NordicTrack was founded in 1975 by Edward Pauls. He lived in Minnesota and was training for a cross country ski race. That winter was particularly harsh and he had the idea for the ski machine while struggling to train outdoors. Since his background was in mechanical engineering he was well qualified to put it together. It took over a year of creating various prototypes, but eventually the first NordicTrack skiers were sold. While cross country skiers comprised most of the original customers, the NordicTrack skier soon became very popular and was a must have piece of exercise equipment.
Growth was so fast that Ed Pauls, who recently passed away in 2011, found it difficult to keep pace. In 1986 his facilities in Chaska, Minnesota, were getting overwhelmed by the high volume of orders for the ski machine. He began talks with a company called CML Corporation to be acquired by them, and by 1988 CML was the new owner of NordicTrack. CML was a Boston based company but maintained manufacturing of NordicTrack in Minnesota, expanding into new factories in Glencoe and Belle Plain. There they began to manufacture more than just skiers. The NordicTrack brand was selling treadmills, elliptical trainers, sit up machines and other fitness equipment.
Soon NordicTrack expanded again and opened several retail stores across the country. These stores exclusively sold NordicTrack exercise equipment and were very profitable. But by the mid-90’s the fitness industry had become saturated with new equipment and the novelty of the skier was wearing off. In 1995 sales had declined and NordicTrack began to downsize, starting with its 300 retail locations. In spite of layoffs and cuts, NordicTrack was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1998. NordicTrack was purchased in 1999 by Icon Health & Fitness, a large fitness manufacturer owned by IHF Capital, Inc.
Since the acquisition by Icon Health & Fitness, NordicTrack has thrived. They still manufacture their classic skier, but it is their least popular machine now. NordicTrack treadmills are the top selling brand worldwide. They also have a full line of elliptical trainers and exercise bikes. In 2009, NordicTrack pioneered the incline trainer, a specialty treadmill that can reach an incline of up to 40%. These are some of their most popular machines today.
An In Depth History Of Icon Health & Fitness
In 1977, two Utah State students, Scott Waterson and Gary Stevenson, founded Weslo, Inc. Their company dealt in Asian kitchenware and tables. They started selling Fire King wood burning stoves in 1979. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that they began to manufacture fitness equipment, including treadmills, exercise bikes, trampolines and more. Weslo sold their exercise equipment under the name ProForm Fitness Products.
Weider Fitness acquired Weslo and Proform in 1988 and moved them into their current headquarters in Logan, Utah. Weider sold Weslo and Proform in 1994 to IHF Capital, a group of private equity firms, for $450 million. At this point, the names Weslo and Proform were changed and the companies were merged under the name Icon Health & Fitness. At this point their only brand was Proform, but they soon acquired Healthrider in 1996, NordicTrack in 1999 and FreeMotion Fitness in 2001.
Today Icon owns several more major fitness brands, including Gold’s Gym, Reebok, Image, Epic, Altra Zero Drop and iFit. Nearly all of their equipment comes equipped with iFit compatibility, a new technology developed by Icon Fitness. They hold over 200 patents and employ over 2,500 people in 9 locations across the world. Icon Fitness manufactures NordicTrack and other equipment in Logan, Utah, and also has operations in Asia, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Europe.