Fitness retail in America’s fittest and fattest city

Find out who's the fitness and fattest city in the nation, and what the fitness retail scene is like in each.
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We all love lists … or at least, love to debate them.

So when Men’s Fitness put out its "2014 Fittest and Fattest Cities" list earlier this week, we decided to check in with fitness retailers located in the cities at the very top and bottom of the list — Portland, Ore. and Memphis, Tenn.

No. 1 – Portland, Ore.
Portland ranked as America’s fittest city, according to Men’s Fitness, for the second year in a row.

That’s no surprise to Jeanne Masters, store manager at Exercise Equipment Northwest in Portland. “There’s a consciousness of not only fitness and exercise here, but also healthy eating and nutrition,” she told SNEWS.

There isn’t one pinpoint reason for that strong fit and healthy mentality, she said, but local businesses like Nike and Adidas, along with Precor up the road in Washington help build momentum. So does a strong network of bike lanes, running groups, and local farms with fresh food.

All of that helps keep fitness top of mind in Portland and when the days shorten and get cooler in the winter, it translates into good business for Exercise Equipment Northwest as people look to keep up their outdoor regimens indoors.

“We don’t get the sun here a lot,” Masters quipped, especially in the winter.

This past season has been one of the best years for the store, she said.

What’s been selling well? The Elliptigo has been a hit with Portland’s biking crowd and Inspire Fitness’ Cardio Strider two has been the big surprise of late.

“It’s really competitively priced (MSRP $1,795) and has been popular with baby boomers who might have had knee surgery or an injury and need to rehabilitate,” Masters said. “A lot of doctors are referring them to it.”

The other traffic driver has been the CrossFit boom, something the store has embraced, she said, even if the margins are small on the mostly accessory items such as medicine balls, kettle bells, plyo boxes and bumper plates.

“It gets people in the doors and gives us the opportunity to show off our high level of customer service,” Masters said. “They might just buy a medicine ball, but they come back when need something larger, or more importantly, refer the store to their friends — referrals are big business for us.”

And it’s not all accessories with CrossFit. Rowers have regained popularity thanks to the activity with Concept 2 as one of the top selling brands in her store.

No. 50 – Memphis, Tenn.
On the flip side, Men’s Fitness named Memphis, Tenn. as America’s fattest city in 2014.

It’s not something to brag about — unless maybe if you’re a local BBQ restaurant — and for fitness retailers, presents a tough market to play in.

In fact, over the past few years, quite a few fitness retailers have vacated the city, the biggest being Super Store Exercise.

Exercise Unlimited is one of, if not the only, remaining fitness equipment retailers in Memphis and mostly sells used equipment. Observers tell SNEWS the reality comes from lower medium incomes in this part of the country — it’s hard to support a fitness retail business where new equipment can cost thousands of dollars. And while headline-grabbing, it’s apples-to-oranges to compare a city on the coast like Portland to a city in the deep south like Memphis.

The used business seems strong, though. Exercise Unlimited (owned by Danny Snyder, who was traveling back from IHRSA when we called for an interview) boasts a 20,000-square foot warehouse right downtown.

And there are brighter days ahead for Memphis. Men’s Fitness notes that Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton, “a health and fitness buff who’s know to crank out pushups in a suit and tie,” is making efforts to improve the situation with a larger bike network and new farmers markets.

Men’s Fitness Fittest and Fattest American cities in 2014
1. Portland, Ore.
2. San Francisco, Calif.
3. Seattle, Wash.
4. Denver, Colo.
5. Boston, Mass.
6. Washington D.C.
7. Minneapolis, Minn.
8. San Diego, Cailf.
9. Atlanta, Ga.
10. Oakland, Calif.

...

41. Wichita, Kan.
42. Arlington, Texas
43. Jacksonville, Fla.
44. Nashville, Tenn.
45. Oklahoma City, Okla.
46. Indianapolis, Ind.
47. Detroit, Mich.
48. Louisville, Ky.
49. El Paso, Texas
50. Memphis, Tenn.

Click here for the full list.

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