Give and Take: The Importance of Strong Vendor Relationships

Everyone has a dream. For Jose Antonio Avina II, his dream involved opening the first human-powered fitness facility in California, called Sacramento Eco Fitness.

To see this dream come to fruition, Avina II searched for equipment manufacturers he could partner with that offered equipment capable of harnessing members’ kinetic energy and putting it back into the power grid.

One company in particular stood out: SportsArt. When the company’s ECO-POWR line of equipment is plugged into a power outlet, the human energy generated converts to utility-grade electricity, resulting in savings for club owners like Avina II, and a smaller carbon footprint for the facility.

But, these capabilities weren’t the main reason Avina II was drawn to SportsArt. The company’s values were.

“What the founder [of SportsArt] was trying to do was execute his vision for the future and sustainability — and how that ties into the fitness industry,” said Avina II. “I fell in love with his mentality. It seemed to be that our views, our morals, perfectly aligned — and I figured that was the best fit for what we’re doing here at Sacramento Eco Fitness.”

Avina II encouraged all club operators to look into a company’s core values and mission before making a major purchase. He said that if they align with yours, your relationship with that vendor is likely to be a long-lasting one.

“It is very important for any gym owner who really cares about the level of experience you’re trying to create for your members, to try to figure out exactly who you’re buying from,” said Avina II. “If it’s a brand you know well and align with, then you can create a better relationship, send emails back and forth, communicate often. I’ve talked to a lot of SportsArt’s staff on a regular basis just about little things, like ‘Hey, love the product, this is what I’m seeing.’ We give each other honest feedback, and we have a very open relationship.”

Mike Feeney, the executive vice president of New Evolution Ventures (NeV), agreed that club operators should look at vendor relationships as being mutually beneficial.

“At the end of the day you have to look at the relationship with a vendor as both parties winning,” said Feeney. “The vendors are in business to be a successful company — as you are — so you have to be honest with them. Try not to take advantage of them and live up to what you say you’re going to do, and then you can expect them to live up to the expectations that you set up for them.”

NeV owns and operates a number of fitness brands including UFC GYM, Crunch and Cowboy’s Fit. Throughout his time buying equipment for these brands, Feeney has learned that building good relationships with vendors isn’t about trying to get a discount on equipment. It’s more of a long-game.

“Manufacturers are locked into agreements that are governed by GSA, so you’re only going to get so good of a price and then they’re locked into national account pricing,” said Feeney. “You really want to look for if freight and installation is covered in the purchase, extended warranties, the long-term things. It’s not always the price you pay today, but it’s the price you pay over time. If you can find a way to cut some of those costs out, in the long-term it’s beneficial to you.”

The long-game is especially important when it comes to issues with equipment — and it’s inevitable there will be issues. Feeney explained that because he has such great relationships with manufacturers, oftentimes they’ll fix equipment free of charge, even if the piece is past warranty.

“It happens everyday — you have these one-off issues where you need help and support, and sometimes you’re not ready to commit to making a new, large purchase,” said Feeney. “So if you tell a manufacturer to support you and fix the piece until you’re ready to make a large purchase, you better live up to your word.”

As an operator of more than 150 Retro Fitness franchises nationwide, good customer service is also important to Robbie Sprechman, the company’s chief financial officer.

“I firmly believe that we don’t have vendors, we have partners,” said Sprechman. “It’s super important to do business with people you like and respect. That’s part of my responsibility to our franchisees. There’s a lot going on, we really have to do our due diligence. We have to make sure they’re a real company, they have the people, they have the thru-put, the money, the financing, the capabilities to deliver for a system of our size and not let us down.”

As an example, Sprechman recalled the time the Long Island port was shut down due to a strike, making it impossible for manufacturers to deliver equipment to certain locations. “For months you couldn’t get equipment into the country in that area,” he said. “A lot of vendors couldn’t deliver equipment. Luckily we were able to create a relationship with one of our vendors, where we could stockpile a certain number of gyms in advance, and guess what, we weren’t affected. Some gyms [for other companies] didn’t get to open up because of the situation — due to no fault of the equipment company — but we were able to.”

Avina II added that close vendor relationships ultimately help you provide a better customer experience as well. Because when equipment is down for extended periods of time, members become increasingly unhappy. “Members will be the first to tell you if something is broken — they’ll point it out,” said Avina II.

At the end of the day, Avina II views vendor partnerships as an extension of his club’s brand that should be valued for the long-term.

“Being able to pick the right manufacturer goes a long way, because you’re creating a great friendship,” continued Avina. “It’s an extension of yourself, and anything that happens to them could happen to you — if the brand you partner with has a negative connotation as cheap or has a tendency to break, your customers will associate that with you. So pick the right brand and create the right relationship — that’s key.”

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