An Interview with Rob Knox, Product Director at Matrix

The Fitness Network interview: Rob Knox, Product Director,  Matrix

Rob Knox is product director for Matrix Fitness, part of the Johnson Health Tech Group and one of the world’s largest and fastest growing fitness equipment manufacturers.  Rob has been with the business for 21 years and involved from the very beginning of Matrix’s journey in the UK. In his time there he has seen the Matrix product portfolio expand hugely.

We met with Rob to learn about:

  • Finding the inspiration for innovation in fitness equipment
  • What operators should look for when considering new equipment
  • Creating demand for an unknown product

Where do you find the inspiration for innovation in fitness equipment?

Most of our inspiration comes from listening to our customers and turning their feedback into meaningful products and features. We engage with gym members, Personal Trainers, owners and operators as you’d expect – but also the service technicians who look after our products.  These groups together help us identify what’s missing and what they’d like and that inspires us to develop something that will work for them all. Outside our sector, we draw insight and inspiration from other industries such as technology, automotive and sports – their ‘take’ on things can be very neatly adapted for fitness equipment.

When designing new kit, how much do you consider the end user vs the operator?

Our end users are extremely important, from the start of the process and throughout, as success is ultimately down to creating something they find useful in achieving their goals. The end user drives our design: is the product easy to get on and off? Is it comfortable to use? Is it intuitive and easy to use? How do they like our touch points, shapes and materials? How much do they interact with the product – can they change and adjust it to suit their needs?

Operators’ views are crucial as success for them is a versatile product that can be moved and used in a variety of ways to maximise their investment. Often focusing on ‘fluid’ products that are self-powered: not only does that make them moveable and flexible, it also reduces running costs.

When designing our unique S-Force our focus groups spread from end-users to industry, operators to performance coaches. They identified key needs a low impact, new movement, natural gait and smooth range of motion that we have achieved. They also confirmed there was a space within the fitness industry for this performance trainer and their call for motivational, challenging and measurable output helped us create a product that met their goals completely.

How do you research the potential for a new piece of kit?

Our four focus groups start this whole process, beginning with a goal or question to answer. Through discussions things evolve into a new product as we dig deeper and work closer with all the teams.

While updates and upgrades are on-going, with an entirely new product the only true guide to its potential is in one-to-one interactions. The next step is seeing and hearing first hand from our customers in field testing and from there we fine tune. There are many gateways in the process, many involving our manufacturing experience and industry knowledge, internal engineering and R&D. But at the end of the day, the true potential of new kit is revealed though life testing and extensive field user feedback: there is no better way to replicate gym floor use.

We recognise a solution does not just lie with the product: we must deliver it to the market with strong educational support material and a robust visible training solution for all involved.

 How do you build interest and create demand for a new product?  

Firstly, we must focus on the ‘difference’ and clearly show the sum of benefits our new kit offers a facility and its members.

Proof of difference is essential: we give supporting documents and studies to prove a product’s success with results.  Added to this, our story of how this product came about and how it will complement their current offering and create new opportunities builds interest.  Delivering a complete package, with all the answers to any questions new potential buyers may have, gives them confidence to buy.

It’s exciting for our team to develop a new modality, a new movement or new technologies but if we’ve done our research right and listened to the market it will be absolutely clear the demand is already there and a level of interest has built through our pre-launch interactions.

What should operators look for when considering new equipment?

The gym space has changed so much over the last few years, with new technologies often outside our industry driving a more connected member journey regardless of budget.  Operators must ensure new equipment taps into that more sophisticated member journey – information, feedback, measurement are all valued by users now. Equipment that delivers these elements will appeal.

Technology is moving very fast: operators should look for products that come with extensive and accessible technical support.  This will give them the confidence to try a sophisticated piece of kit knowing full support is a phone call away.

Operators should look for versatile kit: there are so many target outcomes in a facility these days as we gain a greater understanding of strength and conditioning, functional and HIIT training, the cross over from gym to circuit and studio classes.  Kit that has more than one use which can be moved around your facility will maximise its use and give you a good ROI.

OK but where is the space for all this new kit?

Respecting space alone is a huge investment for any operator – you’d be amazed how much space is wasted alongside walls and in corners.  Utilising all the floor space available, keeping areas fluid and investing in kit that is compact, multi-functional and flexible in its location as well as its usage will be a revelation.

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