Booming supplements market entices equipment suppliers, clubs to lend name

Life Fitness has joined other industry heavyweights -- including Nautilus, Bally Total Fitness and Lifetime Fitness -- looking to grab a piece of the $20-plus billion nutritional supplements industry as well as solidify its relationship with its customers.


Life Fitness has joined other industry heavyweights — including Nautilus, Bally Total Fitness and Lifetime Fitness — looking to grab a piece of the $20-plus billion nutritional supplements industry as well as solidify its relationship with its customers.

A little more than a year into its venture into the supplements market, Life Fitness has seen good consumer response, says Mark McCleary, Life Fitness vice president of marketing, since it introduced its line of vitamins, pain patches and other products also marketing with the Life Fitness name. The line of 50-plus products is sold exclusively at more than 6,000 CVS/pharmacy stores in 43 states.

And while the jump from exercise equipment to vitamin pills may seem like a big one, it’s actually just a natural extension of Life Fitness’ strategy to meet as many of its customers needs as possible, he explained.

“It’s our belief that the term ‘fitness’ is really a lifestyle,” McCleary said. “It’s about proper nutrition, exercise and maintaining a healthy outlook that allows a person to live an active lifestyle and achieve health, fitness and well-being.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the supplements market — and the sports nutrition supplement market in particular — is booming. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, sports nutritionals, a category that includes products designed to enhance endurance, strength, speed or weight loss, now represents more than 10 percent of the total supplements market. And it’s growing fast: Since 2002, sports nutrition supplements have seen an increase in sales that’s nearly 50 percent higher than the growth of the supplements market overall. No wonder equipment suppliers and clubs want to tap into their existing customer network or expand their reach with the likes of supplements, from cranberry chews to multi-vitamins to glucosamine.

These numbers, along with the idea of creating a “one-stop shopping” brand for consumers, seem to be appealing to other fitness manufacturers, as well. Ron Arp, Nautilus spokesman, said Nautilus has marketed its own Champion Nutrition line of products to customers, a relationship that began in 2001. Both Bally and Lifetime clubs have also successfully marketed their own nutritional lines for years.

But while these companies are charging full-steam-ahead with their supplements strategies, Icon Fitness recently opted to suspend its supplements offerings, said Colleen Logan, vice president of marketing. In 2003, the company launched its Total Fitness Solution line of supplements, which were marketed along with its ProForm treadmills. (Click here to see a Jan. 31, 2003, SNEWS® story, “Icon to intro package with tread, coaching, supplements, meal plans.”) At the same time, it also launched a line of fitness apparel. And while she won’t disclose specifics, Logan says the company has since decided to quit the supplements business.

“Right now, we’re just focusing on our core equipment and our ancillary apparel line,” Logan said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t ever do supplements again. It was a lot to come up with two new product lines at once, so we’re taking a break on the supplements at the moment.”

But Logan said supplements represent a potentially lucrative side business that the company will certainly continue to evaluate over the next few years. Icon’s core products — treadmills, home gyms and other big-ticket items — represent a consumer’s single largest fitness expenditure, she said. And things like vitamin supplements are probably the smallest purchases. She notes that the home fitness and equipment industry represents roughly $5 billion in sales, which is about a quarter of the dietary supplements industry. Thus, there seems to be plenty of opportunity in the small-ticket items, as well, she added.

“We’re everywhere,” she said of their sales distribution. “And if we could sell a supplement and a T-shirt to everyone who buys a treadmill, we’d be happy!”

Like Life Fitness’ McCleary, Logan said she also takes what she calls “a pro shop” approach. Just as a skier goes to a ski shop to buy everything from skis and poles to socks and sunscreen, a fitness consumer will look to one store — or one manufacturer — to meet his various needs.

“We believe that once a consumer decides to pursue a healthy lifestyle, they want everything: It’s not just the treadmill,” Logan explained. “And we believe that if people have a really great experience with our brand with their single largest purchase, that gives us some credibility to expand into other products, as well.”

Moreover, she says, a company like Icon can reasonably look to small items like supplements to both cement its relationship with customers and boost its bottom line.

“The great thing from our standpoint and our retailers’ standpoints is that the purchase cycle of things like apparel and supplements is much more frequent than it is with hardgoods. So if an appliance manufacturer ever got together with a grocery store, you’d see the same thing. You buy a refrigerator once every 10 years, but you buy a gallon of milk every three days. It’s a very nice complement.”

Life Fitness won’t let that complement slip its customers’ minds and, in fact, has used it in marketing plugs seen on CVS’s website: “For 30 years Life Fitness has helped people to attain their health and fitness goals by creating high-quality, technologically-advanced fitness equipment. At Life Fitness, we believe in you.”

Click here to see a sample of the Life Fitness line.

That tie also makes sense from the customer’s point of view: “The consumer is driving the adjacency,” Logan added. “We’re not really forcing anything that doesn’t already happen.”

SNEWS® View: With such a huge potential in the supplements market, it makes sense for suppliers to look to stamp their name on a few bottles of chews and pills to help differentiate something on the shelf at a store. But who are we kidding to think that the public really knows any equipment brand name: Life Fitness may be known for quality equipment and may be a known entity among the club-going public, but we’re not convinced it will really mean much to most of the consumers shopping at CVS — other than the fact that those shopping for supplements may be shopping, in general, for a better LIFE. Nautilus too could be better served by supplementing (no pun intended!) its Champion line with a Nautilus-branded line, since that is indeed one brand name that is known among some of the public. Even better: Take the Universal Equipment name that it bought out of bankruptcy and has since had on mothballs and slap THAT on a line of supplements since it could grab a good swath of the public too. We’ll expect other companies to try this channel, and we also wouldn’t be surprised if those involved extend their lines into other stores selling fitness equipment and gear, including specialty.