Malcolm Menter saw an opportunity back in the early '80s when the now-defunct national discount chain he worked for, Service Merchandise, ran an ad for a piece of exercise equipment and it sold out quickly. A savvy entrepreneur, he realized there was something to this fitness stuff. He left the chain and went on to found in 1982 what was one of the first professional specialty fitness retail chains, Busy Body Fitness, in Dallas, selling it 13 years later after building it to 32 stores.
Menter, known as "Mandy" to his close friends and family, succumbed to a nearly three-year battle with sarcoma cancer on Sept. 11. He was 57.
"He was the grandfather of the current retail fitness industry," said Jeff Levitt, founder of Fitness Headquarters and now running Comm-Fit in Dallas.
Levitt is one of many in the fitness industry today who thanks Menter for mentoring them and teaching them how to operate a business. With a background in accounting and newly arrived from South Africa, Levitt started with Busy Body in 1987 when the business had five stores and stayed on until its sale in 1995.
"He saw the potential of the industry from afar," Levitt added. "He's helped a lot of people in this business."
Bob Harms, who has worked most recently with Precor and TKO, also worked closely with Menter -- from 1990 until the company's sale five years later. Even without power and Hurricane Ike crashing down on the Houston, Texas, area, Harms made his way Sept. 12 to Menter's service in Dallas.
He noted he was actually in competition with Menter for four years but said he figured he may as well join him "once I finally figured out I couldn't beat him."
"I worked with him for six years. It was the best six years of my working career," Harms told SNEWS®. "He taught me so much. He was the absolute best! A visionary. A great entrepreneurial spirit. A fierce competitor and always a gentleman. Malcolm was the real deal! He was a pioneer in the fitness business and so many of us remaining in this crazy business have Malcolm to thank for opening the doors. I loved him like a brother and I will miss him terribly.
"Malcolm had a real sense of humor and a sharp wit about him -- some of the best times I had in my life were with Malcolm," Harms added. "Those are the memories I will miss the most."
Fitco founders Jason Kos and David Novit, who worked together in the commercial division for Busy Body with Menter then buying the division in 2001, wrote this on their company's "about us" page: "Mr. Menter's friendship, guidance, and keen business sense have always been and continue to be of great value to Fitco." (Click here to see it.)
Novit also told SNEWS® in an email:
"I could write 10 pages on Malcolm. Next to my parents and grandparents he has been the most influential person in my life.
"Twenty-four years ago I moved to Dallas fresh out of college with no idea of what I was going to do. I stumbled across Malcolm and Busybody in the Yellow Pages and I'll never forget the feeling I had when I walked into his store, "Wow! What a cool idea! A store that only sells exercise equipment." I was hooked. Although I had visions of working in other fields for more money, working for Malcolm just felt right.
"Malcolm was not only a boss but also was a friend. He commanded the respect of a boss but we still could go to Dallas Cowboys games or play golf as friends. His business sense was uncanny. When Jason Kos and I started Fitco Fitness Center Outfitters, Malcolm was our partner. His insight into securing credit lines, negotiating with vendors, advertising, and other aspects of the business were invaluable. To this day I still quote many 'Mandy-isms.'
"Malcolm treated every individual fairly and equally. From the VP of the company down to the number 2 delivery driver on the truck, he always had a kind word and truly genuine interest in their well being.
"This industry is deeply indebted to Malcolm Menter."
Scott Egbert of Chicago Home Fitness and a former Busy Body manager, met Menter in 1984. He told SNEWS: "In my book, Malcom was the best merchant and operator ever for the specialty fitness business. He fully understood all aspects of the business and kept very focused on the basics. From the dealer side, Malcom influenced more people in a positve way than anyone else I know. "
An obituary in the Dallas Morning news (Click here to see it.) stated that he was "greatly respected and adored by all his family and friends for his zest for life, sharp wit, entrepreneurial savvy and competitive nature."
The obituary requested that memorials be made to the Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation (www.sarcomacancer.org), 2260 West Holcombe Blvd., Suite 174, Houston, TX 77030. Sarcoma cancer is a highly malignant and rare type of cancer that arises in the connective tissues in the body. There are approximately 9,800 new cases of soft tissue and bone sarcoma each year in the United States.
Comments added to the obituary page in the Dallas paper included this one from Hoby Douglass, of Seattle, Wash., who formerly worked in the fitness industry: "Malcolm, you left a wonderful and lifelong mark on me from the years we did fitness business together so long ago. You should still be with us, and your loss to all you touched is huge. My thoughts are with the loving family you took such good care of. Bless them all during this trying time. They are the lasting success of your life. Love, ManDU!"
SNEWS® View: We would like to hear from others who have something to add about Malcolm "Mandy" Menter. He had a huge impact on so many. When we started asking around for comments, they just came flooding in. Just click below to add your thoughts and wishes to the list. This will also be forwarded to the Menter family.