2008 SNEWS® Fitness Retailer Survey: Full results for your eager eyes! - SNEWS

2008 SNEWS® Fitness Retailer Survey: Full results for your eager eyes!

It seems like yesterday we had to call and harass retailers to get them to belly up to the SNEWS® Fitness Retailer Survey bar to share their opinions. That is indeed so, well, yesterday. In this, our sixth-annual opportunity for retailers to share what they think about their manufacturers, about the products and about the industry and trends, we were nearly shoved off our seats as retailers poured into the website to tell us what they thought. You think we're kidding? Not only did we have respondents nearly standing in line to answer (if there were a virtual line) from the first day we sent out an email announcing the survey's gates had swung open, we had retailers who weren't even on our rather extensive email list opt in and share opinions. And, this year, so eager were our friends north of the border to be counted that we decided, after consulting with a few industry long-timers, that key Canadian specialty folks needed to be let in too. That said, how was the response? We topped last year's numbers by a whopping 20 percent, easily sliding over a 50-percent response rate.
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(Last week, we published the full results and commentary for the "best" and "most difficult" supplier questions -- which appeared in part in the new SNEWS® magazine you received in June – as well as full results of top-selling and fastest-growing category questions, plus what we heard about cardiovascular equipment categories. This week, we wrap up our survey results with the strength equipment and accessory results, as well as general store and industry insights gained from the survey.)

It seems like yesterday we had to call and harass retailers to get them to belly up to the SNEWS® Fitness Retailer Survey bar to share their opinions. That is indeed so, well, yesterday. In this, our sixth-annual opportunity for retailers to share what they think about their manufacturers, about the products and about the industry and trends, we were nearly shoved off our seats as retailers poured into the website to tell us what they thought. You think we're kidding? Not only did we have respondents nearly standing in line to answer (if there were a virtual line) from the first day we sent out an email announcing the survey's gates had swung open, we had retailers who weren't even on our rather extensive email list opt in and share opinions. And, this year, so eager were our friends north of the border to be counted that we decided, after consulting with a few industry long-timers, that key Canadian specialty folks needed to be let in too.



That said, how was the response? We topped last year's numbers by a whopping 20 percent, easily sliding over a 50-percent response rate. The overall return rate was not as high as the leap upward because we included and sent requests to participate to more retailers. Bottom line, there were a heck of a lot of very busy specialty retailers this year who took their precious time to make sure we could tell everybody what's on their minds. (For this survey we do focus on specialty.)



Remember what we say every year: We are not statisticians here. We are journalists. That means although we have used the same questionnaire for six years now and do have some fascinating comparisons, we won't ever begin to call this scientific. It's solid methodology, but not scientific. Still, these are words without hesitation from the retailers who are the heart and soul of the specialty fitness industry. They carry a lot of weight. Why? Because we are the only independent survey that isn't in any way connected to, commissioned by, done by or influenced in any way by a manufacturer, supplier or trade show management company. Retailers trust us. They speak their minds … oh boy, do they ever speak their minds. Pay attention to what they say: They represent many hundreds of doors and multi-millions of dollars in sales annually.



Remember too that only one survey (and one vote) is allowed per retail brand, whether it has one store, a dozen or several dozens storefronts. Some have argued that it's unfair to give larger retailers only one vote -- the same as the mom-and-pop in the town next door -- when the large guys do more selling. Turn the tables, though: If we gave retailers one vote PER door, the large guys would control all the results and we don't think that's fair either. Got suggestions? We're open to hearing them.



We also recognize that some suppliers actually do email campaigns these days to get their retailers to vote -- presumably for them. It's nice they think so much of this survey, but we'll betcha retailers will still vote how their heart leans no matter who asks them since they know nobody will ever see their votes.



With a sixth year under its belt, the survey now has some excellent comparative data too. We'll draw a few comparisons in our analysis of questions, but if you want to take a look at past surveys, go to www.snewsnet.com/surveys to find all the past editions to download (assuming you don't have your own rack of archival magazines and that you're a SNEWS® All Access subscriber). Starting in 2007, we only put a summary in the magazines, which includes the highly read answers to "best" supplier and "most difficult" supplier. Also, if you as a retailer were not surveyed this year and want your vote to count next year, or you just want to talk, drop a note to survey@snewsnet.com.



