18/06/2009 - 00:00

Carving out a fitness niche

18/06/2009 - 00:00

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IN 1975, Swedish-born Hakan Friberg opened his Perth fitness equipment store one month after Laurie Potter opened his Hay Street health club.

Carving out a fitness niche

IN 1975, Swedish-born Hakan Friberg opened his Perth fitness equipment store one month after Laurie Potter opened his Hay Street health club. It was, incidentally, the same year the Life. Be In It campaign started.

Many big name health and fitness businesses have come and gone during the past 35 years, but Nordic continues to trade, now under the management of owner Cosi Dagostino.

Nordic is one of numerous local small businesses - such as health food suppliers, solarium owners and sub-contracted fitness trainers - that turn a profit by supplying products or services to the fitness centres, or by going direct to the public.

They may not attract the headlines of the big gyms or listed companies in the sector, such as failed diet centre business Metabolism Health, but local businesses such as bodybuilding and fitness supplements provider Treat Time Distributors have been running successful businesses for decades.

Now retired, Mr Friberg told WA Business News the huge advertising spend of Laurie Potter's Health Clubs actually helped his small business, even though they were competitors selling fitness equipment to the public.

"He was a huge advertiser while I just floated along at the sides," Mr Friberg said.

"He was quite a gambler. He tried to outmanoeuvre me by trying to buy me out or trying to take my salesmen, but I was still there in 1987."

Laurie Potter's chain of health clubs collapsed in September 1987, along with Laurie Potter Airlines.

Nordic's new owner, Mr Dagostino, said his business had carved out a niche, which included selling, renting and repairing equipment and providing spare parts. He said treadmills were among the machines most likely to need repairing.

"It's specialised and not many people know what they are doing," the technician and business owner said.

Treadmills started appearing in health clubs in the late 1970s, which helped spawn equipment maintenance operations.

Fitness centres buy and hire very expensive equipment, which supports a whole range of other businesses.

The cost of solariums, for example, can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Gyms can hire, buy or have a profit-share whereby they share the revenue generated through the solarium with the owner, who is responsible for their upkeep.

Large gyms tend to buy fitness equipment straight from suppliers in the US, Italy and Taiwan, while smaller outfits will look to local providers for purchases.

The price of fitness equipment would astound many gym-goers, according to Louise Ferguson, owner of Healthy Life Fitness Centres.

"People don't know when they are running on a treadmill they are running on a $16,000 to $18,000 piece of equipment," Ms Ferguson said.

Health foods and supplements are a natural cross-sell opportunity for gyms. Gavin Pratt, part owner of Warehouse Fitness Centre in South Freemantle, said brands like Vital Strength and Musashi were commonly sold at centres.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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