And you thought Chip Hunnings and Bill Wagner, who sold the retail side of their Denver-based All About Fitness in Colorado and Arizona to Busy Body Home Fitness in May, were rocking gently into retirement at a young age?
“Retirement didn’t last long,” Hunnings told SNEWSÂ® with a bit of a chuckle. “It lasted about 40 days.”
Not only are they still operating the commercial side of All About Fitness in the Colorado area, but they also kept the Kansas City-area stores in the Busy Body deal. And that wasn’t enough. They have since added two to that fold — buying the former Advanced Fitness retailer there in October and planning the opening of another storefront themselves Dec. 1 to bring the company to four in Kansas City about 600 miles to the east of Denver.
Continuing the hopscotch across the country by, oh, another 1,000 miles, the duo planned a softÂ opening over Thanksgiving weekend its first store in North Carolina, settling into Charlotte with the name LifeStyle Fitness Equipment.
“I started looking for an opportunity to do some additional stores, and the Charlotte market was one that fit my profile and seemed to be underserved from a vendor perspective,” said Hunnings, who happens to have also grown up in North Carolina where he started in fitness retail with Carolina Fitness Equipment.
“You got to go back to your roots,” he said. “It’s just the right market.”
But that doesn’t mean that Hunnings and Wagner will live on airline peanuts and rack up frequent flier miles for years to come. Instead, they plan to have “owner-operators” in the different markets who own a share of the company and can operate it, managing all the day-to-day needs while still feeling like more than an employee.
In Kansas City, that person has been Mike Mays. In Charlotte, Bryant Stadler will take over. All the pieces just fit together, it seemed. Stadler, who had worked at All About Fitness for five years as a manager, had planned to move to North Carolina for family reasons after the sale to Busy Body, giving Hunnings and Wagner a trusted operator from the get-go.
Long-term plans don’t have them stopping at one store in the Southeast. Hunnings said they foresee as many as three stores in the Charlotte area and perhaps one in Greensboro.
“Then we’ll see where the opportunities take us,” he added.
Currently, the Charlotte market has stores by Superior Fitness and Carolina Fitness Experts, with rumors of others taking a look.
“Charlotte’s going to get real tight and somebody’s going to get squeezed out,” Hunnings said.
The beauty of this model, similar to the one used by Scott Egbert and his Home Fitness stores in Chicago, Michigan and now Utah (see SNEWSÂ® story, Oct. 22, 2004, “Utah specialty fitness market sees changes, expects growth”), is that someone does not have to remain a regional player but can look where opportunities exist and where vendors would like to have retailers to scout out the next location. Plus, larger store numbers mean better deals from vendors. Still, the first six months or so can be hectic — think airline peanuts and fast food — while locations, leases and build-outs are being planned.
“It will scatter us some,” Hunnings said, between bites of a Wendy’s chicken burger with Wagner after landing in Charlotte for the final touches. “But we really think the biggest hurdle is not having ownership locally. It comes down to having the right person.”
In Kansas City, the company carries Vision, Octane, Life Fitness, Vectra and Landice. In Charlotte, the company will carry True, Vision, Body-Solid and Octane, with others to come. In addition, for the new North Carolina operation, Wagner and Hunnings have a new partner in Jeff Taksey, who has been a company business advisor for about four years.
“At All About Fitness I would always repeat a favorite quote from Jack Welch,” Hunnings once told SNEWSÂ®. “‘In the end, it is about trying to create a small-company soul in a big-company body.’ This new entity will provide us with a fresh canvas on which to create such a reality through local owner-operators that will provide the highest level of customer service and sales focus while ensuring a strong bottom line.”