THE WEEKLY HOWL IS CLOSING MORE STORES

The OG: It’s easy to forget what a young industry fitness is. Prior to 1980, the commercial gym barely existed. We’ve become accustomed to seeing a gym on every corner but that wasn’t always the case. In many ways, the modern fitness movement was born when Dr. Kenneth Cooper published Aerobics. From the Bangor Daily News:

Fifty years ago this month, Cooper published the groundbreaking book “Aerobics.” He’s written 18 more books since, but this was the one that set the course, the plan and the theory that led to the popularity of running as well as arguably to every spin class, step class, Latin dance class, aqua exercise class, obstacle-course run, boot camp workout and high intensity interval training.

Think of him and his book as the ancestor whose name might not be familiar to younger generations, but whose influence is as palpable as the DNA that gives us blue eyes or dark hair or the inability to carry a tune.

“Dr. Cooper’s work provided me the pathway to establish my fitness industry career,” says Terri Arends, group fitness director at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, which is known for its innovative and large array of classes. “I am so blessed I can get up daily and truly love my work.”

Cooper wrote the book when he was a physician in the U.S. Air Force. His wife, Millie, typed the manuscript. It has sold 30 million copies and been translated into 41 languages.

“I wanted to motivate people to take care of themselves,” Cooper says of a time when close to 45 percent of Americans smoked (compared with 15 percent today) and only 100,000 jogged (a number now well in the two-digit millions). “I said, ‘We need to get this out; it will save lives.’

It’s widely accepted now that working out is good for you but it wasn’t that long ago that there was a stigma around the idea of working out. People thought lifting weights would make you slow or that we were all born with a finite number of heart beats. That sounds stupid but people believed it. Donald Trump still believes it. Dr. Cooper began the work of changing the thinking around exercise.

The book spawned a phenomenon that wasn’t always positive. “There was initially controversy in what I did because I was taking care of healthy people,” he says. When he was interviewed by Barbara Walters, “she was very rude,” he says. “She called me a fraud.” (But, he adds, when he told her he had an ongoing exercise program with the U.S. Air Force, “she found what I was telling her was truthful and she was impressed.”) On the ABC show “Nightline,” he debated cardiologist Henry Solomon, author of a book called “The Exercise Myth.”

“I was a radical,” he says.

              I wonder how much we are paying for that attitude shift. As we were transitioning to a more sedentary existence, there was a generation that was led to believe that exercise was bad for you. It’s even scarier to imagine a world without Dr. Cooper. Who knows what shape we would be in.

Real Estate: People love to give Amazon for almost every trend affecting the business landscape today. Why did Borders go out of business? Amazon, of course. However, it’s never quite that simple. There was more than Amazon at play there. That Retailpocalypse is the same. From the Durham Herald:

Large stores being transformed into new uses is the new normal, said Charlie Coyne, CBRE’s director of retail services in Raleigh.

“I wouldn't call it a trend anymore, it is here to stay,” Coyne said. Big-box retail locations across the country are being turned into fitness gyms, medical offices and municipal facilities, he added.

More than 90 million square feet of space is expected to be vacated in 2018, according to real estate data firm CoStar Group. Last year 105 million square feet of retail closed.

“The U.S. is just over-retailed, with too many stores and too much square footage,” he said.

            Commercial real estate fell in love with retail space years ago and they over-built. From Bloomberg:

 

Even though retailers have been retreating for years, the country still has about 24 square feet of shopping space per person, many times more than any other developed nation, according to research firm Green Street Advisors.

 

Now they are scrambling to fill big spaces and turning to a group that they have long shunned: gyms.

 

Triangle Rock Club announced earlier this week that it will put its third Triangle location in the former Walmart building at 1010 Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Construction will be done in two phases and will eventually account for 32,000 square feet. The first phase will get the gym up and running in Durham, while the second phase will include a roof lift and additional square feet to accommodate taller walls.


