Kettlebells, those cast iron cannonball-like things with handles and a flat bottom, aren't exactly new. In fact, the Romans were swinging them around their bodies in training many centuries ago, and the Russians still have "girya," or kettlebell, competitions that date back to at least the turn of the century. A former Soviet Secret Services trainer and agent, Pavel Tsatsouline, who was also a nationally ranked "girya" competitor there, has been credited with introducing kettlebells and training to the United States on a broad scale.
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But it's the fitness world that has now found a new thing when it comes to training. That world has taken what was a rather intimidating concept using really heavy black cast iron balls swung around by beefy, bodybuilder-like men and transformed, first, the bells into more enthusiast-friendly accessories and, second, the workouts into welcoming and instructional ones for all levels and all people.
And it's your customers who may be looking for just that next new challenge to help get excited about a fitness regimen they can stick to so they can lose weight and tone up.
What are the benefits of kettlebells and a kettlebell workout?
There is a simple list of why your customers should take a hard look:
- Compact and space-efficient equipment
- Time-efficient workout
- Cost-effective gear
- Whole-body, calorie-burning exercise
- Adaptable for all levels, both genders and any ability
- Functional training
- Strength, flexibility and aerobic training all-in-one
A kettlebell is not a kettlebell is not a kettlebell
Today's kettlebells may look the same to the inexperienced, but look again: There are many variations that may make a difference in your customer's satisfaction:
- Coatings, paint or bare – Kettlebells of yore were swung around in muscle head gyms where worrying about the floor, the walls and the furniture was the least of a user's concerns. Today's customers are, of course, different. The best ones for home use will have a vinyl-dip coating to protect a customer's home when they put them down or in case they drop one. Paint may be pretty, but it won't protect anything. Just bare naked? Leave that to the Russian girya he-men.
- Rubber bottoms – Some bells come with a rubber layer on the flat, bottom surface as extra protection. Some instructors aren't in favor of this because they believe the rubber layer throws off the weight's "balance" in your hand while you use it. If someone is really really worried about floor protection, it could be something to consider.
- Handle shape – Putting a handle on a cast iron ball seems simple enough. What do you have to worry about? A lot of things! A handle that is either too flat on top or too curved won't fit a user's hands very well, and one that is too short may not allow a user to pass it from hand to hand in a workout. In addition, how a shape or size fits someone will also depend on that person's hands, so when you shop for what to carry in your store, be sure to have women and men try them for feel and pass them between hands to check out the ease and comfort. Same goes for when you are selling them to a customer: Have him or her pick them up and hold them, passing them from hand to hand too, to see how it feels since everybody will be different.
- Handle coatings – Sounds nice enough to also dip the handle in vinyl, wrap it in rubber, or paint it a slick and pretty color, which are touted as protecting hands. But there could be a problem there: Once someone starts to workout, their hands will sweat, and a painted or vinyl-coated handle could slip or fall easily, damaging a floor or -- yikes -- a foot or leg. Some kinds of grips, if allowing enough texture to not slip, could work. But, again, the safest best is to try it out yourself while shopping.
- Pounds or kilograms – Of course, the United States uses an English-based measurement system and that's what people here are used to. In addition, if a weight is sold in pounds but only translated from kilograms, check the accuracy. Four kilograms isn't 10 pounds; it's 8.8 pounds. And five kilograms isn't 10 pounds; it's 11 pounds. Those itty-bits more or less could make a difference to someone's workout.
- Shape of bell and connection to handle – There are not a lot of differences here, although some are more curved (ball-like) than others. Some handles have a wider junction with the ball, while others have a narrow handle that just meet the ball. Try them yourselves to decide what you think feels good.
- Education – Many kettlebells in the past came with nothing, except the iron they were made of. But as the fitness world has latched onto this trend, more companies are coming up with posters and booklets (OK, a bit old-fashioned and less complete in today's technological age), while others offer DVDs, which can be very helpful to your customer. Also, some DVDs may only have a short introduction on using the bells, while others offer a workout, so know what comes with your product.
Why you should stock and promote kettlebells
The consumer media is beginning to pick up on the training trend, partly because the bells coming out now are more suitable to home use (see above) and clubs have started to offer classes. Any club class or equipment will eventually "trickle down" to home users.
Being on the front end of the wave will help set a retailer apart from its competitors. To do that, however, two things are important:
- picking the best product for your customer, and
- marketing yourself.
Just lining the bells up on a shelf may not get you much more than something else to dust. That's where marketing comes in:
- Go to the group exercise instructors and managers at your area health clubs, studios and gyms to promote that you now carry the newest trend and consider offering a small instructor discount.
- Contact your area media with a simple press release, discussing the training trend, what it can do for users and how to pick equipment. Only mention your store as a place for more information.
- Set up demo classes at a club, in your store, or at a community center or park, to introduce residents to the technique. And be sure the area media knows about that too.
Now you're ready to sell.
Define a customer's goals and interests – Ask about the person, his or her goals and experience with exercise in general and weights specifically. Assess if they are ready to try something new AND they want to be challenged. The folks who want to casually pedal a bike while reading the paper aren't likely candidates.
Set aside any stereotypes – Users are both male and female, fit and obese, tiny and beefy, so ignore any stereotypes you may have about the "type" of person who may consider this type of workout or equipment.
Explain a kettlebell workout – If you can show a continuous loop with a demo or you can pop in a DVD, that may be the best explanation of how to use the equipment. They are NOT just options for dumbbells, but are used quite differently. Because of that, the workout challenges not only strength, but also cardio, core strength and balance.
Offer it as a complete home gym – If someone doesn't have space at home or hesitates to spend the money on a large gym, show the bells and any DVDs as a possible complete home workout that doesn't take much more space than a pair of shoes.
Offer it as an adjunct workout – Although it can stand-alone, don't be afraid to offer it as an add-on to other equipment to add variety to someone's workout menu. If you have regular customers, showing it to people seeking to add to their workout room or menu can be a great selling tool.
Explain how it can "functionally" train a person – Using the weights trains a person to accelerate and decelerate body parts, which are all natural movements in day-to-day life. Plus, a user's abs and back (core) muscles kick in to keep them upright and aligned, another key training factor that relates to everyday life, as well as for athletic endeavors.
Emphasize education – Like so much of what is sold by specialty fitness shops, the instruction that goes with a product may make or break how satisfied and successful your customer is. That particularly applies to accessories and equipment that are so completely open-ended in their use, like kettlebells, leaving lots of room for questions and errors. Make sure customers have what they need to get it right and thank you for it.
Adding on to the sale
Like with any sale, there is equipment and gear that can go along with it, either at the time of original purchase or later, when you check in with the customer. For example:
- Gloves for hand protection and increased grip
- Floor mats for floor protection
- Stretch cords for additional flexibility training
- Balance or wobble boards for an extra core challenge
- Foam rolls or stability balls for recovery and stretching
Kettlebells could be the next workout ship pulling into the harbor. Don't miss the boat.