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What's Old Is New Again

Thinking of buying remanufactured equipment? Here's what you should know.

In the world of fitness, equipment choice is crucial. Choices exist not only for brands and types of equipment, but for features and price. Purchasing equipment can be daunting.

How can you afford the most sought-after features in a well-known brand at a reasonable price? It's a tough task, and one that can break a gym's budget, particularly a start-up facility.

That's why many fitness center owners purchase remanufactured equipment. With a savings of about 70 percent compared to the cost of new equipment, purchasing remanufactured equipment can free up funds for other parts of the facility. It can also allow fitness centers to replace older, favorite pieces that may not be manufactured anymore.

Can you trust used equipment?

If reworked properly, remanufactured equipment is as dependable and wears as well as the equipment was when new. Says Mark Clayton, president of Fitness Equipment Source, Concord, Ont., Canada, "Anyone can hang their shingle out and say they remanufacture equipment, but that doesn't mean they'll do it correctly. Those who don't do it legitimately give those who do a bad name." Fitness Equipment Source equips approximately five start-up fitness centers each month with flooring and strength and cardio equipment. It, and companies like it, canoutfit an entire fitness facility, or sell just a single piece of equipment. They can provide the equipment you want in the color and upholstery you request (even if the product did not originally come in that color), and they provide an extended warranty and service their products.

Another benefit to purchasing remanufactured, in addition to cost, is that you have insight to products that have been in the marketplace for a few years. You know how those products were received, if they were well-engineered and if they are a good fit for your facility. Providers of remanufactured equipment can tell you about the product's track record, and if it will work for your intended uses -- including how much usage the piece will get, if it is appropriate for overweight populations, etc. They are not biased to one product or brand.

Types of equipment

Jim Steenbergen, owner of First Fitness Equipment International, Fort Worth, Texas, explains that remanufacturing companies have different degrees to which they remanufacture or refurbish equipment. First Fitness, for instance, has three levels of servicing:

Total remanufacture. This means stripping the machine down, sand blasting, powder finishing, testing all moving parts, etc. This saves buyers about 35 percent off of the price of new equipment. It gives a longer life to the equipment, and has the same warranty as when the equipment was new. The company also "zeros out" a treadmill's total mileage.

Refurbished. For a refurbish, Fitness First touches up the paint, if needed, and improves upon the aesthetics. It makes sure the machine is 100 percent operational. This saves customers about 40 to 45 percent off of the price compared to new equipment, and includes a six-month parts warranty.

Serviced. Serviced means that the machine was cleaned, had some minor touch-ups and is 100 percent operational. Customers get a three-month parts warranty, but it saves them 45 to 50 percent on the cost of the machine.

Says Steenbergen, "We used to give all our equipment a total remanufacture because we felt that's what clients would want. But we found that some clients are more price-conscious than others."

It's important to note that while "serviced" may sound like you'll get a machine with a short lifespan, you may actually get a newer machine that just didn't need as much fixing up.

Quality from the inside out

Provided the product was remanufactured by a reputable company, the equipment should not look old. "The most expensive thing on a new piece of equipment such as a treadmill is the steel frame," says Clayton. But, the frame doesn't go bad, just the wear parts. Companies that really remanufacture equipment will take the entire piece apart, and get each component independently tested. If the piece doesn't meet or exceed the manufacturer's requirements as new, they replace it. They sandblast the frame and put the original type of coating back on it.

If the piece is an upholstered piece, they reupholster with double-stitched naugahyde, just like the manufacturer.

Ask questions

If you are concerned about the quality of a remanufactured piece of equipment, you should be. All remanufacturers are not alike, and you want to be sure you are getting the best your money can buy. Ask a lot of questions to be certain you are buying from a reputable company. David Shaw, president of Innofit Inc., Santa Ana, Calif., suggests considering the following things when purchasing remanufactured equipment:

1. Does the company have a solid reputation, with dated references? You'll want to talk to people who have had a relationship with the company for many years, not just someone who bought one piece of equipment.

2. Is the company stable? Does it provide liability insurance for its products?

3. Does the company use certified technicians? Consider ensuring that technicians are certified by equipment manufacturers.

4. Does the company provide a warranty on its products? The standard warranty for commercial-grade equipment is six months.

5. Will the company provide you with an owner's manual so you know when equipment service intervals are and what should be done at each?

6. How does the company transport equipment? And, does the price include freight and set-up (and possibly any removal of older equipment)?

7. How long does it takes someone to answer the phone at the company? If you end up in an endless string of automated messages, you may be dealing with a company that will be difficult to contact after you purchase equipment and need help or have questions.

Steenbergen suggests that you check what procedures the remanufacturing company follows for updating its equipment. Be certain you are getting the service you think you are getting.

Where does it come from?

You may be thinking, if this equipment is so great, why was it sold to the remanufacturing company in the first place? The answer lies in the auto industry. Clayton says that the fitness equipment industry is mirroring the auto industry more and more. As newer technology comes at a faster pace, equipment companies design and produce new equipment, and hope that fitness centers will trade up. "We used to see a particular model of treadmill [sold] for 10 years," says Clayton. "Now we see a new one every three [years] or so." The older treadmills being replaced are still great pieces of equipment, they just may not have the newest bell or whistle. "Adding new features is the only thing remanufacturing [companies] can't do to used equipment," Shaw says.

The same replacement strategy holds true for strength equipment. "The fitness manufacturers are using chrome colors now that you see on cars -- titanium and silver -- and people want that look," says Clayton. So, they purchase new pieces. But don't forget that remanufacturing companies can paint refurbished equipment in these newer colors.

The remanufacturing industry gets many of its products from the manufacturers themselves from lease-backs or trade-outs. Clayton says that they won't just take any piece of equipment, though. "The equipment must be fully functional and operational, and there's a point at which we quit taking products." Regarding treadmills, for instance, that pointis at about six years, depending on the model. Some companies also won't take products that have not been industry-proven.

Those in the know

Kathy Feldkamp, owner of Club West Fitness in Lorain, Ohio, has been buying remanufactured equipment for her facility for eight years. "I chose remanufactured equipment because it was more affordable and it is like new," Feldkamp says. She wanted to own her equipment, not lease it, and that wasn't an option when she considered new equipment. She just couldn't afford it. Feldkamp was hesitant when she initially started looking into remanufactured equipment. She says that building trust between the dealer and the client is important when choosing from whom to purchase. But, once she bought her first pieces and was happy with them, she was hooked.

When buying a piece of equipment, Feldkamp tells her dealer what she wants, either the actual piece of equipment or the features for which she's looking. Most of her equipment is about two to three years old when she gets it, and members can't tell the difference.

Appreciate the depreciation

Much like the auto industry, your equipment depreciates about 20 percent when it enters your facility. So, it may make sense to consider remanufactured equipment for your next expansion or replacement. Provided you do your homework and choose a reputable company, you can be just as happy with refurbished equipment as you can with new equipment -- and still have money left over.

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