SILVER SPRING, MD -- Seventeen fitness industry manufacturers and suppliers have joined AFIRM, the Association of Fitness Industry Retailers & Manufacturers, which launched last month. The group also created a new division for small businesses.

The first companies to join AFIRM are Technogym, IronGrip, Cybex, Star Trac, Johnson HealthTech/Matrix, Icon/FreeMotion Fitness, TAG Fitness, Sportsmith, SportsArt, Madd Dogg Athletics, VersaClimber, World Sales Alliance, Dynastream, Lifeline International, Polar, True Fitness and GP Industries.

The association will address fitness industry issues, develop research, lobby Congress for pro-fitness legislation and help raise revenue and reduce expenses on behalf of its members, according to Chuck Leve, executive director of the group, which is affiliated with the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

“We’re thrilled that the initial response to AFIRM has been so positive,” says Leve, who noted that he expects at least 30 members by March. “We are closing in on critical mass, which means we’ll be able to develop programs and strategies to enhance the business environment for our members.”

Cybex CEO John Aglialoro says that it was inevitable that manufacturers would have their own association.

“We’re providing the products and services that fuel the fitness industry,” he says. “It’s only right that we have a seat at the table.”

AFIRM also created a Small Business Division for manufacturers and suppliers that encounter common problems and concerns not necessarily shared by the major strength and cardio companies.

“While we certainly will address the needs of the big players, we don’t want to be known as an association only for the big guys,” Leve says. “There’s plenty of room for smaller players, niche products and service providers.”

“We’re fully supportive of AFIRM’s small business initiative,” says Steve Chase, general manager at Fitness Flooring, which was not yet a member as of today, according to Leve. “We don’t have the same challenges that the cardio and strength guys have, but we do have challenges. We look forward to sitting down with similar-sized companies to figure out a better way to accomplish our objectives.”

One of AFIRM’s primary focuses will be on securing efficiencies along the chain of commerce in the fitness industry.

“Existing methods of doing business are simply not as effective as they used to be,” says Michael Rojas, CEO of Iron Grip Barbell Co. “AFIRM will give us the opportunity to work together with other manufacturers and develop innovations in all aspects of our business, from manufacturing and shipping product to identifying, approaching and servicing customers.”

Leve says that the better efficiencies for manufacturers could mean lower prices, more timely deliveries and more efficient/higher quality installation for club operators.

Membership in the association is based on a sliding scale based on gross revenues, and members must meet certain ethical standards to be members.

Membership in the Small Business Division costs $1,250. To qualify for this division, a company has to do less than $2 million in annual revenue. Leve declined to name members of this division as he said those members prefer not to be seen as smaller companies.