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Seeing the light: Light commercial market grows in specialty retail

The specialty home fitness industry isn’t what it used to be. Retailers that also deal in bicycles and light commercial equipment are becoming the norm. A few retailers explained to SNEWS why the light commercial market has helped their business and what could be in it for their peers.

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The specialty home fitness industry isn’t what it used to be. More retailers are dealing in light commercial equipment and there are increasing opportunities in that arena.

A few retailers explained to SNEWS how the light commercial market has helped their businesses — and what could be in it for other their peers.

“I think retailers who don’t do commercial are suffering,” Bob Lachinet of Fitness4Home Superstore told SNEWS. “We’ve always done commercial sales. Through the darkest days when the economy was just horrible, commercial kept us going.”

Other retailers are starting to see things that way, too. This year, organizers of the Health and Fitness Business Expo held in Las Vegas in September promoted the event as showcasing light commercial products in addition to home products. The show didn’t disappoint. Organizers explained to SNEWS the reason for the increased focus on light commercial is that the specialty industry is headed in that direction.

“The fitness market has changed a lot in the last few years,” said Therese Iknoian, fitness industry consultant and former SNEWS editor. “It’s a lot less segmented than it used to be. A lot of the retailers are also commercial dealers supplying the local schools and apartment complexes.”

It’s a natural move as the industry strives to compete against big gyms and workout centers like 24-Hour Fitness and Anytime Fitness. The more options people have to work out, said Fitness Expo’s Rodney Rice Jr., the less likely they’ll be to purchase a piece of home equipment.

So the industry has decided if they can’t beat the 24-Hour Fitness’ of the world, they’ll join them by outfitting apartment complexes, schools, home gyms, country clubs and hotels.

Though Bart Cappabianca recently opened two new stores in Florida, one in Orlando and another in Tampa, he’s no stranger to the industry. He’s embraced the idea of light commercial sales, hiring Dylan Smith specifically to address that market in Orlando. Cappabianca is currently looking for somebody to fill a similar position in the new Tampa store, he said. Often Smith does more quotes installments.

The light commercial market isn’t something to just dabble in, however. Most of the retailers SNEWS spoke with have a light commercial department with employees dedicated to pitching potential clients. It takes a lot more work than one might think, Cappabianca said.

But it’s worth the effort, said Dave Neziol, Toronto area manager for Spartan Fitness in Canada. Every retailer has to start somewhere, he added.

“When you’re doing only home retail, once you have a store and do some advertising people come in,” Neziol told SNEWS. “When you’re working light commercial, there is lots of calling, email blasts and mailers involved because you have to build a database. This is especially important for a lot of specialty retailers if they haven’t done [light commercial] before.”

Light commercial units need to be replaced more often, because they are used harder.

It’s no secret colleges have state-of-the art fitness centers, often equipped by specialty fitness retailers who do commercial dealing. Gym Source in New York outfits several schools in the Northeast. There seems to be a growing opportunity, especially with an increased focus on fighting childhood obesity, to do business with public and private school districts. Many school districts are getting grants to implement fitness centers.

The Hornell City School district in Hornell, N.Y., recently approved a bid by Ithaca, N.Y.-based retailer Advantage Sport and Fitness Inc. to supply the equipment and accessories for its planned physical fitness center that will be integral in its “fitness for life” curriculum. An article in the Hornell Evening Tribune reported the center will include treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes and strength equipment, plus a slew of accessories.

Light commercial, Neziol said, “is a great growing segment of our market. Even when [home] retail sales might be flat or down, some retailers can still increase business by light commercial vertical sales.”

–Ana Trujillo