Utah specialty fitness market sees changes, expects growth

With Utah's population still growing faster than U.S averages, specialty fitness dealers are entering and expanding in the Salt Lake City market, with the latest entry being Scott Egbert of Chicago Home Fitness and Fitco commercial outfitters of Texas.
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With Utah's population still growing faster than U.S averages, specialty fitness dealers are entering and expanding in the Salt Lake City market, with the latest entry being Scott Egbert of Chicago Home Fitness and Fitco commercial outfitters of Texas.

They join an enclave of retailers -- dominated by no one chain -- most of which have ties to the strong Utah and Mormon communities.

"To bring competition to the market -- like Scott Egbert -- you bring more money (and advertising) into the market," said Sterling Matheson of Champion Fitness. "Competition is wonderful. It makes us all better and works to grow all of us. If I can grow my segment from, say, 8 percent to 10 percent, that's good. I'm happy."

Egbert took over Body-Fit's location, renaming it Utah Home Fitness. It joins his 3-year-old Chicago Home Fitness stores in Illinois and American Home Fitness stores in Michigan, all locations of the bankrupt former Busy Body. He also told SNEWS® he plans to open two additional locations in Utah this winter. Precor and TKO dealer Fitco Fitness Center Outfitters of Carrollton, Texas, took over the area's commercial sales that once were Body-Fit's.

Census and economic data shows that Utah has been on a growth track that tops averages for the United States. It remains the fourth-fastest-growing state in the United States, currently with more than 2.3 million people. U.S. Census Bureau's estimates show the state's population grew 5.3 percent between 2000 and 2003, compared to U.S. growth of 3.3 percent. Utah grew nearly 30 percent from 1990 to 2000; contrast that with 13.1 percent growth nationally. The government bureau estimates the population will reach 2.67 million by 2015, with other groups estimating numbers will reach as high as 3.3 million. In addition, the state's homeownership rate is 71.5 percent, compared to 66.2 percent nationally.

Not that Egbert was itching to move westward, despite the state's growth, he said.

"The whole reason behind 'Why Utah?' is because it was there, and it was easy," said Egbert, who also has a close friend in the area and goes skiing there every year.

"I was perfectly happy with just Chicago and Michigan," he said, "and Utah came to me."

With his entry to the market in late summer, he throws his hat into the ring with four other specialty fitness retailers:

>> Champion Fitness has two locations, having opened a second in September. Brands include Vectra, Hoist, SportsArt, Cybex, Landice and Bodyguard.

>> Foothill Fitness has two locations. It is a Life Fitness Platinum dealer, therefore carrying Life Fitness, Parabody and Hammer. It also carries LifeSpan by PCE Fitness.

>> Summit Fitness also has two locations and a wide selection of brands. It carries Trimline, Matrix, Body-Solid, Evo, Universal, Prospot, Pacemaster, Fitnex, Schwinn, Trixter and Kettler. Commercially it also deals with Star Trac.

>> Upper Limit has three Utah stores now (and one in Idaho). It carries True, TuffStuff, Vision and Octane Fitness.

>> Utah Home Fitness, with its one location that Egbert said will grow to three this winter, has Precor, Nautilus, Keys, Trimline, Diamondback, Bowflex and Horizon.

Jokingly called "cardio corridor" by some is an area southeast of town with three retailers within a stone's throw: Champion and Summit have locations just a couple of blocks away from each other on South State, while Foothill is about a mile down the road.

"It's going to be tight," Egbert said about the market. "Logic tells you someone's not going to be very successful."

Busy Body Home Fitness is one growing player in the Western region that has stated it intends to dominate that area, but still lacks a Utah presence. According to Kenton Van Harten, president and COO of Busy Body parent, Fitness Holdings International. Having tripled its size in the last year alone, the company still hasn't looked at Utah, Van Harten said. Now, its focus is on the coming busy season, he said, and on keeping its eyes on the markets it's in.

"Is the (Utah) market something we'd like to eventually look at? Yes," said Van Harten who grew up in Salt Lake and went to Brigham Young University. "But if it's not going to add to the bottom line, we're not interested in doing it."

With all the stores except Utah Home Fitness owned by Mormons, insiders say the newcomer may have a more difficult time because of the tightness of that community. Egbert said he indeed thought it odd at first not to be open on Sunday per the Mormon church, but he now wishes he could do that everywhere. Still, he thinks success will be all about service.

"It's a mind-set," he said. "If you walk in a store and you're treated with respect and courteous service, everything takes care of itself. 

SNEWS® View: Interesting is the lack of a statewide or regional chain in Utah, leaving onesies and twosies to duke it out over the growing population and corresponding higher demand for fitness equipment. Can they all survive? Likely, if managed correctly. But we fully expect someone larger to enter the market and take over a few storefronts as a start to more area growth. We know Busy Body intends to be the largest and best in the west, and we fully expect it to enter that state, although it might not be until next year. Now, there's the Mormon factor. Like any tight-knit community, be it ethnic or religious, it's not the end-all, be-all for a store's success. However, the Mormon factor is larger, with Salt Lake being the center of the church with its headquarters there and a large percentage of the population there being Mormon. We think it could certainly affect which store does better than others (interesting is Busy Body's Van Harten's Mormon background too), and any one retailer that is not Mormon-owned better hire all the right people to make sure it make the right statement to attract the right business.


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