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Sweat, Then Shop: Why Retailers Are Running Toward Fitness Concepts

[RETHINK Retail] — Big fitness studios have had highs and lows over the years. Smaller fitness clubs were eaten up by big names like Bally Total Fitness. Then Bally Total Fitness locations disappeared in 2011, and 171 of those clubs were purchased by LA Fitness. But while LA Fitness, and other higher-end fitness studios, have already made a name for themselves, Planet Fitness is earning its way to “one of America’s favorite gyms.”

The free pizza and bagels from Planet Fitness can certainly gain their members’ and guests’ attention. But the economical prices it charges ($10 per month) is what may get people to stay inside the doors after the food is gone. And for a department store like Kohl’s that made room for Planet Fitness clubs at 10 of their department store locations this year, this kind of favoritism is a big deal.

Meanwhile its competitor JCPenney wants to get in on fitness dollars, too. And with the newly opened Penney’s lab in Texas, JCPenney is finding out whether this fitness-retail plan will work itself out.


When retail stores and fitness studios became workout friends

JCPenney, which celebrated its 117th year this past April, has revamped a suburban location near Dallas, Texas, and created a new concept store called Penney’s. In addition to “lifestyle workshops,” makeup tutorials, cooking gadgets and a kid’s clubhouse, Penney’s has its first-ever fitness studio called Movement Studio. Located near the activewear department, Movement Studio members can participate in instructor-led fitness, stretching and yoga classes.

Interestingly, while Penney’s and Kohl’s have the potential to sell more activewear by putting fitness studios close in proximity to their stores, fitness gear company Lululemon is also testing out what creates loyal customers. And it’s not just about the active wear.

Lululemon’s 20,000-square-foot Chicago store—their biggest store ever—is not only selling exercise attire and water bottles. It has also opened a restaurant called Fuel, where consumers can buy vegan burgers, beer, cocktails, salads and smoothies. After (or before) customers indulge in a meal, they can then go to the second floor where three different studios hold daily classes in meditation, yoga and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes.


<em>Fuel | Photo courtesy of Lululemon<em>


While it’s not unusual for fitness studios to sell healthy smoothies and nutrition bars, Lululemon isn’t sticking to calorie counting. Beyond Meat burgers give customers the option of eating vegan meat, plus “good fat” like avocado and roasted mushrooms. But then other menu items (ex. beer, wine, cocktails, chocolate-covered bacon) may leave shoppers scheduling a workout to burn the calories off. In an ideal shopping day for Lululemon, a customer would poke her head around in all three facility options.


Beauty doesn’t have to be a pain

Fitness studios in non-health-centric locations aren’t new. While Lululemon’s Lincoln Park neighborhood now has the option to exercise, eat and shop all at the same time, other types of businesses have tested the waters with fitness studios.

Another example in Chicago is Donta’s Hair & Nail Salon in the Brainerd Park area of the South Side of Chicago. Several years ago, the beauty salon divided its large studio in half—the fitness studio was set up at the front so passersby could see it as they walked by the glass windows. And the beauty shop was shifted to the back area. Eventually though, walk-in customers were left wondering whether the beauty salon had closed altogether because of its lack of visibility from the front of the building. It was then reverted back to a hair and nail salon again.

However, other salons were able to stick it out within the beauty-and-fitness partnership. For example, California has the In-Shape franchise and New York has Body Shop Fitness & Salon, Inc. Even in smaller cities, fitness studios and beauty salon/spa partnerships have had some luck. But retail stores still weren’t flocking to fitness the way they are now.


Finding the ideal fitness customer in retail

In a perfect fitness/salon world, consumers complete their workout, shower and go directly to the salon to redo the hair damage that has been done. And  in a perfect fitness studio/retail world, activewear will fly off the shelves. New consumers who weren’t particularly interested in shopping in department stores like Penney’s and Kohl’s will now decide to give them a shot. And they’ll not only show up in the activewear section; they’ll also dawdle around in the beauty departments.

Fitness studios in these department stores may not have the kind of high-end amenities that some gym members are used to. There won’t be swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts, and nutritionists on-hand to give them specialized diets. But retailers who have their eyes on younger consumers may find that this group is generally indifferent to these kinds of high-end options.

In fact, millennials are ditching health clubs altogether to join boutique studios. As millennials have done with workplace culture, this group is largely looking for a more community-centered workout experience. But there’s still hope, especially when it comes to Generation X shoppers. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) found that millennials enjoy specialized courses such as yoga and cross-training. Meanwhile Generation Xers enjoy getting their active minutes in with resistance machines and treadmills, and don’t seem to mind the anonymity.

If Movement Studio, Planet Fitness and the like can cater to both groups, then department stores may reach their goals of luring in a newer and younger customer base. In turn, fitness clubs may luck out and get a brand new set of sign-ups for gym membership.