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Tampa Bay, where have all the dumbbells gone?

Stuck at home, perhaps leery of re-opened gyms, we’re buying exercise equipment like toilet paper in a pandemic.

The call went out recently through some South Tampa neighborhoods:

Where have all the dumbbells gone?

On the Next Door website, Rachelle Arnold told neighbors she was on the hunt for 50-pound dumbbells a college student needed for workouts. But a trip to the used sports equipment store was a bust.

"The 50s are a true unicorn right now,” she said. Another woman similarly searching chimed in: "They are impossible to find!”

Welcome to trying to stay in shape in the time of the coronavirus.

When the shutdowns started earlier this year, Americans scrambled for workout equipment so they could stay fit while hunkered down at home.

Yelp reported in March that gym closures led to a 344 percent increase in interest in home fitness products. Stackline, a retail intelligence and software company, ranked weight-training as the eighth fastest growing category in e-commerce.

Some people wanted a modest start — a stationary bike, treadmill or weight bench. Others were ready to spend thousands for an all-out home gym.

Crazy-big demand, meet pandemic-withered supply.

“We started getting calls for lots of equipment pretty much as soon as this whole thing started,” said John Spayd, manager at Southeastern Fitness Equipment in Tampa, which sells commercial-grade home gym products and gyms for hotels and apartment complexes.

“We could have done probably four times the amount of business if we could get the equipment in,” he said.

At Bandit Fitness Equipment in Largo, in business nearly 30 years, there’s a joke around the office over the past couple of months: “If we’d stocked up on 30-, 35-pound dumbbells, we’d be able to retire,” said sales manager Jake Rogers.

 A floor model set of dumbbells made by Body-Solid can be seen at Bandit Fitness Equipment, Largo, Wednesday, September 23, 2020.   The floor model set is the last set in the store. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased sales of at home workout equipment.
A floor model set of dumbbells made by Body-Solid can be seen at Bandit Fitness Equipment, Largo, Wednesday, September 23, 2020. The floor model set is the last set in the store. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased sales of at home workout equipment. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Supply chain problems that have dogged other consumer goods — randomly making hand soap, canned peas and soup scarce on store shelves — also hit the workout industry.

Initially, factories were shuttered in China, and a complex supply chain continues to feel the effects of the pandemic. Once equipment gets to port here, “it takes twice as long to get across the country,” Rogers said.

Local dealers say dumbbells and plates — those flat, heavy objects used in combination with weights — are especially hard to get and keep in stock.

“We’ve had orders in for dumbbells for probably three months,” said Spayd. “We can’t get them.”

“It is frustrating as can be,” said Rogers. “We’ve talked to all of our main vendors, our secondary vendors, everyone in the industry.”

At Fitness Trendz USA in Tampa near the state fairgrounds, they’re mostly having trouble getting kettlebells and bumper plates for weightlifting.

“A lot of of them are made in China, and the supply chain is coming really slow,” said owner Kevin Donofrio. “They’re talking about October, November before they come in.”

A dearth of kettlebells — described by Kettlebells USA as a round dumbbell or free weight that looks like a cannonball with a handle — was lamented in an April piece in GQ beneath the headline Inside the Great Kettlebell Shortage of 2020.

How often do retailers have to tell customers they can’t get it right now?

“Every day,” Rogers said. “We tell them it’s going to be a couple of months, or I don’t have an ETA from the vendor right now.”

He said some “entry-level cardio equipment” — fold-up treadmills, bikes and ellipticals — are getting harder to get quickly, too.

And sometimes customers ready to spend big bucks for home gyms are not willing to wait.

“People call, and they’ll say they want this $10,000 home gym,” said Spayd. But when they learn it could take 10 weeks, the sale is gone.

Some local companies have tried to accommodate the demand by trying to acquire pre-owned equipment.

“We’ve been doing partial orders, split deliveries, trying to get people something so they can start working out,” Rogers said.

Dealers also have heard of people making home gyms out of backyard sheds from Home Depot and tossing around heavy logs or old kegs — "people being really MacGyver,” Rogers said.

In South Tampa, those online 50-pound dumbbell seekers got advice, a couple of sightings, an offer from a local gym and someone who had a pair of “not brand new at all” 35-pounders she was willing to donate to the cause.

There was also this suggestion: “Bulky, but a 5 gallon jug of water weighs about 42 lbs," wrote an enterprising neighbor. "If he really needs 50 lbs then you could attach something weighing about 8 lbs to it.”

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