SNEWS Qs, Fitness Edition: Dai Manuel, Fitness Town

The subject of this week’s SNEWS Qs is Dai Manuel, COO of Fitness Town in Vancouver, Canada.
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Dai Manuel, COO

Fitness Town

Vancouver, Canada

What do you think fitness retailers need to do to remain relevant and profitable in the future?

Personally, I believe that retailers in the specialty channel need to be that: specialized. We need to walk the talk when it comes to being a full-service fitness equipment solution provider. From fitness room build-outs, specialized equipment packages based on the needs of the client(s), to customized fitness programs – we have to be results focused when dealing with customers and their ever-changing, specific health and wellness goals. To be specialty means to be the expert. If you can show, rather than tell, the customer that you are the expert when it comes to their health and fitness needs, you can demand greater profits and the client will be happy to pay it. I know I can look a customer in the eyes and tell them without a shadow of a doubt, "I can help you get fit." Can you?



What is the biggest challenge facing the fitness industry and how can we overcome it?

The commoditization of the fitness equipment industry is killing the specialty fitness retailer. With companies such as Dick’s, Canadian Tire, Wal-Mart and Costco getting more and more into the fitness equipment channel, we’re seeing a whole new set of rules and standards emerge. Manufacturers and suppliers alike placate to the big-box discounters in exchange for recurring, high-volume purchase orders. No pricing guidelines are in place and a blind eye is turned to the 70 percent off sales of these brand name products. Meanwhile the specialty fitness retailer, who invests heavily in floor models, higher-rent boutique locations and employ expert staff for higher wages, are left to abide by strict pricing policies, fixed geographical sales territories and are fortunate if they are able to eke out 35 percent to 50 percent margins. Without the support of the manufacturers and suppliers, the specialty fitness channel is in for a rough ride – it takes a lot of gym balls and bench sales to make up the lost big-ticket revenues over the long-haul.



What would you say were some of your favorite innovations in fitness equipment over the past year?

I’ve really enjoyed some of the simpler innovations that have immediate application such as Lock-jaw collars, the Rumble Roller, Inov-8 and Nano shoes for the minimalist and CrossFit enthusiast along with improved compression wear technologies such as the Body Science compression line of clothing. The TRX redesign was also pretty nice!



What were some of the more interesting products you spotted at HFB in Las Vegas last month?

I was really impressed with some of the innovative iPad applications/connectivity with a few companies – in particular I felt Bodyguard Fitness got it right. I was also impressed with the new touch consoles on the Vision product lines, very intuitive technology and very Apple-esque. As for soft goods, some of my all-time favorite toys included the Rumble Roller, the new trigger point therapy cold roller (this is sick!), and of course the travel-roller. And one item which I’m sure is going to gain some amazing traction in the PT world is the Core-Stix.



What is the best business advice you've ever received?

“Don’t cut your nose off to spite your face," when dealing with tough HR issues.



What are some trends you think will start to gain momentum in the future?

I’ve been noticing that functional fitness equipment such as functional trainers, balance/stability products and SMR products are on the rise year over year. Much of which I attribute to the mainstream exposure of sports such as CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting. I don’t foresee this going away anytime soon and I anticipate many manufacturers starting to make products specific to this niche with plans to roll out to the mass as the demand grows.



What is one area you feel where fitness manufacturers need to innovate more?

Innovation lies in the interconnectivity of social networks both on and off the web nowadays. The manufacturers that are able to create social networks of accountability partners, fitness experts and communities for those to play within will have the most significant impact on where the fitness equipment industry can, and will, go. If I can walk on a treadmill, complete a 5K run and then share the workout with a friend, Tweet my results and upload a screen grab of my workout summary. I know engagement and brand awareness will explode! It’s one thing to set a personal goal to lose 10 pounds, but to go public with that goal in your online social circles is a whole other level of social community accountability!

--Compiled by Ana Trujillo

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