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Health & Fitness Business ’09 education: SNEWS Fitness Forum covers ‘State of the Industry’ and retail tips, Joe Marcoux discusses 4 R’s of Retail

As a part of two educational offerings at the recent Health & Fitness Business show, the 5th annual SNEWS® Fitness Forum offered tips and discussion from seasoned retail experts with a State of the Industry report, while Joe Marcoux talked his 4 R’s of Specialty Retail. Both took place at the Aug. 6-7, 2009 show in Denver.

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As a part of two educational offerings at the recent Health & Fitness Business show, the 5th annual SNEWS® Fitness Forum offered tips and discussion from seasoned retail experts with a State of the Industry report, while Joe Marcoux talked his 4 R’s of Specialty Retail.

Both took place at the Aug. 6-7, 2009 show in Denver. The full recording of the one-hour SNEWS Fitness Forum will be posted for your download or listening in the next week. To accompany that recording, don’t miss the full PowerPoint presentation on the State of the Industry by SNEWS editor in chief Therese Iknoian posted Aug. 7. Click here to download that.

SNEWS Fitness Forum with Ron Hornbaker and Sandy Stein

Hornbaker and Sandy Stein offered valuable tips on surviving in a flagging economy, increasing store inventory the smart way and other timely industry topics forum panel discussion and luncheon on the first day of the show.

The event, moderated by SNEWS’ Iknoian and hosted by the HFB show, drew a crowd of more than 100 retailers, manufacturers and other industry professionals.

Before getting down to the nitty-gritty discussion with the panel and audience, Iknoian briefly presented a State of the Industry talk slide show covering retail trends as revealed in the annual SNEWS Fitness Retailer Survey, in the eFitBiz by SNEWS annual spring report and from other sources.

Succeed in tough economy by creating value, “editing” your product lines

Iknoian opened the panel discussion by posing a particularly pertinent industry concern to Hornbaker. Hornbaker oversaw retail store sales, operations and training functions as senior vice president of Golf Galaxy until he and other executives left to start their own venture, RetailMinds (, earlier this year.

“What are some basic steps small retailers can take in this economy to take advantage of the opportunities that they might be seeing?” Iknoian asked.

“When times are tough, most retailers (reduce) price,” said Hornbaker. “But from a small retailer standpoint you have to create value instead. Especially in the (specialty) industry that means increasing your staff training and expertise.”

Also, focus on customers you already have, suggested Hornbaker. How do you get them back? How do you make them feel valued? “The most important person in the store is the customer who’s already shopped with you,” he said. “You have to figure out a way to get them to become your marketing avenue.”

Equally as important were a few tips from Stein, founder of retail consulting agency Stein LLC ( on how retailers shouldn’t approach customers.

“Dealerships are often too macho—and that can be a turn-off to a significant amount of the audience who really needs and wants to be fit,” said Stein.

“There’s also a perception that more is better. Retailers have a mentality that if we have 50 pieces of equipment on the floor, we would be more successful if we had 100 or 150,” Stein said. “Customers don’t want to be overwhelmed by choice; they want to see an edited offer.”

See aging customers as an opportunity

Talk of the economy and this year’s bottomline may be downers, but there’s good news on the horizon from trends experts: Aging baby boomers want to stay healthy, and they have money to spend.

“The industry used to be fixated on youth,” said Stein. “But one of the biggest opportunities for the industry is to now help an aging consumer who has different needs that relate to well-being and longevity. Your customer is becoming an older customer, a more educated customer, a customer with greater means and that’s true across the country,” he said.

The best ways to drive traffic

As the forum opened up to the audience, John Conti asked a simple question: “How can we drive traffic to our stores to buy product?”

Drawing parallels to his experience with Golf Galaxy, Hornbaker had a couple of suggestions for getting customers to your store:

>> Become locally relevant. Golf Galaxy “hosted a women’s (golf) event that became the largest single event in women’s golf in the United States,” said Hornbaker. “We also hosted events in conjunction with our manufacturers and put on educational seminars.”

>> Get educated about your customer. “We implemented a CRM program—we knew what products (our customers) bought, how often they played golf, their score, their birth date,” Hornbaker said. “We could tell you anything you wanted to know about any individual customer that shopped our store and I think that’s critical today. You have to know who your customer is and you have to be able to communicate directly to them.”

