Can fitness classes wake up retail store traffic?

Discussion
Photo: Saks Fifth Avenue
Jun 28, 2017
Tom Ryan

In May, Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship location in New York City opened a 16,000 square-feet concept shop that has been offering a wide range of fitness and meditation classes.

The Wellery promises more than 1,200 of the city’s best fitness classes from May through October. Rotating pop-up classes include those from ConBody, a prison-style boot camp using only one’s body weight, and Bendable Body, a specialized stretching method that works on connective tissue. MNDFL, with three locations in the city, is offering meditation classes while instructors from modelFIT teach class-goers “how to move with strength and grace through daily activities.” Also on the schedule are wellness-focused events, including reiki healing, meditation and massages, as well as a salt chamber and manicures.

Customers can book fitness classes through the individual brands’ websites, but walk-ins can check on availability.

Shoppers can also experience the latest home gym equipment in showrooms from Technogym, Peloton and Martone Cycling as well as take advantage of custom golf club fittings. The Wellery is also showcasing a number of up-and-coming active wear brands, such as Heroine Sport, Phat Buddha and Beyond Yoga.

Saks in statement noted that it has “a long history of creating breakthrough, experiential environments in our stores.” In 1935, the retailer constructed an indoor ski slope in its flagship to offer skiing lessons.

With activewear one of the few apparel categories seeing growth, Bloomingdale’s and Urban Outfitters are among other stores offering in-store wellness experiences, according to the Associated Press.

“We need to be their sanctuary, whether they need retail therapy or want to feel good about themselves,” Saks President Marc Metrick told the AP. “After a good workout, it’s a big rush, so it’s great. We want people to feel good in our stores … it doesn’t always have to be because you bought a killer pair of shoes.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does it make sense to bring fitness and meditation classes to a retail store setting? Do you see temporary spaces and rotating classes as the best way to capitalize on the opportunity or more permanent, year-round wellness experiences?

Braintrust
"The classes offered should directly relate to the merchandise and mission of the store. Yoga in Saks is a stretch."
"Experiential retailing is a great idea, but Saks should devote the floorspace to something closer to their brand image and values..."
"...there is a proper cadence between having it as a one-time event and having it every week where you just get people coming for free things to do."

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22 Comments on "Can fitness classes wake up retail store traffic?"

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Tom Dougherty
BrainTrust

My word. This is akin to plugging the hole in the dike with a flashlight. It just illuminates the problems with many retail brands. Sales are falling, brands are less relevant and Amazon is eating their lunches. So let’s become a gym!

The ONLY way this could work is if the brand of that retailer suggested wellness. Saks isn’t that. In fact, it makes just as much sense for Saks to put in a basketball hoop. Or a swimming pool. This tactic simply ignores the real problems that retail brands are facing.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

One of the successful models we’ve seen of merging customer experience in-store has been from REI. There are at least two keys to their success:

  1. The experiences are directly relevant to the product categories they sell and often take place within the store itself.
  2. The sales staff on the floor “live” the sport or category they represent.

If you go to REI to inquire about camping or buying a bike, there are salespeople who talk from their personal experience using the products.

So while bringing fitness and wellness to department stores might generate store traffic, there still must be a strong connection to convert that traffic to relevant sales. The real key will be the store staff training and engagement more than the fitness area and exercise experience.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Creating new and different experiences in-store is a worthy pursuit. However for these to be meaningful they also need to be relevant and contextually consistent with the retailer’s offerings. Lululemon has been doing in-store yoga classes for many years which has helped them create a strong brand following and a connection with their customers that transcends merely selling product. Temporary spaces and rotating activities are a great way to test interest while more permanent programs could be established for the activities that prove to be of most interest. While this won’t likely deliver an immediate improvement in business results, it is part of a broader strategy that, if well executed, will help create loyalty and stronger connections between retailers and customers.

Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

The key words here are the “experiential environment” pointed out by Saks. The service part of retail cannot be underestimated. When customers buy a product of which there is a service component associated, the service quality outweighs the product quality in the minds of most shoppers.
Experimenting with fitness classes is a great idea. If it works then retailers need to keep doing it. The only way to tell whether this is temporary or permanent is to keep testing and adapt.
This is the right mode of thinking that more retailers need to take on. This is very similar to the experience and learning that takes place in an Apple store. That’s why customers of Apple keep coming back.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

Bringing classes and interactive elements to the retail store is an excellent way to drive loyalty and build stronger customer connections. However, the class has to make sense for the brand. Lululemon hosts yoga classes, which makes sense because they sell yoga apparel. Throwing a fitness class into any retail store is a pretty transparent way of piggybacking on a trend. The classes offered should directly relate to the merchandise and mission of the store. Art classes in an arts and crafts store, rock-climbing classes at REI, gun safety courses at Bass Pro Shops and coding classes in Apple stores, are all great examples of interactive classes that make sense. Yoga in Saks is a stretch.

Scott Norris
Guest

Bonus thumbs-up for that last line. 🙂

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

Thanks 🙂 I couldn’t resist!

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

What does make sense is something already being tried in at least one mall and that is to open fitness and health spas in order to replace exiting anchor stores and to create additional steady (think scheduled workouts) traffic for the other retailers in these malls.

