25 Years of Fitness profiles -- Retailers

A silver anniversary is nothing to gloss over, and the fitness industry has plenty to celebrate -- yes, even in times of adversity and economic hardship. Take a moment to realize it is indeed very youthful as far as industries go, and then just look at all it has accomplished in the last 25 years. We sought out stories and insights from leaders who were around 25 years ago, asking them varied questions about their roots in the industry, influential moments and products, as well as the future of specialty fitness and the industry as a whole. See what these retailers had to say about the growth of the industry...
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A silver anniversary is nothing to gloss over, and the fitness industry has plenty to celebrate -- yes, even in times of adversity and economic hardship. Take a moment to realize it is indeed very youthful as far as industries go, and then just look at all it has accomplished in the last 25 years.

We sought out stories and insights from leaders who were around 25 years ago, asking them varied questions about their roots in the industry, influential moments and products, as well as the future of specialty fitness and the industry as a whole.

See what these retailers had to say about the growth of the industry:

Scott Egbert

Ron Kret

David Novit

John Potts

Rodney Rice Jr.

Steve Sova

Johanne Tummon


Scott Egbert

Chicago Home Fitness • Owner

Entry into the fitness industry

I always had an interest in fitness. I was in the golf industry for six years.

I started with Leo Rubstello in 1983 and was with him about eight months. It was right when Precor was getting going with its rowing machine, which was the first thing branded “Precor.” One day, Paul Byrne came in and we talked for hours, and then I met David Smith, the founder of Precor. So then I went to work for Precor, and I used to call on Paul Byrne as a retailer for Precor. He was my first sales call.

The rowing machines were hot. We came out with the hydraulic stepper and took it to Sharper Image store, which agreed to put it on the front cover.

Then I left to open Fitness Warehouse, and everybody thought I was absolutely nuts. But I liked the competition at retail. It was the entrepreneur in me. I have this desire to build something. Precor was starting to get corporate and I’m not a corporate guy.

And here was this hot new product from Precor, and I couldn’t even get it (because of the demand)! I grew Fitness Warehouse and then sold it to Hancock Park in 1995, which then sold all of its stores to Rice Capital, which then crashed and burned. So in 2001, I started Chicago Home Fitness.



Reactions of public, friends and family


The public and my friends, nobody understood it. A store that sells weights and benches and rowing machines? That’s kinda weird. Then Precor became kind of a cool company. Things were starting to move pretty quickly. It was a high-tech thing.

Influential moments in fitness history

One, when Augie Nieto started driving the consumer side of Life Fitness, it gave us nice strength to grow the business. He was so passionate and thought everybody wanted to catch the wave and ride it. Augie’s drive and his personal behavior was a powerful thing. Everybody selling Life Cycles thought it was a huge inspiration.

Two, when Paul Byrne and Precor came out with the elliptical, that just ignited the industry. It was totally new, and it was unique and totally refreshing. It took away the dependence on the treadmill. The StairMaster had already come and gone. When we added ellipticals to the cardio mix, it became your cardio business. It was that strong.

Significant product of the last 25 years

The elliptical because of the effect it had on industry growth. From a business standpoint, it had changed the industry. There are now companies that it’s their whole survival.

Future of the fitness industry

It’s going to totally change. The interactive part of things will totally change it. It’ll be completely interactive and informative. People will be able to track benefits. It’ll get to the point where doctors can see how their patients are doing and even insurance companies will see (how they are doing). Everything will be interlinked… medical, health, everything….

People who are healthy will benefit because the savings in insurance will come through, and it will help the industry to expand and grow more. How many people exercise today? Really? Once this whole tracking technology gets going, it’ll drive the industry.

The future of specialty fitness retail

I wish I had a crystal ball. There’ll be all kinds of components. Retailers will be more of an educator on how to get benefits of all this tracking technology.

But (brick-and-mortar) retailers won’t go away. I still think people will want to feel it, see it and touch it. There will be a lot more cohesiveness between manufacturers and retailers, and there’ll be more collaboration. In this whole changing market, there has to be more collaboration to get fitness in front of people. There’ll be more store-in-store concepts and a staff person in each to explain and teach the benefits to people, but they’ll be qualified.


Ron Kret

America’s Fitness Warehouse • Former CEO

Entry into the fitness industry

I started in the industry in 1983 with McCoy Exercise out of Southfield, Mich. After a short time, I became a store manager in Columbus, Ohio. After three years, I was forced to start a company called America's Fitness Warehouse Inc., due to being out of a job. We had a 21-year run before we ran out of gas in terms of funding. An illness to my wife that forced an early retirement caused us to lose our best asset, as her sales and business skills were on par with the best in the business. The difficulties started at the turn of the century and never lost their grip as we went into economic chaos until we shut down in 2007.

