Celebrating its first year of selling direct to Australian facilities, the team from fitness solutions supplier Precor was in buoyant form at the recent FILEX fitness industry convention. Network chatted with business director Andy Pickett to find out more about the company’s increased industry presence and investment in technology.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I’ve been with Precor since 2006, and having been a huge fitness fan all my life I jumped at the opportunity to work for the company. Before coming to Australia, I was responsible for Precor operations throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa as well as Asia Pacific – including logistics, service and delivery. In that role I got involved in the transition from the distributor model to direct selling in Australia, which eventually led to the opportunity to be relocated here. My family and I are now firmly entrenched in the Australian lifestyle. I regularly compete in triathlons, and am a keen cyclist, riding 38km to and from work every day.
Can you give us a little background on Precor?
Precor made its mark on the fitness industry when it launched the first ergonomically sound rowing machine in 1980, and this was followed by the first cushioned treadmill in 1990. In 1995 the company changed the face of aerobic exercise when it introduced the world’s first elliptical fitness cross-trainer. In 2007 Precor replicated this achievement in innovation, launching the world’s first Adaptive Motion Trainer (AMT). The latest technological breakthrough from Precor is a networked fitness solution designed to help and encourage both exercisers and club operators to achieve their goals.
At FILEX Precor celebrated its one year anniversary of setting up its Australian subsidiary. Why did you decide to change the approach to the Australian market?
Going direct in Australia has enabled us to get closer to our customers, to better understand their businesses and therefore better understand what we can do to help them grow. At Precor, we pride ourselves on world class delivery and after-sales service, and going direct has ensured we can excel in this. We know from international surveys that these are top considerations when making a purchasing decision, so now we are ideally placed to provide what local operators demand and need.
You also launched the latest Preva release at FILEX. What is Preva?
Preva engages exercisers with an integrated software and hardware experience which combines the touch screen technologies found in the latest smartphones and electronic tablets (via our P80 console) with proprietary software to provide a rich and inviting interface.
From the member’s perspective, Preva allows the exerciser to personalise their workouts by creating an account, which can be accessed on Preva-enabled cardio equipment anywhere in the world, as well as via a new mobile app, so workouts completed away from the gym can be logged. Exercisers can set goals that are relevant to them, and receive updates and alerts on their progress. Through Preva Net, exercisers can engage with a variety of internet content, delivered in a format specifically designed for the in-motion exerciser.
For club operators, Preva features a Business Suite which provides online management and monitoring of Precor cardio equipment by allowing operators to see real-time equipment usage. Operators can also use Preva to communicate with their members through the console.
Does Preva signify Precor’s shift of focus from hardware to software?
It signifies that we consider software to be very important, which is why we have 55 in-house, dedicated fitness software engineers. However, it would be a mistake to think we are focusing on Preva alone. Demonstrating our commitment to innovation in hardware is the AMT with Open Stride which we launched in June 2012, along with a whole new range of strength equipment in the last 18 months. We remain focused on keeping our hardware at the forefront of technology.
What makes Preva different from other software?
Preva is the first truly open platform networked fitness solution, meaning that anyone with access to a smartphone or Precor cardio equipment can create an account for free. While we have just launched RFID tags to make Preva as easy and user-friendly as possible, you don’t need one to create and use an account.
We’ve got 25,000 P80 console units in the field globally, with 11,000 connected to Preva and 27 million workouts logged since it launched in 2010, making it a truly ‘tried and tested’ product. Our focus was always on producing an affordable, robust, intuitive product, and we were the first to bring capacitive technology to a gym environment, in a way that is now synonymous with smart phone and tablet devices. Using the swiping motion, exercisers can easily navigate to what they want to read. Despite the similarities in the technology and the way the device is operated, our first P80 installation was actually six months before the launch of the first iPad, clearly demonstrating the extent of our research and development capabilities.
Preva is an evolving product that we are constantly updating so it remains cutting edge. We have the benefit of being first to market and everything we have learned through that experience, combined with the ability to remain ahead because of our commitment to continual software updates and innovation.
How will members be educated to use the equipment?
