Another week, and more new funding announcements for at-home fitness companies. Moxie, a New York-based online fitness studio offering a broad range of classes, raised a $6.3 million “seed+” round. The company was founded during the COVID-19 pandemic. A few days before, word surfaced that SoftBank intends to invest $100 million in Tempo, a two-year old business that raised $60 million last year.
The last year has seen dramatic shifts in the fitness market, from physical locations to digital offerings, to the types of classes that people take, and the programs that people follow. Many physical gyms saw revenue declines from forced closures, capacity restrictions, and cancelled or frozen memberships. Others suffered worse fates: Gold’s Gym, 24 Hour Fitness, YogaWorks, Flywheel Sports, and Town Sports International (the company behind a number of city sports clubs) all filed for bankruptcy. In many cases, those that have survived have done so with outdoor classes and equipment and digital offerings to augment or temporarily replace the in-person experience. Planet Fitness, Life Time, and Equinox all introduced or expanded digital content and membership options.
In the wake of such fast-paced change, companies positioned for the at-home and on-demand market have seen surges in interest from both consumers and investors, leading to a period of seemingly unprecedented deal activity. In June, Zwift, the online platform for runners and cyclists, announced a $450 million investment, and Hydrow, maker of a connected rowing machine that streams live and on-demand workouts, raised $25 million. Later that month, lululemon announced that it was acquiring Mirror, a leading in-home fitness company with live and on-demand classes, for $500 million, and the next week, Tempo announced a $60 raise. In September, Tonal, which claims to be the world’s most-intelligent fitness system, announced a $100 million raise, and Cubii, a digital-first fitness equipment company, closed a similar-sized deal. Before the year was out, ICON, which owns a number of fitness brands including NordicTrack, raised $200 million, Precor, the commercial exercise equipment brand, was acquired by Peloton, and Echelon, the connected fitness company, raised $65 million.
The explosion of personal fitness equipment and apps continues, but the question that arises is just how permanent these shifts in consumer behavior are, and how sizable will these markets be in the future? Will gyms return to their earlier form and function, will they coexist with at-home and on-demand offerings, or will gyms cater to niche and specialized audiences? Many in the physical gym industry have predicted a return to normal this summer. Walter Thompson, author of the Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021, argues “Gyms are going to be overwhelmed with business. I’m incredibly optimistic about what’s going to happen to the fitness industry in 2021. The health fitness industry is going to have a very good year in 2021. I think it’s going to be business as usual by June or July.”
Another leading line of thinking is that gyms will remain but adapt to become something more than just facilities for exercise, offering community, connection, and added motivation and support from group settings. These physical locations may operate differently than they have in the past, with smaller group training, outdoor activities, and programs that don’t require shared equipment. They may also have health and safety protocols that didn’t exist before COVID-19, with frequent equipment cleaning, temperature monitoring, social distancing, and capacity limits.
Beyond gyms, many experts predict that at-home and on-demand offerings are here to stay, with the benefits of convenience, safety, value, and productivity too significant to overlook. People have begun to view health and wellness more holistically, incorporating a number of programs and systems in their personal routine. Many on both sides of the fitness aisle – from the new entrants with innovative delivery methods to the old guard of physical gyms – believe that there is enough room for everyone, and many consumers are likely to invest in multiple fitness platforms.
It remains to be seen whether households who have invested thousands of dollars in equipment and pays subscription fees for digital content will also pay for a membership to a physical gym, but both sides are counting on it.
Headlines of the Week
Amazon workers in Alabama on Friday rejected unionization, a major victory for the e-commerce giant in a high-profile, high-stakes battle that will have ripple effects across the nation for workers and the labor movement. Amazon, the second-largest private employer in the United States behind Walmart, has successfully staved off attempts to unionize at its U.S. warehouses for more than two decades. The vote Friday, in which the company won over workers at its year-old Bessemer, Ala., warehouse by more than a 2-to-1 margin, was a massive blow for labor organizers who saw the facility — and Amazon broadly — as ripe for organizing. A union victory could have triggered a wave of organizing drives at other Amazon warehouses, potentially giving workers more flexibility to demand concessions from the company on things such as breaks, safety and the pace of work. But the loss throws cold water on that and allows Amazon to add and cut staff at its warehouses as it wants.