Reactions of public, friends and family

The public respected us for what we were doing, while our families thought we were crazy and our friends admired us. Now that we are out of business, the public is sad, our friends are supportive, and our family has confirmed their suspicions.



Significant product of the last 25 years


The most significant and innovative product was the Bodycraft home gym because it brought strength training into the home at an affordable price.

Future of the fitness industry

I have a vision of fitness in the next 25 years becoming so important that every home built will have a fitness room instead of a museum/formal living room. People will begin to teach their children to be fit and to eat healthy and, most importantly, teach them that all foods can be enjoyed if eaten moderately.

The future of specialty fitness retail

If you always put the customer first, specialty fitness retailers of the future will adapt by living my motto: Have the highest quality equipment at the lowest possible price. Train and motivate your staff to be good listeners, and only success can follow this thinking.


David Novit

Fitco Fitness Outfitters • Partner

Entry into the fitness industry

I started in the fall of 1984 in Dallas, Texas, when I was hired by Malcolm Menter at Busy Body’s flagship store. In May 1985, I opened the Busy Body store at 5960 Royal Lane, and it became my “home” until 1996, doing both retail and commercial sales. In 1996, after Malcolm sold Busy Body, Jason Kos and I started the commercial division for Busy Body in north Texas, and then in 2001 bought our market and became Fitco Fitness Center Outfitters.

Reactions of public, friends and family

When I started, I was fresh out of college and took a job making $5 an hour. Everyone thought I was crazy. My friends were envious, though, of my work clothes as they were all wearing suits and ties.

Influential people in fitness history

Of course, I am biased, but to me, Malcolm Menter was most significant. So many people in this industry crossed paths with Busy Body from 1983 to 1996, and most are still in the industry today. Malcolm defined the specialty retail concept and store look that is still evident to this day.

Significant product of the last 25 years

I’ll never forget my first Christmas season (1995) in the Royal Lane store and selling 22 Precor 910ei treadmills at $2,295 a pop. To me, that is when the industry turned the corner, and high-end equipment became mainstream.

Future of the fitness industry

Workouts will be virtual reality, totally interactive. Traditional fitness companies will merge with a gaming company and incorporate virtual reality with equipment that mimics real life experience.


John Potts

Fitness Shop, Northwest Fitness • Owner

Entry into the fitness industry

I started in the industry in 1979 in Portland, Ore. My first store was Fitness Shop. The idea for the store came when I was the sports/auto merchandiser for Fred Meyer in Portland. With the grand opening of a new Fred Meyer store, the excitement that was generated by having Mike Mentzer (the reigning Mr. Olympia) as a guest celebrity showed how interested people were becoming in fitness and weight training. After talking to the very few specialty fitness dealers in the country at that time, I decided that it would be a viable option to start my own business. I located a store space, and opened with products from Tunturi, Ivanko, Total Gym, Pyramid and a few others. In 1980, we started selling Trotter treadmills, and they became the mainstay of the business for many years. We opened our second store in Beaverton, Ore., in 1980, and our third store in Seattle in 1982. I currently have three stores in the Portland market, and three in the Seattle market.

Reactions of public, friends and family

At the outset, there was very little general knowledge of fitness and its benefits. Most individuals involved with fitness at that time were bodybuilders, and even public gyms were primarily focused on bodybuilding and weight training. People were not generally aware of the benefits of cardiovascular training at that time. As the benefits of cardiovascular training became more documented, the sales of exercise bikes, mini trampolines and rowing machines grew tremendously. When manufacturers started using D/C motors in treadmills, making them easier to control and program, the sales of treadmills really started taking off. Now, everybody is aware of the benefits of fitness, whether they chose to participate or not, consumers know the benefits. The development of aerobics programs such as Jazzercise helped women become more aware of fitness, and the benefits of weight training as well.

Influential moments in fitness history

I think it has been more of an evolution of the industry, rather than a defining moment. Originally, it was individuals interested in fitness designing products that they personally found useful. As the industry evolved, the products went from the very simplest operation to fully electronically controlled equipment. The unfortunate part is that the innovations that grew our industry have become a thing of the past. There really hasn’t been anything new in the way of products since the elliptical came on the market 10 or so years ago.

Significant products of the last 25 years

The most significant product has almost certainly been treadmills. They have been and continue to be a mainstay of the industry, and probably will be as long as people are exercising. Because treadmills have evolved from those using A/C power with a speed control stick to the current units with all the electronics anyone could ever want, people still find them easy to use and believe they’re as effective as any cardiovascular exercise. In weight training, the no-cable-change design revolutionized the way home gyms were designed and made them significantly more user-friendly and compact, which made them much more suitable for home fitness rooms.

