Fitness retail veteran takes Lifecore equipment company to HFB show

When specialty retailer Roger Bates of San Diego, Calif.-based, Fitness & Spa Outlet couldn't find an elliptical line he wanted to carry, he started his own. Lifecore Fitness will launch publicly at this year's Health & Fitness Business show with its own booth.
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When a specialty retailer can't find a line of ellipticals he wants to carry, only a few choices remain:

1- Not carry ellipticals (OK, that isn't the best plan).
2- Find a line that doesn't meet perceived customer needs (Maybe a little better).
3- Start manufacturing your own line.

Roger Bates of San Diego, Calif.-based, Fitness & Spa Outlet chose Option No. 3 about a year and a half ago when he started Lifecore Fitness. The company will launch publicly at this year's Health & Fitness Business show Aug. 25-27 with its own booth.  

"I started the company partly because there were no small elliptical lines available for me to carry in my store. I don't know what I would have done without LifeCore on my floor. I would have lost a lot of sales," said Bates, who's in a city near San Diego that had elliptical brands he wanted but were locked up by other retailers.

"But I did it for more than that. I did it because the manufacturers are forgetting specialty retailers," Bates told SNEWS®. "Manufacturers all want to get product into Costco, Wal-Mart, etc., and the specialty retailer is slowly going bye-bye."

Bates didn't just jump into the manufacturing side of things. In fact, he used his retail experience and store -- open since November 2002 -- to test the equipment before he thought about growing distribution of Lifecore (www.lifecorefitness.com).

"I sold the product out of my store to make sure it was the right product and I sold a ton," Bates said. "Most importantly, we didn't have any problems with the equipment and that is what really matters."

Not having problems is a key for a new product line, especially when it is looking to gain a foothold on crowded -- some might say over-crowded -- retail floors. Bates has the pieces manufactured in Taiwan, and they carry five-year warranties on all parts. Thus far, Bates has placed his first two ellipticals in several chains, including Fitness Headquarters and Nellie's -- not bad for a company that hasn't really tried until now.

"I am not worried about placement as I operate to help out the specialty retailer and give them a product that fits the niche," Bates said. "If the product is good, if the support is good and the margin is good, you'll get distribution."

According to Bates, the success on the retail floor with Lifecore-branded equipment did not ruffle the feathers of the other brands along side it in his own store (www.fitnessandspaoutlet.com), including Nautilus, Bowflex, Schwinn, Keys Fitness and Lamar Health, Fitness & Sport.

"I haven't had a problem and they don't care," Bates said. "The products are at different price points and I sell a lot of their products. I am at 40 percent or 50 percent with each manufacturer each year."

But Bates insisted that although he is looking to expand distribution, he has no plans to take outside of the specialty channel any of the four elliptical units (including two units premiering at the HFB show in August), which range in list price from $600 to $1,200, or the rowing machine (list, $1,200) that will also launch at the show.

"Large manufacturers don't think about what the dealer wants. They only think about what they want and often that is just how to push 10,000 units and the easiest way is through a Costco or other big chain regardless of how hard it makes it for specialty dealers to hold margins," Bates said.

"That is why there is room for small, niche vendors that care about and understand the specialty channel," he added. "I'm not looking to sell to a Costco or Dick's or Sports Authority. I just want to produce a solid product line for the specialty dealer."

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