For 32 years, Nautilus has designed strength training equipment for ultimate performance, optimum results and maximum durability. Janis Hubschman reports on the able-bodied company that has revolutionized the fitness equipment industry.
In 1970, at the dawn of an American fitness boom, inventor Arthur Jones, working out of his garage on a shoestring budget, developed a cam for use in strength-training machinery. Shaped liked the spiral nautilus shell, the cam provided variable resistance throughout the range of motion to match the ideal strength curve of the muscles being exercised. Before long, body builders all over the world were dropping their barbells and dumbbells in favor of the safer more efficient method of strength training provided by the revolutionary Nautilus machine.
After an early 1970s study conducted by the West Point Military Academy confirmed that training on Nautilus machines was more time efficient and results oriented, professional sporting franchises and health clubs around the country started snatching up the equipment. The result was enormous exposure and success, including a spot on television’s “60 Minutes.” By 1984, some 4,700 Nautilus Fitness Centers had opened in the United States alone.
Over time, the industry became more competitive. Nautilus changed ownership twice during the ‘80s and ‘90s, but remained one of the most recognized names in the fitness industry. “Nautilus has never compromised its biomechanical integrity,” says Jim Teatum, the company’s president. “And, it has always remained a top-end strength training machine manufacturer.”
Stamina Plus Strength
In January 1999, the company was acquired by Direct Focus, Inc., a leading marketer of fitness and healthy lifestyle products, headquartered in Vancouver, Washington. An acceleration of growth followed for Nautilus after it joined this team of prominent fitness brands, which includes the profitable Bowflex.
“Direct Focus was listed as the number one ‘hottest growth’ company by Business Week’s April 2000 issue and the country’s number two ‘hottest growth’ company in Business Week’s 2001 issue. It has just acquired Stairmaster, and prior to that Scwinn Fitness,” Teatum says. “They have very powerful fitness names in their bag at the moment.”
Direct Focus’ plans for Nautilus include building the consumer business and growing the commercial operations. In 2000, Direct Focus leveraged the strong Nautilus brand name for its direct marketing business when it introduced the Nautilus Sleep Systems. The high-tech air mattresses (available in four series) are marketed directly to consumers via television advertising, 800-call centers and websites.
Each fitness product, produced at Nautilus’ 300,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Independence, Virginia, incorporates the Nautilus philosophy — focused efforts for focused results.
The commercial fitness equipment line represents Nautilus’ core business. These products, designed and manufactured to withstand high use, are marketed directly to health clubs, hotels, sports centers and other institutions. The free-weight equipment includes a complete line of Olympic stations, racks and benches. The Personal Circuit MultiStation gyms are compact units that save time, floor space and money without compromising quality.
Nautilus supplies many major fitness chains, including L.A. Fitness, New York Sports Clubs and 24 Hour Fitness. Last year, the company installed its commercial equipment in the most prestigious institution of all, the White House.
On the consumer side, Nautilus sells home strength-training equipment to specialty fitness stores and upper-end sporting goods retailers. Products include free-weight systems, adjustable workout benches, dumbbell racks and weight trees. In addition, the home fitness line makes apparel, and accessories such as dumbbells, gloves and wraps, grip builders, jump ropes and a wide range of strength and aerobic aids.
Nautilus has maintained a leadership position through an emphasis on education and research. Says, Teatum, “We dedicate 12 percent of our budget to R&D. We also perform studies with other major players. Currently, we are researching lower back pain with a major automotive manufacturer.”
It is this painstaking attention to customers’ needs that has made Nautilus so successful. Internal design and engineering teams are continually working to refine, redesign and expand the Nautilus line of strength training machines. Recently, the company introduced its newest fitness line – Nitro. This compact strength-training system is touted as a “leaner, meaner, streamlined machine,” since it offers the same fitness benefits as the larger machines, but takes up less valuable floor space.
Another new line of machinery, the 2ST (Super Smooth Technology) uses a friction-free design to duplicate the function of the human body. Unique engineering and patented components combine in this machine to maximize results and minimize stress, all within the least amount of training time.
Nautilus also has launched a new line of free-weight equipment. The plate-loaded seated calf machine incorporates all the mainstream benefits of other units, along with rugged design and competitive pricing. And, the new plate-loaded leg press inherits the superior biomechanical design common to all Nautilus strength machines. It provides maximum muscle involvement with minimum knee and back stress.
This year, Nautilus is also introducing a line of plate-loaded equipment. “With this equipment, you load weight plates onto machines instead of putting pins into stacks of weights,” says Teatum. “It’s popular with professional sports teams who require heavier weights in their workouts.”
Pumping Up the Service
Nautilus is one of the few companies in the industry that provides a wide selection of value-added programs. According to Teatum, the programs have given Nautilus a competitive edge. “Last year, we increased our sales 30 percent over the year 2000 in a market that was slack,” he says. Nautilus programs cover a variety of fitness goals, from cellulite management to golf-swing perfection. Says Teatum, “Surveys show that the number one reason women join health clubs is for weight management. Nautilus helps club operators access weight-management and cellulite-solution programs. Another important trend in exercise today is managing the aging process. Two programs at Nautilus address this trend: Delay the Onset of Aging and Freedom through Functionality, which is now the main program of Beverly Health Care, the owner of the largest group of senior living residences in the country.
“Our corporate wellness program insures a reduction in absenteeism, an increase in productivity, a significant reduction in workers’ compensation costs and employee turnover. Recent studies by Rank Xerox indicate significant returns on investment in corporate wellness programs.”
Other customer services include a fully trained and certified service department, leasing, on-site training, marketing support and a private trucking fleet. With quality products, value-added services and innovative marketing, Nautilus has 90 percent brand recognition with U.S. customers, says Teatum. Direct Focus, Inc. will ensure a successful integration of the powerful Nautilus brand with its two recent acquisitions, Scwinn Fitness and Stairmaster to provide a complete package of quality equipment. “One aspect of the integration strategy is to incorporate direct selling operations, including sales offices and warehousing, in two major European markets, Germany and the United Kingdom,” says Teatum. Overseas operations now represent about 28 percent of Nautilus’ business, with its main markets being the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Mexico and the Pacific Rim.
According to Teatum, ”Our sales globally are no longer being driven solely by the ‘testosterone factor’, that is, the improvement of strength, size and power. Current published research indicates that strength training can have significant general benefits.
These benefits include: reduction in cholesterol; prevention of osteoporosis; reduction in resting blood pressure; prevention of the onset of adult diabetes; relief of lower back pain; reduction in body fat; and benefits you cannot obtain in a bottle or a pill, but which are readily available from your Nautilus workout.”