Launching Retail Sales: A Playbook

by | Feb 12, 2019

5 minute read
Retail is a great way to increase the cash flow in your gym. Hear what other gym owners have to say about what works and what doesn’t.

If you’re a gym owner, you’re in the service business first and foremost. However, there’s nothing stopping you from also playing the retail game if it adds value to your business.

Experienced gym owners say this: If you want a retail playbook at your gym, it’s important to pick and choose the products you’re going to sell wisely. As a general rule, selling products needs to do one of two things (and ideally both):

  • Add value to your clients’ experience
  • Make you money

The only exception might be if you choose to sell a product that you personally consume a lot of, such as a particular protein powder brand, and you can lock in your purchases at a wholesale price to essentially save yourself money on your own orders.

We spoke to more than a dozen experienced gym owners who are in the retail game, and here’s what they told us is IN and what is OUT:

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IN: Vending Machine

Often times, it can be disruptive when you’re working on the floor with a client or coaching a group class and someone from the previous class wants to buy some fish oil from your store before he leaves. If you’re the only coach on the floor, your options are to disrupt your session with your clients or class to deal with the fish oil transaction, or possibly lose a potential sale.

A self-serving vending machine is a great solution to the logistical headache of selling products manually (and also guards against theft if that’s a concern).

This doesn’t mean you need to spend an arm and a leg on buying a vending machine. Check out vending machine rental services in your local market. It’s usually more than worth your while to rent a machine.

IN: Bottled Water

Though most people bring their own water bottles and are happy with tap water, having bottled water for sale is always great for the new client who forgot water or for the many people who aren’t organized enough to bring their own bottles.

Gym owners say Costco is the place to buy cheap bottled water, which you can then mark up to $1 a bottle and nobody blinks an eye.

While water sales isn’t going to save your business from going bankrupt, it’ll make you some pocket change in the form of cash and will add value to many clients who appreciate the product.

OUT: Aggressive Apparel Inventory

Though apparel with your gym’s brand is a great way to generate revenue and essentially give you free advertising, gym owners say it’s counter-productive to keep a large apparel inventory, with the exception of a stock of simple t-shirts.

A better way to sell apparel, they suggest, is to do pre-orders, especially if we’re talking about more expensive items like hoodies and sweatpants. You can generally mark up the prices quite a bit and earn some decent money, and the pre-ordering aspect safe guards you from having 100 unsold hoodies kicking around for months.

One other piece of advice is to put out a survey to your members about potential design options before you order. You might think you designed a cool t-shirt, but if others aren’t digging it, they’ll start collecting dust and become a money loser.

OUT: Gymnastics grips and wrist wraps

They will maybe, possibly eventually sell, but the turnover is too slow. It’s easier just to steer your clients to where they can buy these products in your city or online.

OUT: Rock Tape

Though a useful product, it’s the same deal as grips. Rock Tape will sit on the shelf too long and it’s too expensive ($20 a roll) to keep a big inventory of it around very long.

IN: Athletic Tape

Classic athletic tape, on the other hand, is  generally a big seller, especially during the big pull-up weeks, and doesn’t cost people $20 a roll.

You can buy boxes of athletic tape at wholesale prices and then sell each roll for $4 or $5 to ensure you’re making a couple dollars per roll. It also fits well into a vending machine.

TREAD CAREFULLY: Supplements and such

If there’s a brand of a supplement you believe in and use yourself and can vouch for—be it protein powder, fish oil or magnesium, for example—it might be worth selling, but only if you’re confident in the product and know your members well enough to know what types of supplements they’re into.

The big takeaway here: Don’t get roped into a huge order before it is proven to sell at your gym. Do your research and then test drive a small number of items first to make sure they’re a good fit for your community.

IN: Bars and Other Snacks

Protein bars, or other healthy fruit and nut-type of bars, fit well into vending machines and add huge value to the person who came straight from work and didn’t pack a snack and won’t get through the workout without some calories in his system.

Gym owners say Rx bars sell really well. And again, if there’s a particular protein bar you’re into personally, it’s a great way to give yourself a nice discount on your own consumption of bars. And on the drink side, many say they are having success selling FitAid (recovery drink).

One thing to consider when it comes to consumables is shelf life. While selling healthy beef jerky packs might be a good idea, make sure their shelf life is long enough to stock a bunch of them.

One more tip: Make sure you rent a vending machine that’s also a refrigerator, so you have the option to sell foods that need to be refrigerated, and drinks, such as coconut water, that taste better cold.

IN: Lacrosse Balls

Again, they fit in a vending machine and can easily be sold for $6 a ball (easily a $3 mark up), which makes you a small profit.

If you don’t use lacrosse balls with your clients on a regular basis, they likely won’t buy them, but if it’s a tool you promote on a regular basis and you see your clients using them on their own, chances are people will realize the lacrosse ball value and will be keen to have their own at home.

IN: CBD oil

Perhaps not a surprise, but some gyms have gotten into the cannabis business through selling CBD oil. One gym owner told us he makes so much money on CBD oil sales that it has essentially increased his average client value (ACV) by $30 per month.

It goes without saying, ask around before you start selling CBD oil, but if you become educated about it (and can educate your clients about it) and you find a good brand and a clean source, it might be worth considering.

Final Tip

Like anything else in business, there might be some trial and error involved when it comes to building your retail playbook, and what’s successful at your gym might not be successful at the gym on the other side of the city.

One final piece of advice to point you in the right direction is to ask, ask, ask your clients what they want before you blindly spend half a month’s rent on trying to sell the latest shiny product of the month.

Planning a new gym, yoga studio, or martial arts facility?
This article appears as part of our Definitive Gym Startup Guide as a resource for everyone who’s planning to start a new .
For more information and a ton more tips, tricks, hacks, and concepts make sure to read thru the whole guide.