Walking toward a new pursuit

Executive turns her daily stroll into fulltime fitness business

October 28, 2005|By JANE GLENN HAAS | JANE GLENN HAAS,KNIGHT RIDDER / TRIBUNE

Label Sue Parks a "walkaholic." She walks 10,000 steps a day - minimum - for all the right reasons: to clear her head, to ease stress, to keep herself fit. But that's just the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other walking.

Parks, 49, has also made giant steps in business. Some three years ago, she took a job as head of corporate operations for Kinko's, the second-highest position in the company. The job meant leaving her home base in Orange County, Calif., for Dallas.

A year later, she left that Texas job and its high-six-figure salary to come back to California with her husband, Dennis, to the house they had the foresight to keep.

After Kinko's, it was time to start her own business - but not just any business. She created an enterprise that let her follow her passion to get American women on their feet.

Her company, WalkStyles Inc., promotes walking with a line of walking clothes, a Web site that pairs walking enthusiasts, and a high-tech pedometer that tracks steps, distance, calorie burn, time, pace, heart rate and more.

By specializing in walking, WalkStyles focuses on an activity with about 40 million participants, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association.

It's a market in which WalkStyles is a small newcomer competing not only against huge sportswear makers like Nike but also against a variety of small but established pedometer makers. The company benefits from others' efforts to promote walking, ranging from medical professionals to malls.

The company began selling its wares online this year and made its first print appearance in Nordstrom's August catalog. Parks does not disclose sales figures, but Tonja Kuntz, activewear and lingerie buyer for Nordstrom, said the clothing line has been successful.

The idea for WalkStyles was a brainstorm that came to Parks while she was walking. The company aims to brand walking - specifically, walking 10,000 steps daily - as the simplest and most cost-effective way to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

The company's chief product is DashTrak, a device that clips onto a waistband to track steps, distance, calorie burn, timed events, pace, heart rate and more. At $129, DashTrak is not your everyday pedometer. Users can view previous day's data and upload information into the subscription-based DashTrak Wellness Subscription ($9.95 a month).

The subscription Web site lets users compete against other walkers or make virtual walking buddies. Articles by a team of editors are available to subscribers.

Parks' line of fitness clothing consists of workout clothes designed for "real women" not "19-year-old hard bodies," she said. "I want my shorts a little longer," she says. "I want my pants a little baggy, not skin tight."

More than 40 women tested the WalkStyles products for more than a year, walking on the beach on Wednesday mornings and taking longer hikes on Saturdays. They still get together.

Parks began walking years ago as she rose up the corporate ladder, including senior executive posts at Gateway and U.S. West. "I couldn't make fitness classes and I had to do something, so I went on big walks, especially in the evenings," she says. "I would take the stairs in the office, walk through airports."

A few years ago, she started tracking her steps. Around that time, she also read about studies highlighting 10,000 steps as the best way to achieve a healthier lifestyle. That's when she made 10,000 steps - about five miles - her minimum daily goal.

"I've done 10,000 or more steps every day - except for five days last year when I didn't make goal," she says. "Then I made up for the lost steps the next day."

SUE PARKS

Title: Founder and chief executive, WalkStyles Inc.

Born: Rockford, Ill.

Age: 49

Education: B.S. in industrial administration, Iowa State University, 1979

Business background: Executive vice president of operations for Kinko's. Senior vice president of U.S. markets for Gateway.

Family: Husband, Dennis, 55. Three stepchildren.

Why walk?

Walking burns calories. A University of Tennessee study showed that women who averaged more than 10,000 steps daily had 40 percent less body fat.

Walking promotes good health. The goal of doing 10,000 steps daily -- about five miles -- comes from a Japanese model. With a combination of extensive walking and a healthy diet of fish, rice and vegetables, Japanese have an average lifespan of 83 years, compared with the U.S. average of 77.6 years.

The average American takes about 2,300 to 3,000 steps daily, about 1.5 miles, according to a study by Novartis Nutrition. Walking is easy on the body. It's an exercise that doesn't stress the joints and that nearly everyone can do.

[Source: WalkStyles Inc.]

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