Fitness Joins the Brick-and-Mortar Vacancy Debate

Robert Cohen, CEO of Earth Treks and Planet Granite, touches on how gyms are benefiting from the experiential retail trend and the advantages of having social spaces in health clubs.
Robert Cohen, CEO, Earth Treks and Planet Granite

Fitness brands have started tapping into the experiential retail trend in recent years. The move is emerging as one of the most successful marketing solutions for big blocks of space coming online in a fast-changing retail industry. Consumers aren’t easily impressed, and Earth Treks and Planet Granite knows this well. The company exists in its current structure since 2017, when Earth Treks Climbing and Planet Granite Climbing merged, creating the largest climbing gym network in the U.S.

With assets in California, Oregon, Maryland/Virginia and Colorado, ETPG has embarked on an expansion journey with plans to introduce their brand to new communities such as Englewood, Colo., where a roughly 53,000-square-foot facility is underway and expected to open later this summer. The company also signed a lease for 40,000 square feet in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, within The Shops at Big Deahl. ETPG plans to open a gym here in the spring of 2020.

Robert Cohen, ETPG’s CEO, shared the company’s views on experiential retail and addressed the way it selects its next locations. Furthermore, Cohen talked about the technologies used in the gyms and how ETPG caters to Millennials and encourages members to try out new equipment before buying it.

Can you tell us about the company’s experiential retail approach?

Cohen: Today’s retail environment is not purely transactional—it is about building relationships. Our approach allows customers to try out products and test them on the walls, forging an authentic experience. Our staff has first-hand familiarity with the products and earns customer trust not only through their expertise but also through their everyday interactions. The gyms’ built-in social environment allows staff to form lasting relationships with members, earning brand-loyal customers.

What is the company’s view on technology-driven and immersive experiences?

Cohen: Technology plays a unique role in our customers’ experience. While our gyms are places where people can set aside their phones and detach, the climbing experience is very much based on new and emerging technologies. We work with industry-leading partners to develop and evaluate new products—ropes, quickdraws etc.—and feature innovative training tools throughout the facility. Technology within the gear we use is what keeps us safe and motivated.

Immersive experiences are at the heart of what a climbing center provides a guest. People come to us to try something new, hone a skillset or broaden their comfort zone. Whether you’re climbing, doing yoga or training at an ETPG facility, you are immersed in an exhilarating experience, surrounded by a core group of climbers and athletes. Amidst changing consumer preferences in a dynamic retail industry, it is more important than ever to provide an experience for patrons.

How does ETGP cater to Millennials and their live-work-play lifestyle?

Cohen: Millennials place high value on their free time, so an activity which allows them to simultaneously exercise, socialize and have fun is perfect for their lifestyles. Climbing is a fun and challenging workout for athletes of any experience level, and friendships are forged quickly due to the trust required in a climbing partner. We also find that Millennials prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than material goods, so a climbing membership is perfect, as they get to exercise and make friends.

When selecting new locations, what are ETPG’s main criteria and development strategy?

Cohen: First, our main criterion is finding fitness-oriented communities whose values and hobbies resonate with ours. We look for adventure hubs full of people who will really appreciate what we offer at our gyms. At the core of our climbing facilities is the community, so this is of utmost concern when considering new locations.

One of our most notable design features is building height—our roped climbing facilities require wall heights that are upwards of 50 feet, so we look for locations that can accommodate this. We also prioritize spaces with access to public transportation, bike trails and so on. When possible, we prefer to repurpose abandoned warehouses and buildings. Earth Treks’ Englewood location, opening summer 2018, will be on the site of the previous Sports Authority headquarters. Once complete, it will be the largest indoor climbing gym in America. Planet Granite’s Belmont, Calif., location is housed in the Old Belmont Theater which had been empty for years before the gym opened in 2002.

What kind of communities do you target when choosing locations?

Cohen: We love to become a part of active, social communities. One of our main focuses is to provide not only a place for people to climb and exercise but also a place for people to come together. Cities like Denver, San Francisco and Baltimore have vibrant populations who are already interested in adventure and fitness, so these are perfect locales for us. Ultimately, we want to become a part of the local community and provide a place for climbers to gather and share their passion.

Image courtesy of Earth Trek and Planet Granite