Rethinking Retail: Fitness Blowout looks to blow up retail, mixing in gyms, meeting rooms, community services

In today’s economy, it’s not hard to question Jim Rosen’s sanity, undertaking a $3.5 million project of proportions epic to the fitness industry with a mission never before seen. But his passion – and frankly the logic behind it – convinces you he may be on to something. His vision – a building that is under construction in West Los Angeles as of March – combines elements of fitness specialty retail, commercial fitness showroom, health club, conference center, wellness center, sports and aquatic center, and youth after-school center...
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In today’s economy, it’s not hard to question Jim Rosen’s sanity, undertaking a $3.5 million project of proportions epic to the fitness industry with a mission never before seen. But his passion – and frankly the logic behind it – convinces you he may be on to something.

His vision – a building that is under construction in West Los Angeles as of March – combines elements of fitness specialty retail, commercial fitness showroom, health club, conference center, wellness center, sports and aquatic center, and youth after-school center. All of this will be housed under one roof in an old Bank of America building on Sepulveda Boulevard where construction crews are already busy ripping out walls and ceilings to add a third story to the two-story, rather dull and sedate bank building.

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“It’s going to become a one-stop shop for all fitness, A to Z,” he said, admitting it was “a very big undertaking.”

Not that the size and scope, let alone the undertaking in today’s times, are stopping his passion. In fact, he said that in the Los Angeles area, such an endeavor needed to be huge.

“People are used to such grandiose things here,” he said, “so we figured we had to do something … grand.”

His enthusiasm for the 16,000 square feet he’s planning, which will also be called Fitness Blowout like his current retail and web business, and the possibilities for the space spills over as he talks about what it is slated to include – a project he called a “sports and fitness paradise.”

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“Sports and fitness go hand-in-hand and what would be better than to create the ultimate sports and fitness paradise?” he asked.

Two-dozen years to get here

He came to such a grand undertaking after 24 years in fitness and fitness retail. After being an athlete his entire life and looking to start a personal training business, the entrepreneur in him back in 1985 found a sales and promotional niche: He realized he could sell an exercise bike and make more money than if he did many hours of personal training. So he became a bit of a distributor, linking up slowly with various manufacturers. He didn’t have a storefront – not yet. He sold the equipment using classified ads in the free street paper that carried only classifieds.

Rosen then moved into retail, operating with a partner a small combination gym and showroom that he called “magical” in the energy. People from the office tower where his place was would come to work out while others would come to look for equipment to buy.

“It occurred to me buying fitness equipment is like buying a car,” he said. “You want to test-drive it…. It was very effective and it was fun.”

The business (www.fitnessblowout.com) grew and he landed in his current 3,000-square-foot location, also on Sepulveda Boulevard just down the street from the new construction. He also began selling on the Internet back in about 2000, admitting even today that it’s sometimes not easy to find manufacturers who will allow him to sell on the web. Today, etail makes up a large portion of his business.

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Admittedly, his current location looks, dare we say it, a bit dumpy. Rosen chuckled and doesn’t deny it. But the clientele he has built through his early days are scattered through Beverly Hills, Westwood and other upscale areas and they don’t usually come to the store. And much of the store’s business has morphed into long-distance with web sales.

How it came to “paradise”

Rosen remains a family man. His six children, from nearly adults to little ones, are all active and athletic, he said. Certainly, they have access and opportunities at their door. However, he and his athletic wife said they realized there are a lot of young people who don’t have the training and access they need.

“We want to help obese kids,” he said, as well as build an environment where young people can come after-school or on weekends to get a workout, get some coaching and then nestle in to a study center with tutors to get homework done too.

The facility will contribute to the community, he said, in ways they are still planning. To help offset costs to run the project and work with the community, there will be special VIP memberships for local residents of the elite areas of Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood and others areas, which will give them private access to special classes, equipment, spa areas and other amenities. But most of the building, scheduled for an early 2010 grand opening, will have open access:

  • The first floor will be a lounge and showroom dedicated to consumer fitness equipment and the try-before-you-buy concept. Also on that level is a snack bar and corporate offices.
  • The second floor will house mostly commercial equipment since the Fitness Blowout business is also expanding to commercial and vertical sales. That means that sport courts and other areas on different floors will also showcase equipment and products he sells. This floor will also be the health club facility with studios for special classes.
  • The third floor will be an indoor sports center with a climbing wall, pool and courts. Also planned is an exergame arcade. The area can be leased and used as a special events center for anything from business meetings to wedding, so there will also be a small commercial kitchen.

Planning started about two years ago and Rosen bought this building and its 20,000-square foot property with 80 parking spaces in December 2007. Sure, the economy has since then sputtered a bit, but he said that has also allowed him to spend a third less on the project.

As the hammers and saws continue their work, transforming a bank building into a fitness “paradise,” Rosen recalled how he was “always an entrepreneur:” Degrees in political science and international relations from UCLA slowly gave way to selling exercise bikes in classified ads. Now, he has a vision – one to which he said he is “100-percent committed.”

Economy, be damned.

--Therese Iknoian

SNEWS® View: Indeed, this is a huge investment but one on its face that has potential. It just seems whack-your-head clear that retail and commercial could live together in one space and, once you have those pieces, why not add the rest of the services? Sure, this is the kind of project that wouldn’t fly in these kind of grandiose proportions in many areas. Los Angeles or New York, of course, being the clear locations for such an endeavor. But scaled-back versions could have a place in other metro areas – especially with the community center concept. We have our fingers crossed that the business does well – and sets an example for what the possibilities are.

--SNEWS® Editors

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