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SNEWS Qs, Retailer Edition: Leo Clark, president Fitness Lifestyles

Periodically SNEWS chats with specialty retailers to ask about their business and which products are flying off showroom floors. This SNEWS Qs features Leo Clark, president of Fitness Lifestyles in Asbury Park, N.J.

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Leo Clark

President, Fitness Lifestyles, Inc., Asbury Park, N.J.

What are some of the best-selling items at your store right now and why do you think they’re popular?

This past winter it seemed that treadmills and elliptical sales were almost even. As for the smaller items, it’s been kettle bells, resistance band equipment, training ropes, etc. It seems like anything to do with functional training is still most popular

What do you see as being some of the big trends for the upcoming season?

In fitness is seems that suspension training products, sand bags, Yoga and other specialized (e.g., training ropes) items have been more popular. In terms of larger ticket items, I think the trends are still in elliptical training and treadmills. Octane has a great new machine called LateralX that will probably create a new popularity in “lateral cardio.”

How do you go about creating loyal customers?

A true loyal customer must be earned more than created. It’s more of a long-term question. Of course you can do certain things to show a customer you appreciate the business, but real loyalty in the fitness specialty business has more to do with how did I treat the customer when they really needed me after the sale, for example service or some kind of bump in the road? Did I make it a good experience and leave them satisfied or not?

My loyal customers are usually the ones who have had service issues and we fixed it right and didn’t club them on the price. You can try to create a customer loyalty program with discounts or referrals, but I haven’t had that work for me. We sell high-end, big-ticket stuff, and I’m not sure if discounting loyalty is what we want in an environment where sales quantity is down. That’s the loyalty that may actually hurt us! Fitness specialty has always had been perceived as the place to go for good equipment, and I don’t think we have lost that integrity as an industry.

What are some challenges your store has faced in the past year and how have you overcome them?

This question is not so easy to answer with an overly successful ending. I think the challenge that I have faced in my little retail world here in Asbury Park, N.J. is probably not unique to the fitness specialty retailer or any other retailer for that matter.

The challenge in the recent years has been two-fold: Store traffic, and the question of how do I get more shoppers to give my store a look, is certainly an issue in an environment of economic recession.

However, I know the bigger challenge that I face is way different than store traffic. The real question is who is my customer today and who will be my customer coming down the pipe in the next few years? We all know that our customer today has always been loyal to the fitness specialty industry and as retailers we continue to depend on that same 50- to 60-year-old boomer to support us. As the industry brings new technology to the aging baby boomer that promotes exercise machines providing less impact and more “feel good” while exercising, I believe we will continue to have the boomer as a customer. The manufacturers (Octane has been one good pioneer of this) that keep putting out innovative quality stuff will be what we will depend on to carry the small fitness store.

–Compiled by Ana Trujillo