Former Exercare execs back in retail in Ohio with Value Fitness

At a time when many retailers are wincing at lackluster sales with some simply hoping to survive the season, a duo of former Exercare executives has opened the doors on a new specialty retail store, Value Fitness, in a suburb of Cleveland.
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At a time when many retailers are wincing at lackluster sales with some simply hoping to survive the season, a duo of former Exercare executives has opened the doors on a new specialty retail store, Value Fitness, in a suburb of Cleveland.

Brian Massie, who co-founded Exercare, and Mark Mutch, former vice president, have joined with Sean Massie, Brian's son who worked in sales at Exercare, to open the single 3,000-square-foot store in Concord Township, a growing eastern suburb of Cleveland.

It's not as if the area is without retailers, with G & G Fitness, 2nd Wind, Health and Fitness, and Fitness Serve in the area, although none closer than about 10 miles. But that didn't deter Massie and company, which began plotting the concept nearly a year before its October 2007 opening.

"We're not trying to be G & G or a Dick Enrico with lots of stores," Brian Massie told SNEWS®. "We just want to be a profitable, family-run business."

Sean Massie is the day-to-day go-to guy, manning the store, dealing with customers, negotiating with manufacturers and arranging delivery and service. Brian Massie, who invested money in the enterprise and watches over the accounting while still working full time in another non-fitness business, drops in to help out (without pay) two evenings a week and weekend afternoons. Mutch, who also invested in the business, is doing what he formerly did with Exercare -- and does now for non-fitness businesses -- advertising, marketing and web development.

The website, www.valuefitness.com, is live and the group's old url, www.exercare.com, is still live and pointing to Value Fitness. They originally decided not to use the old Exercare name, believing it may have become tarnished by The Fitness Experience bankruptcy, but in hindsight Brian Massie said that may have been a mistake. Ads now state "by Exercare" or otherwise mention the former company that had good standing in Ohio.

"There are not guarantees in life. It's always a risk," he added. The team is looking at the potential to add one store a year but topping out at about five.

When The Fitness Experience bought out Exercare's 17 stores in August 2002 then went on a growth rampage, Brian Massie and Mutch went along with the sale to the new business but Massie, a CPA, soon found his intended role as CFO didn't materialize as he watched the new business crumble. The Fitness Experience began selling off stores and reassessing business plans in 2004 and declared Ch. 7 bankruptcy liquidation on Jan. 21, 2005. Click here to see a Jan. 24, 2005, SNEWS® story, "Financial woes force The Fitness Experience into Ch. 7 bankruptcy liquidation."

No bankruptcy schedules or statements of financials affairs were ever filed with the court, except for a list of creditors, and the case was finally dismissed by the court in September 2006, while The Fitness Experience owners, executives and managers scattered to other endeavors. The case was finally terminated by the court in January 2007.

Despite that experience, Brian Massie said he and Mutch always enjoyed working together and missed the fitness business. Sean Massie, who started in the Exercare business as a teenager in his dad's warehouse, had worked his way into a strong sales position. The dad felt he could help his son establish a new business.

"I said, 'We're pretty good at it. Let's see if we can find a niche,'" Brian Massie said they began to think a year ago. "We know the marketplace and where to go.

"Ohio is probably not the healthiest spot financially," he said, "but we don't have a lot of overhead and I'm willing to invest in it.

Although dubbed Value Fitness, the emphasis is not on discount, but on finding value in mid-priced equipment, he said. Current cardio equipment brands are BH Fitness, SportsArt and Bodycraft, while strength equipment is from Bodycraft and Body-Solid.

"We're not going to try to be at the price points of sporting goods," Brian Massie said. "Our hook is promoting healthy, active lifestyles, one customer at a time."

Despite a bit of doom and gloom at fitness specialty retail so far this season, the team is upbeat they will make it and so will specialty.

"I think there is still a place for specialty fitness," he said. "We'll cover our expenses. Do I think we'll make a million? Of course not. But we can build a business."

SNEWS® View: It is certainly unfortunate what happened to Exercare when it was folded into The Fitness Experience group and management, which didn't quite function the way it should have. Massie and Mutch, with their skills that could have helped the business, were mostly ignored as The Fitness Experience quietly listed before slipping permanently out of sight, leaving some bitter suppliers and customers. Certainly, most everyone would agree that this season, with the current economy's woes, may be an overly optimistic time to open the doors on a new specialty retail endeavor. Heck, we've written about three stores that went out of business in just the last couple of months, with one -- America's Fitness Warehouse -- being in Ohio. We know of a few others -- some revered ones -- which are fighting and pinching to make sure they don't suffer the same fate. Honestly, we're not sure if they'll all make it. So, yes, Massie and company are optimistic. But perhaps picking the right location, staying small, and indeed having optimism can carry them along for the next year until the economy rights itself. We hope so.

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