Tonawanda News


January 13, 2010

BUSINESS: Local invention really taking off

Climbing the ladder to success didn’t happen overnight for North Tonawanda businessman Robert Palka, but sales of his patented exercise machine “Jacobs Ladder” are definitely reaching new heights.

Palka, originally from Lackawanna, bought the patent and assets to the machine in 2004 from local inventor Steve Nichols, who first came up with the concept of the ladder climbing simulator in 1994.

Since getting involved six years ago, Palka said the company he reopened in the old Wurlitzer complex at 908 Niagara Falls Blvd. has grown. Business grew by about 40 percent in 2007-’08, then 54 percent the following fiscal year and a relatively strong 17 percent during the height on the recession last year. But the machine, now a regular part of NBC’s hit reality weight-loss show “The Biggest Loser,” is now selling at a clip of roughly 450 machines each year.

Add to that the fact some 10 professional sports teams including NFL playoff contenders the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals, the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and others.

The Navy Seals, FBI, Army Rangers and police and fire departments across the country use Jacobs Ladder as part of mandatory physical fitness training programs.

In May, an agreement between Palka and Marvel Entertainment will result in the machine being featured on the big screen in the upcoming movie Iron Man II, to be released in May.

“They make no promises on how much exposure you’re going to get,” he said, describing the conversations he had with the producers’ product placement executives.

Iron Man lead Actor Robert Downey Jr. used the machine to get in shape for the first film, Palka said.

Last March, NBC called about using the machine on the Biggest Loser, which aired its 9th season premiere early last week.

Since then the network has asked him to develop a residential version of the machine, now underway, to be called The Biggest Loser Ladder.

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