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Monday, Jan 30, 2023
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Taking His Swing

Just saying the words “pole fitness” is enough to set off smirks, snickers and giggles. But X-Pole US, despite the suggestive name, has other ideas in mind, despite the still common perception that any strenuous activity involving poles means scantily-clad women doing routines for men clutching fistfuls of dollars. The North Hollywood company manufactures poles used in gyms, studios and homes worldwide, though it doesn’t deny that a small percentage of the 1,500 units it sells each month are installed at adult clubs. For Ty Knutson, co-founder and president, it means he spends a good amount of his business day trying to do what he can to erase the stigma, including sponsoring sporting events centered round pole fitness. “A big part of our business is supporting the industry in general,” Knutson said. “It’s people who are outfitting their gym but also doing contests, showcases, seminars and teaching tours.” Pole fitness sprung up last decade and for a while was among the trendiest fitness routines. Since then, much of the media attention has worn off, but Knutson it said the activity continues to grow as more fitness studios and gyms offer pole classes. He estimates there are 2,000 standalone pole fitness clubs. The company got its start in 2007 just as pole dancing migrated out of strip and burlesque clubs, and into gyms and fitness studios. It has grown to 250 employees in 11 countries, including 13 in the San Fernando Valley where the company maintains sales, distribution and customer-service offices. Poles for home use account for 75 percent of sales, with no more than 5 percent going toward clubs, and the remainder to studios and gyms. Knutson declined to give specific revenue figures, but said it has been consistently growing and is between $8 million and $10 million. Independent figures on the industry are not easy to come by. The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, a Boston trade group, tracks activities offered at gyms but pole fitness is not among them because the market is so small, a spokesperson said. Jim Thomas, president of Fitness Management & Consulting, a suburban Dallas firm, said that while large gym chains like Crunch offer poles, the activity is better suited for small boutique fitness studios offering a variety of exercise systems. However, he believes, the sport will never reach the level of yoga or cross fit training because it has too much baggage associated with it. “I have brought it up to certain clients as an addition and they look at you like you are crazy,” he said. Simple installation Knutson, 53, of Sherman Oaks, started X-Pole with a business partner who engineered the first pole at the request of a friend who wanted one. The first pole was a behemoth weighing in at hundreds of pounds but was slimmed down in later iterations. Now, the company makes its four models at a contract manufacturer in Shanghai, with prices ranging from $200 to $400. The devices range from 7 feet, 4 inches to 9 feet high, with extensions available for higher ceilings at a price. While most poles are bare metal, others come with a silicone cover. The poles are designed to be safe, easy to install and take down, and durable for years of use, Knutson said. Installation can take just minutes because the poles are pressure mounted to the floor and ceiling – a vertical version of a pressure-mounted shower curtain rod. “There is a large dome at the top to spread the pressure out on the ceiling,” he said. Other companies in the market include Markstaar, in Scarborough, Maine; Pacific International Marketing & Promotions Inc., in Fresno, and VS International LLC, in Slatington, Pa. X-Pole tries to set itself apart by sponsoring fitness events. Knutson said the activities “legitimize” the industry. Lindsey Kimura is the company’s former director of marketing who now heads up the Pole Championship Series, a competitive league in its second year sponsored by X-Pole. The 29-year-old Los Angeles resident has participated in pole fitness going on seven years and said the sport attracts a lot of ex-dancers, gymnasts and people involved in sports because of their competitive nature. “It’s a great outlet for when you pass a certain age and you cannot be in the ballet academy anymore,” she said. The Pole Championship Series has champions from a dozen regional competitions in the U.S., Canada and Mexico go up against each other for the title of national champion. The series is among the events making up the 27th annual Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio featuring 18,000 athletes – more than participate in the Olympics – in 53 sports that is named after, yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Pole fitness was added as the 50th sport last year and Schwarzenegger came out to watch the championship series in which competitors performed 3 minute to 5 minute routines. Bob Lorimer, whose family produces the festival, said that while pole fitness is entertaining, it still fits in with the festival’s focus on strength and sports. “If you cannot even climb a pole you have to wonder how these girls do some of their routines,” he said. This year’s professional championship takes place March 6, with the amateur contests for women, men, couples and those over 40 years set for the following day. The series will be streamed live at the BodyBuilding.com website and the intention is for one day to have it air on television. Knutson said the event raises consumer awareness of pole dancing – and while pole installations have slowed at gyms and fitness studios he believes the home market and overseas will buoy future growth. “We are just getting started in Canada,” he said. “We opened in Mexico three months ago. South America will be big for us.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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