Nautilus—RIP?

Nautilus Pullover Machine

When a certain brand dominates the market, its name will often become synonymous with the product it represents. These “classic brands” become so deeply ingrained into our everyday experiences that we use them without even thinking.   Some common examples are Kleenex (facial tissue), Levi’s (jeans), Band-Aids (adhesive strips) and Frisbee (novelty flying disc). The fitness industry has its classic brands too. Two of the most well-known are Nautilus (cam assisted weight-stack machines) and Stairmaster (stair climbing machines).

 Nautilus machines were the invention of Arthur Jones.  The name Nautilus refers to a mollusc whose shell is in the shape of a logarithmic spiral. On Nautilus exercise machines a chain passed over a spiral-shaped cam before attaching to the weight stack.   This cam would modify the resistance the user feels as he/she uses the machine, adding resistance where their strength was greatest.   

When the film Pumping Iron launched a fitness revolution in 1977, gyms full of Nautilus equipment sprouted up all around the country.   While many imitators were quick to enter the market, Nautilus was the dominate brand all through the 1980s. To a generation that was new to working out and scared to death of free weights, the name Nautilus came to represent machines that were easy to use and less intimidating. 

 By the time HealthQuest originally opened in 1990 there were at least a dozen different brands of weight stack machines on the market, and many had advanced the concept beyond what Nautilus was producing.  We chose a line of equipment (Flex) that we felt was easier to operate, more compact, and visually more attractive.  But in those days the first question we would often hear from prospective members was “do you have Nautilus machines?”.  We would then have to explain how great our “Nautilus-type” machines were.  I don’t think we ever lost a customer because we had a different brand, but it did make our job a little more complicated.

Jones cashed out  in 1986 for $23 million, and Nautilus, Inc. became a publicly traded company in 1999.   The company grew and diversified  with the acquisition of the popular Schwinn Fitness, Stairmaster, and Universal commercial equipment lines  They also became a marketer, developer, and manufacturer of home fitness products sold under such names as Bowflex, Treadclimber, and PEARL iZUMi.

Earlier this year the company announced that it was going to divest itself of its commercial business and focus solely on its consumer products.  But given the current state of the economy, finding a buyer for its commercial lines has been difficult.  The company stopped taking commercial orders on October 30th, and expects to discontinue operations entirely before the end of 2009.  If a buyer cannot be found, three of the industry’s most recognizable brands, Nautilus, Stairmaster, and Schwinn, will be gone. 

Star Trac Spinner Elite

For us at HealthQuest, the exit of these companies will have very little impact on our operation.  The only Nautilus product that we feature are our Schwinn spin bikes.  Fortunately replacement parts are readily available, and there are several other quality spin bikes on the market.  We are actually planning on replacing some of our older bikes with new Star Trac Spinner Elite models before the end of the year.

That means that we will be offering our used spin bikes for sale sometime around the beginning of the year.  If you’d like to pick one of these up, you can talk to Peter (ext. 110) or send him an e-mail (peter@napahealthquest.com).  They usually go quickly, so it’s a good idea to get your name on his list early if you are interested.

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  1. Pingback: HealthQuest Happenings

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