Apparel & Footwear
After first announcing it would shift its approach to philanthropy from the one-for-one model it made famous, footwear brand Toms is introducing a new impact strategy that doesn’t involve giving out shoes. In 2019, Toms said it was exploring alternative ways to be charitable. Whereas before it would donate one pair of shoes for every one it sold, it intended to instead move towards giving $1 for every $3 it made — while still distributing product whenever and wherever it could. Toms will now donate at least one-third of annual net profits to grassroots organizations working on three specific issues: promoting mental health, increasing access to opportunity and ending gun violence.
The Collected Group is the latest apparel and lifestyle company to file for Chapter 11. The company behind the brands Joie, Current/Elliott and Equipment has closed stores since even before the pandemic, and plans to focus on e-commerce and wholesale, according to the company’s filings in Delaware bankruptcy court. The company once had some 33 stores, but since the COVID-19 pandemic and the initial store closures, it began to scale back its physical presence. The company, founded in 2001 and owned by private equity firm KKR, listed assets of between $50 million and $100 million and liabilities between $100 million and $500 million, according to its Chapter 11 petition. KKR is expected to retain ownership of the business after the bankruptcy, which, in this case, is essentially aimed at facilitating a balance sheet restructuring. The company has some $185.3 million in funded debt obligations and about $35.5 million in unsecured debt, which includes unpaid debt and damages for rejecting leases.
Gap Inc. is designing a delivery fulfillment system based on customer loyalty, prioritizing its “most valuable lifetime” customers, according to the company’s latest earnings call. Under the system, delivery speeds will be tiered as gold, silver and bronze, to “manage fulfillment costs effectively while pleasing our most valuable lifetime value customers,” said CEO Sonia Syngal on the call. For 2020, Syngal said Gap met its “customer’s e-commerce shipping expectations at scale with on-time delivery of approximately 130 million products, well above the industry average.” As the pandemic shifted shopping from in store to online, retailers have had to figure out how to meet demand and implement processes to best fulfill online orders. With Gap’s online sales reaching over $6 billion last year — a 54% YoY growth — company leaders said that leaning on its “powerful omni-channel platform” is the reason they’ve done so well with e-commerce.”We now have over 50% of traffic and 75% of sales annually through mobile,” Syngal said.
Teen spending is slowly ticking up from record lows, according to a new survey, as adolescents show signs they’re ready to get dressed up, go out and socialize again. A generation known to be glued to social media apps like TikTok and Instagram, Gen Z is taking cues from fashion and beauty influencers when they make their purchases, according to Piper Sandler’s 41st biannual “Taking Stock with Teens” report. One result is online brands like Shein and Princess Polly are surging in popularity, as are thrift marketplaces like Poshmark and Depop. A handful of classic teen brands, including Hollister, Urban Outfitters and American Eagle, are still ranking on the list of favorites. Teens plan to spend about $2,165 this year. That’s still down about 5% from a year earlier, but up 1% from last fall, when teen spending hit a low not seen in two decades. Reported annual spending by teens peaked at about $3,023, in the spring of 2006.
The collapsed fashion chain Peacocks has been bought out of administration, a move that includes transferring 2,000 jobs and 200 shops. The number means the other half of the 400 trading at the time of the chain’s collapse last November will not reopen as Peacocks. It was previously owned by Edinburgh Woollen Mills (EWM). The buyers are an international consortium, led by Peacocks’ former chief operating officer, Steve Simpson. He hopes to reopen the stores once non-essential retailers are allowed out of lockdown. EWM Group is a private investment group controlled by the Day family, which is owed money by Peacocks and is supporting the consortium.
Athletic & Sporting Goods
Ballogy, an analytics app for evaluating basketball players, has raised $6 million in Series A funding. The funds push Ballogy’s total investments to $9.5 million. Investors in the round included Orlando Magic player Gary Harris, former Milwaukee Brewers president Ulice Payne Jr. and former NCAA chief operating officer James Isch. Ballogy will use the investments to expand the reach of its platform, which helped run several youth basketball camps during the pandemic in partnership with The Basketball Embassy, the Orlando Magic and Hoop Group.
