Sweat success Featured

1:37pm EDT June 19, 2003
There could be one in your rec room or basement. Orr you may have seen Chuck Norris or Christie Brinkley working out on one while you were flipping through the cable channels.

It's called the Total Gym, and it's one of nearly 1,000 pieces of exercise equipment and other fitness products sold by Canton-based Fitness Quest.

More people have hear of Fitness Quest's products than have heard of the company. The Total Gym is well-known, as are the Torso Track, the Slam Man and the Gazelle, which is hawked by fitness guru Tony Little, who has a wide line of exercise and nutritional products with Fitness Quest.

But the fact that Fitness Quest's brands are better known than the company name doesn't bother CEO and President Robert Schnabel.

"We're a very quiet company in Summit County," says Schnabel. "People don't expect to hear we're on course to do $200 million this year. We do it very quietly and very underneath the radar screen."

Schnabel was hired to run Fitness Quest in 1994 after then-Time Warner bought the parent company in bankruptcy court. Schnabel took over Fitness Quest with only four products and zero sales.

Last year, the company posted $142 million in sales in 77 countries. It launched with 65 employees and today has 114.

"Those initial 65 are the nucleus of our success," Schnabel says. "I would put our team up from a marketing, media, product-development, distribution standpoint against anybody, and that's why we win and that's why we're successful."

Fitness Quest's marketing niche is its short-form cable television commercials, infomercials and Internet advertising. The ads reaches more than 70 million households each year, according to Fitness Quest, which account for more than half of the company's sales.

Schnabel, who bought Fitness Quest from Time Warner in 1997, says his growth focus will be to introduce more high-end equipment to his product line. Today, the most expensive stationary bicycle Fitness Quest sells is $399. Schnabel would like to see the top-line equipment sell at closer to $1,000.

"If we do what we're supposed to do in our marketing and distribution, then the performance always follows," Schnabel says. "I don't concentrate on the financial performance -- I focus on marketing and distribution, and go from there." How to reach: Fitness Quest, (330) 478-0755 or www.fitnessquest.com