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October 13, 1999

Exercise equipment firm branches into home building

HILLSBORO, Ore. (AP) -- Having bulked up the market for its exercise machines to the limit, Soloflex is trying to muscle its way into the home construction business.

The Hillsboro-based company hopes that its new line of steel-framed wall panels will attract as much interest from homebuilders as its exercise equipment did from fitness buffs.

Soloflex President Jerry Wilson says the company already has a lot of experience with one of the main components of its new wall panels -- steel. "I always thought I was in the steel manufacturing business," he said.

The components are cheaper, stronger, lighter, straighter and faster to construct than traditional wood frames, Wilson said. He estimates the walls can save builders anywhere from $500 to $2,500 per house, depending on size.

The "Soloflex Wall" includes sheets of -inch-thick plywood either 8 or 9 feet tall and a maximum of 4 feet wide, attached to 1-inch-thick steel studs that builders can nail-gun together to make a wall. The company also sells headers, sills and a corner piece, which all fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces.

"Anybody can put these walls together," Wilson said.

By revamping its 150,000-square-foot factory in Hillsboro, he said Soloflex can pump out the new steel-framed wall panels in addition to the steel tubes for its fitness equipment.

Privately owned Soloflex has seen revenue drop from $100 million in 1990 to $10 million this year. The company has slimmed down from 300 employees in 1990 to 75 now, Wilson said.

After mailing out exercise equipment brochures to one in every seven households in the country over the years, company officials have concluded there are only so many machines it can sell.

Steel framing is not new. What makes Soloflex Walls unique is that they're a hybrid of steel and wood that's easier for builders working on single-family homes, said Keith Steffen, purchasing estimating manager in the Lake Oswego office of Texas-based Centex Homes.

Some builders are surprised that Soloflex is behind the new wall panels, but reaction to the product has been positive, said Nate Bond, regional sales manager for Parr Lumber.

"We've got three jobs sold," Bond said.


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