“We’ve been searching for the right opportunity to expand into Durham for nearly 4 ½ years, and we’ve found the perfect location for our newest (and largest) facility,’ said Triangle Rock Club Managing Partner Joel Graybeal in a statement.


            Triangle Rock Club was looking for 4.5 years! It’s not that easy to find 30,000+ square feet but still. I am excited to see what getting prime real estate will do for the fitness industry. The openings that I’m personally seeing are trampoline gyms. They seem to popping up everywhere these days.

 

Supplements: Speaking of store closures, GNC announced that it will be closing 200 stores this year. And it is not the only supplement retailer to hit hard times. From Fortune:

GNC Holdings is joining the parade of store chains closing a big number of stores as they look to fix their businesses.

The vitamin retailer said in a regulatory filing late Thursday that it plans to close 200 stores this year, a number that could vary depending on its ability to renegotiate leases or move some stores. GNC operates small but ubiquitous locations, with 3,385 stores in the U.S. and Canada, along with franchise stores and small areas within many Rite-Aid stores. It has another 2,000 stores abroad.

But the vitamin industry is full of turmoil that is taking its toll on GNC and its rivals. Vitamin Shoppe has interviewed turnaround advisers according to the Wall Street Journal, while Vitamin World filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year. GNC reported consolidated revenue dropped to $607.5 million in the first quarter, from $654.9 million in the year-earlier quarter.

              GNC doesn’t seem like a particularly smart company. It took them until 2016 to figure out that consumers will check their in-store prices against the online ones. So it’s not surprising that it is struggling to contend with the rising role that social media plays in the supplement industry. From Vox:

 

About five years ago, companies realized they could use social media to promote these supplements as youthful and fun. Hum Nutrition was one pioneer. It offers a range of brightly packaged supplements that are heavy on formulas for beauty-related concerns like acne, anti-aging, and hair growth. It launched in 2012, but the brand started its Instagram account in 2014, coinciding with the announcement that it would be carried in the beauty retailer Sephora. In the past year, Hum’s Instagram account has become more stylized, featuring a mesmerizing, undulating rainbow pattern when you scroll through it on mobile.

Facebook ads for the brand are now ubiquitous. When it landed a $5 million Series A investment at the end of last year, one if its investors noted that one of the attractive qualities of Hum was its “strong engagement on social media.”

 

              The supplement industry is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years but it appears the action is shifting to online sales. The only question is whether any of them are worth your money.  


One membership to rule them all: The proliferation of boutiques specializing in one fitness discipline has created a huge opportunity that has yet to be realized: aggregation. The one problem with boutiques is that most people want to do more than one thing. Maybe they go to SoulCycle four times a week but what do they do on the other three days of the week? Right now, they probably pay for a monthly membership at a big-box gym or they purchase more a la carte classes at another boutique. That is a very inelegant and expensive solution to their problem. Every entrepreneur understands that a consumer’s pain point is their opportunity and this is a big opportunity. From the Daily Herald:

Freeplay is a new app-based fitness company hoping to make exercise fun again.

“We like to say it’s like recess for grownups,” said Adam Chavez, Freeplay co-founder.

When users sign up for Freeplay, they get access to about 40 different exercise locations around Utah County. These locations include Crossfit, yoga, climbing, swimming pools, regular fitness gyms, trampoline parks and even batting cages. Freeplayers can use all of these options anytime they choose, just by checking in at the gym through their app.

Nate Bagley and his wife have been avid Freeplayers almost since the app first launched about a year ago. Bagley, who exercises about six days a week, loves being able to rock climb one day, swim the next, do some weight lifting later, and stop in for yoga at another point. He feels the $79 he pays each month is more than worth the price.

“It gives me access to a huge variety of ways to work out for a super reasonable price,” Bagley said last week while hanging out in Lehi’s Momentum Indoor Climbing — one of the many Freeplay locations. “It’s my favorite app on the entire planet. It really is.”

