Australian fitness equipment retailers have seen sales surge through the latest round of COVID-19 lockdowns, contributing to a repeat of 2020’s workout gear shortages.
But industry insiders say this buy-up is different, with Australians now looking past lockdowns and investing in a gym-free future.
Sydney exercise equipment retailer Gym Direct has experienced another “huge” spike in sales since the city’s gyms closed their doors to the public, marketing coordinator Eros Kannis told Business Insider Australia.
While the gym equipment frenzy of 2020 was “dramatic and short-term,”, Kannis said buying patterns are different in 2021.
“A lot of people are starting to seriously look at investing in their own home setup,” he said.
Kettlebells, the versatile hand weights which became hot property during last year’s transition to home workouts, are all but sold out across the Gym Direct store.
However, larger pieces of workout equipment — like padded benches, squat racks and weight storage systems — are also in high demand, suggesting more lifters are building more involved strength training set-ups at home.
A high demand for heavy training equipment is apparent across the sector.
The Australian webstore for leading supplier Rogue Fitness says 22 of its 30 barbell varieties are currently out of stock.
And Iron Edge, renowned for its weightlifting supplies, lists many of its plates as available for pre-order, with its next round of supplies arriving in October.
“It’s an evolving time with where people are starting to look at their options in the long term,” Kannis said.
“A lot of people wouldn’t necessarily want to invest in a one kilo to 50 kilo dumbbell set when they could get access to a gym.
“Whereas now, there’s more of a thought process of, ‘Okay, maybe I need to invest in this kind of stuff, so I don’t have to rely on the gym in the future.”
With Australia’s appetite for iron at dizzying highs, another challenge faces retailers: sourcing the equipment itself.
Weights, racks, and benches are specialty items for most local foundries and fabricators, meaning the vast majority of the kettlebells, dumbbells, and rigs sold in Australia are sourced from overseas.
It’s this supply chain lag-time which led to similar shortages worldwide through 2020.
But new challenges now face the nation’s iron addicts.
High-quality strength training equipment is bulky by design, posing serious problems for importers navigating an international shipping system now riddled with backlogs, port disruptions, and booming container prices.
Industrial action in the local transportation industry, and the strain of COVID-19 outbreaks on local deliveries, threaten to push delivery dates further back in 2021.
Gym Direct’s Kannis said handling times have been pushed even further by the boosted safety procedures in action across the supply chain.
The company is trying to replenish stock as soon as possible, he added.
“It’s definitely the kind of thing we’re we’re managing on a month-to-month basis, so usually things aren’t sold out for too long,” he said.
The pandemic has been hellish for gym operators, many of whom have been forced to operate at limited capacity – that is, if they have been permitted to open their doors at all.
The story is markedly different for national retailers like Rebel Sport, which has seen sales skyrocket as Australians stock up on home exercise equipment.
Rebel Sport, which focuses on apparel, running shoes, and sports gear, saw its sales increase 15.3% over financial year 2021 to $1.2 billion.
That rise was driven by a 36% growth in online orders, with many shoppers trying to substitute their gym routines with the same limited supplies of at-home equipment.
The franchise reported that sales increased not just in volume, but in average value, suggesting Australians who could no longer access their favourite boot camp or spin class stockpiled gear through the first spate of lockdowns.
Rebel Sport says the pattern is repeating itself through the new financial year.
The latest batch of restrictions in NSW, Victoria, and the ACT has “adversely impacted FY22 trading,” parent company Super Retail Group said in its full-year results presentation.
“However there has been a significant uplift in online sales in COVID-19 affected regions resulting in record online sales.”
While Rebel Sport does not share Gym Direct’s focus on heavy strength training equipment, Super Retail Group has shared its belief in the future of at-home fitness, even when gyms reopen.
“The long-term health, wellness and fitness trends supporting growing participation in our lifestyle categories, mean the business is well positioned for the future,” chief executive officer Anthony Heraghty said.
Rebel Sport has also beefed up its inventory to $191.4 million, up from $140.1 million a year prior, “given the potential for global supply chain disruptions to impact lead times, shipping rates and container availability during the second half of the calendar year.”
Gyms feeling the burn
It is in the best interests of equipment retailers to hail a transition to home gym set-ups and big-ticket purchases.
But should those claims hold true — and if merchants can get their hands on imported gear — Australia’s commercial gyms could face trying circumstances even when lockdowns are lifted.
‘Sweat tech’ is also on the rise, with Australians increasingly seeking streamed workout content through dedicated apps, Instagram, or Facebook Live.
The uncertain future of restrictions and regulations across Australia as vaccination rates improve will also shade the fortunes of Australia’s commercial gyms through late 2021 and beyond.
Even so, some business owners are doubling down on the idea that no home workout could ever replicate an old-fashioned gym session.
“Even for our more commercial customers, I think they’re using this time to make sure that when everything does open up again, it can be complete refreshment,” Kannis said.
“New equipment, new vibe, ready to take on post-lockdown.”