In the last week, six of 11 HEST Fitness and Texas Home Fitness stores operated by The Fitness Group in Houston and Dallas have shut their doors, leaving empty or nearly vacant spaces.
At two of six Houston stores, announcements were posted on April 27 by landlords on the doors noting repossession of the space due to lack of rent payments. The third store was emptied of most equipment and shut on May 3.
Calls and emails to representatives of The Fitness Group (www.thefitnessgroup.net) were not returned by deadline -- Owner Bruce Thaler declined comment and President Mike Connolly did not return a call. It is unclear whether the closures will continue, how they will affect HEST and Texas Home stores in other cities, or if the company is simply shuttering some stores due to the economic times.
So far, the closures have only affected the stores in Texas -- 17 previously, five of which were new in 2008. The Fitness Group’s four Precor Home Fitness stores in the Northeast, including Boston, Mass.; New Jersey; and Maryland that were launched in late 2008, remained open as of May 6.
In the Texas market, at the end of April, notices titled “Notice of Change of Lock” were posted on the doors of both the Clearlake and Westheimer stores in Houston. The announcement at the Clearlake HEST branch, to the right, read in part:
“You have been notified on previous occasions of default. Because of your failure to pay the rent and other charges due…(the) present owner of the premises has re-entered and taken possession of the premises and has altered all locks and security devices….
“Your rights to possession of the premises is hereby terminated….”
In Dallas, the Arlington, Southlake and Flower Mound stores were shuttered between May 4-6, leaving two -- Frisco and Lincoln Park. At the Flower Mound store, the phone on May 6 simply rang without answer or voicemail. The phone at the Southlake store answered on May 6 with “Happy Holidays from HEST Fitness.”
In addition, a number of suppliers, who requested to remain anonymous, have told SNEWS that the company has not paid its bills and, in some cases, has not responded to requests for payment. Several said they have the company on a pay-as-you-go basis. Precor.com still lists the stores as dealers as of May 6. On the HEST website (www.hestfitness.com), suppliers listed include Power Plate, Precor, AFG, Cybex, Inspire, Lifecore, Fitnex, Expresso, PaceMaster, Powertec and SportsArt.
Lifecore President Roger Bates told SNEWS he is, of course, unhappy about the money he is owed, but the closures are bad for the industry in general.
“It’s just a shame,” Bates said.
Albert and Paula Kessler founded HEST Fitness in 1981 with one store in Corpus Christi. The company grew to 12 stores when it was sold in March 2007 to James Bond and his then-wife Laura Capes with investors Bruce Thaler and Robert Poole. (Click here to see that March 2, 2007, SNEWS story, “HEST Fitness passes the torch to new owners James and Laura Bond.”)
Capes left the business later that year, while Bond left the company in July 2008. (Click here to read that July 21, 2008, story, “Bond gone as HEST deals with changes in challenging retail times.”) At that point, Thaler stepped into a more active leadership role. The company also moved into the Massachusetts area as of November 2008 with Mike Connolly leaving his commercial sales position at Precor to act as president of the company now called, The Fitness Group, which included both the Texas and Northeast stores.
SNEWS® View: The fitness industry doesn’t need or want another business closure and watching this happen to the old and well-respected HEST Fitness company is hard for many long-timers. So far only the Dallas and Houston markets seem to be affected, while Austin, Corpus Christi, McAllen and San Antonio seem to be unscathed. Still, it’s difficult to say what kind of trickle-down effect the struggles will have on other stores in the group, both in Texas and in Massachusetts, or on the company as a whole.