Fitness holiday sales outcome up for grabs

With somewhat conflicting reports about Black Friday and holiday sales, SNEWS recently caught up with some specialty fitness equipment retailers across the country to get their take.
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With somewhat conflicting reports about Black Friday and holiday sales, SNEWS recently caught up with some specialty fitness equipment retailers across the country to get their take. Seems that many are hedging their bets.

"The customer is tentative, and sales this season have mirrored what we've seen all year, which is relatively flat," said Rick Griner, president of Omni Fitness, which has more than 60 stores on both coasts. "We're hoping there's a pent-up demand."

Retailers are looking for ways to feed that demand through expanded store hours and increased advertising - including 30-second broadcast TV spots for the first time for Indiana-based Factory Fitness. Precision Fitness in Florida is counting on last-minute shoppers. They're not ready to sit happy with sales from Black Friday, the traditional kickoff to the holiday selling season the day after Thanksgiving, which is called that because retailers hope it will put them in the black for the year. This yes-no-maybe-we'll-see is right on track with the conflicting national retail surveys that SNEWS reported in a story Dec. 2.

While cross-trainers and treadmills remain the biggest sellers, many buyers now pick $1,500 products over $3,000 ones, according to Advanced Exercise Equipment in Colorado. Not unlike other consumer product sales this year, that store's customers are going for perceived value and sale items at all price points.

Acknowledging that it may be running against the current retail grain, a representative of L.A. Gym Equipment excitedly forecasted strong holiday sales - noting that "there is still a lot of money here, and we're able to sell a lot of high-end products."

But Gregg Spieker, president of Advanced Exercise Equipment, prefers to hold his effusion in check for now, saving it for when the year ticks to a close on Dec. 31 and all the receipts are counted.

"The jury is still out on holiday sales," Spieker said. "Based on what we saw before Thanksgiving, results could be pretty questionable. It will go right down to the wire."

SNEWS View: We can't be sure if fitness dealers are just being cautious, are wary about showing their cards to others, or if things are really as lukewarm as some say. Just as fitness sales post 9/11 still did well, however, we frankly expect the same thing to happen -- people will buy; they just may opt for slightly lower prices and what Spieker at Advanced Exercise Equipment called "perceived value."

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