              A visit to the FreePlay website was not as illuminating as I had hoped. It’s hard to tell if this is just the Utah version of ClassPass or if they are doing something different. The one apparent difference is that you get access to a wide variety of fitness facilities. That could help with the issue of crowding boutique classes that ClassPass ran into and also work towards offering users a more comprehensive fitness experience. That’s a great price point but the relationship with gyms will change as they start sending more people there. Maintaining that price point will be a challenge.  

You’re a fad: The Hippocratic Oath starts off by asking new doctors to “first, do no harm”. I consider this to be a great rule of thumb for the fitness community as well. The first rule of fitness should be to do no harm. The second rule should be to get people moving. And the third rule should be to give people what they are paying for. We are starting to witness the rise of the recovery industry, businesses that offer recovery services and products to people who engage in intense exercise programs. From the LA Times:

Cryotherapy, a freezing treatment used by elite athletes such as LeBron James and Michael Phelps, is just one of the pricey injury recovery and prevention strategies that are exploding in popularity in Los Angeles — despite a lack of scientific evidence in many cases to support their efficacy. Cryotherapy alone is expected to grow to a $5.6-billion global industry by 2024, up from $2.5 billion in 2016, according to Grand View Research, a market research and consulting company.

The remedies — which also include IV therapy drips, vitamin-infused booster shots, hyperbaric oxygen chambers and compression therapy — cater to workout fanatics who insist an old-fashioned ice pack and a Gatorade won't suffice. They're now being offered at so-called wellness boutiques dedicated to administering the treatments; medical offices, weight loss clinics and traditional spas are also getting in on the craze.

              Do these services pass the 3 rules test?

-Do no harm? Probably a pass here. None of these procedures sound like they would harm someone with the possible exception of cryotherapy. There has been a reported death but this sounds like an issue with the therapy not being conducted properly. Being in close proximity to liquid nitrogen carries risks but these should be mitigated by extensive safety procedures.

-Get people moving? We should adjust this to get people recovered and I’m not sure.

Drip Doctors in downtown Los Angeles, for example, offers more than two dozen intravenous drips and booster shots to increase energy, promote faster recovery and aid in weight loss.

There's an $89 Hydroboost IV vitamin drip "perfect for those who need instant hydration," a $30 Supercharged booster shot for customers who are looking for "an intense burst of oomph" or a wallet-busting $220 Limitless IV vitamin drip. That one is billed as "an 'all in one' concoction" that will "optimize performance, neurological function, immune support, detox, and keep you feeling rejuvenated."

Skeptics contend that there is little benefit to IV drip therapy for people who are essentially healthy, saying people are capable of hydrating sufficiently and getting the nutrients they need through food. They instead point to a placebo effect.

              My first impression is these people would be better served from relaxing at home and drinking water for a couple of hours instead of fighting the LA traffic to get to Drip Doctors. The stretching boutiques seem to be the most worthwhile but there is probably less money being invested in them because of their labor-intensive business model. I’ll push on this one.

-Give people what they are paying for? This looks like a fail to me.

But some of the unconventional therapies, while no doubt trendy among the bootcamp-spinning-yoga-kombucha crowd, have been heavily criticized by those who doubt the purported benefits and say providers are making misleading and potentially dangerous claims.

A consumer update by the Food and Drug Administration in 2016 deemed cryotherapy — now offered at boutiques in Santa Monica, Beverly Grove and Costa Mesa — "a 'cool' trend that lacks evidence, poses risks." It said despite claims that cryo helps treat conditions like Alzheimer's, fibromyalgia, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, stress, anxiety or chronic pain, "this so-called 'treatment' hasn't been proven to do any of these things."

              That’s some straight snake-oil salesmanship. Save your money. If you want to recover, get more sleep, hydrate yourself, maybe get a massage or stretched out. The best fitness is low-tech fitness and the same goes for recovery.

TidBits:

-London gets its first human-powered gym

-What is your fitness personality?

-It’s not your imagination, kids don’t get tired

-Money burning a hole in your pocket?

-The Rock talks motivation

-24 Hour Fitness is working with Microsoft and Adobe to customize its members’ experience

-The Boston Marathon was a glorious mess