Nike has retained its No. 1 spot in the minds of U.S. teenagers for more than a decade, and strengthened that lead by 200 basis points year over year to 27%, according to Piper Sandler’s most recent semi-annual teen survey. Under Armour is gaining, placing in the top 10 for the first time since Fall 2019, above its 14th spot a year ago. The ’90s are the retro focus, with baggy pants taking second and crop tops sixth among popular fashion trends. While leggings (and specifically Lululemon) ranked first, jeans also ranked sixth, “mom jeans” ranked third and “ripped jeans” ranked eighth, per the report.
PM & Partners SGR have announced their entrance, as major shareholders, in Cytech Group, the world leader in the production of pads for cycling apparel and recently, of cycling gloves with EIT Palm Technology. A thorough and ambitious development plan has been set up that foresees the acquisition, in the future, of complementary companies in Italy and abroad. Cytech sells its products through three different brands: Elastic Interface which is the choice of some big cycling apparel brands, such as Assos, Rapha, Gore and Specialized. Berenis, which manufactures in Croatia, and has competitively priced products and thirdly, Bikepad, which makes USMCA friendly competitively priced products, which are made in Mexico.
Cosmetics & Pharmacy
The clean personal care player that’s donated nearly 14 million bars of soap to help combat water-borne diseases is the first consumer packaged goods brand in the portfolio of the Bain Capital arm backing mission-driven companies. Bain Capital Double Impact has acquired a majority stake in Hand in Hand, but further terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. The fund, which raised $800 million last year, aims to inject $25 million to $75 million in equity per transaction. Bill Glaab, who founded Hand in Hand in 2011 with his wife Courtney Apple, began seriously thinking about securing an investment partner in the summer of last year. Once Bain Capital Double Impact entered the picture, he quickly determined it was the right fit. Bain Capital Double Impact has acquired a majority stake in Hand in Hand for an undisclosed price. The clean personal care brand is available in roughly 15,000 doors, including at Target, Walmart, Whole Foods, Wegmans, CVS and Fresh Thyme.
Discounters & Department Stores
Following up on its promise to help Black guests feel more included, Target on Wednesday announced its commitment to spending $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025. The retail giant plans to work with over 500 Black-owned businesses to add products across different categories, according to a company press release. Target said it also intends to boost its spend with Black-owned firms in other areas such as marketing agencies, construction companies and facilities maintenance providers. Alongside the investments, Target plans to create new resources, including a program called Forward Founders to engage with Black-owned startups earlier and a team dedicated to helping its Black vendors scale their operations in mass retail.
Office and retail vacancies are up, driving rents down, but the first quarter vacancy rate at regional and super-regional malls stands out. The record 11.4% rate is a 90-basis-point jump from the previous quarter, according to Moody’s Analytics REIS. The vacancy rate at those malls is up 0.4% year over year, with asking rents down 1% and effective rents (which adds in other variables that affect occupancy cost) down 1.5%. Given the ongoing structural changes in the U.S. mall sector, that’s not likely the bottom, according to a report from Moody’s Analytics Senior Economist Thomas LaSalvia.
Although the pace of store closures has slowed from its 2019 peak, don’t expect the reprieve to last long, according to a new UBS report that suggests America still has far too much retail space per capita. At the end of last year, there were 115,000 shopping centers — a figure that includes strip centers, malls, outlet and other lifestyle centers — across the U.S., compared with 112,000 in 2010 and 90,000 in 2000, UBS found in an analysis using data from the International Council of Shopping Centers. That equates to about 59 square feet of shopping center space per U.S. household, which is slightly less than 62 square feet in 2010, UBS said. But it’s still well above the 55 square feet of space per household in 2000, and 49 square feet in 1990, analysts Michael Lasser and Jay Sole explained.
McDonald’s is closing hundreds of locations inside Walmarts, as customers increasingly shop online and opt for the drive-thru window. The big-box retailer confirmed Friday that the fast-food chain will have some 150 locations that remain across its 3,570 SuperCenters. That has gradually fallen over the years from a peak of about 1,000 locations. The closures were first reported by The Wall Street Journal. For about three decades, the two corporate giants have teamed up and made it possible for Walmart shoppers to order a burger and fries after filling up their shopping cart with groceries and other merchandise. Yet the pandemic has shaken up the way that customers prefer to shop and dine.
