Seven years ago, David Weck’s hastiness in trying to lift his fallen motorcycle from a street in Ocean Beach resulted in the worst pain of his life.
For eight long months, every move hurt.
Then, Weck, a personal trainer, had an idea that would transform his misery (while recovering from a herniated disk) into a fortune.
“In my last physical therapy class, I was introduced to the stability ball and I realized that my back got 75 percent better,” Weck recalled.
Sitting on the ball eased the pain, but led to more falls. So Weck brainstormed about what would happen if he cut the ball in half.
“I thought of this on a Friday night, went to a Home Depot, cut my ball in half, duct taped it onto a piece of wood and started exercising,” Weck said.
Today, the factory-made version, a bright blue half-dome called BOSU, is popular in gyms nationwide.
BOSU , which stands for both sides up , is a very versatile piece of exercise equipment.
Cedric X. Bryant, chief exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit fitness certification and education provider in San Diego, noted the benefits.
“You can work on several components of fitness , step up and down like a bouncy step aerobic bench, do a variety of resistance training, squats, lunges, push-ups and abdominal work,” Bryant said.
Weck, 35, an Ocean Beach resident, said U.S. National Ski Team trainers ordered the first handmade prototypes in 1999.
He charged $109 for the duct-taped version.
“I brought them two and they asked me to build 12 more,” Weck said.
Weck secured seed funding (he wouldn’t disclose the amount) from an unnamed angel investor to get the ball rolling by starting the San Diego-based company DW Fitness LLC.
For two years, Weck and a boy in his neighborhood built hundreds of BOSUs in his garage to satisfy the grass-roots demand, he said.
In 2000, Weck changed the company name to Bosu Fitness LLC.
He also lined up a manufacturer, Ashland, Ohio-based Hedstrom Plastics, to mass-produce the BOSU and partnered with Canton, Ohio-based Fitness Quest Inc. to market the ball to sports retailers and distributors.
Weck, who has only four employees in his San Diego office, couldn’t say how many BOSUs he’s sold since 2000; and Fitness Quest declined to give sales figures.
But Dustin Schnabel, project manager for Fitness Quest, said, “Three years ago, people thought we were nuts trying to sell half a ball at four times the price of a whole one.”
“Today, fitness directors and club managers are budgeting to purchase 25 of them for each location,” Schnabel added.
He said Fitness Quest sells about 15 percent of the volume directly to fitness clubs and trainers. The bulk of sales occurs through distributors, such as Fitness Wholesale Inc., and major specialty retailers, such as LA Gym Equipment, and sporting goods retailers, including the Sports Authority, Schnabel noted.
The BOSU sells to fitness professionals and health club owners for $119 apiece or for a discounted price of $99 each for a minimum order of 12, Schnabel said.
It’s safe to estimate that the BOSU is now used in more than 3,600 fitness clubs nationwide; more than 1,200 clubs offer group exercise classes using the BOSU, he said.
But the real sales drivers are the BOSU educational program developers, a team of high-profile fitness experts (including Weck) who try to come up with new uses for BOSU and train instructors on the new moves during workshops at trade shows and other events.
The idea is to get fitness instructors fired up about a new piece of fitness equipment or concept, so they will persuade their club managers to buy into it as well.
Carrie Weiland, group exercise manager for the Frog’s Club One facilities in Solana Beach and Encinitas, said she became intrigued with the BOSU after taking a BOSU workshop with Douglas Brooks. She then sold her managers on it.
“We had to start small , 12 BOSUs at Solana Beach and 10 in Encinitas,” Weiland recalled.
Two years later, and after buying about a dozen more BOSUs, the two clubs now offer three classes dedicated to BOSU.
“It’s been a great investment for us to provide to our membership base,” said Todd Milton, the general manager at Frog’s in Encinitas. “The classes are still packed.”
Claire Bullas, the general manager at the Solana Beach club, added, “The nice thing about the BOSU is that it can be used in other classes as well and by personal trainers for their clients.”
At her club, the BOSU booted a step aerobics class off the group exercise schedule. The step has been a popular piece of equipment for years, but the BOSU speaks to the new desire by club members for more functional exercises.
Said Bryant, “The wide variety of movement fits with the core stability and functional workouts that are so popular with health and fitness professionals you find in health clubs.”
To ensure that the BOSU continues to see wider adoption in this fiercely competitive fitness equipment environment, it’s up to the program developers to keep the ball interesting and new.
Fitness Quest partnered with two heavyweights in the fitness industry, the husband-and-wife team of Douglas and Candice Copeland Brooks, to do just that.
The Brookses’ own company, Moves International Fitness, markets BOSU material on its Web sites, including tapes, DVDs, books and workshops for fitness professionals.
In early 2006, the team will introduce its newest BOSU concoction , 15-, 30- and 60-minute workouts for six classes.
“This new education system will reduce the learning curve for instructors/trainers using the product, thus allowing club managers to incorporate BOSU training into their facility in a much more efficient, cost-effective manner,” Schnabel said.