Malls tap fitness centers to attract shoppers

July 08–DANVERS — When you think of someone getting fit at the mall, you might think of the mall walkers who use the great indoor spaces to promenade around.

The Northshore Mall in Peabody has about 400 to 500 people who regularly walk the mall in the winter, says its manager, Mark Whiting.

While malls have traditionally been good for shopping, hanging out in the food court, or for dining out, they were not the place to go for your interval training, yoga class or cardio workout.

As a rule, a fitness industry expert says, malls used to shun fitness centers for fear gym members would compete with shoppers for parking spaces. (In fact, the Northshore Mall had a fitness center in its lower level, which closed many years ago, Whiting said.)

But then along came the likes of heavyweight online retailer Amazon, and the shift by consumers to online shopping.

And online shopping has meant the loss of anchor stores like Sears, which is in the process of closing at the Northshore Mall.

That has meant mall parking lots have tended to thin out.

So, now malls are beefing up with fitness centers as a way to attract gym members, who may also use their spare time to grab a bite or do some shopping.

That trend is now on display at the area’s two major shopping malls, the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers and the Northshore Mall, both of which are owned and operated by Simon Property Group.

Best Fitness is getting set to open a sprawling, 28,000-square-foot gym at the Liberty Tree Mall in what is a $3.5 million investment in the company’s 10th club. The company has been around for 27 years, but this location will be its first mall location.

“It’s new for us,” said CEO David Dos Santos, “first mall location we have ever done and we are actually pleasantly surprised. We were a little concerned about the entrance, but we got our sign on the main door so we are happy.”

Best Fitness is different, Dos Santos said, because of the five group exercise studios within its walls. The idea of offering yoga, spinning, group exercise, barre and its Bfitt60 workouts under one roof was designed so that their members would not feel like they had to go elsewhere to take a fitness class.

Dos Santos said three years ago, the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association reported that 66 percent of gym members were going elsewhere to get some type of group training.

“We decided when we get our new location, we are going to incorporate all of those studios inside our club,” Dos Santos said of what makes Best Fitness cutting edge.

A Life Time of fitness

By 2020, Best Fitness will not be the only mega mall fitness club on the North Shore.

Life Time has announced plans to open a 114,000 square foot, “healthy living, healthy aging, and healthy entertainment destination” at the Northshore Mall.

This upscale, three-story fitness club will be Life Time’s fifth Boston-area fitness club. One of its signature offerings will be a ground-level, outdoor resort like aquatic area that includes lap and leisure pools, whirlpools and a bistro. Life Time will also offer studio and training areas and a Kids Academy for children three months to 11.

The fitness center will be located in the middle of the parking lot along Route 114.

To make way for Life Time, the Sears building will be torn down.

The mall’s manager, Whiting, said Life Time will help the mall insulate itself against online shopping trends.

“The fact of life is we need to find tenants that are destination locations that will draw customers to our malls,” Whiting said. This constant reinvention is something the mall has been doing all along as tastes and loyalties change. People need to socialize, dine out and work out, something they prefer to do around others. After they work out, gym members can grab a bite at the mall’s new restaurants along its new outdoor Promenade or go inside to shop.

“We think it’s going to be another tremendous addition to the property,” Whiting said, an offering the mall can build on.

Lauren Dalis, the director of marketing for the Liberty Tree Mall, said the Danvers mall is a place where you can get anything, given the amount of large stores such as Target, Staples, The Home Depot, Best Buy and others.

“Now, you can also get a good workout there, too,” Dalis said.

The Best Fitness space adjacent to Best Buy was a perfect fit for the new fitness center, which she said provides a “one stop shop to get all their fitness needs.” The new location will also bring people to the mall on a repetitive basis.

“I think malls are trying to reinvent themselves,” Dalis said.

The trend toward fitness centers locating in malls is a trend elsewhere.

“This is a very interesting paradigm that has happened over the past couple of years,” said Paul Schaller, the CEO of ABC Financial Services, a Little Rock, Arkansas company that provides gym management software to gyms.

The industry, he said, is seeing an explosion of commercial fitness centers as people understand the need to manage their health, along with a growing overlap among the health care and fitness industries.

There are about 42,000 commercial fitness facilities both large and small in the United States, and the industry is about $1.5 to $2 billion in size. The industry grows at a rate of about 2 percent to 3 percent a year, Schaller said. About 62 million consumers in the United States are members of a commercial fitness club.

That does not count the YMCAs or JCCs where members can also work out.

About 20 years ago, many mall landlords would not even consider fitness centers, Schaller said, out of concern the 1,500 or so fitness club members would battle with shoppers for parking spaces.

But the advent of online shopping and the decline of anchor department stores has malls looking to fitness centers as major tenants. And shopping malls have exactly what commercial fitness centers need: plenty of space and plenty of parking.

This article provided by NewsEdge.