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Why the Wait for Weights? The complex story of supply & demand, and what Flaman Fitness is doing for our customers

Do you have any dumbbells in stock?”

That may be the quintessential question of 2020, at least for retailers of home fitness equipment like us. There is not a day goes by that one of our stores isn’t asked that question.

And we understand why. Living in the midst of a global pandemic, health is at the top of everyone’s mind. And fitness isn’t far behind for many. Now more than ever, at-home fitness solutions are front and centre.

If you’re been searching for dumbbells, plate weights, spin bikes, workout benches or cages, or even a trampoline, you’ve probably been met with the same response from everywhere: “We don’t have that in stock, but can I put you on a waitlist?”

That’s not the answer you wanted to hear. And we understand your frustrations. People just want to take care of their health and fitness from the safety of their home, and we haven’t been able to help with that. And for that, we’re very sorry. We recognize we haven’t been able to give our customers the level of service we strive to deliver: whether that’s answering phone calls in a timely manner or having the items you need. We sincerely appreciate the patience of our customers and how they’ve continued to support us during this unusual time.

What is causing this lack of equipment?

Simply put, there’s been a huge increase in demand for fitness equipment, with gyms closed and people needing to work out at home. But what does this actually mean? Here are a few examples to put into perspective what “a huge increase in demand” looks like:

  • Before the pandemic, we’d typically get about 200-300 calls per day across all our stores. In one single day near the start of the pandemic we received over 2300 calls. In one day.
  • In some product categories, we would keep about 2-3 usual months worth of stock in our warehouse, and we sold through that in 2-3 weeks.

We do want to explain that you’re not alone in your frustrations. The fitness industry everywhere is facing similar issues. Chances are, if you’ve turned to other retailers for fitness equipment, you’ve heard the same disappointing news we had to give you.

This lack of equipment is a trend seen globally. Online orders for sporting equipment increased by 169% in May over last year, and 122% in June, according to research from BazaarVoice, a company that works with online retailers. There were massive supply chain disruptions from overseas and China in particular, not just for the products themselves but often affecting the raw materials needed to make them (i.e. factories could not get access to steel and rubber to make dumbbells).

Dumbbells – worth their weight in gold

Let’s look at dumbbells, one of the most sought-after fitness items, as a perfect example of how one factor after another contributed to such shortages worldwide. On the surface, it seemed like a simple issue of supply and demand, where the demand vastly outpaced the supply. But it really wasn’t that simple.

About 95% percent of the world’s dumbbells are made in China, and when the pandemic started, the country ordered strict lockdowns from January to April. Highways and public transportation shut down. Factories weren’t open, workers were at home, and no one could make the dumbbells. That disruption trickled all the way down to retailers.

In March, COVID-19 hit the rest of the world: gyms closed down and stay-at-home orders were issued. That meant people needed to stock up on home-use fitness equipment, causing a surge in demand. But fitness equipment companies were ill-prepared for such a surge, especially at a time of year when many start to see a slowdown in sales. New Years resolutions aren’t front-of-mind anymore, and with the weather getting warmer, people traditionally start to go back outside or back to gyms. So it’s usually a safe bet for retailers to order less inventory.

But in this year’s unexpected case, retailers were caught short for the unanticipated demand. That problem was exacerbated by the unusually drastic effects the pandemic caused suppliers. Dumbbells sold out everywhere in record time, but they could not be replenished quickly and there was nothing coming soon to fill the gap.

Even with restrictions now lifted, it can take months to fill up the supply chain again. As an example, one of our manufacturer partners, Bowflex, is tripling its production capacity for the second half of 2020. But it isn't as simple as just making more product right away - finding new factories to work with and ramp up production can take them up to 8 months. We used to operate within 90-120 day buying cycles, meaning we could order product and expect new stock in that amount of time. Now we’re looking at 6-12 months to get new inventory in some cases.

So, what does the future hold?

We are hopeful the inventory situation will get better in the next few months. Factories have reopened and production has re-started. We anticipate some new product coming in for the holidays. This will help the situation for sure, but it’s not going back to normal levels for some time.

There are many factors that suggest demand for home fitness equipment will continue. Traditionally, our busy season starts up with Black Friday and holiday shopping, so we expect an increase in demand at this time. A consumer survey about holiday shopping found that while overall spending will be in line with previous years, 19% of people will increase their spend. As well, holiday shopping will start earlier than past years for about 25% of people, beginning in November.

With winter approaching, cardio sales have started to pick up. Cold weather means people aren’t exercising outside but going back indoors. And research suggests many people will not be heading back to their gyms, even if they’re open. A survey conducted in the US found that 59% of Americans say they don’t plan on renewing their gym memberships once the pandemic is over. Similarly, another poll in August found only 14 percent of respondents said they would feel comfortable going to the gym in the next month.

More locally, large outbreaks like the one at a Hamilton spin studio are causing people to rethink their fitness options, and if they haven’t yet, they will be looking for more in-home solutions.

What does this mean for you, the customer?

Pay attention to current trends: this may help you get a jump on buying equipment now that’s going to gain popularity and sell out quickly in the near future. Treadmills are trending highest, so consider buying one sooner than later. And with the move to virtual fitness classes, products like the Schwinn IC4 spin bike or Progression Club 40 bike are going to be popular.

If you know you want something specific in the next few months, don’t delay. Start looking now and buy it if you can. And if no one has it in stock, get on a waitlist. Call your local Flaman Fitness store to inquire today!

We are starting to put some products on pre-sale, where you can buy in advance. Or else, sign up for our stock alerts, and get notified when product arrives at your local store. You can find the link for stock alerts on the product page.

Finally, check for used equipment on sites like Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace. Take care to not pay too much and always inspect the equipment to make sure it’s in working order before you buy. You should check with the seller to see if the equipment is still under warranty. Sometimes warranties only last months, not years. And some brands do not allow the warranty to be transferrable. Used equipment can be economical, but that cost savings is negated if you have to spend money to repair something like an electronic console out of the warranty period.

We’re all in this together

It is truly an unprecedented time right now, but we’re all trying to navigate this together. Reach out to your local Flaman Fitness store to talk about your fitness needs and we’ll do the best we can to support you. Our ultimate goal is to help people get fit and healthy to live a better life. Even if we don’t have the product you’re looking for, there may be another option to meet your goal. Or ask about waitlists and anticipated arrival times. We are truly thankful for all the customer support we’ve received, and we hope we can continue to serve you in the near future.