Future of the fitness industry

In terms of the industry, we have a two-fold problem. One is a problem that the industry can’t control: the economy. But more importantly, we have seen very little in the way of innovative new products in the last five years. The last major innovation was the elliptical machine, and there hasn’t been anything introduced to the industry since then that has compelled customers to come in to buy new products. If they bought a quality treadmill, a quality bike, a quality home gym or a quality elliptical, there is no compelling reason for them to buy a new product. The major vendors in the specialty fitness industry seem more concerned with having their products made less expensively in China and less concerned with developing new products that fit the specialty exercise equipment market. As the population continues to age, fitness will continue to be important. But the new products that people are looking for now are exercise balls, stretch tubes, kettle bells, medicine balls, etc., which are very difficult to sell enough of as a specialty equipment dealer to stay in business. We need some innovative new product lines in our industry for it to be exciting again.

The future of specialty fitness retail

While the Internet and the electronic era are certainly going to change how business is done, if there is going to continue to be a specialty fitness retail business, we must have products that allow retailers to add value to the customer’s buying experience. The function of a specialty fitness retailer is to provide customers with value that they cannot get at a big-box store. This is a combination of knowledgeable salespeople, delivery and service, and the highest quality product. Getting customers into the store, as the form and role of advertising changes, will probably be one of our biggest challenges.


Rodney Rice Jr.

Fitness Expo • President

Entry into the fitness industry

I had been involved in bodybuilding for years and was hungry to be self-employed. My father wanted to move away from his career as a CPA and controller and he understood distribution. In the beginning, we started selling out of a pickup truck. Then, six months later in 1981, Fitness Expo opened its doors in Beaumont, Texas. One year after that we expanded to Louisiana and Mississippi.

Reactions of public, friends and family

My friends thought I was nuts at first when they saw my first store. It was only 500 square feet and a mere $200 per month in rent. The local public seemed slightly interested in Beaumont, Texas. But, in New Orleans, I realized that this city was very different. For us, the defining moment was in 1992 when we purchased land on the most popular boulevard in the New Orleans metro area and built a 15,000-square-foot store. The public no longer viewed us as a store, but instead, as an institution.

Significant product of the last 25 years

The most significant product has been the EFX by Precor. This established the (elliptical) market and has brought our industry away from the usual treadmill, bike, etc. The only problem is that ellipticals are becoming such a norm now, making it extremely important for manufacturers to continue seeking revolutionary products, not evolutionary, if we are going to keep awing consumers. There is too much ho-hum and yawning right now except for a few new innovations such as the Precor AMT and Octane X-Ride.



The future of specialty fitness retail


I envision the fitness retail industry in the future as getting back to our roots—fewer stores and more “Back to Specialty,” making customers want to come and see us. Also, I hope that manufacturers will begin to use the Internet and television more to drive customers to us.


Steve Sova

Health and Fitness Equipment • Owner

Entry into the fitness industry

I took an interest in exercise as a power lifter in college and for a couple of years after graduating. I made a decision not to continue because of injuries. However, my passion for the sport fueled my drive to inspire others to exercise. For a couple of years in the '70s I worked as a Nautilus instructor and membership salesman at a local Nautilus club. The owner, Gene Weiss, who was an exercise guru, had been an Ohio high school wrestling champion and he had wrestled for Ohio State University. He and I would discuss different business ideas, such as selling supplements and weights at his health club facility. This was my first experience in sales and I enjoyed it immensely. I left Gene Weiss to sell equipment from my home.

When we started out in 1979, there were no specialty fitness stores as we know them today in northeast Ohio. In Youngstown, there was a store called Natural Health Food and Barbell Center, which was owned by Max Huberman. He sold supplements (which we called “health food” at that time), weights and benches. That was the first store selling exercise equipment that I can remember.

I started the company in 1979 as Health and Fitness Equipment and Consulting Co. We sold weights and benches only at that time. I did not want a business name that related to barbells only. Rather, I wanted a name that related to exercise and the improvement and promotion of good health. We grew the company from a single location -- with myself as the only employee -- to a five-store business with 20 employees. In the beginning, I handled all of the sales, warehousing, service and delivery, and we operated from my home and then moved to a warehouse location. We added employees as we grew. My wife, Pat, was my first employee.

Reactions of public, friends and family

When I began 30 years ago, our client base was primarily young men. Arnold Schwarzenegger had been Mr. Olympia and seemed to have made weight training very popular. Those who wanted to weight lift were able to join a gym, the YMCA or lift at home. Many of the high schools only had the conventional Universal machines, and coaches did not encourage working out like they do today. Many high school athletes and young men wanted to build bigger stronger muscles. Consequently, we sold weights, benches, lat machines and other free-weight lifting products for the home. The business seemed to be well received by our client base, and we did not need to sell out of a “boutique” style retail store as we do today. Obviously, in today’s specialty fitness environment things have changed dramatically. Most of us are selling out of expensive retail storefronts with a product mix that is primarily aerobic equipment.