Emerging Consumer Companies
Bartesian, creators of the original premium cocktail maker for at-home, on-demand use, announced a $20 million Series A round of funding led by Cleveland Avenue, with participation from Stanley Ventures and existing, early investors. The Bartesian cocktail maker is a sleek and intelligent machine designed to blend seamlessly into the home and makes more than forty different cocktails in a few simple steps. The investment will enable Bartesian to accelerate its growth both domestically and internationally, scale production and expand its team. The company also announced actress Mila Kunis has joined the company’s board of advisors.
Moxie, the New York-based all-in-one online fitness studio, raised a $6.3 million “seed+” funding round led by Resolute Ventures, with participation from Bessemer Ventures, Greycroft Ventures, Gokul Rajaram and additional investors. Founded in 20202 to enable consumers to work out anytime and anywhere, Moxie allows fitness instructors to broadcast live and recorded classes, access licensed music playlists and deploy a CRM and payment tools. Classes range from $5-$25 and various subscriptions and packages are offered. Moxie had previously raised a $2.1 million seed round in October, bringing total funding to date to $8.4 million.
Grocery & Restaurants
Private equity firm Kelso & Company has acquired Ferraro Foods from another private equity firm, Kainos Capital. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Headquartered in Piscataway, NJ, Ferraro Foods is a specialty foodservice distributor primarily supplying the Italian restaurant and pizzeria segment in the Eastern United States. Ferraro sources more than 7,000 products from around the world and distributes to more than 6,000 end customers. The company’s brands include Papa Moozzi, Country Brand, Marino, Marino Soda Syrups, Mama Cucina, Napoli, Il Boun Sapore, Buonsanto, Antica Corte, Steer Ridge Platinum, Spring Red Harvest and many others. Supplier partners include General Mills, Inc., Tyson Foods, Inc., Sweet Streets Desserts and David’s Cookies. Kainos invested in Ferraro in 2018.
Amazon is opening its first grocery stores on the East Coast, the company confirmed Thursday, in the latest sign of its efforts to upend traditional supermarkets. The company plans to open two grocery stores in the Washington, D.C., area. Two other grocery stores are planned for the Philadelphia suburb of Warrington, Pennsylvania, and for Chevy Chase, Maryland. The company declined to comment on whether the four stores will be Fresh stores or when the locations will open. Since acquiring Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in 2017, Amazon has expanded its ambitions of cracking open the $900 billion U.S. grocery industry, striking fear in the likes of Walmart, Kroger and Albertsons. In addition to the Fresh stores, Amazon also operates a number of cashierless Go convenience and Go Grocery stores.
Home & Road
RH (formerly known as Restoration Hardware) finished the year strong with sales and earnings that topped analysts’ expectations, and said it expects its momentum to continue in 2021, with first-quarter sales rising 50%. The luxury home furnishings retailer also detailed its plans for the year, which include further expansion into retail, food, hospitality, spa services and homebuilding. Four new stores (or “galleries” in RH speak) are in the works for 2021, all with integrated restaurants and wine bars. The locations include Knox Street in Dallas; the Historic Bethlehem Steel Building in San Francisco; St. Johns Town Center, Jacksonville, Fla.; and RH Oak Brook, The Gallery at the Center. The company is set to begin its international expansion in 2022, with the openings of RH England and RH Paris. In nearly all cases, RH will not take on an international partner. In addition, RH will open its first “guesthouse” this fall, in New York City, followed by a second location, in Aspen, Col., that will open in fall 2022 and include the first RH Bath House & Spa. As previously reported, RH is also developing a residential community in Aspen for which it has already received “multiple unsolicited proposals to purchase the homes sight unseen,” CEO Gary Friedman wrote in his quarterly letter.
Leather upholstery and home furnishings major Natuzzi has reached a preliminary, non-binding agreement with Vietnamese manufacturer Truong Thanh Furniture Corp. to form a partnership aimed at strengthening Natuzzi’s business in the Asia-Pacific region outside China. The announcement was part of Natuzzi’s earnings release for fourth-quarter and full-year 2020. According to the proposed agreement, TTF would acquire a stake of up to 20% of Natuzzi Singapore Pte. Ltd. Natuzzi established the Natuzzi Singapore subsidiary a year ago to manage sales and distribution of furniture and upholstery products under the trademarks of the Natuzzi Group outside greater China. In 2018, Chinese manufacturer Kuka had acquired a majority 51% stake in a joint venture with Natuzzi aimed at expanding the brand’s retail network in China, Hong Kong and Macau.
