Fitness branching into bike shops: Affluent customers ready to drop coin

Fitness manufacturers looking for affluent and fitness-savvy consumers may just find them in the local bike shop, according to some recent market research.
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Fitness manufacturers looking for affluent and fitness-savvy consumers may just find them in the local bike shop, according to some recent market research.

The National Bicycle Dealers Association has released its latest Annual Market Brief, which found that the average customer of independent bicycle dealers is in his or her mid-40s, with an income that's well above average. In fact, more than half of the IBD (independent bike dealers) customers polled had incomes of more than $75,000 -- and almost a third made more than $100,000 a year or nearly identical to the specialty fitness customer. (For more on fitness consumer demographics, click here to see a SNEWS® special report in the Spring 2004 FitBiz publication titled, "Know thy customer.")

The NBDA study came out over the summer, just before the 2006 Interbike International Bicycle Expo Sept. 27-29 in Las Vegas. The show had plenty of what you'd expect -- bikes and bike-related goods, everything from helmets to hydration packs -- along with quite a few exhibitors showing fitness equipment and gear (with nary a spoke in sight). Among the big fitness manufacturers attending were Nautilus, Life Fitness, Fitnex and Lamar Health, Fitness & Sports.

"Fitness is a great fit for a lot of bike shops," said Fred Clements, executive director of NBDA. "Not only is there a lot crossover with bike riders, but it offers the retailer something to sell in the winter when people aren't riding bikes as much. It's a great counter-seasonal category."

The idea of courting the IBDs has been on a slow simmer for a number of years but seems to be picking up heat: "We're seeing more and more fitness manufacturers exhibiting at Interbike," said Lance Camisasca, group show director for Interbike as well as the Health and Fitness Business Expo. "More and more fitness manufacturers are looking to the IBDs because they want a bigger audience. There are only so many specialty fitness stores out there, and the numbers are dropping every year because of the growth in the multisports stores."

Camisasca said he expects the IBDs to continue showing interest in fitness equipment, for a few reasons, with one that is all about the bottom line: "Fitness equipment yields a bigger margin than bicycles," he said, "and it can help carry a shop through the winter, thus increasing their overall profitability."

An active crowd seeking out fitness
Indeed, the NBDA study also found that IBDs don't sell only top-of-the-line racing bikes to competitive Lance Armstrong-wannabes. The vast majority of IBD shoppers are buying their bikes for recreational or fitness purposes (vs. racing or commuting). It also showed that IBD shoppers are also quite willing to part with their cash, spending an average of six times as much on their bikes than shoppers at mass-market stores, which is not unlike the purchases at fitness specialty compared to those at mass or big box.

Lamar Health, Fitness & Sports, based in Boulder, Colo., showed its wares at Interbike. "We think this is a great channel and a really strong opportunity for growth," president and founder Kevin Lamar told SNEWS®. "Bike shops speak to a different group of people. This is a very active crowd who don't necessarily shop in specialty fitness stores. The IBDs do very well with their customers and have a lot of repeat business." Lamar currently sells to about 400 IBDs, he said, and has been marketing to them since its inception two years ago.

Also showing at Interbike was Nautilus, which presented its newest Schwinn Fitness elliptical trainers, along with BowFlex home gyms, free weights and treadmills, and the newest apparel and footwear lines, said Ron Arp, senior vice president for corporate communications. Nautilus already markets its equipment with 900 independent bike dealers -- and its apparel and footwear with more than 2,000 IBDs -- as part of its specialty retail unit.

Fitnex, based in Dallas, Texas, was at Interbike for the second time, said Ed Banasky, sales manager. And he said the company will definitely be back.

"This is a very good market for fitness companies," he said. "Some of the owners of these IBDs make a very good living. They're very good at what they do." Many IBDs are starting to think about adding fitness equipment to keep things moving in their stores during the winter months, Banasky explained. "They know that their customers may not be riding their bikes, but they're definitely interested in indoor training methods. If you're a competitive cyclist, you've got to stay in top shape, year-round. And that means doing a lot more than riding your bike when the weather's good."

Interbike show not mandatory
Certainly not every fitness manufacturer eyeing IBDs bought a booth at Interbike. Horizon Fitness, based in Cottage Grove, Wis., attended the show three years ago, but had limited success at the show, said Jeff Moser, Horizon's director of dealer sales.

"We found that most specialty bike dealers are at the show looking at bikes and bike components. Fitness equipment was a bit of an afterthought," Moser said. Still, he said, Horizon is in the IBD market and has successful relationships with IBDs throughout the central and northeastern United States partly because of the bike shop owners' search for something to supplement the business when winter hits.

According to Banasky, fitness manufacturers must address the IBD owners' concerns, namely figuring out what to sell and then how to service it. He said Fitnex deals with about 20 IBDs across the country, mostly what Banasky called "mom and pop" businesses with one or maybe two locations. But even if they only sell a few pieces, it's worth the time, he added, since they are often in small markets without a fitness specialty store. "They're the only show for miles around," he said, "so they sell a lot of everything, both bikes and fitness equipment."

SNEWS® View: We've said it before and we'll say it again: The IBD customer is just like the specialty fitness customer. It's just a matter of making sure the bike shop owner's concerns about space, knowledge and service are met. With a little extra effort, a brand that wiggles into some IBDs can get some good returns in the smaller towns and markets that often leave area fitness consumers driving long distances to find what they need or shopping the Internet.

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