Buying fitness equipment is only one piece of the puzzle for the public to build a healthy lifestyle -- and for the fitness retailer to gain loyal, repeat customers. Knowing how to use the equipment, continuing to use it and eating right are other key pieces.
For most fitness retailers in the United States, getting consumers to buy equipment is the thing they do best. But that leaves retailers crossing their fingers that customers will figure out an exercise program, stick to it and come back to buy more.
Lifestyle, a specialty fitness retailer in Southern England, takes the process to an entirely different level. Instead of just selling equipment or just training people, Lifestyle wraps up the whole package into a one-stop shop for health and fitness products and training.
"We supply state-of-the-art exercise equipment but are consciously and deliberately far more than a retail outlet -- we also provide a service to our clients, whether they are individuals, companies or hospitals," owner and founder Arthur Torr told SNEWS. "When we sell a piece of equipment, we ensure that the customer knows how to use it safely and in the most productive way for them personally. For those who require further support, we offer personal training programs, nutritional advice, as well as long-term encouragement in both fields."
Not only that, Lifestyle emphasizes trained staff. Torr's wife and business partner Trish has a nursing background. The company's manager is also a registered nurse with fitness certifications. Two staff members have college degrees in physical education and sports management, while another staff member has an advanced degree in nutrition. Lifestyle also pays for frequent continuing education.
"Exercise machines sold without proper instructions and advice on how to use them optimally will at best grow dusty in the closet after a couple of weeks and, at worse, could cause their user serious illness or injury," said Torr by email.
In fact, so passionate about helping people build a healthy lifestyle, the staff (which is not on commission) will actually turn down customers and send them instead to physicians to come back with a medical release to exercise.
"When a customer walks into the shop and asks, 'Which piece of equipment is right for me?' we won't answer without first making sure we fully understand their medical background, family medical history, current lifestyle, goals and what they enjoy," Torr said. "We are able to carry out blood pressure tests on site and refuse to sell equipment to anyone who we feel might be at risk from using it. If we are unsure, we ask customers to return with a doctor's certificate stating that it's safe for them to exercise using fitness equipment.
"Overall, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Most people are profoundly grateful to find a company that puts their health before a hard sell," Torr said about turning people away. "Although of course a few do not want to be told the things they would rather not hear -- some have walked out; most have come back to become loyal clients."
It all began in the '80s as a sports shop with a health-food department. (The Torrs have always been advocates of eating well and taking supplements when needed.) Back then, they'd carry a few exercise bikes, but that section gradually grew until it became a specialty fitness shop first (about 80 percent of its business is in equipment and fitness training), with a small nutritional area (about 20 percent is in supplements).
But Lifestyle (www.lifestyle-fitness.co.uk) is not a discounter with its prices, but remains competitive with the marketplace, he said. The store carries Life Fitness, Tunturi, Body Solid, Concept 2, Waterrower, Trimlinie, York, Kettler, Vision, Horizon, Johnson, Marcy, Hangups, as well as accessories such as Polar monitors, and books, bands and steps.
When the staff sets up training programs, they ask all the pertinent questions about lifestyle and preferences first.
"We'll make sure that a client ends up with a routine they'll enjoy (and therefore stick to), though we are realistic and don't pretend that long-term goals can be achieved without commitment," he said. "We don't entertain fads and supposed 'quick fixes,' but instead supply ongoing support and encouragement in up-to-date methods of improving health.
"We aim to nurture the confidence and self-belief that are key steps in achieving vitality and well-being," Torr added. "After a course of personal training, clients can come back to us every few months for an updated routine to continue their progress."
Even in England, Lifestyle is an oddity, but one that attracts recommendations from hospitals, doctors and other medical professionals.
"Lifestyle has been created around the principle that it's no good working out every day if you eat junk food," Torr said, "and it's no good eating a perfectly balanced organic diet if you never move a muscle."
SNEWS View: Lifestyle has the puzzle pieces snugged together in a way that can create loyal customers who know they have a place to turn for help, especially with a staff that sticks around. How reassuring for a customer to come back and see the same faces, knowing they will also know him or her! Since fitness and health are about the whole package, we'd like to see more shops in the United States likes the Torr's Lifestyle shop -- ones that look at a person as a whole. The hardest part, as everybody by now knows, isn't making the decision to get active, or even buying the equipment -- the hardest part is having fun, knowing what to do and sticking with it. Lifestyle has it dialed. It has created a solid customer base, as well as a solid and growing business.