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January 30, 2008 - What a recession means in the world of treadmills … and ellipticals too!

I have been hearing lately a dangerous and ugly word … recession!  It seems that the chattering class has its dander up about the possibility of a small or large economic retrenchment.  What you usually don’t hear about during these times of macro-economic discontinuity, is the affect the macro swings have of micro-economic decision making.  This is funny due to the fact that in a pre-fitness equipment life I was a game theorist studying political economy.  If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry you are probably better off.  (Note: If you want to know more I suggest that you read the following: “Game Theory for Applied Economist” by Robert Gibbons published in 1992 by Princeton University Press).  That being said, I studied the behavior of individuals under, what we assumed to be, controlled economic constraints.  We had the audacity to believe that we could sort-of predict decision outcomes.  Well, we won’t go into how well that worked, but we could arrive at some conclusions that might have some application here.

Rule #1: When people are uncertain about their economic future they tend to put off expensive purchases.

I love it when I state something so simple that my 5 year old automatically understands.  The really great thing about it is that I do it with such pomposity.  What I mean is that if people’s expectations change (i.e. or downgraded) about their economic security they will put off or cancel large purchases that are not considered essential. 

What does that mean to the fitness market?  Well it means that the people that were going to buy the $6000 treadmill will still buy it.  If they can afford it in the first place the downturn will not affect their essential economic security.  What it also means is that the middle price points in the market will be hit dramatically.  Companies that are selling machines that are greater than $1000 and less than say (and this is only a guess) $3000 will experience that fainting feeling that only comes when you are seriously receiving a beat-down.  Machines that sell for less than $1000 will receive proportionally a greater share of the market. 

Rule #2: If it’s broke, fix it!

The second rule is the one that makes my heart sing.  In economic dislocation or retrenchment, people tend to put off purchases of replacement fitness equipment if they can fix it.  And remember that the cost of repairing equipment is almost always substaintaly lower than purchasing new equipment!.  This also fits into the reports that we hear across the country from people in the fitness industry. People are just not buying fitness equipment this season.   For fitness retail this year is worse than last year, and you all know how bad that year was.

So the point of this blog was just to get a post up before the end of January, nothing more.  We have been shipping parts all month so I really haven’t had time to work on a post.  For those people in the fitness industry that don’t like what I am saying here just remember that it doesn’t do any good to shoot the messenger.  To consumers that are reading this just remember that you can buy your repair parts from us for less (most of the time) than you can get them from the factory.  Remember during a recession, there is no sin in saving money.


Senator Larry Craig Hypocrisy Award Announcement! – January 4, 2008

Why trust a company to recommend a treadmill that sells treadmill parts and repairs?  Wouldn’t they tell me to buy something that will break so they can make money?

We started doing reviews 10 years ago based upon a familiar question we received from consumers when we set up a simple website for our fitness equipment service company.  The question typically arrived in such a way, “what treadmill do you work the least upon?”  10 years ago we answered this question the best we knew how and today we do the same thing.  If we had suggested machines that had chronic problems, we wouldn’t have a shred of credibility today and I would have had a hard time sleeping at night.  Simply put, if we recommended bad machines we wouldn’t hold the position that we do today, as an industry authority.

This question is posed in a buyer’s guide on a website that sells fitness equipment.  Hummm … I wonder if they have an axe to grind?  First, why would you read a buyer’s guide on a website that sell said buyer’s guide product?  I wonder what that buyer’s guide is going to recommend?

In addition to that, what these people don’t tell you is that they have affiliate programs.  Essentially they pay people who setup “review” websites that recommend their product and when you click on the link to buy the product, the affiliate gets paid a percentage of the sale.  We have never participated in this type of program and never will.  Just to make it clear we NEVER have accepted any type of compensation for our reviews and will NOT accept any type of affiliate payment. 

What these affiliate programs do is flood the Internet with tons of websites that recommend products loosely masquerading as unbiased review sources.  That’s why they want you to look at dozens of sites.  Instead they try the age old tactic of accusing others of impropriety while hiding their own by making a de-facto “pay-off” to “review” their machines.  These factories should spend their time building better treadmills.  That is how companies get a better review from us.

So the Senator Larry Craig Award goes to Smooth Fitness for taking hypocrisy to a brand new level!  Just so you know, I was giggling the whole time that I was writing this.


January 1, 2008 – Happy New Year and other stuff like that!

As we begin a new year, I sometimes like to reflect on the past year to see what trends are emerging in our industry.  As many people do, I try to see if there are positive trends, negative trends, and how those trends will affect the average consumer.  As many people know, it seems the economy has hit a soft patch.  I do not know if it is a recession, but I do know that most people are watching their money just a little more carefully than usual.  I can tell when more people decide to fix their old machine rather than just buy a new one.  That being said I will pontificate on what I think are some of the important trends in the fitness business and how those trends will affect the average consumer.

Trend #1: Quality Options for the Consumer are increasing.

It is a good time to be a savvy consumer shopping for fitness equipment.  The quality at under $1000 is now substantial.  You can purchase commercial equipment for much less than you used to and there is more information available than ever before.  Just remember the one rule before you go out and buy: If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.  Quality options are increasing, but don’t fall into the trap of trying to get something for nothing.  Someone offering that kind of deal is probably setting you up for a con.  I’ve always wondered when they are willing to advertise a piece of equipment as ‘commercial quality’, why they won’t give it a commercial warranty.   Go figure.

Trend # 2: Purchasing On-line is becoming the Wild West of shopping for fitness.

One of the foreseeable, yet disturbing trends of the year has been the proliferation of fitness purchase options on the internet.  This distribution channel is coming into its own, and the typically manufacturing company has finally realized the power of the web.  That being said all of the seedy side of intense competition is rearing its ugly head.  Shading the truth, out and out lies about products, bait and switch (order one product and get another); these issues have all become a problem for the average consumer. 

Another issue is the proliferation of review websites.  The shadier companies are enlisting people to try their products for them under the auspices of ‘independent product reviews’.  Just remember that, at the end of the day, you have to make up your own mind about what is good for you.  Don’t take anyone’s word for what the best product is, ours included, until you have looked a multiple reputable sources.  My recommended list is as follows: Consumer Reports, Consumer Search, Runner’s World, and of course Treadmill Doctor.  Hint to consumer: Using a buyer’s guide from a company selling fitness equipment is kind of like buying snake oil from P.T. Barnum.

Trend # 3: Specialty Fitness is on the ropes!

This trend is not exactly a shock to those in the industry.  The small shop that specializes in only selling fitness equipment is having trouble making ends meet.  There are many reasons for this: the increase in quality of sub-$1000 machines, the proliferation of sporting goods stores with decent fitness alternatives, and the decrease in the competitive appeal of specialty fitness brands.  The most important factor, however, is the simplest: small mom and pop shops are just inefficient.  For the consumer, just be careful when buying from a specialty fitness store.  Some will make it, but most won’t.  You do not want to be left holding the bag if the small specialty store goes out of business. Frankly, it is getting harder and harder to find a good reason to buy from a specialty store.