October 2005 - The Fitness Contender

Mitchell Modell, CEO of Modell’s Sporting Goods, is embarking on a separate venture by licensing the Everlast brand and stepping into the DRTV ring.

By Vitisia Paynich (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

Take a seasoned sporting goods retailer, combine it with a prominent brand name among boxers, and what have you got? M&M Fitness Equipment, of course.

This newly formed business venture is the brainchild of Mitchell Modell, CEO of Modell’s Sporting Goods, and Ron Kohen who have recently licensed the Everlast name. Established in 1910, this well-established label specializes in boxing gloves, punching bags, speed bags, as well as a variety of boxing accessories and workout wear.

However, M&M Fitness Equipment has a very different goal in mind for its own Everlast product offerings: fitness equipment. And not just any fitness equipment will do. Modell has a clear-cut vision of what M&M Fitness Equipment will do for the Everlast brand and vice versa, not to mention how the products will be marketed. “We’re in the process of using the Everlast brand to promote TV-type items, and to really enhance the image of the Everlast name through branding,” he says.

Yet, while the ball appears to be in play, the real work is just beginning. After all, the company just launched in March 2005. As Kohen, the company’s director of licensing, puts it, “The ink on the business cards is still wet. What M&M Fitness intends to do is promote Everlast as a fitness brand and not necessarily a boxing brand.”

Modell adds that M&M Fitness will market these fitness products through infomercials “providing that [the content] meets the quality and standards that the Everlast brand stands for.”

M&M Fitness will roll out a comprehensive line of fitness products.

Why start with DRTV? “Look at what’s happening in TV products. You have great products, but you have no brand authenticity for these products,” says Kohen. “So, now you have one of these great products and you put one of the best names, if not the premier name in fitness, on it and you’ve got a grand slam.

“So, that’s why we’re trying to develop the infomercial business. We want to develop the brand even wider than it is, and we want it recognized as the authentic fitness brand.”

Although Modell is just learning the ropes about producing infomercials, he’s no stranger to As Seen On TV products. In fact, walk into any one of 127 Modell’s Sporting Goods stores throughout 11 states, and you will most likely come across a Bowflex Sport Home Gym, Gazelle Freestyle, 6 Second Abs or a Denise Austin Mini-Stepper.

Headquartered in New York City, this retailer has been a staple in the Big Apple for the last 116 years. “[The business] was founded by my great grandfather, Morris Modell,” says the fourth-generation CEO. Founded in 1889, Morris Modell opened the first store on Cortland Street in lower Manhattan. In fact, Modell’s is the nation’s oldest, family owned and operated retailer of sporting goods and accessories. Three generations followed in Morris’ footsteps including Mitchell’s father, Bill Modell, who is chairman of the company. Naturally, Mitchell and his brother, Michael, followed the Modell tradition and learned the business. Sadly, Modell notes, “My brother passed away four years ago.”

Through the years, the Modell company has undergone a series of metamorphoses, with the intent of growing the business. So, it’s no surprise that Mitchell Modell decided to expand into a whole separate business entity called M&M Fitness Equipment.

How did the relationship with Everlast begin? For starters, it helps to have a solid retailer-vendor relationship. “We’ve been doing business with Everlast for a long time, and we were invited by them to see an early installment of ‘The Contender,’” recalls Kohen. “And, I’m sitting next to Mitchell as we’re watching this show and we whisper to each other, ‘how great would this name be on exercise equipment?’”

This reality-based show on NBC follows 16 professional boxers, as they come to a training camp with the hope of becoming a champion boxer.
Shortly after viewing the show, Modell spoke with Everlast executives and finalized an agreement to license the brand name.

“What we want to do is really going to come off fantastic because of the branding that Everlast has experienced with ‘The Contender’ show,” notes Modell. The show was recently renewed by ESPN. “So, for us, it’s very exciting because it gives us the chance to really expose the brand in multi-channels.”

Thus, Kohen says the company is very open to all types of direct response. “We’re in the process of studying the market right now. We know the shows that have been successful,” he says.