Significant product of the last 25 years

The most significant innovation seems to be the elliptical, which came on the scene in the mid-90s after Precor bought the technology from the inventor. At first, we were skeptical. We thought it was just another fad that would lose popularity in a couple of years. Now, 14 years later, the elliptical is still around and extremely popular and one of the go-to products on all specialty fitness store floors.

Future of the fitness industry

More and more knowledge has surfaced about exercising techniques. The conventional free-weight equipment and home gyms have not gained in popularity in recent years. I believe that with our aging population, aerobic equipment will continue to be the mainstay, with low-impact equipment being at the forefront.

The training of young athletes has also moved away from the conventional bench press and squat to movements that increase explosiveness, quickness and agility. For the home, exercise routines such as the P90X have surfaced which combine cardio, strength and flexibility. Customers come in regularly to purchase stretch bands, light dumbbells and fitness balls to use with these home exercise routines.

I believe that exercise will always be an important factor in our overall good health. Because of this, there will be a continuous need for fitness specialty stores who can guide customers to the correct type of exercise equipment to meet their needs. I do not think the industry will change as much in the next 25 years as it did in the past 25 years. We have found our niche and have evolved to be more of a necessity than in the past.

The future of specialty fitness retail

Many companies have tried to expand to a national or multi-regional presence over the last several years. That business model has not seemed to work as we have seen these companies falter.

Running a specialty fitness business is not like operating big-box, multi-product, sporting goods stores, because of the seasonal need for the products that fill the majority of showroom floors and the type of salesperson needed to sell the equipment. Specialty fitness sales personnel are usually young and aggressive and they need close contact with management. They can thrive in the right selling environment, but they must be continually guided in a direction that coincides with the philosophy of the company.

The other factor is the extreme seasonality of our business. Because most specialty fitness retailers do not rely on products that are popular throughout the year, inventorying the business properly during the different seasons is imperative. Increasing product turns is essential. The most difficult time to inventory properly is the transition period from the busy season into the slower, beginning of summer months.

I believe the specialty fitness retailer of the future is the regional or smaller company that can keep their pulse on the everyday needs of the entire operation. We may see a more noticeable connection to the medical profession. This has been evident as the mainstay products have moved from strength to aerobic equipment as the older population has tried to improve their cardiovascular health.


Johanne Tummon

Physical Assets • Owner

Entry into the fitness industry

In the summer of 1984 I was searching for two things: a good exercise bike and a new idea for a retail store. Eventually, I found the exercise bike at a sporting goods store. I also found a salesperson that knew a little about hockey equipment, a little about golf clubs and fishing tackle, but not a lot about exercise bikes. Thankfully, I had a general idea of what I wanted, and I was able to trust my instincts. However, I wondered what the everyday shopper was able to rely on to make their decision.



At that time, my brother, John Tummon, was the Canadian distributor for Monark exercise bikes and Precor fitness equipment. Stores specializing in fitness equipment were growing in the United States but weren’t situated in Canada yet. With my brother's encouragement and partnering with Susan Asquith, we opened Toronto's first specialized and dedicated Exercise Equipment Store on Davenport Road in September 1984.

In the beginning, our store consisted of five exercise bikes, three rowing machines, one manual treadmill, a York 2001 weight machine and a Total Gym -- no stair machines, no recumbent bikes, no ellipticals, no ski machines. None of these had been invented yet. Still, we dedicated ourselves to understanding our industry and our products inside and out. From the outset, we were striving to offer a high-end experience for our customers.

Reactions of public, friends and family

What was at first thought to be a fad has evolved into a huge and healthy industry, and many people now have a piece of exercise equipment in their homes.

Over time, business grew rapidly in the '80s, and so did the selection of fitness equipment. Hydraulic rowers were very popular; then came hydraulic steppers, followed by motorized treadmills for serious runners. Back then, a Polar heart rate monitor looked like a Dick Tracy watch and cost $500. Today, you can buy a Polar heart rate monitor for $69.95. The industry has grown and products have changed, but we have continued to remain devoted to quality service and value.

For shoppers, the difficulty is determining the difference between what Tony Little sells on late night infomercials and quality equipment that will help you achieve your goals and last for many years. At Physical Assets, it's our goal to help you understand that difference.


If you liked this supplemental material to the SNEWS 2009 Fitness magazine’s article celebrating 25 years of fitness, then you’ll like all the rest too. Be sure not to miss additional commentary from retailer long-timers, more from manufacturer long-timers and some insights from those who are retired, out of the industry or from other related groups.

In addition to the photos in the magazine we have more, with full IDs and other information. Don’t miss vintage photos from manufacturers, vintage photos from retailers, vintage photos of people, and classic photos of old and original equipment.

Then, if you are wondering who is in and what is pictured in each photo on the grid on the Table of Contents page of the magazine, you can find those IDs by clicking here.

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