Fitness centers are all about working out. However, when it comes to retail in those spaces, it doesn’t always work out.
Everybody knows time is money. For businesses, space is money too, and if they don’t allocate it strategically, it can hurt rather than help their bottom line. Retail at the gym may look like a smart business move from the outside, but it often ends up eating more space and effort than it’s worth.
Not every gym can be a boutique-style fitness center selling high-end yoga attire on the side. Many struggle even to keep up with a small selection of essentials behind the check-in desk. Running a business is tough, and adding challenges like inventory, reordering, shrinkage and payments can be a lot to ask of business owners whose real skill set is to provide excellent fitness services to members.
However, it’s a nice amenity and can be a differentiator for gyms that offer just-in-time products, such as headphones and deodorant right at the customer’s time and place of need. Forgetting either of these items can really ruin a workout, while the ability to replace them quickly and easily can salvage it — and if there’s one constant in retail, it’s the fact that convenience is king.
That’s why Brian Shimmerlik, founder and CEO at Vengo Labs, said the retail opportunity is there for gyms, but a different approach is needed.
Enter unattended retail.
Why Vending Machines Are Perfect for Gyms
Technology, convenience and personal care items have traditionally been overlooked by automated retail providers, Shimmerlik said. It’s time for gyms to think beyond sports drinks and protein bars when it comes to vending machines and consider what customers really need at the last minute, he said.
Shimmerlik explained that Vengo builds automated retail kiosks that take up little to no space within the gym, since they’re affixed to a wall in the locker room. The machines accept credit and debit cards as well as contactless payment methods — but not cash, which Shimmerlik said most people don’t carry with them at the gym.
Following the success of an early pilot partnership with Blink Fitness in New York City, Vengo recently announced that it will be installing its machines at 50 additional Blink Fitness gyms nationwide, as well as incorporating them into all new locations established by this fast-growing fitness center.
The company monitors its own kiosks and takes on all of the operational burden, Shimmerlik said. Thus, no time, space or effort are required from the business owner. Indeed, there is not even a cost component, as Vengo makes its money off retail activity on installed kiosks rather than on installation and setup fees.
The value-add for the gym is primarily from an amenity standpoint: The business provides the convenience of locker room retail to members. It also picks up a share of the revenue from kiosks — roughly comparable to net gains the gym could be making by powering its own retail experience, but without the expenses and stress.
Potential Beyond the Fitness Center
Shimmerlik believes this is an approach that could pave the way in other retail categories.
“As people are spending less time in retail as a pure physical destination, it’s increasingly important to set up retail in the places where consumers spend time and need products,” he said. “I believe that retail as a supplement to other core services will start popping up more and more.”
To the creative mind, unattended retail kiosks offer more than convenience, he said.
They also create opportunities for unattended product sampling — something that could benefit virtually any retailer — because who doesn’t like free stuff? Shimmerlik said businesses can bring in relevant brands and products for customers to try without engaging a brand representative to share them.
Instead, the entire experience can take place on the screen, completely on the customer’s terms. Shimmerlik said this saves customers from feeling harassed. If they choose to engage, they can simply play the game or answer the question on screen to get their free sample.
There are also opportunities to build loyalty and rewards programs within these automated retail environments, Shimmerlik said — indeed, that’s one of Vengo’s goals in 2018.