NEW YORK -- Health clubs and gyms here are actively moving into activewear.
The Manhattan Yellow Pages list more than 200 clubs and gyms. As these facilities sought to establish their own identity, selling signature T-shirts became common practice. Several clubs, however, are now going a lot further by selling a wide range of activewear, some carrying their own private labels, and some have set up their own pro shops within or near their workout facilities.
Crunch has been one of the most active fitness clubs on the apparel front. It has developed a growing line of private label activewear through its own contracting and via three licensees.
Crunch has three Manhattan locations -- two downtown and one on the Upper West Side. Each has its own pro shop. The clubs are currently being renovated at a total cost of $105,000, according to Doug Levine, and when the redos are completed by the end of May, each pro shop will have 1,000 square feet.
With membership at 15,000 and growing, pro shop sales are expected to reach at least $900,000 this year, which would be a 35 percent increase from last year, Levine said. With wholesale prices ranging from $20 to $59, Crunch T-shirts, oversized mesh shorts, hooded sweatshirts and baseball hats are some of the most popular items in the store. The pro shop also carries Nike and Avia to round out the Crunch selections, Levine said.
In addition to increasing the product line by 20 percent, Levine said the merchandise should be available in 30 department and specialty stores by the end of this year. A budget of $150,000 has been planned for TV ads for the East Coast and the West Coast for Crunch apparel later this year, he said.
Looking at the economics of retailing via pro shops, Levine pointed out that two of the Crunch clubs cost less than $20 per square foot to lease; some sporting good stores in the city pay close to $200 per square foot.
"By having shops in our clubs, we're already paying for electricity and heating. Someone is always wearing something that says Crunch on it, and we have a captive audience. If you're riding a bicycle what else are you going to look at?"Levine said he expects to open an out-of-town Crunch club this year. It will include a store as well. Atlanta, Miami or Los Angeles are under consideration.
In another development, Crunch will begin selling its apparel on QVC in May, said Levine, who said he'd like to take his company public in a year.
Apparel business is also on the rise at World Gym's pro shop at 1926 Broadway, between West 64th and West 65th Streets. That location sold more World Gym private label apparel last year than any of the other approximately 200 World Gym clubs nationwide. This year's projected volume at the New York facility is $200,000, which would be a 300 percent increase over last year according to pro shop manager Mark Durkop. The club opened in New York in July 1992.
Thirty percent of the store's merchandise consists of World Gym products, including a leather jacket that retails for $350, but Durkop doesn't want customers "to get tired of the same old thing."
Mossimo Body, Nautilus Apparel and Calvin Klein underwear for men are a few of the 22 vendors whose products are sold in the 300-square-foot-store. There are more than 2,800 active members at this 24-hour gym, but Durkop said more neighborhood residents stop in to shop.
With wholesale prices ranging from $11 to $30 for One Step Ahead unitards, Champion jogbras, City Lights leggings, World Gym hooded sweatshirts and other apparel, Durkop said he expects the pro shop to be competitive with sporting good store and department store prices. "The convenience we offer is unbelievable. In a matter of minutes, people can go from working out to shopping," Durkop said.
Business at Body Design by Gilda's boutique is expected to reach $420,000 this year, which would nearly double last year's total volume, according to owner Susan Maino. Having recently moved the Upper East Side shop from the Gilda Marx studio upstairs to 560 square feet on the ground floor of 1390 Third Ave. at East 79th Street, Maino said the number of walk-in visitors has increased 80 percent. Many customers ask for the Gilda Marx line that wholesales between $9.50 and $17, she said. With wholesale prices ranging between $9 and $38, Dance France, San Francisco City Lights and Liquid Skins are the more popular brands in bodywear at the boutique, she said.Maino said there is no plan to expand the boutique or open new ones.
"You don't need a lot of space to sell bodywear. Most people know what they want and what size they wear," Maino said. "You can do a very good business with just the basics."
The strategy at Equinox's shop on lower Broadway is more complex. Leotards, sweatshirts, anoraks and the rest of the shop's apparel is visible to passersby on the street and to people using some of the equipment.
Agreeing with some other operators of club pro shops, Terri Errico, who manages the store with her sister, Fran, says, "What's great about this is we have a captive audience. I've seen health clubs with stores but they usually consist of a stand or a small rack of clothes. We're a real store."
In December, management opened the 600-square-foot shop adjoining the club in what was once the first Lord & Taylor in the city at 897 Broadway, near East 19th Street. A second shop is scheduled to open in April at the Equinox at 344 Amsterdam Ave., near West 76th Street.
Equinox carries its own private label activewear as well as goods from 40 branded vendors. With wholesale prices ranging from $10 to $70, Baja Blue's thong leotard, Dance France ribbed leotards and Equinox crop tops are a few of the top sellers, noted Fran Errico.
"We never planned to open the store but customers were constantly asking for items they had forgotten," she said. "Our fashion-forward products are not what you see in most gyms. We sell a lot of things by Massimo, including its quilted shorts and vests.
In April, Metro Swim Shop plans to open a pro shop at Asphalt Green, a fitness and swimming complex at 555 East 90th St. that was opened to the public last October. By leasing the 150-square-foot store, Metro Swim Shop's business should increase by 10 percent this year, according to Brian Hendrix, vice president of the four-store chain, which is based in Berkeley Heights, N.J.
Metro Swim Shop already supplies the swimsuits and warmups for the 230 adults and children who train at Asphalt Green. Business may be substantially better if national swimming meets are held at the Olympic-size pool as planned, he said. In addition to selling Speedo and Tyr products, the shop will eventually sell Asphalt Green apparel."The pro shop is definitely going to be an integral part of the facility. It's one of the amenities," the spokeswoman added.
"It will be used by members, day pass users, spectators and swim team parents who come to watch their kids practice. There should be a lot of traffic," she noted.
New York Health & Racquet Club expects to sell $260,000 worth of merchandise in its six facilities this year, according to Seth Sherman, who manages the club's Whitehall Street location. The club carries only its own line of T-shirts, sweats and shorts along with such gear as sweatbands. Although basic apparel is sold at all six locations, there are stores at only two -- Whitehall Street and West 56th Street.
Each of the stores measures 300 square feet, and last year each grossed $42,000, Sherman said.
"At the other locations, it's basically a small display near the reservation desks," Sherman said.
The apparel concept hasn't worked out for all clubs that have tried it. The Vertical Club at 330 East 61st St. last year closed a pro shop it had operated for seven months.
"When people come in here, they're in a rush to work out," said Tony Santomaura, the club's supervisor. "They're not here to shop."
Nevertheless, next year the company plans to launch its own line of gym shorts, T-shirts and athletic wear, but he would not elaborate.
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