Creative Playthings plans to continue fitness retail on own -- in the fall

Creative Playthings may be out of the fitness equipment business now -- but that won’t last long, the company CEO told SNEWS. What are his plans?
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After the ballyhooed partnership between swing-set specialist Creative Playthings and Mike Connolly’s The Fitness Store collapsed months into the 2009 launch, the Creative Playthings CEO has told SNEWS he will still push ahead with fitness retail later in the year on his own.

“We have been struggling for that counter-seasonal opportunity,” CEO Don Hoffman said, “and fitness just feels right.”

The short-lived alliance between Hoffman’s high-end wooden swing-set company (www.creativeplaythings.com) and Connolly’s newly founded Creative Fitness retail business was promoted in late December 2009 even as it was shutting down. (Click here to see a Dec. 30, 2009, press release, “New Family Focused Fitness Partnership Brings Home Fun and Fitness for Every Age.”)

In September 2009, when both Hoffman and Connolly discussed the venture with SNEWS, both were exuberant about the counter-seasonal products, how they would complement each other and how the products would share retail space in Creative Playthings stores. The swing sets would also share retail space in Connolly’s five now-defunct Precor Home Fitness stores, which he had said would eventually change their names to The Fitness Store. (Click here to see a Sept. 14, 2009, SNEWS story, “Mike Connolly's The Fitness Store joins with Creative Playthings in new take on East Coast retail.”) For that story, Connolly said it was the “perfect opportunity to go from childhood fitness to adult fitness,” and Hoffman called it a “tremendous synergy.”

The model of side-by-side fitness and swings was to launch in 18 Creative Playthings stores in seven eastern states.

Hoffman told SNEWS the relationship with Connolly’s company changed when certain matters weren’t progressing as he had expected. He declined additional comment. At that time, the decision was made not to move forward, he said. In addition, Hoffman said Connolly took back all of the remaining fitness equipment inventory -- remaining floor models from 18 stores. (Click here to see a Jan. 18, 2010, story, “Questions, few answers, in shuttering of The Fitness Group’s retail holdings nationwide.”)

Connolly did not return several phone calls for this story inquiring about the inventory or his retail plans. In March, however, he did tell SNEWS that he couldn’t comment about the status of the Creative Playthings partnership. Until early March, the store locator at The Fitness Store’s previous website (www.thefitnessstore.us) had listed all of the Creative Playthings stores. Now that website is shut down, but the new website (www.thefitnessstoreusa.com) is live and contains a note that the store list was being revised.

Meanwhile, several other specialty fitness retailers, including Joe Gulino’s new Xtreme Fitness Equipment (www.xtremefitnessequip.com) in Newton, Mass., are carrying the swing sets.

As Hoffman prepares for his entry into fitness, he said his stores in general are seeing a little economic light; April has started well and is one the company’s higher-revenue months for its high season that runs about March to July. That’s why he is still bullish on fitness, he said, since the fitness selling season is directly the opposite or about December to February.

Hoffman said he is talking to fitness suppliers now but is not locked into any one. He noted he would buy the inventory directly rather than working in another partnership, adding that he would likely look at putting fitness equipment into about 10 stores. He emphasized that he would not simply be “a swing set store with treadmills” but would truly service both avenues of merchandise.

“I’m optimistic,” he said, “about the options for the future.”

--Therese Iknoian

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