Bill Hanifin
BrainTrust

Incorporating fitness and meditation classes in a retail setting only makes sense when both directly reinforce the core brand promise. For example, Lululemon offers yoga and other fitness related events in its retail stores. This is a good fit and, from what I know, the response from local communities where this takes place has been positive.

Outside of this very narrow channel of opportunity, I don’t see the concept working. I never associated “sweat” with the Saks brand and the number of alternatives for most Saks shoppers inclined towards fitness are too many to expect much participation, whether a loyal Saks shopper or not.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

Will having fitness centers in stores inspire customers to shop? Probably not many but if done properly it could bring in extra revenue, give the customers a good feeling about the store and most likely motivate the customers to come back and shop when they’re interested. I am in favor of any idea that brings customers into a store to experience the store environment, merchandise and services. Fitness centers would not be right for most retailers nor are cafes but I believe that being different and being creative is the best way to attract customers and stay one step ahead of the competition.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

As many others have pointed out, experiences do matter more than ever. I applaud the investment by Saks. While yoga, as Meaghan Brophy so cleverly expressed, could be a “stretch” for Saks, I wonder if perhaps the marketers at Saks have investigated the demographics of the typical yoga practitioner and discovered similarities between those who practice yoga and those customers they target. Maybe there is more to this program than first meets the eye …

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Following in the failed footsteps of Ron Johnson as seen in this article doesn’t seem smart.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I think it will attract people who like fitness classes. I am not sure it will attract shoppers.

Marge Laney
BrainTrust
24 days 21 hours ago

On June 21st, Women’s Wear Daily posted and article about how Amazon’s Prime Wardrobe “is a direct assault on the fitting room.” From this article:

“‘For a traditional brick-and-mortar specialty apparel or department store retailer, one of the only places they had the opportunity to differentiate was at the fitting room,’ said Joel Bines, co-head AlixPartners’ retail practice. ‘That is the one place inside a brick-and-mortar retailer where their investment in salespeople and infrastructure could actually make a difference in the sales process.’

If Prime Wardrobe leads consumers to no longer even go to fitting rooms, Bines said, ‘this is a huge issue for apparel retailers, much larger than the surface level impact of, ‘Oh, this is Amazon taking another shot at brick-and-mortar retailers.’ This one would be really impactful.'”

Retailers need to get back to their knitting and sell clothes.

Jonathan Lander
Guest

Nothing like sweatin’ to the oldies with the oldies.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

As my wife said: “Just what you want to do … go shopping when you are all sweaty.”

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Customer experience is one thing but a gimmick is still a gimmick and this sounds gimmicky to me. Nike has incorporated run clubs and classes but that is all part of the Nike culture. It is a fit (pun intended). Not so much for Saks but if they want to bring in experiences that feature their apparel on a rotating basis, that might be less gimmicky. It just needs to make sense or it is likely counterproductive.

For my 2 cents.

Jeff Miller
BrainTrust
I worked for years running marketing for a 50 studio yoga chain, YogaWorks, that has studios across the USA. Our teachers held yoga, meditation and fitness classes in literally thousands of retail stores every year. It was part of how we would get more people into yoga and get to know our teachers. We held classes and partnered with larger endemic chains like Lululemon and Athleta, small mom and pops yoga and fitness stores, running stores, cosmetic retailers, large department stores, in the walkways of malls, and even electronics retailers and art galleries. We were almost always asked back, which I assumed meant that it was a win for the retailer on some level either sales or customer acquisition. Some were one time events and others more ongoing like the one described here. These kinds of activations can work for retailers and there is a proper cadence between having it as a one-time event and having it every week where you just get people coming for free things to do. Chris Petersen hit the nail on the head in his post on this thread describing retailers like REI and Lululemon who do this as part of their core customer experience,… Read more »
Martin Mehalchin
BrainTrust

Saks is late to the party here. Nike, Lululemon and many independent retailers (particularly in Manhattan) have built compelling in-store experiences in this category. The fitness consumer will find those other brands far more authentic than Saks. Experiential retailing is a great idea, but Saks should devote the floorspace to something closer to their brand image and values (design and fashion).

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Saks is following a trend to bring in unique experiences to their store to create a more emotional connection with their customers. While a great idea, there is the issue of how a yoga or meditation experience connects to merchandise sold in the store. Otherwise, this is just creating traffic without an intent to buy. At the same time, does this type of experience speak to the demographic that shops at Saks? This may work for some retailers where the notion is deeply entrenched in their corporate culture and DNA (say, REI for example) but for a luxury department store, I’m just not sure….

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

The concern I have here is the suitability of the concept for the chain as a whole. Unlike some companies who claim that (practically) every one of their stores is a “flagship,” Saks is the old fashioned model — a huge main store that does an outsized volume of business, and can support many services, and a collection of much smaller branches. So the fact that something may work in NYC — and I’m assuming for argument’s sake that it will — doesn’t mean it can translate well to the provinces.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

OK, let’s talk about what kinds of experiences could work in various kinds of formats. Cooking lesson in a grocery store? Check. Makeovers in Ulta? Of course. Ping pong in Brooks Brothers? Probably not. Customers crave authenticity, and they know a gimmick when they see one.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The classes offered should directly relate to the merchandise and mission of the store. Yoga in Saks is a stretch."
"Experiential retailing is a great idea, but Saks should devote the floorspace to something closer to their brand image and values..."
"...there is a proper cadence between having it as a one-time event and having it every week where you just get people coming for free things to do."

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