An Analysis of the Birth and Growth of the Fitness Equipment Industry in the United States with a Special Focus on Viking Leisure Products

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Dekker, Robert J. (Bob)
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My association with the fitness equipment industry started in 1983 when I first began working at Viking Leisure Products, a small specialty store that carries top of the line home fitness equipment. My responsibilities consisted solely of cleaning the equipment every Saturday morning. Throughout my high school days and into college I have continued to work at Viking off and on. And during these nine years I have witnessed the extraordinary growth that the industry has experienced (see appendix #1) and many of the changes associated with the growth. I have seen companies like Marcy and Battle Creek begin, achieve rapid success, get too big to remain effective manufacturers and eventually fall by the wayside while new, innovative companies like Hoist and Bodyguard take over their market share. I have also witnessed a dramatic increase. in the knowledge that the customers have about the equipment they are purchasing. Jon Cooper, founder of Fitness Source, a specialty store in Philadelphia, described today's knowledgeable customer extremely well when he said, "You'd be surprised at how informed the consumer is these days. Not only the doctors and the therapists, but the average customer wants advice, and they don't want it to be bull-they want you to know what you're talking about." (6, p,22) I have talked with many of Viking's customers about various fitness clubs in the area. I have heard some brag about how great their club is while others lamented over how much money they had wasted by joining a club. I have seen some unlikely corporations enter into the industry. For example, Campbell Soup Co. bought Triangle Manufacturing in May of 1983 in an attempt to market an entire wellness portfolio. When questioned about the maneuver, Jim Post, director of Campbell's health and fitness systems as well as president of Triangle, compared Campbell's market position to someone standing at the base of a pyramid. "The market for home fitness equipment is virtually unlimited, " he said. (5, p.22) Dart and Kraft Incorporated also jumped into the action when they bought Precor, a manufacturer known mainly for its treadmills, and Total Medical Systems, a manufacturer of a unique resistance machine that uses solely the users weight as resistance, in 1984. (8,p.54) Finally, throughout the nine years I have become more and more convinced that the fitness equipment industry will continue to grow in the future. Despite claims to the contrary, I feel that there are three main reasons why the exercise equipment industry will continue to expand. They are, in no specific order: 1. The ever increasing importance that American society places on living a healthier life. 2. The increasing amount of knowledge that today's consumer has about the equipment they are investing in. 3. The shift in consumer's purchasing preferences. consumers are buying less low price, low quality equipment and instead, investing in higher priced, higher quality equipment. This, in turn, means that consumers are not going to replace their equipment as often and so manufacturers are going to be forced to continuously research and develop new products in order to stay alive. As long as the trends continue, and there is no end in sight, the fitness equipment industry will continue to flourish. Todd Jenner, president of Muscle-Tech says, "Over the next 10 years, it is believed that along with environmental issues, the most significant trends in America will be strong growth in the fitness, health and nutrition markets." (1 ,p.20)
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