How to: Set up a fitness/training accessory category

Performance aids that your customers need so they can perform better at their chosen activities, develop targeted strength and flexibility, remain injury-free, and function better day-to-day.
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This Training Center article is written by the editors of SNEWS®:

(This important how-to-sell topic, first published in January 2007, was updated in June 2008.)


Fitness accessories aren't just a means to get buff, tone thighs or get a six-pack. In fact, they are training and performance aids that your customers need so they can perform better at their chosen activities, develop targeted strength and flexibility, remain injury-free, and function better day-to-day.

Accessories are also:

• versatile additions to anyone's repertoire of gear,

• relatively inexpensive, and

• usually packable and transportable for staying fit on the road.

Still, it's up to the retailer -- be that fitness, sporting goods, outdoor or running -- to select the assortment that's right for his or her store, showcase the selection appropriately, and then sell the products in a knowledgeable way so customers get exactly what they need.

Selecting your assortment

The key to product assortment is knowing not only your customers, but also the demands, offerings and interests of your geographic area. Questions to consider in setting up a great accessory category include:

1. Who is your customer? How fit is he or she?

2. What does your customer do?

3. What does he or she need to do it better?

4. Are their any health clubs, personal training studios, yoga or Pilates studios, or other training classes or activity clubs in your area? What are they using as accessories? What are they teaching?

5. What are the fitness trends in your area? What is getting written about in local papers and magazines?

6. Is there a lifestyle activity focus in your geographic area, such as climbing, running or skiing?

7. What else is your customer buying?

In addition, consider what other equipment you sell, and then make sure to tailor your accessory offerings to complement related needs. For example, if you sell functional cable gyms, be sure to stock attachments such as tricep ropes or ab crunch straps.

Who is your customer?

The first and most important question to ask yourself is: Who is your customer? Taking the time to qualify the person will help you understand what training aids and accessories he or she could use to support current activities, lifestyle or goals.

Only you as the retailer with a store in your area can truly answer these questions, although a rep or supplier can likely help. For example:

>> If you are a fitness specialty store, your customers may be people who want to lose weight or get toned. They may have come in to buy cardiovascular or strength-training equipment. However, a good salesperson will delve a little further to find out past injuries, such as back or ankle problems; demands of current life, such as carrying kids or sitting for extended periods in cars or at computers; or an interest in getting fit for other activities, such as backpacking or running races.

>> Your customers may, however, be avid climbers, runners or paddlers who need specific items to fine-tune their skills, from balance to ankle stability to core strength. Just doing an activity isn't usually enough to get better at it. Adding the elements that strengthen and stretch targeted muscle groups that help them rotate, stride, push or pull can give them a step up -- AND put you as the retailer who sold them the right gear in their good graces.

How fit is your customer?

Nothing can hurt more than selling customers an item or package that is way over their heads, fitness levels or ability. Take a look at these levels to consider:

>> Not Fit/Not Active -- Choose aids and movements that are easy to help someone just learn the basics.

>> Fit/Not Active -- Recommend items that are not too challenging, but offer a little more. The person could be strong enough to do more than just basics but not active enough to do more.

>> Not Fit/Active -- Look to offer easy to moderate movements and the required accessories. This could be someone who is active all day but doesn't do structured exercise.

>> Fit/Active -- This person could be pretty serious, so recommend aids that will challenge someone in a moderate to serious way. Still, don't over-challenge. Pain isn't a good souvenir!

Getting your customers into the right level of accessory -- for example, the correct resistance in rubber tubing or the right challenge in a balance/wobble product -- means they can do the exercise without pure frustration, feel successful AND will have a reason to come back to you and buy the next level up when they need it.

What's happening in your area?

If there is a lifestyle in your urban or suburban area, such as climbing or running, be sure to be familiar with those movement patterns and needs and offer what that person could find useful.

In addition, get to know what classes and trainers in area studios and clubs are using. If students in those classes and sessions are using Item X, you bet they'll come to you to find one for their home. Same goes for activity clubs, such as weekend groups that may go skiing, hiking or paddling.

Know your area, your customers' possible interests and needs, and what's being talked about so you too can support those interests and trends.