BrandJump, an e-commerce sales and marketing company specializing in home furnishings and décor, has acquired the full interest in the company from initial partners and co-founders Jeff and Misty Skippon. “I’m extremely grateful for our partnership and what we’ve built together,” said Josh Walter, CEO of Brandjump. “Jeff’s presence and guidance will be missed, though I’m excited about the next chapter for our company.” Founded in 2014, the Los Angeles-based company enhances the online presence for a portfolio of brands across more than 50 retail channels such as Wayfair, Home Depot and Amazon. The company exclusively specializes in home furnishings and décor and works with manufacturers in multiple categories, including furniture, decorative lighting, textiles, outdoor living and accessories. The company started working with only a handful of companies but now partners with 25 to 30 furniture manufacturers across all five categories in the home furnishings sector.
Jewelry & Luxury
In April 2021, Montblanc will open a new “experiential flagship” in New York City—on Madison Avenue at 59th Street—which could serve as a blueprint for the company’s stores going forward. The Richemont Group–owned brand said in a statement that the 4,425-square-foot boutique “balances contemporary design and classic elegance” and promised that “at every turn, there is something surprising to discover.” The store’s decor prominently features the company logo, and its furniture was inspired in part by the art deco period when Montblanc was founded.
Seiko Watch Corp. has appointed Akio Naito as its new president, part of a larger realignment of the Tokyo-based brand. Seiko Watch Corp. encompasses the Seiko, Grand Seiko, and Credor brands. Naito, a 30-year company veteran, was previously the watch division’s deputy chief operating officer, where he oversaw the Seiko and Grand Seiko watch businesses outside of Japan. He has also served as chairman and CEO of Grand Seiko Corp. of America, where he helped establish the high-end brand in the United States.
Signet Jewelers has acquired Rocksbox, the 9-year-old jewelry subscription service that lets customers sample and possibly buy items for a monthly fee. Financial terms were not disclosed. The San Francisco–based service works like this: For a $21 monthly fee, Rocksbox sends subscribers three jewelry items each month—two they’ve picked out, and one “surprise.” Subscribers have the option to try, return, or buy those items. “Our members are able to wear [around] $150 worth of jewelry at a time at a fraction of the price of buying them,” says founder and CEO Meaghan Rose via email. “One way to think about the value proposition is, you could spend $250 to buy three pieces of jewelry and wear the same three pieces every day. Or you could spend $250 for a year membership of Rocksbox and have new styles to wear all the time.”
Designer clothes retailer Saks Fifth Avenue will stop selling animal fur by the end of fiscal year 2022, the company announced Wednesday. The elimination applies to both Saks-made fur clothing and from vendor partners both online and in stores, the company said in a statement. “Across the Saks Fifth Avenue experience, we evaluate a number of factors when making decisions about our assortment, including customer preferences and societal shifts,” Tracy Margolies, Chief Merchandising Officer for Saks, said in a statement. “We recognize that trends constantly evolve, and that the sale of fur remains a significant social issue. As such, eliminating it from our assortment is the right step for us to take at this time.”
Office & Leisure
Former Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner is getting in on the SPAC boom. Eisner disclosed that his firm The Tornante Company, which purchased trading card company Topps in 2007 for $385 million, will roll 100% of its equity into a new public entity dubbed Mudrick Capital Acquisition Corporation II. The transaction will see the return of Topps to the public markets in a deal valued at $1.3 billion. Topps will trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “TOPP.” Mudrick Capital Acquisition II, a SPAC founded by Mudrick Capital’s Jason Mudrick, will contribute $100 million to the deal. Mudrick recently rose to fame by reportedly scoring hundreds of millions of dollars in profits on debt and equity trades on AMC and GameStop during the meme stock frenzy earlier this year.
