Looking to capitalize on a hopefully more optimistic U.S. consumer, holiday-season sales, and opportunistic real estate deals, a number of fitness retailers have increased their storefront footprint as 2011 draws to a close.
“We felt the time was right … there are opportunities in this down market,” said David Aykanian, owner of Precision Fitness Equipment (www.pfe-inc.com), which in September 2011, opened its sixth store in North Hampton, N.H., in addition to its four locations in Massachusetts and another in New Hampshire.
“There’s a lot of retail space available … (creating) opportunities for people who have been in business a long time and know what they’re doing.”
Aykanian also credits his staff for sticking through the worst of the economic downturn. “My top guys have all been with me 25, 18 years," he said. “We’ve got a good crew of veterans.” With that expertise, Aykanian told SNEWS he has the confidence to expand the business, despite the uncertain economy.
“I just think that it’s going to be this up and down for a while… but we’ve been in this 23 years. We know what we’re doing.”
Whether its real estate deals – our sources declined to reveal their lease rates, but the many described them as “opportunistic” – an outperforming staff, or perhaps a little more optimism in the U.S. consumer, SNEWS tracked down a handful of fitness retailers expanding or taking on new space. Below are some of the highlights:
>> At Colorado Home Fitness (www.coloradohomefitness.com), owner Chip Hunnings isn’t just adding a third store in the Denver metro area in December 2011, he plans to open a fourth location in the third quarter 2012.
“Certainly we’re very optimistic… that’s what got us motivated to pull the trigger,” Hunnings told SNEWS. “We’ve had a very good year, and we have seen the third and fourth quarter (2011) finishing very strong. We’ve been looking and knew this was part of the plan. We found a part of town that we weren’t serving very well.” The area at Interstate 25 and Colorado Boulevard is a few miles from competing retailers Healthstyles Exercise Equipment and Busy Body Denver (click here for a Dec. 5, 2011 SNEWS story about Busy Body Denver’s location).
With surprisingly robust consumer activity, Hunnings said he wished he had opened his third store – a 19,500-square-foot facility featuring new and previously-owned equipment – a few months earlier.
“We really just took our time to make sure we got the right deal place on the lease. We spent a full year negotiating,” he said. “We missed the Black Friday crowd but we’re hoping to have an advantage with the New Year’s resolution crowd.” To help with the expansion, Hunnings is bringing on industry veteran Jack Hinshaw as manager of the new location along with Matt Tharp on the sales floor.
>> In Arizona, a new Scottsdale address for one of Fitness 4 Home Superstore’s (www.fitness4homesuperstore.com) three locations in the state had everything to do the old real estate adage of location, location, location, owner Bob Lachniet told us.
The new store at 7000 Shea Blvd. open since Nov. 1, 2011, is only one-half of a mile away from the previous location, but it’s 3,000 square feet larger and on the same street as several competitors – a coveted corner in Scottsdale that SNEWS has mentioned before when fitness retail was bursting at the seams in Arizona (click here to read the Nov. 15, 2004 story). Fitness Depot Arizona, which was previously at the Shea Boulevard location, moved a block north to 11015 N. Scottsdale Road.
Lachniet said his lease on the old store was up and with this store, not only did he get a 20-percent increase in space and better location, but also a 15-percent decrease in overhead costs on the real estate.
While he was willing to move stores, Lanchniet said he has no plans to add locations. “We are profitable and have found a good balance between retail, commercial and ecommerce. Why rock the boat?” he said. “It doesn't matter who has the most stores and the history of our industry shows us that's what gets companies in trouble.”
If there’s growth to be seen, it’s online at the moment, he added. “Ecommerce is a part of who we are now and part of the evolution of our industry,” Lanchniet said. “Our brick and mortar staff use our online store to sell products to customers that are looking for budget equipment we don't carry in the stores. And it broadens our customer reach to include the entire country.”
>> Also in Arizona, and also with a store on that same block in Scottsdale, At Home Fitness Equipment (www.athomefitness.com), is playing musical chairs with some of its other locations in the state to best adapt to consumer habits and the economy.
At Home Fitness started 2011 with four stores, it recently opened a fifth, but will be back down to four stores to start 2012.
“We’re closing an outlet store in Chandler that’s fading in sales and we have opened a gem of a store in Desert Ridge,” co-owner Greg Feeder said. It’s a sign of the times, he said – Desert Ridge is more of a high-end market where the company is seeing a comeback in sales. At Home Fitness co-owner Bryan Dorksen, in charge of new-store openings, is managing the new location with much success. “In one month, it’s our top-selling store,” Feeder said.
Meanwhile, the Chandler store, which served as a used and consignment outlet, and did real well during the worst of the economic downturn, is seeing less business. With its lease up at the end of the year, and a newer location nearby along Interstate 10 in Ahwatukee, it didn’t make sense to keep the Chandler location, Feeder said.
“With the economy, our motto has been grow at the least risk possible,” he said.
>> Workout World (www.workoutworldusa.com) is also seeing success in the high-end market with its August 2011 opening of its third Southern California location in ritzy Beverly Hills (photo, right).
“We have already had many famous people and their personal trainers come through the store,” Workout World co-founder Darren Piggins said. “There is no better networking market in the world than Beverly Hills.”
SNEWS has tracked the Australian-based fitness retailer since its 2010 foray into the United States (click here to read our May 24, 2010 story on the company), and Piggins said Workout World, a.k.a. WOW, plans further growth. “We have been running a television campaign to make customers aware that we are now setting up stores throughout Los Angeles, which we will continue to grow,” he said.
Piggins said the company has learned to continually reinvent itself coming from a tough competitive market in Australia. Some of the special touches in the new Beverly Hills store include a showcase area at the front of the store – where Piggins is considering installing a revolving stage – and “VIP shopping nights” where the store will open after hours by appointment for those wanting to shop without distraction.
>> Both WOW and California Home Fitness (www.cahomefitness.com) opened in the Southern California market around the same time in 2010, filling the gaps from FHI’s Busy Body bankruptcy in 2009. And they’re both growing at about the same pace.
California Home Fitness added its fourth location in Pasadena on Dec. 1, 2011. Co-owner Ray Chodorowski said the new location is similar to the company’s others. “We thought it was an underserved market, and we wanted to expand our presence,” he said. “Sales have been decent and we are hopeful for a good season.”
While this is just a snapshot of the fitness retail industry throughout the United States, the word on the street and at shows seems to be more encouraging than discouraging (there have been a few store closings – read SNEWS coverage about Fit3 closing in July 2011 and James Bond Fitness closing in October 2011). The real numbers will come early in 2012, as SNEWS puts together its ninth annual FitBiz report. (Click here to read the 2011 report on store counts from 2010.)
--David Clucas and Ana Trujillo