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Jun 25, 2017

Under the counter

A sideways look at the world of independent retailing

You might think it odd that someone who runs a sports shop isn’t over-keen on exercise but that’s the truth, so I’d rather you kept it to yourself. It seems to me that the only advantage of exercise is that you’ll die healthier, and I go along with the comedienne Phyllis Diller, who said: “My idea of exercise is a good brisk sit.”

So when this bloke came into the shop the other day looking for get-fit equipment he could use at home, I felt the least I could do was to warn him of the consequences. “Everyone has a finite number of heartbeats and are you sure you really want to waste any of yours doing exercises?” I asked.

I said that if he was determined to start a fitness regime, he could always put up a dartboard in his shed. “Picking up the darts you’ve dropped will loosen you up no end. I think we’ve still got a board round the back that was signed by Jockey Wilson in 1987. We could let you have it for a good discount.”

A gentle walk with the dog can apparently work wonders for cardio-vascular capacity, so long as there’s somewhere outside the pub to tie him up.

The bloke said he was thinking more of a home gym, a rowing machine or even an exercise bike and could he see what we could offer? Thinking on my feet, I said that the stud walls wouldn’t support parallel bars, the local stream wasn’t deep enough for a rowing machine and we’d once had an exercise bike, but sent it back when it got a puncture.

I told him my neighbour had made a really effective exercise bike by taking the chain off his son’s mountain bike and pedalling gently while leaning against the lounge wall watching Escape to the Country.

For some reason, none of this seemed to impress the chap, who left the shop saying there was a proper sports outlet next to the pork butchers which catered for modern fitness requirements and that dinosaurs like us were doomed in the contemporary retail environment. You just can’t please some people.

Not surprisingly, my assistant Norman had been lurking about while all this was going on and couldn’t wait to put in his twopennyworth. “I have to admit he’s got a point ,” Norman said.

It wasn’t really his place to tell me how to run the shop but it seemed unfortunate that we were missing out on a health and fitness market worth £3 billion a year and 20 per cent of the population either did some home-based exercise or were thinking about it.

Norman reckoned that if we moved the counter a bit to the left and got rid of the life-size cardboard cut-out of A P McCoy winning the 2010 Grand National, we could squeeze in a display of home-fitness equipment –exercise bands, sit-up boards, hand-grips, exercise gloves… all that sort of stuff.

“I’ve got a mate who can get it on sale or return,” Norman said. “Knowing the state of the floor, I wouldn’t suggest weights or dumbbells unless we all want to end up in the cellar.”

Norman was quite right – it wasn’t his place to tell me how to run the shop but, unfortunately, he reads all this stuff in the Sunday paper business sections and does occasionally come up with something that I should have thought of but haven’t.

So I told Norman that if he liked to dream up something to attract closet fitness fanatics, which didn’t cost much or cause me personal inconvenience, that would be fine. And of course if anything worked I could always claim the credit.

In fact, I heard nothing more and presumed Norman had forgotten all about it. Then last Sunday afternoon I called at the shop just to check the toilet had finally stopped leaking and couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Everything in the shop had been pushed to one side and a dozen men and women were sitting in yoga positions on the linoleum. You could almost hear the floorjoists crying out in alarm.

Norman explained that he really had intended to ask whether it would be OK to hold a yoga class when the shop was closed at the weekend but with all the worry about what President Trump might do next, it had slipped his mind.

They had sold several yoga mats and I was welcome to a cut in the proceeds after expenses.

We’ve suspended the yoga classes until a builder has had a good look at the shop floor, but in the meantime, the fitness business is certainly looking up. I’ve had a call from that chap saying he could be interested in the dartboard and with a bit of luck we should also be able to sell him a decent set of arrows.

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