Med-Fit looking at options for plant's future

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Fitness company says layoffs at its local facility are temporary, as it begins process of finding a buyer for Nautilus assets.

By Staff Reports

INDEPENDENCE — Med-Fit Systems Inc. is reviewing its options for the fitness equipment company’s future, following layoffs at its Independence plant last week.
California-based Med-Fit, which makes Nautilus equipment, laid off a total of 94 workers at the local plant — 61 last week and 33 that were initially furloughed in March.
Workers at some other Med-Fit locations were affected, as well.
Med-Fit owner Dean Sbragia outlined the plans for the company in a letter to employees that was shared with The Gazette.

He wrote that the company “is engaged in an ongoing review of our operations and operational structure to evaluate our best options to move Med-Fit forward in today’s market environment. Unfortunately, this review has indicated a much more challenging situation than we believed existed, and a need to take immediate action.”
Med-Fit announced April 21 that it had put its Nautilus plant at 709 Powerhouse Road in Independence and its commercial assets up for sale.
The company acquired the Nautilus brand and the local plant in February 2010. It employed more than 100 people prior to the recent layoffs. During the past four years, Med-Fit introduced numerous new product lines and returned manufacturing from overseas to Virginia.
Sbragia said the layoffs in March were hoped to be short-term, as the company reviewed its options.
However, the review resulted in “the difficult decision to significantly curtail our current operations while we actively evaluate multiple strategic options and financial avenues to continue the business, support our customers and fulfill current orders,” Sbragia wrote.
April 21 as the last day of normal production operations at the plant. Med-Fit will operate with a greatly reduced schedule and crew — and without certainty as to the length of the layoff, Sbragia said.
“At this time, the planned action is temporary, but we do not know the duration,” he said, and indicated that it could exceed six months.
“We appreciate the tremendous efforts of our team members in Independence and their contributions to the company,” Sbragia told employees. “The commitment of each of you to our business makes this decision all the more difficult.”
He said employees were not given the customary 60-day advance notice of layoffs because of the nature of negotiations involving the company’s future.
Med-Fit has “actively been seeking a variety of capital and strategic options for the business that involved highly sensitive discussions and information, and we did not want to preclude or limit those initiatives,” Sbragia wrote, indicating that layoffs were not planned until late in that negotiation process.
“At this time, and since we are actively evaluating numerous pathways to continue business operations, we are not closing the plant,” Sbragia said. “Should such a decision be made, we will provide you and all team members with as much notice as possible.”
Company officials said in an April 21 news release that they expect to find a “synergistic partner” who will be able to take over the Nautilus brand and make it competitive.
“Med-Fit Systems saved this iconic [Nautilus] brand and, after four years of putting a new foundation in place, it is now time for the right partner to build upon this foundation and take the company to new heights,” the release concluded.
The Virginia Employment Commission’s Rapid Response is assisting workers affected by the layoffs.