Fitness Experience and Exercare merge, become national mega-retailer

The Fitness Experience and Exercare announced their planned merger with aplomb at the Health & Fitness Business Expo & Conference Aug. 2 -- all the Exercare managers and employees there showed up that day wearing Fitness Experience shirts after wearing Exercare shirts the day before.
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The Fitness Experience and Exercare announced their planned merger with aplomb at the Health & Fitness Business Expo & Conference Aug. 2 -- all the Exercare managers and employees there showed up that day wearing Fitness Experience shirts after wearing Exercare shirts the day before. Doug Pearson, Fitness Experience president, was practically busting with the news that day as he discussed the merger with SNEWS -- and laughed about how everybody was confused seeing the sudden shirt swap.

With the merger, which will close Sept. 1, the chain will number 52 -- 35 Fitness Experience stores in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio, and 17 Exercare stores in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. Post-merger plans call for immediately opening another store in Dayton, Ohio, and a super-store in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the fall, bringing the total store count of the new Fitness Experience chain to 55 by year's end.

"It's hard in this world to know when to step up and grow," Pearson said at the show the day of the announcement. "But we're very excited, particularly from the people side because that's where we're going to win in the long term, and where organizations win in financial success."

Pearson will be president of Elmhurt, Ill.-based Fitness Experience, which will now be the nation's largest specialty fitness retailer ("not affiliated with an equipment manufacturer," the company's statement states, subtly excluding Life Fitness-owned Omni Fitness from its ranking), taking the top slot in annual revenues among specialty fitness retailers. Brian Massie, sole owner of Cleveland, Ohio-based Exercare, will use his CPA skills and become vice president of finance. Rich Rot, Fitness Experience partner, will be a vice president.

Pearson said the two-year plan for further growth will be Midwest-focused, adding that he doesn't want to be like other "big guys" who get all strung out around the country and lose touch with their consumers.

"We're Midwest people," he said, "and we are content staying in the Midwest and waiting for opportunities to open up additional stores. We don't want the number to drive the growth plan."

Still, he did say he expects the merger to accelerate opportunities that will come the company's way.

Fitness Experience -- www.fitnessexperience.com -- was founded in 1986 by Pearson, Doug Ewing, and Phil Singer with one store in Westmont, Ill. A decade later, sales for the growing chain were pushing $10 million, with 25-40 percent growth each year.

Exercare was founded as a rehab equipment company in Parma, Ohio, in 1973, and became Exercare with an exclusive focus on exercise equipment in 1984. Massie bought the stores in 1990.

SNEWS® View: Anyone rubbing shoulders with Pearson at the show could sense his enthusiasm over the potential of the new business. It was frankly a breath of fresh air. We wish the team success and hope they will not lose that excitement. It's what the fitness business should be about.

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