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Cool on CrossFit: Specialty fitness fails to see big bump from CrossFit craze

CrossFit is blowing up right now, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to better business for specialty fitness retailers

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Drive down any street, in any city, and you’re likely to see a CrossFit training studio. Usually when you ride by, clients are working out and dripping sweat all over the place. According to The Box magazine, the number of CrossFit affiliate gyms has grown from 270 in 2007 to nearly 5,000 in 2013.

“CrossFit clubs, which are really large group training clubs, are growing around the country,” noted Pam Kufahl, editor-in-chief of Club Industry.

CrossFit was founded by former gymnast Greg Glassman in 1995. It was designed to incorporate exercises from weight lifting, sprinting and gymnastics. The craze has reached so far and wide that it has its own international competition — the Reebok CrossFit Games.

But does that translate to better business for specialty fitness retailers? Not necessarily, some tell SNEWS.

Most retailers say the craze brings small increases in sales, but has led to decreased interest in bigger-ticket items. Plus, the CrossFit community has its own specialty retailers that deal exclusively in equipment for the activity, in some cases manufacturing their own.

Changing landscapes
CrossFit has changed the strength landscape, Andrew Leshik, director of sales and marketing for Leisure Fitness, told us.

“The emergence of CrossFit and TRX and being able to train with less equipment has led to a shift in the strength side of the industry,” Leshik told us, adding that bigger-ticket home gym purchases are down while items like TRX bands, Bosu Balls and kettlebells are booming.

Leshik said a “fair amount” of Leisure Fitness’ commercial business comes from CrossFit studios.

The trend of training with less, sparked at least in part by CrossFit, is frustrating retailers like Steve King of Better Body Fitness of Montana.

“It’s a little frustrating from the standpoint of being in the strength and cardio industry when you’re looking at reviews and comments online from trainers saying, ‘You don’t need a home gym to do the workouts,’” King said. “That’s out there.”

Other retailers, like Chip Hunnings, aren’t particularly affected — negatively or positively — by the CrossFit boom.

“It translates to a little bit of sales in terms of accessories and bumper plates, but it doesn’t make a big impact on our business,” Hunnings said.

Their own thing
Perhaps it’s not so great for business for traditional specialty fitness retailers because the CrossFit community has its things going on.

One source for CrossFit-specific equipment is Rogue Fitness in Columbus, Ohio. While the company used to be a place where CrossFitters could shop for equipment from different manufacturers, now it mostly distributes the products it builds itself.

With a background in industrial engineering, Rogue Founder Bill Henniger and his business partner design and domestically manufacture CrossFit equipment like boxes, racks, rigs, pull-up bars and barbells.

“Our focus is just on building great stuff and letting it tell its own story,” Henniger told The Box magazine, in an article in the June 2013 issue.

Outfitting CrossFit affiliate gyms across the country is one of Rogue’s specialties. They make it easy, allowing gyms to order all the equipment from one place, in one order. As a result, the company has grown from three employees in 2007 to 200 today.

Some specialty fitness equipment retailers are getting in on a tiny bit of CrossFit-outfitting action.

Dave Sheriff, owner of Colorado chain HealthStyles, said his web business for items like kettlebells and TRX products is doing well.

“If you can’t beat them, join them,” Sheriff said, adding that his web purchases have grown 50 percent since last year in terms of products that can be used for CrossFit.

“CrossFit is alive and well,” HealthStyles’ Sheriff said. “I don’t know how long the wave will last.”