From Star Trac
BULKING UP –
Core Health & Fitness’ Virginia factory beefs up its infrastructure to support production of Nautilus and Star Trac strength lines.
In the fitness business, it’s often the club members who are looking to bulk up. At Core Health & Fitness — manufacturers, marketers and distributors of iconic brands including Star Trac®, StairMaster®, Nautilus® and Schwinn® indoor cycles–bulking up at their recently acquired Independence, Virginia factory has been the name of the game.
Over the past few months, Core has upgraded critical software infrastructure, reconfigured the factory floor, added a 100,000 square foot distribution center and started shaping operating plans to improve quality, shorten lead times and provide new options for customers.
At the ribbon cutting in August of 2014, Jon Little, Vice President of Operations at Core Health & Fitness, told the crowd, including Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, that hiring back a great team and maintaining the confidence of customers were among the company’s primary goals.
Less than a year later, the turnaround is becoming a full makeover. Today, nearly 110 people are employed at the factory. Some of the faces are familiar to anyone who’s worked with Nautilus over the past years. Greg Webb, who interned for Arthur Jones while still in high school, is on board. Others, like Mollie Beach who joined in 1993, continue to enrich the plant. New talent is also on the scene. Mike Siegel, a 30-year manufacturing veteran joined the organization in July to lead the factory. Other key hires were made to bolster the factory and supply chain including new leads for logistics, materials management and sales operations.
Infrastructure upgrades in customer service have also been deployed. The factory’s customer service department migrated to a state-of the-art CRM system. Order management and distribution activities are now integrated with Core Health & Fitness’s global systems infrastructure.
This summer, the largest capital investment in 3 years will be completed– the addition of second paint line. This upgrade will provide for greater production flexibility and, down the road, for paint customization options. Additional capital investments are planned for 2016 including the installation of new computer controlled metal fabrication and quality control systems.
The product mix at the factory is being transformed as well. In addition to Nautilus commercial strength equipment, the factory is moving in two lines of strength equipment for Core Health & Fitness’s Star Trac brand. Previously, these products were produced in Taiwan and China.
“Bringing incremental volume to the Virginia factory was the number one priority for the business following our acquisition”, said Dustin Grosz, President of Core Health & Fitness. “Building strength equipment is a ‘make to order’ business and having a full production pipeline improves every aspect of the production process from staffing the production lines through scheduling shipments to customers”, Grosz continued. “Our organic growth targets for Nautilus strength were good but the addition of Star Trac strength made all the numbers better.”
“We had a project on the boards to refresh the HumanSport® line”, said Jeff Dilts, Vice President of Product Management and Innovation. “The decision to move the production gave us a green light to accelerate that process”, he added.
Star Trac’s HumanSport line consists of six dual-function, cable-based machines that act as 12 workout stations. They utilize dual weight stacks to provide a wide range of total body training options including Base Strength, Core Stabilization and Dynamic Movement training. In addition to the equipment, the company offers a variety of programming created by its Master Instructors that enable clubs to market to existing and prospective members.
Changes to the HumanSport line included reconfiguring the seats so they can drop down or fold up, making it even easier to perform exercises from the standing position. The aesthetics of the machines were also improved. Square tubing was replaced with sleek oval tubing and trim choices were updated to natural woods and carbon fiber finishes.
For Star Trac’s Inspiration Strength® selectorized line, the move enabled a variety of aesthetic changes; the line now features a modern, rounded tower with a consistent stack height across the 17 selectorized pieces. Customer feedback around enhanced biomechanics was incorporated along with minor changes for member convenience and improved feel.
The Inspiration Strength line retains the popular Lock N Load® weight selection technology. Users simply flick a switch –similar to light switch–and adjust the stack to the desired load. Lock N Load saves clubs maintenance time and customer service headaches since there are no pins to lose or replace.
Moving the HumanSport and Inspiration Strength production presented the team at Core with a complex planning puzzle and hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake. “We needed the supply chain to be very closely tied with our sales team”, said Jon Little. “During this window, being out of stock means lost sales and market share; producing too much means tying up cash in inventory.”
Meanwhile, in Virginia, a special project team prepared the factory for the coming arrivals. The team reconfigured the factory floor to accommodate two new production lines, moved the upholstery shop and brought online a new warehouse space, racking and inventory control systems.
Once the final plans were set in Asia and Virginia, weld assembly and samples were shipped via container vessel through the Panama Canal. Upon arrival in Norfolk Harbor, they were transferred to trucks and travelled down Highway 21 to Independence. The containers were greeted by forklifts and the two teams responsible for the getting production up and running.
The team would next inspect, install and build new, production-ready rigs. Two weeks later, the first of the USA made HumanSport product was ready for shipment. The first of the Inspiration Strength will be ready this summer.
“On one level, building Star Trac branded strength equipment in the building that Arthur Jones created feels a little weird”, said Dilts. “But for Star Trac customers, this isn’t about design philosophy, this is about having the best production and quality available for the equipment.”
Grosz added, “The Independence factory is being configured to optimize the production of strength equipment. Since all selectorized equipment owes a debt of heritage to Arthur Jones, making this place the home of the best equipment production in the world makes perfect sense.”