts its speed to the user’s, instead of the user having to adjust his speed to what he has set the speed of the treadmill to. The purported effect is that using the treadmill feels like running or walking on a steady surface. Apparently, this new machine more accurately measures VO2Max, the commonly-used measure of aerobic capacity. Stay tuned on this one.
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