The rise of ghost kitchens in the food and beverage industry started to pick up speed during the peaks of the pandemic as a way for restaurants to continue operations. Now, the trend is continuing to build momentum throughout the hospitality industry with its next stop being at local hotels. The lodging industry was hit hard during the pandemic, but the resilient industry is poised for a strong rebound. The reality is, hotels didn’t make a staggering profit from their on-site restaurants even before the crisis because they were more of an amenity for guests; and as many of these restaurants sit vacant, hoteliers are becoming more strategic in where they focus operations and rethinking the future of food and beverage spaces. One profitable solution for both hotels and local restaurants is ghost kitchens, in which catering companies and restaurants partner and lease the underutilized space. This benefits the restaurants by providing top-of-the-line kitchens for restauranteurs to utilize and expand their customer base—whether providing more delivery and takeout options to the hotel’s guests, other nearby hotel guests seeking delivery options or local patrons in that area. In return, the hotel leases the space to ensure a stream of income, reducing a significant cost liability and concentrating its energy on more profitable aspects of the operations.
Standing a test of time, Deno’s Wonder Wheel on Coney Island is spinning again after 18 months of closure. Coney Island welcomed visitors back to its amusement attractions Friday for the first time since 2019. With limited capacity and new COVID guidelines for guests, including advanced reservations that can be made online prior to visiting the parks, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park and Luna Park have come alive once again. “Coney Island has always been a place where people have come to find comfort. To remember what it feels like to smile. We need that now more than ever,” said DJ Vourderis, the owner and operator of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. In order to make that experience not only memorable but safe, the family-owned park is adding extra layers of protection in accordance with the state’s guidelines. Some of the safety measures that the Vourderis family has added include social distancing markers, gates and plexiglass at every point of sale and food stand.
Technology & Internet
Best Buy is testing a new annual membership program that comes with perks like tech support, free shipping and extended warrantees on smartphones or other purchases. The consumer electronics retailer said in a corporate blog post Wednesday that the program is available at some stores in Iowa, Oklahoma and eastern Pennsylvania. Later this month, it will expand to stores in Minnesota, North Carolina and Tennessee. By the end of the month, it will be piloted in about 60 stores. The program, called Best Buy Beta, will cost $199.99 per year or $179.99 per year for customers who have the retailer’s credit card. With the membership program, Best Buy hopes to drive sales beyond the pandemic and win more of customers’ wallets. Best Buy’s perks are tailored to tech. Customers who join the membership program get unlimited tech support from the Geek Squad, round-the-clock concierge service, exclusive member prices on merchandise, and free installation of many appliances and products. They also get two-year warrantees on most purchases, including Apple products like iPhones.
Dopple, a New York-based e-commerce platform specialized in selling kids’ fashion subscriptions to millennial parents, has closed a $9.8 million seed round led by Bullpen Capital and Precursor Ventures, with participation from a number of other investors, including WorldQuant Ventures. Founded in 2017, Dopple delivers a quarterly “Dopple Drop” of custom-curated children’s outfits to subscribers. The company uses a machine learning styling algorithm and offers end-to-end logistics and marketing support to its portfolio of more than 200 brand partners, including Bonpoint, Stella McCartney Kids, Petit Bateau, and Janie and Jack.
Finance & Economy
Worries about sudden inflation spikes are keeping investors and economists up at night. Their concerns aren’t baseless: Inflation is indeed rising in the United States, government data for producer prices showed. The question on everyone’s mind remains: Is inflation a temporary sugar rush from stimulus or is it here to stay? The US Producer Price Index, which measures sale prices for goods and services, climbed 1% on a seasonally adjusted basis in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced. That was a steeper rise than February and greater than economists had expected. Prices for finished goods increased by the largest amount since the government started tracking that specific measure in 2009.
Consumers 18 years and older are showing increased confidence with respect to consumer behavior and are ready to pursue normal activities that have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s a prime finding of a Nielsen study regarding American consumer sentiment relating to the pandemic as well as consumer behavior. The survey looked at three segments reflecting attitudes about the pandemic: People who are “Ready to Go,” those who “Proceed with Caution” and consumers who “Wait and See” when it comes to resuming normal behavior, according to a press release. The Ready to Go segment peaked at 61% in the March 2021 survey compared with 34% in April 2020. The more pessimistic group of Wait and See consumers dropped to 9% in March 2021 compared with 29% a year ago.