Fitness retail long timers open ‘new’ Fitness Experts Chicago

With a combined 52+ years in the fitness industry, three dedicated industry executives have just opened two of three planned specialty stores in the Chicago area. SNEWS talks to them about their impetus and plans.
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With a combined 52+ years in the fitness industry, three dedicated industry executives have just opened two of three planned specialty stores in the Chicago area. SNEWS talks to them about their impetus and plans.

Screwdrivers, wrenches, bolts, paint and hammers have been the best friends of a trio of longtime fitness executives who opened two of the first three planned locations of a new Chicago-area Fitness Experts retail chain as of March 13. A third store is on the docket for the end of the month.

That’ll be three new stores less than two months after two of the three left their jobs at The Great Escape, which in July 2010, acquired their former employer, the Chicago Home Fitness specialty chain. (Click here to see that July 23, 2010, SNEWS® story.)

“I’m still putting together equipment,” said Gerad Cassello, who was hunkered down in the first Clybourn store in Chicago while partner Dusty Schlotfeldt was overseeing deliveries in the second Deerfield store. Both Cassello and Schlotfeldt (photo, right: Schlotfeldt, front; Cassello, rear) had moved over to The Great Escape with the acquisition. Third partner Gary Singleton, who had not been with The Great Escape, was overseeing final lease logistics for a third store that will be in an unnamed area in the Western suburbs. The three will now be competing against their former employer.

“It didn’t work out” at The Great Escape, Cassello told SNEWS. “There was an opportunity, and there were quality vendors looking for a home. It just seemed to make sense (to take this step).”

Current brands opening with Fitness Experts ( are True Fitness, Inspire Fitness, BH Fitness, FreeMotion Fitness, PowerBlock and GoFit.

With a combined estimate of some 52+ years in fitness retail among the three, all wanted to stay in the industry.

“I always wanted to start my own business,” Schlotfeldt told SNEWS.

“But I never wanted to move out of Chicago,” he added. Plus he never wanted to compete with former Chicago Home Fitness (CHF) owner Scott Egbert, who has no role in this business, or Egbert’s business partner Singleton. Once The Great Escape (TGE) took over, everything changed.

“The spark was reignited last year,” said Schlotfeldt, “and we decided to do it.”

According to Cassello and Schlotfeldt, fitness was an off-season business for The Great Escape, which specialized in spring/summer products such as patio furniture, spas and BBQs, and it didn’t have a lot of interest in doing fitness the way they believed it should be done. At first TGE retained 10 of 22 former CHF storefronts. As of last week, according to its website, it had nine stand-alone CHF storefronts while another nine are “boutiques” inside select TGE stores. The CHF logo remains on a tab (photo, above - see far right tab) on the TGE website which sends those who click on it to a CHF website (

Cassello, a former personal trainer with a degree in exercise science, said the three want to emphasis customer service.

“We want to out-customer-service everyone,” he said. “We want to serve the heck out of people…. We’re about getting people fitness results.”

Schlotfeldt indicated the three had plans for community partnerships, trainer partnerships and a whole list of other ways to truly work with people – details they declined to reveal at the moment. They are already touting their birth and progress on a Facebook page. (Another Fitness Experts business with two stores runs out of the St. Louis, Mo., area by Vince Evans and is not related to this business.)

The downfall of many fitness retailers in the past has been stretching store numbers beyond an area’s needs or stepping outside of its home region. Neither are what the threesome want to do.

“We plan on staying in the Chicago area (photo, right: Chicago store one week after opening) and, if the market wants it, to have more stores,” Cassello said. ‘We don't however have any world domination plans – that model doesn’t work. We’re just a local company.”

As they all work phones, pick up wrenches and paintbrushes, and tear apart boxes to unpack equipment, it’s clear what they are about.

“We’re lean and mean but we’re getting things done,” Schlotfeldt said. “This is what I love and this is what my passion is. We truly care about customers.”

--Therese Iknoian


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