SoCal fitness retail still growing: Welcome California Home Fitness, Workout World

Australia’s Workout World has opened its doors on its first store of what could be a lot more, and California Home Fitness goes from new to two. SNEWS talked to both to find out more about their plans.
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It didn’t take long for the waters of fitness specialty retail to sweep back into Southern California where the final demise of bankrupt FHI’s Busy Body in 2009 had left huge gaps. Within weeks of the court auction in August of the remaining assets of the FHI retail business, the industry began to see expansions, location shuffling and new businesses.

And it hasn’t stopped yet. New kids on the block this month are California Home Fitness, owned by Ray Chodorowski and Brandon Sugimoto; and Workout World, the Australian specialty fitness retail chain that is opening its first door beyond its own shores.

Darren Piggins, co-founder of Australia’s Workout World with 35 stores Down Under, told SNEWS what other retailers and retailers-to-be likely were thinking:

“We saw a bit of a hole in the market when Busy Body fell over,” Piggins said. “We think we can offer something a little different.”

California Home Fitness

Although Workout World, a.k.a., WOW, has been working on its U.S. store and operations -- both this store and future plans -- for months, the first one to get the doors open this calendar year on much shorter notice was the new California Home Fitness.

Co-owners Chodorowski, most recently at the now-defunct Busy Body and previously at LA Gym Equipment, and Sugimoto, also formerly at Busy Body in corporate headquarters, started talking earlier this year. One thing led to another and, next thing they knew, Chodorowski told SNEWS, they had a store.

“It happened pretty fast,” he said, noting that he and Sugimoto have been good friends for years. “It made sense for the two of us.”

And while still trying to put that last bit of spit and polish on the first store on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, which opened softly in mid-April, they had the opportunity to open a second store -- in the former location of Busy Body Home Fitness on Bristol in Newport Beach. After Busy Body shut down, the spot became a hot commodity, but Coast Fitness snagged it and moved into the prime spot in late August 2009. (Click here to see an Aug. 26, 2009, SNEWS update.)

“We didn’t want to be a chain with one location,” Chodorowski said. “We wanted to open a second store when the time was right.”

It so happened the time became right pretty quickly. The new California Home Fitness team began to move into the former Coast Fitness/Busy Body spot as of May 18, nary 24 hours after Coast moved out to return to focus on its two prior locations and its forte of vertical, commercial, repair and service. (Click here to see a SNEWS feature on Coast from October 2009.) The second California Home Fitness store was to open softly by May 20.

“It’s just a matter of changing the sign and bringing in our equipment. It’s clean, and it’s simple,” said Chodorowski, who has been in the fitness business since 1991. He said he started when he was in school as a delivery and repair person in Chicago with Scott Egbert.

Vendors now on board include True Fitness, Cybex, Precor, Inspire, TuffStuff, Lifecore, Power Plate, Spirit, Cap and Spri. The website (www.cahomefitness.com) should be more than just a landing page by the end of the month, he said.

Workout World

In the planning stages since late 2009, Piggins found out that California planning and city guidelines take a lot more maneuvering than in Australia. But the doors finally opened May 21 at the Ventura Boulevard location in the Sherman Oaks area, he told SNEWS. (Photo - right: See the California storefront, where the planning commission nixed the traditional red exterior of the chain.)

“We have a good model that has proven successful with our 35 stores in Australia so we hope we can replicate this in the USA,” Piggins said from Australia, where the business is 18 years old. There, the concept includes what the business calls a “Health Corner” with a basic line of Workout World-manufactured supplements called “Gains Sports Nutrition,” with proteins, “fat-burner” tabs and a multi-vitamin coming soon, and it does a strong boxing business. In addition, the stores have become the major marketing and selling avenue for the company’s CardioGym (www.cardiogym.com), as part of its own equipment line called Avanti Fitness (www.avantifitness.com.au -- soon also to be at www.avantifitness.com).

Here, he said, growth has been difficult for CardioGym, which includes both a recumbent bike and strength system, and opening his own retail branch in California is another way to help the company gain a stronger footing. 

“Our product led us here. It has sold well (in Australia),” but retailers in North America have been slower to pick up on it since its introduction four years ago, Piggins explained. (Click here to see an Aug. 28, 2006, SNEWS story about its introduction at the 2006 Health & Fitness Business Show.) 

“We thought, if we can’t get the retailers to pick up on it, we’ll do it ourselves,” he added, noting the California operations will be the hub for selling and shipping in North America (www.workoutworldusa.com).

In addition to the business’ own Avanti brand with its CardioGym and a full line of equipment including treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, weight plates and accessories, other suppliers now include Precor (WOW is the Precor distributor in Australia) and Torque. Piggins said Torque and Precor will be the higher-end, higher-priced product with Avanti being a notch below those in price. The company also sells a “Skywall,” which is a motorized climbing wall, and a pet treadmill.

Not only does he say the company is “here for the long term,” but also that he and his team have big plans: They are looking at real estate and could have as many as another four or five stores by the end of 2010, with a longer-term goal of a total of anywhere from 10 to 20 in the greater Southern California area, he said. The U.S. general manager is Brian Lewelyn.

“We want to hit the ground running,” he said. “Los Angeles is the gateway to the fitness industry worldwide, so we believe if we can make it happen there, we’ll be on our way.”

And everybody else?

After The Gym Store, the investment group headed up by Hoist co-owner Jeff Partrick, bought the remaining FHI assets in early August and reopened select Busy Body stores (click here to see a SNEWS story), the market was just beginning to heat up again.

In the greater Los Angeles area:

>> Bodyworks Exercise Equip (formerly OC Bodyworks -- www.ocbodyworks.com) added a location to grow to three.

>> Busy Body (the new version) wrapped up Dave Silva’s new OC Gym Equipment into the group, and he became general manager of the eight locations. www.busybody.com

>> Coast Fitness (www.coastfitness.com) is back to its Riverside and Orange locations for two storefronts, handing over the Newport Beach retail to Chodorowski.

>> Empire Home Fitness (www.empirehomefitness.com) has one store in Corona, which was opened in October 2009 by Mark Seymour, a former Busy Body district manager.

>> One Nellie’s location (www.nellies.com) -- the one in Diamond Bar owned by Moo Lim since 2002 -- is still running despite David Delgadillo’s Nellie’s 2009 bankruptcy (click here to read a July 10, 2010, SNEWS story).

>> Specialty Fitness (www.specialtyfit.com) opened one location in Northridge under ownership of Danny Valdez.

Farther south in San Diego:

>> Mark Goodman’s Exercise Direct has one store and runs a large Internet business (www.ifitnessdirect.com).

>> Fitness Warehouse, owned by Nick Vonderhaar and Gary Barraclogh, has one huge showroom (www.fitnesswarehouseusa.com).

>> Paul Jackson's Fitness Mart also has one showroom and does some Internet business (www.ifitnessmart.com).

We lay money the Southern California market hasn’t even hit a simmer yet.

--Therese Iknoian

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