As Reebok Intl. executives in Canton, Mass., were considering ways to reposition the sports apparel brand, a perfect storm was forming across the country.
A gym coach named Greg Glassman, training the Santa Cruz, Calif., police department, developed a high-intensity conditioning program called CrossFit that relies more on physical functions – such as jumping on and off boxes, skipping rope and lifting small weights – and less on a system of exercise machines.
CrossFit gyms, called “boxes,” spread around the country, offering workouts of the day, or “WODs.” More recently, Reebok and CrossFit launched a long-term partnership, branding a number of these facilities and introducing the Pinnacle line of Reebok CrossFit workout apparel.
The latest stratagem is a new retail concept, which Reebok internally calls “Fit Hub,” which opened its first location in the U.S. this summer at Fifth Avenue and 37th Street in Manhattan.
“The idea was to create a hub of activity for a new way of training,” says Jonathan Irick, lead project designer and creative director of Ziba, a Portland, Ore., design consultancy. “It’s about a lifestyle community that doesn’t train for sports, it trains to train – for fitness or relaxation or health.”
The store, designed by Reebok and built by Gensler’s Boston office, recreates the sparseness of CrossFit boxes, which typically open in vacant spaces and garages and are “functional but raw and natural,” says Peter Quagge, a manager of environmental design at Reebok.
Inspired by this raw aesthetic, Julie Reker, project manager and retail practice area leader at Gensler, says designers fashioned the Reebok concept to include exposed beams and ceilings and the original diamond plate steel in certain places. “We also used recycled rubber flooring as you’d find in a CrossFit box,” she adds.
Anchoring the middle of the store is a “fit desk,” a meeting place where shoppers can discuss training or ask the staff for advice. “Staff members function as our fitness ambassadors in the community, so they can lead a customer to a nearby yoga studio, exercise class or their favorite running tracks in New York,” says Charles Gates, a Reebok manager of environmental design.
For visual merchandising, Reebok utilized some elements of CrossFit workouts, like plywood boxes and tires.
Also, says visual manager Ryan Clinkscales, “The space’s double-height windows give us great visual opportunities.” The street-level windows will have apparel or promotional displays, while the second-story window will serve as a 24/7 billboard for the brand. It’s currently featuring large pictures of the athletes who competed in this summer’s Reebok CrossFit Games in Carson City, Calif.
Directly beneath the 1250-square-foot store is a below-ground Reebok/CrossFit box. The retailer feels the Fifth Avenue set-up will help drive traffic through the store and reinforce the new brand initiative, but it may not always be possible as Reebok rolls out the concept. “If a box is attached, that’s great,” says Clinkscales. “If not, there’s likely to be a box in the vicinity, and we can use that to drive store traffic.”
In fact, Quagge says the expansion strategy is yet to be determined. “We’re still testing what makes the most sense, urban or suburban, street front, mall or lifestyle center. We chose Manhattan for our first location because of its dense foot traffic, and also because we wanted to be near our biggest competitors and see how we did.”
Before the U.S. debut, Reebok tested the concept in Moscow and Seoul, which have been robust markets for the Reebok brand. The U.S. market has been less dependable. “However, Reebok owned aerobics in the 1980s,” says Ziba’s Irick, “so this connection with fitness doesn’t come out of left field. It’s part of Reebok’s DNA – a fitness brand encouraging people to get active and healthy.”