Scale Tale


Justin McGilvery and Tom Taglang know firsthand that their BodySpex body fat scale can help people meet their fitness and health goals.

Since the two began using the product they created, McGilvery and Taglang have lost 17 pounds between the two of them.

The BodySpex scale is a kiosk-like device that measures users’ body fat percentages and weight. McGilvery and Taglang say their company, Fat Statz LLC, plans to place the kiosks at gyms nationwide, so that fitness-minded people have an easy way of measuring their body fat percentage. The two, both managing partners of the company, say this measurement is a better health indicator than weight because it is a calculation of fat mass and lean mass, helping to pinpoint the amount of fat in a person’s body.

The kiosks, which sell for $2,395, feature a touch-screen and can be configured to accept payment for each use. At a few of the five health clubs where the scale is in use, gym members pay $2 to use it; at others, the service is provided free to members. The scale takes a body fat measurement by sending an electrical current up the user’s bare feet and measuring the body’s resistance to the current.

About 15 seconds after someone steps on the scale, the kiosk prints out the data.

“I said the scale has got to be self-serve and easy to use, so people can do it on their own,” said McGilvery, a former television producer.

With plans to place the kiosks in malls and offices in addition to gyms nationwide, McGilvery hopes the scale will become an integral part of fitness culture.

Currently, Fat Statz is run out of a home office in Encino, but the modestly financed company expects to receive about $4 million in funding later this month, which will allow the company to greatly expand its operations, including the redesign of the BodySpex Web site. Currently that site is simply a data-tracking tool for BodySpex users and features a small community-oriented component, but Taglang wants to make the site a community-based fitness destination, where BodySpex users share data and compare workout routines.

“We are trying to make a garage company into a multi-national conglomerate,” said Taglang.

The scale is practical because alternative methods for body fat measurement are often invasive or inaccurate, said McGilvery. Calipers are often used on skin, but they are relatively inexact, and methods such as bone density scans or hydrostatic underwater weighing are far more complicated than stepping on a scale barefoot.

“(The BodySpex scale) is the most pleasant way to get an accurate reading,” said Matt Augspurger, who works at 360 Health Club in Reseda, where gym members have free access to a kiosk.

Like an ATM for gyms?

McGilvery dreamt up the BodySpex scale in May 2002 when he visited the production offices of a colleague’s fitness reality television show and tried using a professional body fat scale.

“I stood on the scale and next thing I know it’s done in 15 seconds and it gave a print out, and the readings were accurate,” McGilvery said. “I immediately thought: This should be like an ATM there should be one in every gym.”

The one problem McGilvery had with the scale at the production offices was its complicated interface. It was designed for fitness professionals and physicians, and McGilvery knew that a consumer product would need a streamlined interface.

McGilvery knew of no consumer body fat scales on the market in 2002 (they are now available), and he began experimenting with a Tanita Corp. scale to make it more user-friendly.

“Within a couple of weeks of seeing it for the first time, I mapped out a business plan, started the company, and went about turning this self-contained body fat unit from Tanita into a kiosk,” said McGilvery, who quit his job in television production when he began working on the BodySpex scale. He added a bill acceptor and an LCD screen, among other things.

By August 2002, McGilvery had placed a preliminary version of the scale at Powerhouse Gym in West Los Angeles.

Response to the kiosk was positive, and McGilvery brought it to other gyms as the company continued to refine the kiosk eventually adding a touch-screen and more refined housing.

“That’s the whole point of doing it, to create the ease of use,” said BodySpex scale programmer Dale Mitbo, who also works on the BodySpex site. Kiosk experts were impressed: The scale’s design won an award for best application at the 2006 KioskCom Excellence Awards.

In addition to the health clubs, the company’s scales are in a corporate fitness center and at the fitness center of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

“I like it and the customers like it,” said Augspurger, 360 Health Club’s membership lead. “You get to see what your hard work is doing to your body. It makes working out more of a game. People would definitely pay for it, but the gym is paying for it.”

Chris Sobonya, president of the Seattle-based Spartica Consulting & Management Group, which specializes in health clubs, spas, and resorts, thinks the kiosks can be a positive add-on for clubs, but not necessarily a selling point.

“Overall there is room for this scale in health clubs; I think it’s a nice amenity for a member,” said Sobonya. “It by itself is not going to sell memberships or drive greater fitness retention. It is a perceived value that a customer is seeing in a particular health club. If a customer is comparing two clubs that are similar, they are likely to choose the club that offers more amenities and related services.”

Networking fat off?

Taglang says that while the company’s Web site only gets about 300 unique visitors a week and its advertising component has yet to generate significant revenue, the planned redesign of the site to include more community-oriented elements will make “the sky the limit for revenue.”

About 9,000 people have registered for the BodySpex site and it has 2,644 subscribers who track their fitness data on the company’s body fat scales. But the new Web site will expand on these fitness tracking services and drive up its user base, Taglang said.

“(The fitness-minded) will be able to share information and knowledge and keep each other supported and motivated,” Taglang said.

Mitbo said that with the explosion in popularity of social networking sites such as MySpace, the BodySpex online community has the potential to be very popular.

“I think it’s going to be huge and creating a focused environment can only enhance that activity,” said Mitbo.

With a kiosk in their office, Taglang and McGilvery say that they use the scale from time to time at the very least as a diversion from the hard work of expanding their company.

“It verifies what I already know I need to work out more,” said Taglang.

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