Organic cotton and hemp, bamboo flooring, sustainable materials and eco-friendly lighting may not be what one finds in most specialty fitness stores. But as the catchphrase for 2008 -- "green is the new black" -- spreads and more consumers cast their eye toward what is better for the earth, fitness equipment and gear won't be far behind.
Marc Onigman of Stone Hearth Fitness jumped on the bandwagon this month with the announcement of a "green division" for the company's marketing and communications services aimed at the fitness industry.
"The specialty retailer should start thinking outside the box just a little bit," Onigman told SNEWS®. "There are people walking into a store with money to spend. You don't window-shop at a specialty retailer."
The Stone Hearth division includes Natural Fitness, a company that SNEWS® reported on with its debut to the fitness industry in June (click here to read a June 20, 2007, story, "SGMA Spring Market '07: Some intriguing new companies help round out the floor"). Natural Fitness (www.naturalfitnessinc.com) has a line of environmentally friendly yoga and Pilates equipment and fitness accessories using natural rubber, cotton, hemp and bamboo.
Already the line is being tested in Chicago Home Fitness where owner Scott Egbert said the yoga products are doing very well and the other accessories are holding their own.
"The display is very nice and he has done a nice merchandising package," Egbert said. The fact that it's an environmentally friendly line doesn't hurt, he added, considering the store's higher demographic customer base.
Other eco-friendly members of the Stone Hearth green division are Bean Furnishings (www.beanproducts.com), with a line of environmentally friendly and healthier furnishings and home accessories, such as chairs, clocks, ottomans and couches, as well as mediation and health-focused products. Another more commercial fitness-focused member includes Pineapple Hospitality (www.pineapplehospitality.net), which carries a line of green products and packaging such as locker room amenities, light bulbs, soaps and cleansers.
Onigman said more will be added to the division, which he sees as part of a movement the fitness industry should not ignore.
"People will start expecting those they do business with to lean green," he said. "You're doing good and doing well all at the same time. Nobody's going to say this is a bad thing."
Another company thinking green is SportsArt Fitness with its energy-efficient and more environmentally sound treadmill motor, introduced last year on three commercial treadmills -- T650, 670 and 680. The so-called "Eco-Powr" system is a brushless, self-regulating AC Servo motor that can save nearly a third in electrical costs and usage, according to the company, when the treadmill is used at average speeds.
"After rent and payroll, for clubs the next biggest expense is power," said marketing director Scott Logan. So far, the motor is not offered on retail models since it raises the cost and cost-savings for home use would be minimal, he added.
Logan said the company supplies signage and decals so club salespeople can point out the eco theme on tours to potential customers who could choose to join based on the club's environmental leaning.
SNEWS® View: Thinking about the environment isn't just a trendy gimmick but a movement that will grow. There is no reason that the fitness industry can't and shouldn't think about what it can do to support the movement, not only to do better business but to be kinder to the earth. In addition, those who are walking into specialty stores with money to spend on equipment are usually of the influencing demographic that will also care about eco-matters. Although huge power savings may not be had with energy-efficient motors on home equipment, a consumer may just be attracted because of the concept. Sustainable materials and energy efficiency may not only be themes that will catch customers' eyes among products in a store, but could also help a specialty retailer set himself or herself apart among the competition by promoting its support of those themes and products.