The HEST Fitness team out of Texas has partnered with Precor to open a number of stores in the Northeast region to be called Precor Home Fitness.
The stores, so far former Total Fitness Equipment properties, were as of Nov. 17, being stocked with Precor equipment and prepared for an unnamed opening. Several photos of the Framingham, Mass., store, taken Sunday night Nov. 16, showed an half-empty floor with banners hung in the window, a blacked-out Total Fitness sign above the windows, a checkout counter in the back being prepared, a lockbox still on the door and, if you look really closely, the old Total Fitness sign hanging inside -- upside down.
The new retail operation, which is being run by the HEST Fitness team out of Texas, is being managed in part by Mike Connolly, as well as Bruce Thaler, HEST CEO and co-founder of Fitness Group of Texas LLC, and Joe Gulino, HEST director of sales and a former sales manager with both Total Fitness and Omni Fitness. Precor would neither confirm nor deny if Connolly is currently an employee of Precor, but his most recent position was as Precor’s commercial rep for the Northeast and, as of Nov. 17, he was still listed on the Precor website as the territory manager for several states.
As of deadline, Connolly and Gulino had either declined comment or were not available for further comment. However, SNEWS sources have confirmed similar preparations at the former Total Fitness location in Newton, Mass., including equipment and banners. SNEWS has learned that vendors already have signed contracts to deliver merchandise to the new stores. Insiders also tell us that other stores are in the planning stages but the exact number of stores could not be verified by deadline.
In other moves by HEST, which stood for “Health Equipment of South Texas” when it was founded in 1981 by Albert and Paula Kessler, the name of at least some of the stores is slated to change to Texas Home Fitness. The Kesslers sold the business in 2007, and management changes continued in 2008. (Click here to read a July 21, 2008, SNEWS story.)
Meanwhile, in further retail jockeying in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic:
>> Busy Body/Gyms To Go, headquartered in Florida, is preparing to open in the Delaware and Virginia area in a move to rein in some of the former business of bankrupt Leisure Fitness. (Click here to see an Oct. 28 SNEWS story.) The Precor Home Fitness stores would so far not compete with plans by GTG, which is another longtime Precor dealer.
>> The Key2Fitness team with Ron Mendola and former Leisure CFO Paul Bastianelli are finalizing their plans for a regional retail chain that takes the Leisure name -- also working to move in on territory vacated by Leisure Fitness. (Click here to see a Nov. 7, 2008, SNEWS story.) Another hearing in the Leisure bankruptcy case is set for Nov. 25.
>> FHI’s business, with Omni stores in the Northeast and Busy Body Home in the West, is continuing through the Ch. 11 bankruptcy reorganization process, with store closing sales being implemented and another hearing set for Nov. 25. (Click here to see that Nov. 7 story.)
>> Total Fitness Plus has taken a former Total Fitness property in Newington, Mass., as well as the website (www.totalfitnessequipment.com). (Click here to see a Nov. 14, 2008, story.)
>> Precision Fitness has just opened its fourth store and had nailed down a number of the former Total Fitness telephone numbers. (Click here to read that background in a Nov. 14 story.)
SNEWS® View: It’s hard to keep track of who is where and doing what with whom. Despite the rough retail times and the rougher times at fitness retail, entrepreneurs are seeing this as a time to go for the gusto, it seems. And Precor, of course, shy a huge distribution channel with FHI’s reorganization, is not taking any prisoners in its march to fill needed gaps. For the HEST team to move so far from home is a worry since many in the past who have done that have not had success, but Gulino and Connolly are based in the Northeastern region and, we expect, will focus on that area, which should make the transition smoother. Or so we hope. Are more stores on the way? We don’t doubt that if a march is in process that it will be a fully engaged one with a farther reach than a couple of stores. We also expect Precor to make additional moves in the Western region very soon, perhaps check-mating Life Fitness' steps into the sporting goods realm at Dick's Sporting Goods. Such a counter move would only make sense since both companies lost huge consumer reach with FHI's difficulties that began long before the October filing for bankruptcy. We expect these moves are not the last to come, and that even some of these may alter their course as the changing economy demands.