Preva is extremely intuitive – to the point where we have switched it on in clubs ahead of staff providing members with any training, and they have just gone ahead and created accounts with no instruction. In fact this was the experience at Healthglo in Burnie, Tasmania, the first club in Australia to have Preva Personal Accounts installed (see case study over page).
This ease of use diminishes the need for training, plus how-to videos are featured on the console, providing step-by step instructions for members. However, we recognise that you only get the best from something if you are coached by experts, so any club buying this equipment will have its staff extensively trained on Preva, and they in turn can pass this training on to members.
Is there a danger of interactive screens being a distraction from the activity of exercising?
The philosophy behind everything we do at Precor is ‘fitness is foremost’ – this drove us to refrain from launching a product like Preva until the right technology was available at the right cost. As I mentioned, our consoles use capacitive technology like iPads, which is well suited to the in-motion exerciser because of the use of the intuitive swiping motion. Ensuring ease of use is the first step in keeping fitness foremost and not creating too much of a distraction. For this reason, Preva also deliberately doesn’t feature games.
Could Preva make members subconsciously work out less intensely?
This is actually the reason behind our use of RSS feeds within Preva. In terms of content, we include health and fitness themed articles and news that exercisers can browse easily. The RSS feed format is easy to navigate and read, because it is designed to be read on tablets and mobile phones. There is an open web browser available, but gyms can disable this feature should they choose to, to avoid both distracting content as well as inappropriate content being accessed in their facility.
Technology moves so quickly – how do you plan to keep club operators up-to-date with the latest software developments?
We conduct regular remote updates when the machine is offline, between 1 and 3am local time, and the update will automatically be re-sent until it is successfully completed. A benefit of having our own ‘fitness orientated’ software engineers is that we can update Preva as often as we need to – currently we are doing four to five upgrades a year.
Does Preva prompt more usage and member retention?
This is best measured by our customers who have Preva: Healthglo, for example, has achieved some very interesting results since making it available to members.
Roughly three-quarters of Healthglo’s members now use Preva Personal Accounts when they complete their cardio workouts. The club’s owner, Andrew Keen, has told us the business benefits are tangible, with a 70 per cent increase in new membership sales in January and 28 per cent in February. In addition, renewals in January increased by 33 per cent and in February by a whopping 95 per cent (2013 versus 2012). As far as cardio machine usage goes, Andrew estimates he’s had at least a 400 per cent increase in cardio use since December – and he’s not changed anything else in the gym or his marketing strategy.
What is Precor’s vision for the future?
We are working on the next software phase for Preva, which will for the first time provide operators with functionality targeting retention, including engaging with members most at risk of leaving the club. We anticipate this to be of huge benefit to operators.
Generally we will continue to put fitness foremost in all of our developments. Of course we will also maintain our leadership position in networked fitness, and in Australia we will continue to help our customers grow their businesses. Key areas of focus will continue to be excellence in customer service, delivery and installation.
For more information on Precor visit www.precor.com or call 1800 651 872
CASE STUDY: Healthglo, Tasmania
Andrew Keen, owner of Healthglo in Tasmania, was the first gym operator in Australia to utalise Preva Personal Accounts, in December 2012.
Healthglo is a family owned, full service gym located in Burnie, where the population is just 18,000. Andrew is committed to delivering innovation to all of his 1,000+ members –and it’s paying off.
‘The feedback on Preva from members has been exceptional – they love it. Initially they all loved Preva Net, but now the buzz is all about personalisation’ says Andrew.
As he sees it, Preva’s power lies in its ability both to help his members make improvements in their fitness tangible, and to help him run his business.
‘As members achieve their personal milestones they get badges, which seems a bit geeky, but really is motivating for them. It’s also great that you can modify the profile of a workout to create a personal one.’
From the business perspective, Andrew uses Preva to identify which type of machine is the most popular, which is useful as he plans to add eight new machines.
Asked what made him choose Preva in the first place, Andrew reiterates his passion for innovation, as well as his desire to demonstrate his commitment to members;
‘Installing Preva and state-of-the-art cardio equipment shows the community that we are always seeking out the best for them. I would call Precor’s cardio line with the P80 consoles ‘evolving cardio’. The investment is worthwhile from that point of view – it’s a smart way to buy equipment. I like to think I’m investing in the future.’