Merchandising the assortment

Every store's needs vary based on size, emphasis and products offered. Remember, though, that accessory products have proved their value as add-on sales and as a means for driving repeat traffic into stores. No matter how large or small, all retailers should dedicate some real estate to a solid product offering. Here are a number of general accessory categories to consider:

Rubber resistance -- including tubes and bands of all configurations

Balance and stability -- such as stability balls, foam rollers and balance discs

Weighted products -- such as dumbbells and medicine balls

Free weight and cable attachment products -- for example, bars and straps

Mind-body -- including tai chi, yoga, or Pilates products, such as belts and rings

Reactive trainers -- such as trampolines or trampoline-like boards

Mats and flooring -- for example, yoga and exercise mats, or equipment mats

Electronics and measuring tools -- such as pedometers, heart-rate monitors, body-fat calipers, blood pressure monitors, and activity monitors

Packages and kits -- boxed sets that include an accessory and a guide, such as charts and DVDs

Education -- anything instructional, such as charts, books, DVDs

Sports-specific -- such as agility products, parachutes, jump ropes or cones

Depending on your business model and customer, you may incorporate some or all of the above performance and training products in your category.

Some retailers, especially smaller ones without a lot of extra wall or floor space, find it useful to merchandise small accessories with the large equipment to draw customers with similar interests. Imagine how your local grocer hangs bananas near cereal or bottle stoppers near wine. You could put a stability ball near a cable gym or a reading rack on an elliptical. That also could make it easier for a salesperson to introduce the item when they are also selling the other product. 

You can even create more display space if you store items like treadmill mats with the back stock. These mats take up a lot of display area, their packaging isn’t too interesting, and the customer doesn’t need to see them to know they need or will want one. You can even be sure to put one of your treadmills on a mat and put a small sign on the mat noting its benefit and price. 

Others may use wall space, shelves or free-standing counters to merchandise a category all in one place, so mats are with mats, balance boards are with balance boards, and rubber resistance is with rubber resistance – and all are with each other. That allows customers to better contrast and to compare different grades or levels to assess with the salesperson what is best for them. Really use the display real estate to feature high-moving add-ons like stability balls.

Long story short: If you are particularly space constrained, at a minimum, make sure the product is reasonably accessible to your customers and be sure to have samples on hand for demos. If space isn’t a major concern, be sure to look showcase a vibrant selection, neatly displayed by category, size or training application. What doesn't work, of course, is a mish-mash of products stacked in a forlorn corner or gathering dust in a glass counter and ignored.

And, lastly, the display should be orderly customers can find what they are looking for by themselves. The last thing you want to happen is to be pulled away from a potential high ticket sale to help someone find a $5 jump rope.

Sell the aids knowledgeably

Assessing your customer and having the right assortment, then merchandising it properly, is only half the battle. In addition, sales staff members who know the differences, what an item targets, what level it's best for, and all the features and benefits will be able to move items off shelves and into customers' hands. Also, the staff should understand every aid, accessory and attachment and be able to demonstrate their basic uses. 

They should also have a concrete plan on how to incorporate the item into their presentations. A successful approach for staff members is that they are selling a fitness program, not a piece of exercise equipment. If in initial conversation and probing with a potential customer it is determined that a treadmill for example is the correct product, the floor staff could suggest a complementary strength program – using accessories such as dumbbells, a stability ball or a set of resistance tubing. The customer can fulfill the needs of a program while not breaking their budget. In this context, sales staff needs to put the training aids in the customer’s hands. Once at this point, be sure to move beyond demonstration and be sure to put the accessories into the customers’ hands so they can feel the benefit. Waiting until after the close of a hard good sale to try to add-on aids and accessories will ultimately not be effective.

Use reps and suppliers for your education and have in-store staff education sessions to at least introduce the basics. A retailer may even consider bringing in an area trainer or instructor to run through the new assortment with sales staff members in a hands-on session. Nothing makes a more lasting impression than actually using the gear and knowing how it feels when you do.

All in all, accessories and training aids can be effective, affordable, fun and compact. And although not big-ticket items, they can still up a sales total -- the more, the merrier, yes? -- and can increase turns.

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