Sterling Fitness Equipment founders Michael and Ruth House were shocked at the turnout for the groundbreaking of their new facility in the Bolton Industrial Park. They expected a few well-wishers. Instead, a small crowd of local public officials and community leaders gathered to congratulate the couple on their new venture.
Since the Houses established the exercise equipment manufacturing company nearly 10 years ago, they have experienced many surprises, almost all of them pleasant. They entered the industry due to a supply challenge with few preconceived notions. Now, they are global manufacturers with an ever-growing client base.
Body and soul
Sterling Fitness Equipment’s story is a most unlikely one. Michael was born in Lubbock, Texas, and was raised in Abilene, but Ruth is a Gulfport native. Their first experience as entrepreneurs began in Ruth’s hometown when they opened a grocery store. Michael said they found the grocery business difficult and somewhat unfulfilling. So, they sold the business and moved to Vicksburg, where Ruth, whose family moved often, had spent many of her childhood years.
In Vicksburg, they started a dietary supplement business and eventually opened a fitness club catering to women. The Houses have a passion for helping people stay fit and healthy. Devoutly religious, they continue to see this as something of a calling.
“People, especially here in the U.S., need to realize just how special and unique the human body is,” Michael said. “We truly want people to get in shape, if not with us, with somebody. We feel very strongly about that.”
Upon opening the club, they were approached by a fitness equipment manufacturer with a business proposition. He offered the couple a chance to market his equipment, and after mulling the opportunity, they accepted.
The venture was successful. In fact, it was perhaps a little too successful. The Houses found buyers, but the manufacturer began to struggle to meet the added demand. Looking for an answer, the Houses struck on a bold plan. At that time, there were relatively few fitness equipment manufacturers. So, they decided they would build the equipment themselves. That was roughly five years ago, and the couple has not looked back since.
Sterling Fitness Equipment focuses on the manufacturing of hydraulic circuit training systems designed for men, women and children for professional use by businesses and fitness clubs.
The company’s product line has grown over time to include 18 different pieces of equipment, including a new stepper that Michael completed the morning of the interview for this story.
Sterling Fitness Equipment has also grown to an international manufacturer. While it has sold its products all over the U.S., it also counts customers in Canada as well as New Zealand, Korea, India, Ireland and numerous other countries. At press time, Michael was headed to Canada, and the couple was also preparing for an upcoming business trip to England.
The memory of their early supply challenges has stayed with the Houses. The couple is especially proud of their delivery record. According to Michael, Sterling Fitness Equipment has never missed a delivery date, and the company has never received a damage claim. (The company offers a lifetime warranty on frames and cylinders, three years on moving parts and six months on upholstery, which can be custom ordered in hundreds of colors.)
In addition to its products, Sterling Fitness Equipment also offers training and other support services.
Sterling Fitness Equipment currently employs approximately 10 workers. Those employees are soon be moving into the company’s new corporate headquarters/manufacturing facility in Hinds County.
The Houses broke ground June 7 for their new complex, which will house all of the operations currently located in two different locales in Vicksburg. Situated on three acres in the Bolton Industrial Park, the complex will encompass 10,000 square feet, with approximately 75% of that devoted to manufacturing. The rest will be dedicated to offices, training workshop center and showroom. The Houses hope to have the new facility completed and operational by October of this year.
When asked why they chose the Bolton Industrial Park, Michael said location and the close proximity to Interstate 20 was a factor. But, he said they were also impressed by the community’s generous offer, and the lengths to which Bolton and Hinds County went to land the complex near Bolton.
“The hospitality of the community and the support we’ve received has been wonderful,” Michael said.
Bolton Mayor Lawrence Butler said, “The Town of Bolton welcomes this new company, the jobs and the investment to our industrial park. We pledge our support to make this a long-term relationship.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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