Opportunity still abound for specialty fitness to capture CrossFit sales

CrossFit is booming, but few fitness retailers have benefitted from rise. SNEWS talks to studios and retailers to see where the opportunities lie.
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When it comes to CrossFit there are several realties for the specialty fitness retailer:

One. It’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. The sport's grown to more than 4,400 gyms nationwide and consumers starting to outfit their home garages as well.

Two. It’s a market that’s been largely missed by brick-and-mortar specialty fitness, mostly due to lower margins. In turn, much of those growing sales have gone to niche online retailers.

Three. There’s still opportunity to turn things around at the local level, capturing some of the market, and bringing that excitement into the store.

Step No. 1: Go take a CrossFit class, and have your sales floor employees do the same.

That’s how Mike May, store manager at Fitness Gallery said he made inroads with numerous CrossFit studios in the Denver area like Fit Soldiers and 5280 Fit.

“I attended their facilities and I stop in and talk to those guys,” he said. “It’s true that the margins aren’t great, but I don’t want to give up that business to someone else.”

Now, not only are the studios his customers, but many of their members are too.

“We’ve dedicated a quarter of our sales floor to CrossFit,” May said. “Even if customers aren’t familiar with it, it peaks their interest. They see those 50-foot ropes laying there, pick them up and say, ‘hey what’s this?’ It’s an ice-breaker and gets the conversation going.”

May’s also had people shopping for treadmills or ellipticals jump off and go lift some kettlebells or swing some ropes to see what a cross-training workout feels like, sometimes providing a great add-on sale.

“By taking those classes at a studio, you also bring back that expertise to the store and customers appreciate that.”

It’s a great story for Fitness Gallery, but still a rarity for many others in the industry.

E-commerce web sites like Rogue FitnessMuscle Driver USA, and Maxwod have garnered most of the CrossFit sales, supplying the stomach-crunching niche with one-stop shopping for benches, bumper plates, kettlebells, medicine balls, rowers, and abmats.

Mike McCannon, owner of five-year-old, 3,000-square-foot CrossFit Steamboat in Steamboat Springs, Colo., purchases most of his equipment from online retailer Rogue Fitness, one of the market leaders in the field. The company both manufacturers its own equipment and distributes gear from others, and also supplies the annual CrossFit Games (see below) with equipment. “A lot of studios buy from them,” McCannon said of Rogue, which also recently opened a brick-and-mortar outlet in its headquarters town of Columbus, Ohio.

The main buys, McCannon said, come when a studio is first opening, which can entail purchasing between $10,000 and $25,000 in CrossFit equipment, from rubber matting to pull-up rigs and boxes.

At CrossFit Olathe, outside of Kansas City, Mo., co-owner Jesse Rosser said he doesn’t go to local fitness retailers any more.

“They missed out,” he said. “Most of them don’t carry the stuff, and if they do, it’s over-priced.” Rosser said he buys from Rouge and Amazon.

“Most of these studios are small operations — we’ve got two co-owners and couple of coaches serving 300 members — we don’t have a lot of time, and there’s a convenience of just going online and ordering what you need … even with the cost of shipping.”

Still, he said, local retailers could take a slice of the pie. His advice: “They should come to us.” The studio continues to grow, Rosser said, and that creates the need for more equipment.

Beyond sales, there are synergies and opportunities to cross-market between specialty fitness retailers and CrossFit studios. And with a rise in “shopping local” initiatives, there’s a chance to gain new customers from local members.

Another avenue to learn and network with all things CrossFit is the annual CrossFit Games, a worldwide competition that progresses from an open division to regionals and finally the finals held every year in Los Angeles. Studios like CrossFit Roots in Boulder, Colo., which usually make two to three big orders a year for new equipment, tend to up their orders every year in conjunction with the Games so their members can better prepare.

Fitness equipment manufacturers would be smart to seek CrossFit avenues as well.

At CrossFit Atlanta, owner Dan MacDougald outfits his 10,000-square-foot studio as needed, mostly, he said, like the others, from Rogue Fitness. But he’ll also occasionally go direct to manufacturers like Dynamax for such items as medicine balls. “We recently moved into our new facility, so we had to make a big buy,” said MacDougald, who began his current 230-member enterprise as a 1,400-square-foot studio eight years ago. “The initial investment is in the start-up, but we’ll also replace worn-out gear as needed and add new items as they come in.”

The momentum of CrossFit has created “a gigantic retail market” MacDougald said. Companies that entered the game early like Rogue Fitness seem to be the frontrunners, even though they’re facing increasing competition from other CrossFit-oriented outlets.

“They’ve grown with it and know what studios need and want,” he said of Rogue. “And as well as manufacturing their own line of equipment, they also distribute a fair amount of gear as well, giving them a pretty good handle on the overall supply chain.”

Back in Denver, May admits a lot of sales will go online, but he’s happy with the business he’s gained on the local level. Two separate CrossFit studios were just in his store the other day doing business.

“I’m a firm believer in CrossFit, May said. “It works and people love it. You just have to get out and go meet these people.”

--Eugene Buchanan and David Clucas

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