- Gym brands like Planet Fitness and Lifetime Fitness are opening in shuttered Sears and Macy’s stores as the retail apocalypse sweeps America.
- Smoothie chains that once relied on mall foot traffic are also turning to fitness brands, adding more healthy options to the menu and opening near gyms.
- For gyms, a partnership with a juice or smoothie chain can help transform a workout into a lifestyle.
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Walking into an Equinox in Manhattan’s SoHo neighbourhood, you’ll find much more than sweaty gym-goers and workout machines.
Bathrooms feature Kiehl’s products. Towels are chilled with eucalyptus. Redbrick locker rooms resemble huge dungeons. Celebrities like Anderson Cooper and “Queer Eye”‘s Antoni Porowski are frequently spotted working out.
There is also a Juice Press shop – one of 33 located within Equinox gyms in New York City.
Upscale fitness brands like Equinox and SoulCycle have long partnered with restaurant chains and retailers.
Now, gyms and smoothie chains across America are aiming to profit off of the retail apocalypse. As thousands of stores close across the US, gym chains have been quick to snatch up the resulting abandoned real estate.
And, as the era of the mall food court seems likely to come to a close, juice and smoothie chains are betting on the fitness boom.
Smoothie chains ditch the mall
Thousands of store closures have been announced in 2019 as the retail apocalypse roars into another year.
With Sears and Macy’s locations across the US closing up shop, many malls have turned to fitness brands in order to fill the unused real estate. Planet Fitness is a top brand filling vacant Sears stores, while Lifetime Fitness has become a top Macy’s replacement, according to a 2018 report by the commercial-real-estate company JLL.
However, mall owners aren’t the only ones worrying about what to do in an era when many customers would rather shop online than visit a department store. Many smoothie chains have long relied on mall business, particularly in food courts.
Without mall foot traffic, many chains are rebranding to focus on winning over health-conscious customers instead of thirsty shoppers. Instead of hoping for foot traffic from shoppers at malls, brands like Planet Fitness and Smoothie King are eyeing real estate near fitness centres, hoping to catch gym goers pre- and post-workout.
“Our mission as a company is to inspire people to live a healthy and active lifestyle,” said Smoothie King’s chief marketing officer, Rebecca Miller.
Some Smoothie King franchisees are also Planet Fitness or Anytime Fitness franchisees, Miller says, allowing them to open locations near each other. Crunch Fitness members get special deals at Smoothie King. When opening new locations, Smoothie King often attempts to position itself near fitness centres, attracting gym goers with “fitness blends” like “Keto Champ” and “The Hulk.”
Jamba – which rebranded itself from Jamba Juice earlier this year – is emphasising protein-packed options like Protein Berry Workout with Whey Protein and Acai Super-Antioxidant. According to a representative, the smoothie chain looks to gyms and fitness centres when searching for real estate as it seeks out health-conscious customers.
Working out and sipping smoothies can become an identity
The gym-and-juice partnership is symbiotic. Gyms attract potential customers and boost foot traffic, creating what Miller calls a “gym rush,” as people flock to Smoothie King locations before and after working out. Fitness brands can also provide more data about members to restaurant chains, like information about gym-goers’ spending habits and daily routines.
For gyms, partnering with smoothie chains can upgrade working out from a routine to an identity. To build loyalty, fitness brands need to set themselves apart. Often, that isn’t purely through workouts, but instead from extras and reputation.
“There’s not a major difference whether you’re at Planet Fitness or an Equinox, or if you’re at Flywheel or SoulCycle. The bicycles and the ellipticals and the weights are not that different,” said Allen Adamson, the cofounder of marketing firm Metaforce and an adjunct professor at NYU’s Stern School fo Business. “What’s different is the experience.”
At locations of some boutique fitness brands, this experience could be polished and perfectly branded. An Equinox fan might match their expensive gym membership with a $US10 smoothie from Juice Press and $US98 leggings from Lululemon.
At other fitness brands, this sense of identity will be slightly different. Are you a Crossfit fanatic who needs a $US7 Hulk smoothie from Smoothie King? Or do you post a photo of an acai bowl from a trendy, local shop on Instagram following your weekly pilates session?
At Planet Fitness, the “judgement free” branding means offering pizza on the first Monday of every month. It aims to project a different image from that of Equinox and its Juice Press-toting members – one that doesn’t take things too seriously, emphasising a lack of judgement over polished perfection. Even when the weights and workout machines are the same, providing pizza instead of $US10 juices sends a message: Planet Fitness isn’t like other gyms.
Perhaps fittingly for the message of inclusion, there isn’t one single pizza brand that benefits from Planet Fitness’s Pizza Monday tradition. A representative for the gym chain told Business Insider that franchisees decided what type of pizza to serve their members, whether that was a local or national brand.
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