Ilan Katz starts fitness e-tail venture Stacca.com

Welcome another e-tail source for fitness equipment and accessories to the web, with one difference: An attempt to make it an e-specialty retailer, with full customer service, plus high-end products and personalized information.
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Welcome another e-tail source for fitness equipment and accessories to the web, with one difference: An attempt to make it an e-specialty retailer, with full customer service, plus high-end products and personalized information.

"We want to make our site more specialty," said Stacca.com founder Ilan Katz, formerly vice president at retailer Fitness Headquarters before it was sold in August 2005. He stressed his belief that he should not take business from brick-and-mortar stores and he countered a belief about e-tailers working behind manufacturers' backs.

"You give people options," he said of the Internet's role in today's shopping environment. "And I'm very conscious of my relationships with manufacturers; I consider them my partners."

Last year sometime, Katz, who has always had an entrepreneurial streak, began mulling how he could do fitness retail on the web without rocking the boat of the current industry structure or distribution models. Still, he said he believes the fitness industry is a bit behind the times in accepting the Internet as a viable adjunct to its model, and with on-line spending increasing, including for larger purchases like fitness equipment, he said he felt the time was right to give the business a chance.

"Our industry cannot resist the Internet indefinitely," he said. "At some point you have to embrace it, and I'd like to be positioned right when the barriers start coming down."

Part of the motivation was how he says today's economy is tightening down on small business: Fitness retailers have to expand to grow their business, yet even then the cost of doing business is going up so dramatically that "the retailers in our industry are becoming more and more hamstrung."

And he has personal experience with that dilemma. In February 2004, Katz opened a small specialty store in North Miami to satisfy a tick to run his own business, but it quickly became clear that it could only remain what he called "a marginal company" unless he was willing to start expanding. Without hiding the facts, he shut the store after three months and returned to his job at Fitness Headquarters in Texas (click here to see a May 3, 2004, SNEWS® story, "Ilan Katz shuts Miami store after three months"). He also doesn't mince words that one can't forecast the success of this new endeavor, but he said he won't know unless he tries. The e-tailer, online since November, officially launched this week. Katz still does some work with the commercial division of Fitness Headquarters, now called Comm-Fit, that remained after the sale of the retail business last year to Fitcorp.

The name Stacca, albeit an odd one, comes from combining the first letters of what he carries: ST from strength, AC from accessories, and CA from cardiovascular.

"You don't like the name, but you don't forget it," he said. "We want to be cutting edge. You want to be progressive. You don't want to do whatever everybody else is doing, and that's how we came to the name."

Not that it was easy, since so many URLs are already taken. Katz said he and his team spent an entire day looking for words and then checking if they were available, focusing on something different and not just fitness-something.com.

Even the website is a bit in-your-face, done in blue and orange. Think in-your-face like FedEx (purple and orange, considered sacrilege when it was unveiled long ago) or Southwest Airlines (a kind of purple-blue with red-orange).

When it comes to products and prices, he said all equipment -- from home gyms to rubber resistance bands -- will be at the same price they would be at retail (MSRP or MAP), although that may in some cases include shipping and, like any store, there will be occasional discounts or sales. In addition, he will not put a product on his site without the manufacturer approving it and being aware of it.

"There will be absolutely no misleading advertising regarding brands we do not represent, and no unauthorized posting of any products," Katz said. "I want to work only with vendors who want to work with me."
 
Part of his motivation is indeed giving people choices, since some would simply never go into a specialty store and unless they can get high-quality products, they may never enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

"I'm offering fewer barriers and more options than at retail," he said. "It's a nice industry. The by-product of what we do is great. If you use it, you feel great and life is good."

With his official launch this month, he has more than two dozen manufacturers and some 750 SKUs, with many more simply waiting to be loaded. Manufacturers include the likes of Cateye, Lamar, Champion, Body-Solid, Bodycraft, Landice, Tunturi, Fitnex, Kettler, Spri, GoFit and others.

Stacca also offers what it calls a 110-percent price guarantee: "If you find any of the products we sell offered for less by any authorized online dealer, just let us know and we will not only match the price, we will also give you 10 percent of the difference." Note the use of "authorized" in describing dealers.

In its own words, "Stacca.com is a full line specialty fitness e-tailer. We carry a wide variety of fitness equipment for home and commercial use. You will find a broad selection of strength equipment, accessories and cardiovascular equipment. This is all we sell. Our intention is to ensure that you find what you are looking for, when looking for exercise equipment. We represent the finest quality manufacturers in the industry. When you purchase a product from Stacca.com your satisfaction is guaranteed. At Stacca.com we aim to put the right product into the right application every time."

Katz can be reached at ilan.katz@stacca.com.

SNEWS® View: We knew Katz would just be itchin' to try another entrepreneurial venture and, with his relationships from so many years in the industry, he could be the one who can -- if anybody can -- break the glass ceiling to online sales. We believe that the industry can't stick its head in the ground any longer when it comes to online sales of equipment. There must be a way for a middle ground to be reached since selling gear and accessories online can indeed reach people who are either too busy to go to stores, too intimidated, too self-conscious, or simply live in the boonies and don't have access to quality specialty equipment. There are certainly a lot of folks who would still much rather look, touch and feel than go online, so a quality store needn't worry greatly, especially if it implements solid marketing, integrates itself into the community and becomes a quality purveyor that makes consumers comfortable. We know Katz will approach the e-tail business with integrity and a high level of trust from manufacturers, and that's a great first step. Certainly many online vendors are making beaucoup bucks AND don't necessarily make those bucks on the up-and-up. If manufacturers and suppliers can hammer out agreements that don't hurt brick-and-mortar customers, they could actually put an end to less than sincere e-tailers who can damage the industry's reputation. We think Katz has a head start and could help the industry re-think its position in that e-arena.

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