Busy Body buys Advanced Exercise for Denver-area LF brand

Once again, Busy Body Home Fitness has acquired another retailer -- this time, Life Fitness-specialist Advanced Exercise Equipment of Colorado and its nine stores.
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Once again, Busy Body Home Fitness has acquired another retailer -- this time, Life Fitness-specialist Advanced Exercise Equipment of Colorado and its nine stores.

The acquisition, completed just days before the opening of the Health & Fitness Business show in Denver, is the fifth for Busy Body's parent, Fitness Holdings International, and jumps the total store count for the Western region-exclusive retailer to 59 after various closings and consolidations in the last year.

"When we got involved in this, we said we wanted to be the dominant West Coast retailer," Kenton Van Harten, COO and president of Fitness Holdings International (FHI), told SNEWS®. Financial details remained confidential for the acquisition that closed Aug. 12 -- one that continued FHI's quest to buy brands and established locations.

With most retailers already engrossed in prepping for the busy holiday and New Year's seasons, Van Harten has said once again that no other acquisitions are on its radar -- just as he has said after each of the last two. But, he added, "Never say never.

"We are not actively pursuing any acquisitions," Van Harten said, "but if something good comes up, we'd consider it."

Less than four months ago -- only a couple of weeks before Van Harten said it began talking to Advanced Exercise Equipment (AEE) -- Busy Body took over the retail division of All About Fitness, another retailer focused on the greater Denver area. However, All About Fitness was primarily a Precor dealer and AEE is a Life Fitness dealer, giving Busy Body two major brands and a virtual lock on the greater Denver market. AEE also has Life Fitness in Arizona -- it opened the first Life Fitness brand store in Scottsdale, Ariz., in late 2003 (see SNEWS® story, Nov. 23, 2003, "AEE opens Life Fitness company store in Scottsdale"). Together, the acquisitions give Busy Body control over that brand in all the major West Coast markets except Southern California. Rumors have circulated that Busy Body was talking to Southern California's Life Fitness dealer, L.A. Gym, but Van Harten chuckled and denied any truth in that talk.  

"We're concentrating on what we have right now," said Bill Gleason, vice president of operations for Busy Body. "I'm very excited about it."

Other acquisitions for Busy Body have included Exercise Equipment of Nevada, which had stores in Reno, Las Vegas, plus Fresno, Calif. That deal closed in late May. In addition, the company purchased nine Hoist Fitness-owned Fitness Warehouse stores in the San Diego, Calif., area in mid-November 2003. Prior to that, in early October 2003, FHI purchased the 17 West Coast stores owned by Omni Fitness (a Life Fitness company).

Busy Body now tops a list of specialty fitness retailers in store numbers; the previous largest, The Fitness Experience, has dropped to 36 from 55 late last year. Van Harten said the company is negotiating a lease for a new Busy Body store in Santa Rosa, Calif., north of San Francisco. That would put it at 60 stores for the busy season -- the number that Van Harten had forecast for the chain in the spring. Now, he said, the company will work on aligning its product mix across the board.

"Right now the focus is to get rid of the products we're not going forward with, and get products on the floor (we are), getting ready for the season, and training people," he said, declining to name brands or specifics.

AEE founder Gregg Spieker will license the name to continue to operate the commercial side of the business, which John Talley, who was AEE's vice president of retail sales and will be Busy Body's north Denver regional manager, called Spieker's first love. Spieker has been a commercial dealer for some two decades -- long before the retail side of the business got rolling. Spieker was unavailable for comment by deadline. Rich Chavez will take over as regional manager of the southern Denver region.

Could anyone else move into the markets that Busy Body now dominates?

"I wouldn't want to compete with us and L.A. Gym," Van Harten said.

Talley said signage on the AEE stores should be changed by the first of November,

Based in Southern California, Busy Body (www.busybody.com) is run by FHI with Brian McDermott as chairman. McDermott and Van Harten are also partners in Hancock Park. FHI had purchased 16 of the former Busy Body stores in the former chain's 2001 bankruptcy -- as well as the rights to the name in the Western region.

SNEWS® View: What more can we say? Every time we blink, Busy Body is at it again. The chain now practically owns most of the West Coast and Western region -- the only real holes being Utah and Oregon, and Van Harten says there are no plans currently for those areas. But since "never say never" is the motto at Busy Body headquarters, we suspect the company will hold steady now through the first quarter of 2005 -- other than a few inside realignments. Unless of course some small, inexpensive, fill-in deal-that-can't-be-refused in a growing market comes up suddenly. We said it before and we'll say it again: The larger some retailers get -- even ones like Dick's and The Sports Authority which are both saying they want more of the fitness market -- the harder it will be for the little guys to compete. We think that means that those little guys need to become even more of a boutique shop -- one that does more than sell big chunks of iron and steel, but one that also sells lifestyle and wellness, as well as advice about activity and exercise that perhaps goes beyond the likes of home gyms and ellipticals.

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