In a step away from the industry standard of exclusive distribution, Life Fitness has apparently opened its doors and is bringing on dealers in select parts of the United States that are in the same region as its formerly exclusive partners, Omni Fitness and Busy Body Home Fitness.
SNEWS® has been following the developing story, talking to numerous industry professionals for weeks since learning that Life Fitness began discussions at the Health & Fitness Business Expo in Denver in July with retailers who were interested in the arrangement. Agreements are being finalized this month with a number of new retail partners. While many industry insiders have been eager to discuss the changes and what they mean to the industry, Life Fitness has declined comment for the record.
The Life Fitness website as of Aug. 29 showed no Busy Body outlets listed as dealers in any of the seven Western states where it does business. In areas where no other specialty dealers were named, the site simply stated: "Buy direct from Life Fitness at factory direct prices. Phone orders only. Please call (800) 527-6063 for product questions or to place an order."
The same was true for Omni Fitness, the Eastern retailer also operated by FHI, for the eight states where it does business. An FHI executive was not available for comment.
The Busy Body and Omni websites still list Life Fitness and ParaBody as brands carried by the chains; however, some newspapers in their regions -- as well as the Busy Body and Omni websites and email marketing blasts -- have run or are running ads promoting a Labor Day sale with deep discounts on Life Fitness floor models as well as sale prices on other brands that do not specify floor models.
Newly listed on the Life Fitness dealer locator are, for example, HealthStyles' Denver stores in Colorado, Fitness Showrooms in New York, and AtHome Fitness in Arizona.
"We are proud to be partners with this company," Karson McGregor, general manager of Fitness Showrooms, told SNEWS in announcing the new partnership he called "exclusive" for the metro New York area in an email to SNEWS.
Greg Feeder, co-owner of AtHome Fitness, whose Scottsdale store is across the street from a Busy Body store, said, "I am extremely excited to be a Life Fitness dealer. Having a line with such name recognition is going to give us an extreme marketing advantage and gives us a lot bigger market presence in our region."
Meanwhile, new to both Busy Body and Omni is the FreeMotion Fitness brand, Pat McGinnis, vice president of global fitness sales, told SNEWS.
"We have shipped product to stores already," McGinnis confirmed, "and we will be gradually stocking all locations in the coming weeks and have a full presence for the start of the busy season."
SNEWS® View: At first, the word on the street was that Life Fitness was moving to an "open distribution" model to be able to make sure the consumer had access to its equipment. That, of course, implies that Busy Body and Omni weren't selling, or perhaps somehow weren't able to sell, the products. Not selling can stem from many reasons. For example, some retailers who aren't selling a product may not have it in their warehouses to sell. Although Life Fitness officials were unwilling to comment about the changes or the reasons for them, it is clear that FHI's Busy Body and Omni stores are clearing out the Life Fitness stock in most of its stores, per the Labor Day sale announcements. At this point, what is unclear is if that means they will still carry the Life Fitness family of brands, if they will only carry limited product, or if only some stores in some regions will carry Life Fitness product. With the tight economy putting a squeeze on fitness retailers in many regions, both large and small, we suspect that FHI hasn't avoided the financial woes and it may be reassessing its position and its growth plans. We suspect there are still changes in the offing for all parties, as well as for the industry in general.