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In an exclusive interview with Club Industry, former Precor President Paul Byrne discusses his accomplishments and failures at Precor, making the difficult decision to retire and the legacy he hopes to leave behind.
CI: How did Precor change during your time there?
PB: In a way, it hasn't, and in a way, it's changed massively. Obviously when I started, it was a very small company, but still $19 million or so. It was decent sized, but it was essentially a one product company. We sold mainly rowing machines and mainly one rowing machine that was hugely profitable. We were just starting to dabble in bikes and treadmills, so a very small single product company, but a great spirit, which is what attracted me to Precor. David was a perfectionist, and that's what Precor means, Precision Corporation. There was this drive and this passion to be perfect that I liked and a spirit that I say drew me there. That spirit is still there.
How it's changed is that obviously we have a super broad line of products. We've reinvented ourselves many times. Back in those days, we had that one product selling through primarily one channel, which was sporting goods at that time, then a smattering of small specialty operations, like Concept 90, which were just starting to emerge, but it was a much more simple business. Now we're basically in every country. We sell through multiple channels just about in every country. We have a broad range of products that we didn't have back then, but certainly the core spirit is still there. One of the great things is that we do have a super solid culture, and anybody that's been there will comment on it.
CI: What role do you think you played in the evolution of that culture, as well as Precor's growth?
PB: On the growth part, I think I have a lot to do with it. I started out really as a product guy. I came in for sales and marketing, but I think I've always had a decent eye for product. I had a decent feel for what could be successful in the marketplace and, you know, the elliptical was the first big hit. Obviously I had a lot to do with that, as did Jim [Birrel] and Bill [Potts, former president of Precor]. And that helped us get into the commercial space, which I thought was so important to our future because just being in retail, it's very hard to build a brand. To me, the way you did that was to get into those key spaces like health clubs and hospitality and universities where you gain the credibility you need to get a solid brand.
So that was the whole point of the elliptical, and it was the first time ever that we had actually developed a new product and introduced it first in the commercial space instead of introducing it in the consumer space because we thought this was so different. We wanted that credibility, and we knew it's going to resonate with that group, and we took a shot. It was actually very controversial internally, but that's what we did, and obviously it was a huge success.
We decided we really needed to build on that because my fear was that we would do the same thing that some other companies did. We used the elliptical as a springboard to other products, and I'm really proud of that. If you look at where our revenue comes from, ellipticals are big, but we sell a lot of treadmills, and AMT (Adaptive Motion Trainer) is super successful, and our strength business is up. Cardio theater was a big, big driver of our growth. So we've kind of spread it around. Now we've got a broad, wide base, and that's important because you can absorb any shocks that come along in any given product line.