Raleigh's U.S. Fitness Products sold, owner Bill Martin to retire

U.S. Fitness Products, a Raleigh, N.C.-based, specialty retailer since 1991, has been sold to a partnership of Chip Hunnings, president of All About Fitness/Lifestyle Fitness, and U.S. Fitness' current general manager, Tom Flanagan.
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U.S. Fitness Products, a Raleigh, N.C.-based, specialty retailer since 1991, has been sold to a partnership of Chip Hunnings, president of All About Fitness/Lifestyle Fitness, and U.S. Fitness' current general manager, Tom Flanagan.

The current operation acquired by Hunnings and Flanagan has three stores -- Raleigh, Wilmington and Cary, a suburb of Raleigh. The deal will close Jan. 4, 2007.

This will give Hunnings' team three retail brands and 11 stores to close out 2006 -- three All About Fitness stores in Kansas, operated by Mike Mays; one Lifestyle Fitness in Oklahoma, operated by Todd Schlepp; and four other Lifestyle Fitness stores in North Carolina, including two in the Charlotte area, one in Greensboro and one in Salem. Bryant Stadler operates the Charlotte area, while Ray Barone manages both Greensboro and Salem.

When Hunnings originally looked at the market -- where retailer Superior Fitness also operates three stores (Raleigh, Durham and Cary) -- he considered simply going in and opening stores, going against both dominant players there, Superior Fitness and U.S. Fitness, as well as a couple of one-store operations.

"When I looked at the market, U.S. Fitness was the dominant player there, and if I were to come in with another brand, I would have been battling two established brands," Hunnings said. "This really is a better move than going in and fighting.

"We really see this as being a super strong type partnership," Hunnings added, noting the value of sticking with the U.S. Fitness name with 15 years of history and recognition in the area. The U.S. Fitness chain (www.usfitness.com) will continue to offer its current list of brands, including True and Octane, but will also sell Life Fitness, a brand not now sold by the Lifestyle stores (www.lifestylefitequip.com) in other parts of the state.

U.S. Fitness founder Bill Martin, 65, plans to retire from the fitness industry when the acquisition is completed in January.

Flanagan started at U.S. Fitness in April 2005 after four years in sales and marketing at Life Fitness and 11 years prior to that owning and operating a 20,000-square-foot health club in the Raleigh area, which he sold. With his club background, his emphasis had been building the commercial sales division at the chain.

"What's nice about this," Flanagan said, "is that I'll sit in the seat of running the company."

In his health club operation, he said he was hands-on every day and the same M.O. will transfer to this retail operation.

"I'll be involved every day," he said, "making sure things are running properly, unloading trucks…."

Already getting a fourth location ready for the Raleigh area to open in mid-January, Hunnings and Flanagan are sizing up more growth -- estimating they could be at six stores in 12-18 months.

"If you're going to be in North Carolina," Hunnings said, "the Raleigh-Durham area IS the market to be in."

Flanagan called the Raleigh area "a booming market," adding there was definitely room for both U.S. Fitness and Superior.

"We do want to start growing right away," Flanagan added. "Obviously, Chip and I can grow the business a bit quicker together than if we were competing."

SNEWS® View: This seems like a sound partnership between two individuals and their teams whose philosophy and concepts are quite similar. It also in the long run makes a lot more sense than turning North Carolina -- specifically Raleigh-Durham -- into a competitive blood bath. A growing area surely can allow two specialty chains to survive and that, in the long run, is better for the consumer too.

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