Business

Getting active: Equinox is quickly becoming a go-to retail partner for activewear upstarts.

NEW YORK — The following list of brands — Rhone, Ten Thousand, ISAORA, Caraa Sport, Wheelers V, and DSPTCH — share several things in common. Each is a rising sportswear upstart that specializes in a particular category, each firmly resides under the modern luxury banner––and every single one of them have partnered with Equinox in some way or another.

Be it pop-ups, exclusive retail deals, or standard wholesale, Equinox has shown to have a firm finger on the pulse of the new class of luxury sportswear brands. And its timing, from a retail standpoint, is impeccable: At a time when e-commerce is growing and traditional retailers are struggling to adapt, modern luxury companies are looking for new ways to enter the physical retail game. Partnering with unconventional, strategic retailers like Equinox, a gym, is one option many are eyeing.

In Equinox, activewear upstarts have a key partner. Not only are Equinox members a vital customer set for these brands, but with 87 gyms located in affluent markets around the US, Equinox also offers these brands the opportunity to have a physical presence — in association with a trusted source — that they otherwise might not, given that most reside online.

Last week, we hopped on a quick call with Cassandra Campa, head men’s and accessories buyer — and the person responsible for bringing in all of the above brands — to hear more about Equinox’s current retail strategy, and why they’ve chosen to support up-and-comers, rather than strike an exclusive supplier deal with Nike, Adidas, or Under Armour.

Equinox’s three-pronged retail philosophy.

It’s a three-pronged strategy of curation, exclusive product collaborations, and private label, Campa told us. Consider this the troika of Equinox’s retail strategy: All three blend together. As a cohesive approach, they allow Equinox to both march in tune with the trends of the moment, and to be able to more agile with its risk-taking.

She also told us that she views the men’s business as a growth opportunity. Compared to the women’s side, it’s still growing, and is less congested. Out of 87 total Equinox locations, around 30 do best on the men’s side, and she’s wisely honed in on those markets. The top 3, according to Campa: New York, LA, and Texas.

“Feeding the want”.

The idea has been to make Equinox a destination for want — not necessarily a ‘needs’ destination. Campa told us that she’s stimulating discovery, lifestyle, and expertise. All things the Equinox customer comes back to them for. She called it “feeding the ‘want’” for Equinox member. That’s where gathering a top assortment of under-the-radar brands, that each offered something new and different to the table, has come into play.

Campa’s constantly on the lookout for brands with a fresh new approach; tellingly, she finds that it’s often DTC brands, like the ones she’s decided to partner with, that are leading the pack in thoughtful product design and (purpose-driven) creativity. Still, it’s a two-way street: “We leverage them for their e-commerce, marketing, and product capabilities; they leverage us for our brick and mortar retail stores.”

Mix and match, and the rise of the men’s market.

The Shop at Equinox first began as a women’s offering. But in recent years, with the rise of the women’s market, men have started asking for options too, Campa said. “Our guys are very knowledge, very educated about apparel now. They know what they like and what they don’t like.” Simplicity is key, but so is whimsy. They’ll have that black pair of shorts in stock to make sure the basics are covered, but they’ll also have a new v-neck option or a black hoodie. It’s about blending lifestyle and performance together — these are not mutually exclusive domains today.

On deciding which brands to pull the trigger on – what factors matter?

Three things, said Campa: First, customer needs and feedback. Second, product and uniqueness: “The product has to be spot on,” she said. “The men’s market is getting pretty saturated at this point, so they need to be doing something interesting, and I have to connect with the brand in the same way that our members would. Whether it’s their brand story, their website, their marketing — whatever it is — that’s really important for me.” Third, usefulness and functionality: Every single product that she buys into is tested by Equinox employees.

The future for the Shop at Equinox.

Expect a continued focus on e-commerce, pop-ups, and brand partnerships. But also front and center: personalization. “I would say I am a big fan of personalization. I know it’s not the end-all, be-all for retail, but I think it offers customers something interesting and different. I’m exploring that right now on the performance side.”

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