The Everlast product line will include a broad range of fitness equipment, including home gyms, weight benches, treadmills, elliptical trainers, trampolines, stationary bikes and a variety of strength equipment.

M&M Fitness will also be talking to product developers and vendors over the next few months on a non-exclusive basis. Modell says the company is open to looking at a fitness item that would obviously sell better with the Everlast brand than a fitness item without a brand. “And hopefully, we can latch onto a fitness item that’s as successful as the Ab Lounge. I mean, could you just imagine if the Ab Lounge was the Everlast Ab Lounge?” he says.

The company already has a number of fitness products in development. Kohen, who has been in the retail sporting goods industry for the better part of 20 years, believes one of the most successful types of fitness products on the market today focuses on the abs. Thus, M&M Fitness will concentrate on those types of products as well as others geared toward sculpting and toning the body such as strength training devices.

Kohen says that in addition to branding the Everlast name, what’s really important to M&M Fitness right now is spreading the word throughout the DR industry. “We really want people out there who are developing products to know that they can contact me at anytime,” he affirms. “And then we can sit down and go over what they’re doing and figure out the best way to market this product together.”

Starting a new business, no matter what type, can be challenging in so many different areas. However, Modell and Kohen’s combined years of marketing and retail experience, along with their overall business philosophy, may help them knock out any obstacles that may come at them. As for Modell’s retail business, how has he been able to maintain its success for so many years?

“To really sum it up: It’s embracing change. It’s constantly looking at yourself rather than standing on your laurels, [and asking yourself], how can we do better, what do we stand for? [I] ask my favorite question every day that ‘God forbid, if Modell’s Sporting Goods went out of business, what would the customers miss? How would they feel?’ And, if you can’t answer the question and the customer won’t miss anything, then there’s no reason for your existence. If someone asked the CEO of Starbucks, ‘If Starbucks went out of business tomorrow morning, how would people feel?’ You can buy coffee anywhere on the street. So, what’s that thing that people would miss? It’s that experience, that connection to the brand. We try to deal with the emotions of our consumers.”

Modell adds that today’s consumers are more educated when it comes to purchasing product, especially when they have immediate access to the Internet. Surfing the web provides them with more information about products, so that they can make more educated decisions prior to a purchase. Therefore, Modell says, there’s a lot more competition.

“So, you have to create a unique culture in which to compete. You know people ask me, ‘My gosh, how have you survived all of these different companies; all of these people who went out of business?’ It all comes down to our mission statement: listen, respect and respond.

“We’re always listening to our associates, we’re always listening to our customers and we’re always listening to our vendors. We’re respectful of one another no matter who it is and we’re a responsible organization-we can move on a dime,” Modell says.

As for M&M Fitness Equipment, the future definitely looks bright. “In the few short months that we have been in business, we’ve been approached by a few people and as the word gets out, we’ll be approached by more. [It's] because Everlast is really a brand that’s recognized for quality and that’s very important,” says Kohen. “And everything that we do has to be quality-driven.”

‘The Contender’ Champions E-Commerce

In 2005, NBC teamed with movie star Sylvester Stallone (Rocky), executive producer Mark Burnett (NBC’s “The Apprentice,” “Survivor”) and Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-principal of DreamWorks SKG, to create “The Contender,” a reality-based series about the search for the next boxing superstar.

The producers shine the cameras on 16 professional boxers, as they come to a training camp to follow their dream of becoming a champion boxer. The driving force behind the series is the pursuit of the American dream and the natural trials, tribulations and heartbreak inherent in that quest.

Stallone and renowned boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard serve as both hosts and mentors to this group of fighters, as they each go through rigorous training exercises designed to enhance their skills in order to reach the level of a professional boxer.

What makes this reality-based show appealing to marketers is the product placement. The Everlast brand is prominently displayed on the boxing equipment and apparel. What’s more, Everlast has integrated an e-commerce component into its web site specifically for apparel and equipment featured on “The Contender.” Fans of the show who visit the company’s site can enter the online store and purchase the merchandise.

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