Great Lakes Castings, in Ludington, Michigan, manufactured hand weights for the Meijer Active brand.
As gyms in most states struggled to stay open at the height of the pandemic, Midwestern retailer Meijer created a Michigan-made solution to bolster supply and address the more than 300% increase in demand that its stores were seeing as shoppers enhanced their home gyms.
Port Washington, New York-based-The NPD Group reported in May 2020 that fitness equipment like kettlebells, hand weights and dumbbells became hot sellers during lockdown, propelling a 130%-plus rise in fitness equipment sales and all of its categories, including cardio machines, free-weight equipment, home gym weight machines, strength-training products, and yoga and Pilates essentials. That demand in home exercise equipment continued its rapid growth in that third quarter, with sales up nearly double over the same period last year.
"Millions of people were suddenly staying at home and looking for ways to exercise, creating a demand that all retailers were trying to address," said Scott Schuette, team sports and fitness buyer for Meijer. "We realized finding the right partners locally was key to shortening our supply chain and help customers find all the accessories needed for their home gym solutions."
Schuette began calling local foundries in the state and choose Great Lakes Castings, in Ludington, to manufacture hand weights for its Meijer Active brand. Planning with the 75-year-old company began in the spring, and it was quickly able to engineer 3D mold patterns, source local materials and begin the process of pouring test designs at its northern Michigan foundry.
By August, the partnership added Grand Haven Power Coating to the finishing process and piloted a program at 14 Grand Rapids, Michigan-area stores. The entire stock of more than 500 cast-iron hand weights sold out in 10 days. The decision to fast-track the program due to gym closures enabled Great Lakes Casting and Grand Haven Power Coating to expand to three shifts to achieve the production schedule for steadily increasing distribution of Meijer Active hand weights to more stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
"This partnership has created a new way for us to pursue opportunities as we enhance our capabilities to fit the reshoring needs of businesses that traditionally work with countries outside the United States," said Great Lakes Castings President and CEO Rob Killips. "The average consumer would not recognize where our castings are used, so we are incredibly proud to step up and manufacture a product that so many people can use."
Killips added that the "Made in Michigan" extension includes product sourcing of all sand used for the molds, which comes from a processing plant in Muskegon, while all of the steel poured for the Meijer Active hand weights comes from various regional scrap suppliers. Great Lakes Casting is also one of the first foundries in the United States to use recycled product and reuse its sand in a continued effort to reduce waste streams.
In addition to yoga mats, resistance bands, exercise straps, medicine balls and a whole array of fitness items that saw unprecedented growth last year, the complete line of Meijer Active hand weights is now available at Meijer supercenters in 10-, 15- , 20- and 25-pound versions, and is expected to continue to to sell briskly. In 2020, the retailer sold nearly 1.5 million pieces of fitness accessories.
"Our teams worked tirelessly to create an incredibly short supply chain, and that is starting to make a real difference in keeping shelves stocked with fitness equipment," Schuette said.
Meijer is no stranger to supporting Midwestern businesses to seek locally sourced products. The retailer said in mid-January that it would host its first virtual Localization Summit, giving area businesses across the retailer's six-state footprint the opportunity to showcase their offerings to Meijer merchants.
Grand Rapids-based Meijer operates more than 256 supercenters and grocery stores throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin. The company is No. 19 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer's 2020 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.