Specialty fitness retailers, long known less for their decorating sense as for their sea of gray steel and iron, could be getting a kick in the pants from changes Colorado-based retailer All About Fitness has made to its stores recently â€“ changes that have resulted in exponential increases in sales and continued design tweaks chain-wide.
It all began in 1998 when the lease on the company's flagship store in Denver was up, president/owner Chip Hunnings told SNEWSÂ®, and he wanted to satisfy a nagging itch to somehow differentiate the chain.
â€œWe wanted to create a cool environment,â€ Hunnings said. â€œI had seen some great pictures in a store merchandising workshop at a conference, and I knew that we could make strides and do something different.â€
A consultant does the trick
Realizing he wasn't an expert in design and had really little idea how that played a part in human reactions and at retail, Hunnings turned to a designer who specializes in store environments.
â€œWe really didn't know what to do,â€ said Hunnings. â€œSo we found a designer who had worked with bike shopsâ€”Mercedes Henrichâ€”and hired her to bring in different angles and a new dimension.â€
The first project at the Denver store gave them room to play since it had 20,000 square feet â€“ unusually large for specialty fitness dealers. Much of that was being used as warehouse space, but when the company designated an off-site warehouse, it was left with more open room and not many ideas on how to best use it â€“ until Henrich stepped up to the plate.
First, Henrich researched customer traffic (finding that 60 percent of them were female), and observed customer visits. Then she rolled up her sleeves. She gave the store a totally new look by toning down the previous bright colors with more muted sunburst yellow walls, maple wood accents, and Arabian red carpet with subtle blue walkways to different departments. She also placed real plants and softer spot lighting throughout.
Henrich also created several mock â€œroomsâ€ within the store that simulate attractive home settings -- complete with a sofa, TV, stereo and mirrors, and fitness equipment neatly fitting in. Also, workstations were built throughout the floor where salespeople can comfortably sit down and share information with customers in a relaxed environment. Even the sales counter was revamped, with bar stools on one end for customers to feel more comfortable discussing equipment and purchases (nope, no double carmel lattes, thoughâ€” dang).
And under the category of â€œWhy didn't we think of this earlier?â€ All About Fitness added a dedicated children's area with a TV, VCR and some kid-friendly furniture to keep smaller visitors from climbing on the equipment and distracting parents who were shopping â€“ or perhaps forcing them to leave earlier than planned and not purchasing.
Although Hunnings estimates that he spent at least $7,500 on Henrich's time aloneâ€”plus the cost of the construction and other changesâ€”the payoff was immediately evident, with a 17-percent increase in sales in one year at the 8-year-old store.
â€œWe opened this revamped store in January 1999, and by March, we knew we would do this to all our stores based on the response we were getting,â€ said Hunnings. â€œNew customers said this was the most beautiful store they had ever been in, and existing customers told us over and over how comfortable this was compared to the old one.â€
Over the years, All About Fitness has incorporated as many of these design changes as practical into all its other 11 stores in Colorado, Arizona, Kansas, and Nevada, most of which are more typically 4,000-5,000 square feet, Hunnings told us; changes were timed with signing or renewing leases and getting the landlords to partner with the retailer on the build out. The chain carries Pacemaster, Landice, Vision, Octane, Hoist, Vectra, Body-Solid and Powerblock, and has handled commercial and retail business since its first retail location opened in Colorado in 1991.
Changes continue, accessory sales triple
With a better-trained eye and reinforced belief in the power of the environment, Hunnings said that additional changes continue now at many of his stores. One main area is that the retailer pulls accessories off slat walls and places them in three- or four-sided rolling displays that can be moved to alter the shop's layout.
â€œThis suggestion came from a mall store designer so that we could add more lifestyle, active images to our walls,â€ said Hunnings. â€œBefore, accessories were kind of hard to get to since they were behind the machines, but now people can touch and feel them and they are surrounded by them. In the first store we tried this, our accessory sales tripled.â€
Seeing that result, All About Fitness went at changes again and is in the process of switching things in all of its stores, with five currently completed.
â€œThese changes really gave us an image and reinforced who we are and what we are about,â€ said Hunnings. â€œThey helped employees get excited, and managers now are eager to add their input to their stores.â€
Hunnings said he realized these kind of design changes can be tough to undertake, but strongly advises it.
â€œThis can be a hard step for retailers to take because they may not be sure that this investment will come back in increased revenue,â€ Hunnings said. â€œBut I've started to see some retailers, like L.A. Gym and Advanced Exercise Equipment, begin to make these types of changes.
â€œI'd really encourage people to take a leap of faith and give this a shot. It has made a huge difference and definitely helps our industry as a whole by presenting a more professional image overall.â€
SNEWS View: What a great move that should have gotten more attention. Perhaps unintentionally, Chip and his team have advanced specialty fitness retail in a way that is refreshing. As the industry evolves and matures, we expect and hope this kind of pattern will be imitated --and we actually do hear of others discussing these kinds of ideas. We've always wondered why specialty fitness has generally been characterized by bland, cold retail environments â€“ think white walls, gray floors and oceans of steel and iron in a row -- that tend to intimidate, or at least fail to foster a warm, welcoming atmosphere. What All About Fitness has done makes tremendous sense and is way ahead of its time. We look forward to others taking on the same challenge.