When evaluating treadmills for their gym facilities, fitness club operators prioritize reliability first and foremost among all other purchasing criteria, according to the results of a recent industry study.

Boasting the highest average usage rates among all equipment, treadmills are the foundation of the cardio floor. Above all else, it is integral that this equipment be hardy enough to withstand the rigors of members' workouts, according to the three-year study, conducted by gym equipment manufacturer Precor, Woodinville, WA. Equally important is having replacement parts readily in stock for when they are needed.

Such valuable insights serve to underscore an important lesson: In the same way that it is wise to warm up on a treadmill before running at top speed, it also is sage advice for fitness equipment manufacturers to conduct proper prep work and research before launching full-force into a redesigned product line.

In a landscape where equipment providers constantly try to one-up each other, it is more important that companies invest in research and development to help pinpoint the current needs of fitness club operators as well as their members and service technicians. Meeting these needs is essential for eradicating common day-to-day pain points.

"When we evaluate a fitness equipment provider's new offerings, we're not just looking at who's made the most or biggest changes, but whether those changes are going to be meaningful to our business and to our customers," said Ed Kreuscher, owner of three New York-area fitness facilities, including IXL Health and Fitness Clubs in Rhinebeck and Saugerties, NY.

Other key takeaways from this study, which garnered feedback from approximately 30 health clubs and universities across five countries, include:

Appearances create a lasting impression. Health club operators strongly value aesthetics, believing that visually appealing equipment elevates the overall impression left on potential members.

Many survey respondents said that treadmills should look modern and contemporary, with accents of exposed metal to convey an essence of quality. However, their look should still complement the rest of the facility's equipment—and their attractive appearances must hold up with age.

Total cost of ownership must be manageable. Club owners are always trying to squeeze the most value out of the dollars they spend. Optimizing expenditures starts with finding a supplier whose equipment can deliver strong performance while rooting out costs to keep the purchase price competitive.

Beyond initial price, club owners also look for opportunities to lower operational costs. That may mean, for instance, choosing a treadmill with a state-of-the-art motor drive system that reduces energy consumption through improved performance and efficiency.

Exercise equipment that requires less repair and maintenance also saves on costs. Therefore, club operators often appreciate features such as diagnostic status lights that quickly assess the operating condition of a piece of equipment, alerting owners of potential troubleshooting issues before a serious malfunction can occur.

Exerciser and technician feedback also matter. Of course, from a manufacturer's perspective, it is not just about what fitness club operators want out of their treadmills—it also is what they want for their members and the technicians who service the equipment.

As part of the study, more than 200 treadmill exercisers were observed and interviewed. According to their feedback, club members have an affinity for comfortable, clean, low-impact equipment that feels solid, stable and has a wide running surface.

Because exercisers generally do not like to feel as if they are on display, they also prefer a lower deck height and large handrails that provide privacy from other exercisers. For this same reason, exercisers also like a quieter treadmill that does not attract attention. (This point is especially true for women, the study reveals, while most male respondents prefer a quieter motor primarily because they equate it with quality.)

Users also look for ample storage space for their personal items, with minimal vibrations or rattling.

The study references key criteria that independent service technicians seek from treadmills to make their jobs quicker and easier. This includes on-product diagnostics to indicate the source of a malfunction (and avoid having to replace parts at random); the ability to replace the belt and deck without moving the treadmill or disassembling the trim strips or side frame; and common fastener sizes and lengths to eliminate tool changing and reassembly guesswork.

By targeting the needs of fitness club operators, their patrons and technicians through research, surveys and insight-driven design, fitness manufacturers can ensure that their next big product line re-launch is not a misstep.

Content Sponsored by Precor.

Adam Hubbard is the director of product management for Precor, which designs and builds premium fitness equipment for effective workouts. With a focus on ergonomic motion, science and engineering, the company advances the home and commercial fitness industry with new product categories, including the Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer (EFX), Adaptive Motion Trainer (AMT) and Preva networked fitness.