Sharon Leite at The Vitamin Shoppe inside an L.A. Fitness club.

The Vitamin Shoppe has begun opening 300-square-foot shops inside L.A. Fitness health clubs and will be expanding sales of its health and wellness products through additional partnerships and distribution channels.

So far, Vitamin Shoppes have opened inside nine L.A. Fitness gyms. The Vitamin Shoppe will monitor the new format through its first fiscal quarter — which concludes at the end of March — to gauge the fit of the partnership and determine whether to open more shops.

The in-gym Vitamin Shoppes offer sports nutrition products, vitamins, minerals, supplements and on-the-go snacks and beverages considered healthy, comprising about 900 stockkeeping units compared to the 6,100 sku’s at the average Vitamin Shoppe store. Vitamin Shoppe pays rent on the shops and merchandises and operates them with their own associates called “health enthusiasts.”

The deal between The Vitamin Shoppe and L.A. Fitness reflects an accelerating trend in retail toward forming collaborations, sometimes with unlikely partners such as Kohl’s Corp. hooking up with Amazon to accept Amazon returns, Saks Fifth Avenue licensing the Barneys New York name, or Nordstrom selling Topshop and Everlane.

“These new collaborations are really smart and we will see a lot more of them,” said Sharon Leite, chief executive officer of The Vitamin Shoppe. “They make retailing interesting and give more reasons for consumers to shop.”

In an exclusive interview Friday, Leite said conversations with L.A. Fitness began last summer and the first Vitamin Shoppes inside the gyms began opening in November. According to Leite, discussions were held with other potential partners, including certain health clubs, but L.A. Fitness was chosen because it had available space, the demographics of its members are similar to those of Vitamin Shoppe customers, and in several cases, L.A. Fitness health clubs are situated near Vitamin Shoppe locations.

“We were looking to expand and build a partnership with like-minded consumers,” said Leite. In addition, “L.A. Fitness has these big gyms and extra square footage. In some cases, they have smoothie bars or other (setups) for products. It was one of those mutual opportunities. We are in the process of learning a ton around what that L.A. Fitness customer wants and we will be working with their trainers on what they can recommend for their clients. We will be working on cross-promotional activities as well.”

The $1.1 billion Vitamin Shoppe is expanding overseas and has eight stores in Panama, nine in Guatemala and three in Paraguay. They are all licensing agreements. “We continue to investigate and look for additional ways to expand our reach outside of our traditional channel,” said Leite.

The Vitamin Shoppe is in the early stages of exploring different avenues of distribution, including potentially a department store partnership.

She said the shops inside L.A. Fitness gyms are “takes” on The Vitamin Shoppe’s new store design, seen at a handful of locations. The prototype features innovations in design, presentation and services. It’s more compact, has a clearer wayfaring system, “educational guides” placed by products to spotlight their benefits, and new technologies including a body-analysis biometric station and digital product guides.

In terms of its own brick-and-mortar retail, The Vitamin Shoppe is a mature business with about 750 stores in the U.S. Though last year there were many store closings, and there could be more to come, store openings are still pursued. “We are continuing to look at the right opportunities,” said Leite. The company did not disclose the number of store closings.

The Vitamin Shoppes inside L.A. Fitness clubs are located in Union, N.J.; Huntington Station and Farmingville, N.Y., and Boca Raton, Tampa, Lakewood Ranch, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, and Lake Mary, Fla. In choosing the locations, a key criteria was how busy the gyms were and the frequency of visits by members. L.A. Fitness has nearly 700 locations.

The Secaucus, N.J.-based The Vitamin Shoppe sells nutritional solutions, vitamins, minerals, specialty supplements, herbs, sports nutrition, homeopathic remedies, green living products and natural beauty aids. On Dec. 16, The Franchise Group, parent company of Liberty Tax Service and Buddy’s Home Furnishings, closed on its deal to purchase The Vitamin Shoppe.                                                             

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