Jacob’s Ladder has stair climbing unit on deck

Jacob’s Ladder, the ladder-climbing machine positioned at a 40-degree angle, has made a name for itself on the television show "The Biggest Loser." Now the company is planning to release a stair-climbing unit in the summer.

Since it debuted on “The Biggest Loser,” Jacob’s Ladder has been a popular item for home users despite its more than $2,600 price tag. As its name implies, Jacob’s Ladder emulates ladder climbing, but at a 40-degree angle

That is good news for Bob Palka, who in 2004 bought the patent to the equipment Steve Nichol had invented 1994. After overseeing a significant expansion, Palka is preparing to release the company’s new stair climber in summer 2012.

Palka first bought the patent in 2004 when there was no formal company, only a few welded fixtures in storage. 

“It really wasn’t much when I bought it,” Palka said. But he said he knew when he saw the patent that it would provide a challenging workout. “We felt like we had a great product.”

The few people who had been exposed to the product in the 1990s didn’t know what happened to it, Palka said, and others had never heard of it. His biggest challenge when he took over the patent became getting it in front of as many people as possible. 

“The vast majority of the market didn’t know we existed,” Palka said. “The initial challenge was to get the word out as soon as possible and get it exposed at trade shows and trade magazines.” 

Though Palka debuted it at IHRSA’s 2004 trade show, the product’s biggest break came when “The Biggest Loser” weight-loss TV show used the equipment to whip contestants into shape. Recently a few customers of the Illinois-based Fitness for All started asking around for the product, said manager Mike Meyer.

“Obviously the TV show ‘The Biggest Loser’ has helped with the popularity,” Meyer said. A few local fitness clubs have purchased a few machines in the past seven months, which is how long Fitness for All has been carrying the product. “Sales have definitely been picking up.” 

Meyer said the store would continue to carry the product in the future as a few people have purchased the Biggest Loser units for their home.

Jacob’s Ladder, which is based between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, N.Y., now runs out of an 8,500-square-foot facility, employs 15 people and has revenues between $4 and $5 million. Currently it offers the Biggest Loser home and light commercial unit and the Jacob’s Ladder commercial unit.

Both Meyer and Palka cautioned retailers that the product is not for everybody, so they should examine their customer base and potential customers to see if the workout would work for them.

“It’s a specialty item and the thing about it is it’s a challenging workout,” Meyer said. “Obviously not every person is capable of getting right on it and working out. But it would be good certain places that have some gung-ho consumers.”

The Jacob’s Ladder commercial unit weighs approximately 260 pounds and is tilted at a 40-degree angle so users get a better workout with less stress on the back. Users climb the maple rungs at their own pace, as it is self-powered. The information displayed on the display unit includes elapsed time, calories burned, heart rate, feet climbed and rate in feet per minute. 

Because it’s self-powered with an internal blower fan as its resistance mechanism, it won’t throw users off if they misstep, like a treadmill or some older stair climbers would.

Soon the company will come out with its stair climber, which is not because of the recent trend in popularity of these machines, but because Palka said it’s the next logical step. 

“We planned this the last year not knowing that anybody is going to come out with anything new,” Palka said, referring to the ClimbMill by Matrix Fitness, the StairMaster StepMill5 and the Nautilus K2 Vertical Climber. “The reason we started it was we recognized Jacob’s Ladder carved itself out a market, but there’s a market out there that doesn’t want to be positioned at a 40-degree angle, but wants to climb up stairs.”

The new product that will come out this summer will use Jacob’s Ladder internal fan resistance mechanism, Palka said. It could be called the Stairway, though Palka said he’s still in search of the perfect name. 

Though the fitness industry can be competitive, Palka said it’s rewarding.

“I’ve been in a couple of different industries — the automotive industry, auto parts industry — and the best thing about being in the fitness industry is you’re helping people out,” Palka said. “Being in that type of industry that helps people is exciting.”

–Ana Trujillo