It’s used in the White House and by Google and now it’s come to Australia. But Mike Quinn was skeptical when he was first approached about marketing the treadmill desk in Australia.
“Initially we thought ‘this can’t be true’,” says Sydney-based Quinn, owner of gym equipment firm Infiniti Fitness.
Indeed, the ability to burn calories while you work seems too good to be true for most fitness buffs. But this is exactly what you can do with a novel invention known as the treadmill desk.
“The idea is to get everybody off their chairs while they work,” says Vanessa Dunne, Infiniti’s sales and marketing co-ordinator.
The concept of this alternative workspace gained, ahem, traction with Quinn when reports started filtering in from the United States that the treadmill desk had been sold to the White House, Google, and a number of high-ranking companies.
In Australia, a medical company, a film production company, a travel insurance firm and physiotherapists are among those who have purchased treadmill desks so far, which costs between $1899 and $3499 per unit.
Psychologist Ian Collett bought a treadmill desk in February this year. Both he and wife Gillian use it.
“I use it for work on the computer, at about two kilometres per hour, slightly faster for internet work and faster for exercise benefit.”
However, Collett says he finds it cumbersome to record the data about how fast and far he goes. “When two people use it we have to keep resetting the data.”
He says he has lost weight, no longer has back trouble and spends less time sitting at a chair. “It’s a real buzz to see how far you walked and calories burned while completing work.”
Jacqueline Cameron, head of legal and compliance, retirement living for the financial services group Australian Unity, has been using the treadmill desk for a month. After recently having a baby, she decided to buy one for her office, for exercise purposes and to reduce health complications from sitting for so much of the working day.
“For me, it’s about moving, because sitting down is really quite evil for the body,” Cameron says. She’s upped her speeds from two kilometres to four kilometres an hour since she first started using it.
According to Cameron, the one downside is people constantly stopping to ask her what it is when they see it in her office. “I’ve stuck something on the door [that explains what it is] but no one reads it, they just want to talk to me about it.”
She also says she wears trousers rather than skirts to work and her boss has commented that she’s the only person in the office who changes from court shoes into trainers when she arrives.
It’s not recommended people use the treadmill desk all day. Dunne says people generally use it sporadically, from two hours at a time to six hours. “One client says he got on it and he didn’t realise how long he’d been on it for.”
User safety is a question that naturally springs to mind. “We have a safety key that is clipped onto you and as soon as that is pulled, the treadmill shuts down,” says Dunne. It also has a feature called Intelli-Guard: if the treadmill doesn’t register a step for 20 seconds, it shuts down automatically.
“If it’s a corporate environment and you don’t want your staff going too fast on it, you can set the speed for a certain limit,” Dunne says.
The treadmill desk is a natural evolution for Quinn, who introduced a fitness system called the Exa Gym – remember those on morning TV? – to Australia in the ’80s.
Arriving from New Zealand in 1982, he adopted the tactic of in-home demonstrations to market the Exa Gym. From there, his business grew into one of the first specialty fitness retail stores in Australia.
Quinn recognised the potential for a new fitness equipment wholesaler, which saw the birth of Infiniti Fitness and started importing equipment in 1986, sourcing most of his products from Taiwan, travelling there regularly to establish ties with his manufacturers.
“I decided there was a definite gap in the market as no one seemed to provide the quality of product or service I needed as a retailer and this is what motivated me.”
Over the decades, he has introduced a number of novel products to Australia including the health walker, the ab shaper and the total trainer. So does he see potential in the treadmill desk?
“We have attended a few trade shows and there has been keen interest,” says Quinn.
His firm is the sole provider of these treadmill desks nationwide, and has been approached by potential customers in New Zealand and Thailand.
Infiniti visualises the fitness market staying steady over the next financial year without any significant growth. “For our business, we expect to keep relatively on par with the previous financial year and expect a slight increase in sales,” says Dunne.
Infiniti’s current marketing plan is heavily focused on the new range of treadmill desks. It has three models in the market and hopes to sell about 400 units this calendar year.
“We will be participating in more office furniture exhibitions to get these products out into the market. Having already exhibited at Design Ex in Melbourne in early June, our next show will be In Design in Sydney in August,” says Dunne.
On Infiniti’s radar are retailers who sell ergonomic desks. The target clientele covers a broad range – home offices, workplaces that have customer service centres, call centres and physios, among others.
“Fitness as a market has certainly seen some growth in recent years, but we have also seen a shrinking of the specialty fitness market as retail has struggled in the current economic climate and businesses from outside this market have also diluted the pool,” she says.
“Margin expectations in this type of environment have certainly changed for both retail and wholesale to be competitive while remaining profitable against the rising overheads associated with any business.”
Dunne says Infiniti has built its reputation on the service it provides to its customers, both wholesale and consumer. “The art of customer service is certainly something that has been lost in this age and is something that will make or break a business.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.