Louis Stack is president and founder of Fitter International.
What is Fitter International and what does it do?
Stack: Fitter is my trademarked name I protected in 1985 along with the phrase “Leading the World to Better Balance.” We design, manufacture and distribute a stable of 30 balance and core stability products used by folks of all ages and skill sets from aging seniors to World Cup athletes preparing for their gold medal performance.
We’re based in Calgary and have thousands of resellers worldwide that offer various blends of our product mix to best service their customers’ needs. In Canada, you will see our brand Fitterfirst online and in small and large retailers, including MEC and Sport Chek.
We also help people master the art of aging gracefully.
What’s the history of the company – how and why did it come about?
Stack: I started Fitter with an idea to build a ski machine to help me recover from knee and double foot surgeries in my early 20s. I had lost my balance after spending too much time on crutches and not being able to weight bear properly. I develop the idea of SAM (stability, agility, mobility) early in the game as a way to develop my mission of Leading the World to Better balance. I’m a Libra and always had a strong interest in balance.
The National Energy Program had Alberta in a choke hold and I was unemployable in a market with no jobs.
This is a quote from my chapter in Success BluePrints, co-written with Brian Tracy and others, called Speed, Balance and Aging Gracefully:
“Stepping back to 1985, I felt a huge sensation of success when I, along with my brother, built our first working prototype of the Pro Fitter 3D Cross Trainer. I was 25 years old, just off crutches and dreaming of getting back into my size 13 ski boots and on the slopes again. I borrowed $3,000 from my single-parent mother which my brother and I used to build our version of a ski training device. The goal was to help me regain my balance after knee and double foot surgeries. We successfully designed and built our first two units and I used them intensely to regain my former health. In the process, I learned that other Canadian ski racers were interested in recovering from their injuries with our Pro Fitter 3D Cross Trainer – ski racing can be a pretty dangerous sport. As history would have it, the Pro Fitter was the first functional, closed-chain training device that integrated total body movement into a single training tool. Our product was often referred to in leading medical journals – the functional fitness revolution had begun. Everywhere I went, physical therapists loved the Pro Fitter and the results it gave their patients. Was I successful? I sure thought so. We had created a product that helped an industry see a new way to achieve successful outcomes for their patients.
“In 1988, the Winter Olympics came to my home town of Calgary, and I placed Pro Fitters in all the training rooms – the world was watching. Media was everywhere, looking for great stories to fill the air time between events. To a cameraman, nothing in the gym was as eye catching as an Olympic athlete preparing for their gold medal performance zipping back and forth on this cutting-edge balance-training device. We were very fortunate to get the amount of worldwide TV exposure we did – I made my luck and I ran with it. More success followed with calls and letters from Olympic teams, suppliers and athletes who wanted to use and sell our 3D Cross Trainer. Team Denmark was first on board. It was the beginning of a very successful period for my new company, Fitter International Inc.”
How has business been over the years, particularly in the last couple of years due to challenging economy in Alberta?
Stack: The good news for Fitter is we created our fourth pillar around 1997 called Active Office, which complemented our prior three pillars of injury and prevention, athletics and training, and family fitness. Each pillar was shaped because that was the stage I was in in my life. My life journey led to the four pillars that Fitterfirst is built upon. Each of these pillars were developed to help me succeed through the various chapters of my life:
- Injury and prevention – In my 20s, I was injured. My goal was to regain my health.
- Athletics and training – In my 30s, I pursued ski racing. The goal was to do my personal best as a national team athlete.
- Family fitness – In my 40s, I wanted to help my kids to grow up healthy, active and make the most of their own skill sets.
- Active office – In my 50s, I applied all I had learned to my workplace that helps me stay active and enjoying a great quality of life.
Each of us have different wants, desires and goals in our lives. One thing we take for granted is the need to maintain balance in our daily lives. Not just between work and home life, or kids and personal time, but the innate balance that allows our body to function successfully within the gravity-based environment we live in. I encourage folks to master the art of aging, gracefully. The alternative is to age ungracefully or to be dead; neither are very attractive options.
When we introduced Varidesk to Canada in 2013, we had identified the key link to offer customers an opportunity to change their workplace from a health liability in to a health asset. Active office and injury and prevention pillars are the main focus of our business today. And with baby boomers aging around the world, our products have never been more relevant than they are today.
Alberta is hurting again thanks to government policies, just as it was when I started in 1985. Fitter does sell across Canada and around the world so that helps some.
What are some of the key reasons for the company’s longevity and success?
Stack: Listening to my various customers to hear their wants and needs is key. The other key is that I have traveled to over 1,000 trade shows around the world and in five different industries looking for trends and cross them over to other markets. I tend to look well ahead of the curve and see trends long before they arrive.
What does it take to be an entrepreneur these days?
Stack: Love what you do and be very passionate about it. In Canada and moreso Alberta, dealing with currency exchange and bad government policy can take a good year and make it very bad.
Resilience is king. Reinvent or die. Having an awesome wife and business partner is also key as I only know what I know.
Mario Toneguzzi is a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary. He writes for Calgary’s Business.