Nautilus CEO raises the ‘Barr’ on connected fitness

Digital veteran Jim Barr puts ‘quest to connect’ at center of growth

Jim Barr of Nautilus
Jim Barr, Nautilus CEO since July, is known for his digital growth transformations, in both product development and sales. Courtesy of Nautilus

“I love connected fitness. It’s not a fad,” said Jim Barr, Nautilus CEO since July. “Connected fitness is so much better for everyone. It keeps the users motivated, it allows us to connect with our customers every day instead of just the day that we sell.”

Barr is known for his digital growth transformations, in both product development and sales.

Barr assumed day-to-day leadership of Nautilus and joined its board of directors on July 29 after a rocky period in the company’s leadership and reported earnings. Former CEO Bruce Cazenave resigned in March after the company reported a 9.7% decline in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2018 and a 2.3% drop in the year overall. 2017 earnings were flat. Chairman of Nautilus’ board of directors M. Carl Johnson III became interim CEO while the company engaged an executive search.

Barr, a digital and e-commerce veteran, was most recently group president at Ritchie Bros., expanding the 60-year-old company’s offerings from its core onsite auctions to a full array of onsite and online formats. He led the company’s global marketing, technology and online product teams. Prior, he was EVP and Chief Digital Officer of OfficeMax. In 2008, Barr was named the first president of Sears Holdings’ newly formed Online Business Unit.

Barr was an executive for 12 years in Microsoft’s online businesses as general manager of MSN Business Development, where he partnered to bring revenue, content and capabilities to the MSN network before heading the company’s B2C online businesses as general manager of Commerce Services.

At Nautilus, he is working to build new channels to connect with consumers on both the marketing and product sides.

“Our digital platform specifically, we’ve had that underway for over three years and I’m very thankful we did. A lot of times when I come in and do one of these growth transformations, I have to get that going and a lot of the good work has already happened,” Barr said.

Creating a personal connection

The company’s new Max Trainer Max Total machine features a built-in 9.6” Samsung LCD touch screen and premium sound bar. Nautilus has leveraged partnerships with tech companies such as Samsung and Amazon Cloud Services, which hosts JRNY. The stand-alone app is available for download in the Google Play and iOS stores. The purchase of a Max Total machine comes with JRNY embedded in the console, and a 12-month free subscription to JRNY, which allows access to premium features. Following the trial period, a premium subscription will cost $19.99 per month or $149 per year. Subscriptions are a trusted revenue stream in the digital space and a new source of revenue for Nautilus.

“We have all this infrastructure, and I think the thing we are kind of excited about is, it’s not for us just another source of money,” said Nautilus Digital Manager Robert Jacobson. “I mean it is really important, but for the customers, the data (we have) says that those who are on a subscription path are seeing so much more success than people who don’t have any sort of digital subscription service. When they’re investing in our platform, we’re giving them new content on a regular basis.” He added, “That subscription for the customer is in some ways a commitment to themselves.”

“It allows us to invest in better experiences,” Barr said. “If we could only have margin on our equipment, we wouldn’t be able to spend as much on our digital platform and inventing new modalities. This revenue stream helps us invest more in our customers and in the experience, and in finding more users.”

“We want to be known for connected fitness, we want to be a digital and technology company,” Barr continued.

The upgrade and rebrand of the company’s former AI product Max Intelligence into JRNY speaks not only to the commitment to digital technology and the future of AI, but also to the culture of the Nautilus itself.

“We do have a super passionate employee group because we have a noble mission. I mean people believe it,” Barr said. “I was at Microsoft when our mission was to get a computer on every desk and in every home. That seemed like a crazy goal, and we achieved it. But even that is not a noble mission. This is true noble mission.”

Jacobson said, “This year is all about personalized training, the coach that is with you.” But he said as data is collected and analyzed, Nautilus’ scientists are learning what makes each individual have a better fitness experience. He sees a near future where the machine not only chooses and customizes a workout for the user but also chooses specific music or shows or types of experiences on certain days that enhance and complement the user’s mood and energy levels.

“We see your progress … and we truly believe that if you stick with us, you will achieve your fitness goals,” Jacobson said.

Barr comes back again and again to choice as a Nautilus differentiator – choice in brands, in equipment types, in purchasing options, and now in digital platforms and experiences available to the consumer when using Nautilus equipment.

“We’re confident in our software and we think its best, especially when it’s on our machines. Shame on us if we don’t make our stuff the best on our machines,” said Barr. “However, I’ll just go back to choice. … We want an open platform so you can decide.”

A ‘quest to connect’ with a new audience

While Barr is dreaming big alongside his engineers, he’s also pushing forward on sales and marketing, making the most of the Nautilus brand, while shedding the reputation of an infomercial-driven sales operation.

“Our investment in digital is not just on the product side but in how we go to market with our customers,” said Barr. “It’s a quest to connect wherever the decision is being made.”

Nautilus is well known in Vancouver as a friendly, innovative group with a noble mission. “Here in the local community, we have that reputation and I do think our brands have that as part of their legacy,” he said, adding, “I think we could do a better job probably, frankly, of getting that message out.”

The company aims to be more active on social media and in local communities. The Bowflex Stronger Every Day national tour kicked off in Austin this year and will continue through 2020. Each event is customized to the local influencers and city. It includes an interactive cooking demonstration with a local chef featuring a healthy take on local foods, as well as an introduction to the Bowflex brand and new products, including the Bowflex Max Trainer, Bowflex C6 indoor bike and Bowflex SelectTech 840 kettlebells.

“We’re watching these influencers build that sense of community, and that’s one channel in my world where we’re getting those third-party endorsement validations,” said John Fread, director of Global Marketing Communications. “Ideally in 2020 we’ll be all across America influencing our way into the hearts of those who want to exercise.”

Fread added his own customer testimony to the mix: “When I started here eight years ago, I was 40 pounds heavier. It’s proof that this culture really does get under your skin and change things.”