The Spirit of Improvement: Equipment History (Part 2)
This three-part series explores how Bowflex and parent Company Nautilus have applied – and continue to apply – original thinking to the advancement of fitness technology.
Part 2: The Spirit of Improvement
The widely acclaimed Nautilus T618 Treadmill. The feature-rich Stairmaster Gauntlet 8G. The popular Schwinn IC4 Spin Bike. The ISPO Award-winning Bowflex HVT Gym. Products of this quality don’t happen by accident but through a continual, dedicated process.
Recession and the R&D Remedy
It started with the 2008 recession. Curtailed consumer spending forced Nautilus Inc. to make cuts, lay off employees and scale down facilities. The company opted out of the commercial gym market, and its new focus on home users keyed on the one quality that had made the difference when investors were turning up their noses – innovation.
Between 2012 and 2016, research and development spending, including engineering and customer research, tripled. Starting in 2013, 15 new products were launched each year with an eye toward making that number 25. Nautilus acquired Octane Fitness in 2015, and Octane’s robust development structure soon added $61.9 million to the bottom line.
Times were changing. The infomercials that had made Bowflex a household name gave way to one-minute-or-less commercials. High tech was the new frontier – smartphone integration, wearable technology and online promotion and sales. Buyers changed more than their taste in gadgets. Young men wanted their muscles lean not big, and they wanted to burn off any fat that might hide them. To produce the equipment they’d need, Nautilus’s 28,000 square-foot Innovation Centre hummed with engineering processes while stress tests identified long-term wear threats. Hydraulic machines pushed and pulled weights. A wheel of metal feet mimicked a heavyset runner’s impact on treadmill decks. This renewed commitment to quality control produced one of Bowflex’s biggest successes.
The Best of Both Worlds ... for Starters
Conventional wisdom says there’s no such thing as an ideal world. The developers at Nautilus Inc. opted to listen to their customers instead. Users wanted an exercise machine that went easy on joints, burned a lot of calories and didn’t take up much of the little time left to them after work, kids and weariness took their bite.
Stair steppers were great calorie incinerators, but the burn could also hit you in the knees and ankles. Ellipticals relieved that pressure but required longer workouts for the same results. Could a machine deliver both benefits but neither drawback? Nautilus engineers proved it could. They tilted the elliptical’s front-to-back motion on its axis – gaining the climbing, calorie-burning benefits of a stair stepper. This also shrunk the usual footprint of elliptical trainers, taking up less space. Structured high-intensity interval training (HIIT) programs allowed users to get cardio and fat-burning results in as little as four minutes, solving the time-crunch problem. And as users pumped two handles, they toned their upper bodies, as well.
These advancements made the new Bowflex Max Trainer a hit with users, but there was always room for improvement
Asked and Answered - Customer Input and the Evolution of the Bowflex Max Trainer
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Students and fans of design and creative strategy will enjoy the website of Nautilus Design Researcher Matthew Wilkins. His Bowflex Max Trainer case study provides a fascinating window on how critical product research, user consultation, structured brainstorming and empathetic identification of opportunities can help an already great product achieve greater success. Max Trainer owners were not only recruited and interviewed, but also asked to use the machine and provide a running commentary in front of Wilkins’s research team.
Although most of the feedback was positive, the team did discover a need to make two key features – interval programming and coaching – more straightforward. They also learned users sought the option of a “more premium” Max Trainer – inspiring the development of the M7 with its upgraded console and programming to help newer users more easily grasp the machine’s potential.
The team took its cues from the users and further refined that process by consulting with a designated “target persona” owner, held to be the most representative of all Max Trainer users. These consultations prompted the team to play up the attributes that had already made the Max Trainer a “work of technology,” which owners were proud to show off – not just another exercise machine destined to moulder in the garage. Users loved the Ducati motorcycle-inspired design of the original machine, so the team added extra features like a full-colour LCD console to enhance the Max Trainer’s aura of power and performance.
Hearing about the machine’s problems wasn’t as flattering, but it proved equally beneficial. No sooner had users pointed out difficulties with following the interval and coaching programs than they proposed their own solution: interactive functionality inspired by games like Bejeweled. The team studied the game’s engaging graphical animations and instant, encouraging celebrations of achievements. These were incorporated into the Max Trainer App’s new live functionality – another development spawned by user requests.
You can't rest on success.
That research yielded the Bowflex Max Trainer M5 and M7 – both celebrated with thousands of five-star reviews but ultimately replaced. The Bowflex Max Trainer M6 and M8 sweetened the pot with larger, repositioned, more colorful consoles plus Bluetooth® compatible heartrate tracking and more smart device amenities. They’ve also expanded coaching possibilities with available access to the new, more intuitive Bowflex JRNY™ app and merged exercise with escape via the Explore the World™ app.
Improvements are perennial within the Nautilus group of leading equipment brands. That’s why we’re not still working out with the Blue Monster – or waiting for it to come along. Good ideas can always be better, whether they start within Nautilus Inc. or somewhere else. Sometimes that means anticipating customer needs before customers can. It’s taken Nautilus engineers into unfamiliar territory, but they’ve found ways to succeed.
That’s in Part 3 of this series.
Find out what constant improvement can do for you at Flaman Fitness.
Bowflex, Nautilus and their fitness partners continue to evolve better fitness solutions for YOUR needs. You can see and TRY the latest at your nearest Flaman Fitness location. Whether your want to build muscle, burn fat or boost your cardio and endurance, our expert staff can help you find the fitness equipment that’s been refined over years to meet your specific requirements. Drop by and discuss putting decades of innovation to work for you.