Tiptoe into expanding inventory

One of the most contentious topics discussed at the forum was the idea of retailers expanding their product lines beyond just equipment.

“Where I bought my elliptical machine, all they sell is equipment,” said Hornbaker. “So as soon as I bought my elliptical, I don’t have a reason to go back. Expanding product offerings (will help) continue to bring in new customers.”

Some in the audience didn’t agree.

“Unless you have a background in (other products), I think that’s the wrong avenue to go down. I think what you want to try to do is focus on the basics like customer service,” said a retailer.

Forum moderator Iknoian offered an alternative to size-reliant products like shoes.

“I would suggest that people open their eyes a little bit more beyond things like shoes that need sizes. There are certainly small clothing items that maybe just come in two sizes. Or things that don’t come in sizes. You certainly need to tiptoe into waters like that, not just dive headfirst not knowing how deep the water is.”

Others in the audience such as Dai Manuel, COO of Fitness Town in Canada, said selling accessories and other items can help when not as many large piece of equipment are selling. Would he rather sell a big piece? Yes, he said, but something is better than nothing.

More tips

As the panelists fielded more questions from the audience, Stein and Hornbaker offered other bits of useful advice. When it comes to rent relief, Hornbaker suggested negotiating based on future sales with a percentage rent was a strategy he’s used with a retailer – if you can set it to a threshold of a record sales year.


For rebuilding consumer trust in a society where storefronts have gone dark, Hornbaker told the audience to focus on its “points of pride…those things that you do differently from your competition.”

Added Stein: “There is a pent-up demand; the market will come back, and you’ve got an aging customer that needs what you sell.”

Joe Marcoux’s “The 4 R’s of Specialty Retail”

It was 8:30 a.m. on the second day of the show, Aug. 7, and Joe Marcoux of Just Did It was holding court in front of a healthy and rapt audience.

“I would like to see us all drop our egos and all work together more,” said Marcoux. “If we don’t, and this show does not continue for the specialty retailer, it is a big box world — and that is reality.”

Keep specialty special

With that, he launched into what — besides the gathering and forum that is Health & Fitness Business — are essential things for fitness specialty retailers to keep front of mind. Marcoux dubbed them the four R’s: retention, repeat, referral, and rewards. In other words, Maroux said, it’s all about relationships. (OK, so that is five R’s, but who’s counting?)

For those who are not reading between the lines:

By “repeat,” Marcoux means repeat business, and by “retention.” he means keeping engaged the customers you already have. It is the customers you already have, he says, that are your most important customers. How are you helping them, encouraging them, inspiring them to get fit and, more importantly, come back into your store over and over again?

One way, Marcoux said, is to “reward” them by giving away something for free, and he does not necessarily mean free products. “Customers are craving information, so find a way to give them free information,” said Marcoux. Training tips, equipment maintenance information, healthy nutrition advice, and more are ideas that work and can be used in any specialty fitness store. But, to know what your customers want, you need to know who your customers are.

Marcoux said that unless you really know your customers, it is much harder to find ways to engage them and establish that all important relationship that keeps them interested (i.e. “retained”) and coming back for more (or repeat) business.

And what about that other R, the “referral?” If you know who your customers are via data-mining, you can also ask your customers for referrals to new customers – their friends.

And that plays right back into the idea of reward: Give the customers who love you reason to refer their friends to you by rewarding them when they do. Maybe it is a discount on product, maybe special membership perks at your store or a gym, or something else. It is really, he said, up to the imagination.

Keep your eyes peeled for the full recording of the one-hour SNEWS Fitness Forum to be posted soon on SNEWS. To accompany that recording, download the PowerPoint presentation on the State of the Industry by clicking here.

–Beth Dreher and Michael Hodgson

SNEWS® View: Intriguing is how the same themes keep surfacing: Get repeat customers, get information, establish relationships, give them a reason to come back – and say thank-you in many ways. You become special as a retailer when you make the customer feel special…and there’s that relationship thing again. Meanwhile, to help find out what it is you need or want in a trade show or conference, please help SNEWS relay information to HFB show management by taking this short survey by Sept. 3. Just click here to open it and tick off the answers to four questions plus an additional four optional ones.

–SNEWS® editors