New York City’s Kettlebell Shortage: ‘People Are Kind of Freaking Out’

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In Syracuse, N.Y., one exercise equipment store’s sales skyrocketed more than 600 percent in a couple days. At online retailers like eBay, Amazon and Walmart, some equipment, if not on a three-week waiting list, is being sold at markups as high as 150 percent. In Brooklyn, a man ordered kettlebells — twice. Each time they were delivered, someone stole the package before he could get to it.

When the coronavirus forced Americans indoors — out of offices, away from grocery stores and off public transit — gyms under went an economy-rattling shift.

Suddenly fitness enthusiasts were forced to reimagine not only where they could work out, but how. People snapped up benches, resistance bands, dumbbells and kettlebells. In New York, the demand led to a citywide shortage of workout equipment.

“People are kind of freaking out,” said Jahkeen Washington, co-owner of JTW Fit, a boutique gym in Central Harlem. “They feel like all of the hard work they’ve been putting in for so long is at risk of going to waste.”

Mr. Washington, 35, and Thomas Boatswain, 36, opened JTW Fit last summer and had about 300 regular clients when the coronavirus forced New York into lockdown in early March.

After the stay-at-home order was put in place, the two began holding virtual workout sessions. But clients would need to supply their own basic equipment.

The problem? Basic workout equipment was all but impossible to find.

“I did not see this coming,” said Meron Tamrat, 32, a Harlem resident and JTW Fit client. She purchased a dumbbell and kettlebell immediately after the stay-at-home order was announced in March. But a few weeks later, when she needed more weights, she hit a dead end. “Everything was just gone.” she said.

ImageJTW Fit clients were struggling to find weights, so the gym began renting them out.
JTW Fit clients were struggling to find weights, so the gym began renting them out.Credit…Brittainy Newman/The New York Times

Ms. Tamrat wasn’t alone.

So many JTW Fit clients struggled to find kettlebells and dumbbells that the gym began renting them out.

“It’s pandemonium,” said Ed Pryst, the chief sales officer of Gym Source, a New Jersey-based workout equipment retailer with several offices in New York. “I’ve been in the business for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

In recent weeks, Mr. Pryst said, when he visited closed Gym Source locations in New York preparing for reopening, he would encounter passers-by tapping on the storefront glass, asking about kettlebells.

An April study of consumer interests by Yelp, the local search and reviewing site, found that interest in fitness equipment had risen by 500 percent in the United States since March.

In March, a study of e-commerce trends by Stackline, an analytics firm, found “weight training” to be the eighth-fastest growing category — ahead of milk, paper towels, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

The unforeseen swell in demand caused headaches for every tentacle of the fitness ecosystem, from equipment manufacturers and retailers to fitness professionals and gym goers.

And while all kinds of equipment has been hard to come by, the most difficult item to find, in New York or elsewhere, is a kettlebell.

On the Dick’s Sporting Goods website in May, kettlebells — iron, weighted balls with handles attached — were not available within 100 miles of New York City. For months, the Gym Source website has stated that kettlebells are “currently unavailable due to high demand.”

Kettlebells — which are valued for their versatility and used in endurance, cardiovascular and weight training — are so hard to come by some New Yorkers have paid mysterious vendors nearly $400 for one set, more than four times what the average kettlebell cost two months ago.

GQ Magazine has coined the current equipment epoch “The Great Kettlebell Shortage of 2020.”

Like most of American fitness equipment, kettlebells have for decades been forged in Chinese factories; most of which have been shut down as a result of the coronavirus.

The shutdown overseas created a bottleneck in the kettlebell supply chain. The shortage is a problem, factory workers said, that could have been prevented were the U.S. not so reliant on foreign manufacturing and iron production.

“Over the past 30, 35 years, there has been a concerted effort to take foundry work to Asia,” said Richard Jefferson, vice-president of marketing and communications for the American Foundry Society.

There are more than 3,000 foundries that work with the iron needed to create kettlebells, but their efforts almost wholly go to larger industrial items like car parts or iron gates.


After the stay-at-home order was put in place, Mr. Washington and his business partner began holding virtual workout sessions.Credit…Brittainy Newman/The New York Times

Consumer goods like kettlebells have become the domain of foreign foundries that are able to mass produce goods at a cheaper price.

“It’s devastating to our economy,” said Thomas Lucchetti, the owner of Cumberland Foundry in Rhode Island company, which has been one of the few American foundries able to step in and make kettlebells.

In March, as demand grew out of control and with no access to their foreign supplier, Rogue Fitness, one of the nation’s largest retailers of workout equipment. called Cumberland, a shop with less than 50 workers, to fill their growing need for tens of thousands of kettlebells.

The process of equipping a foundry to make a new product is expensive and time consuming. In the case of a kettlebell, a design mold of the equipment has to be created, which can sometimes cost up to $100,000. Then a foundry must equip itself with the necessary materials (for a kettlebell, gray cast iron) and possibly, special machinery.

The process, Mr. Lucchetti said, typically takes three months. Cumberland, however, had worked with a smaller gym that had gone through a similar experience during the 2008 financial crisis, making the company uniquely prepared when Rogue called.

Since then, the shop has been churning out about 40 kettlebells a day, the most Cumberland workers can do while still handling their regular workload. It is still not enough to satisfy demand.

Despite the steady business from kettlebells in the short term, Mr. Lucchetti said he was not planning on them becoming a permanent part of his business, nor was he expecting companies like Rogue to stay with him once Chinese factories opened back up.

“There’s a demand for it now, but how long is that going to last?” Mr. Lucchetti asked. “When people go back to gyms and the craze is over, is all of this worth it?”