Above all, remember, this survey is a learning tool for the entire industry, including ourselves -- don't shoot the messenger or ignore the message. These are heartfelt responses. Read 'em and rejoice -- or weep -- but do read them and think, even when the commentary isn't just about you. Learn from what's said. Debate what's said. Argue about what's said. Above all, listen.

OVERALL

In your opinion, who is the "best" supplier in the business?

Octane Fitness --17.9%

Precor -- 16.7%

Vision Fitness -- 14.1%

Bodyguard -- 10.3%

True Fitness -- 6.4%

Inspire Fitness -- 5.1%

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Accell, BH Fitness, Bodycraft, Body-Solid, Cybex, Diamondback, Hoist, Horizon, Landice, Life Fitness, LifeSpan, Matrix, PaceMaster, Spirit, Star Trac, York.

Octane must be doing something right. The little company can't begin to keep up with most other suppliers in its size or the number of SKUs offered. Heck, after only a few years in existence, it still is "Ellipticals 'R Us." Yet, despite being small and being narrow, Octane has snuck up each year in the ratings, and then leapt with gusto last year into a first-place tie with Vision. This year? It's all about Octane. And the battle with Vision seems to have been settled -- at least for now -- with that company dropping to third as Precor regained its second place from a year earlier. This is the biggest drop Vision has experienced since its slow climb upward and since it took over first in 2006. What's interesting to note is that Vision didn't actually lose a lot more percentage points, but rather others received more votes and therefore higher percentages. We don't just mean Octane, which managed several more percentage points, but the others below that.



Take a look down the list: Bodyguard has managed a pretty significant turnaround it seems, leaping back onto the list and into a pretty grand fourth place, after falling off completely a year earlier and only managing fifth the year before that. True Fitness, which has dropped over the years, is struggling to hang onto a place on the list these days. Another huge story is Inspire, which is a bit like Octane with its niche offering and smaller number of SKUs than many suppliers. Yet, there it sits, cozily nestled into sixth place. Vision lost a fraction of a percent but still managed to stick to third spot overall.



Who is missing from the top six of the past couple of years? Hoist, Life Fitness, Body-Solid and PaceMaster. This is in fact the first year that Life Fitness didn't get on the list at all, having fallen from its No. 1 spot in 2005, to No. 3 in 2006, to No. 5 in 2007. Ouch.



Comments about the top vote-getters are also telling. In most cases, they have nothing to do with the schmantziest new products but rather are about service and responsiveness. "They are easy to deal with," said one respondent about his top choice. Over and over again, the word that rings out is "service." One respondent about Octane: "They do what they say they are going to do. They are partners with us in the business. They stand behind their products." And another wrote, "Octane views the dealer/supplier relationship as something that is long term and not with a 'what have you done for me lately' attitude. During this time as business is down, they are not adding pressure, rather they are asking how they can help us hold onto market share and survive." About Inspire we heard, "Easy to work with, prompt with delivery and good staff." And about Bodyguard, "Great customer service and dealer support."



This year, we had 22 companies named as a "best" (with one vote for "really not overwhelmed by anyone"). That's not much different from last year's naming of 23 companies, which had been up from 20 the year before and 16 the year before that. As we always ask, are more companies doing a better job and diluting the votes, or are there just more companies? The top vote-getters are definitely getting larger percentages, but more seem to be doing at least a pretty decent job.


Which supplier do you consider the "most difficult" to work with?

Nautilus -- 39.5%

Keys Fitness -- 8.6%

Life Fitness -- 7.4%

Vision Fitness -- 6.2%

Decline to comment -- 3.7%

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Cap, Cybex, Diamondback, Evo/Smooth, Horizon, Icon, Inspire, Lamar, Powertec, Precor, Prospot, SciFit, Sole, Spirit, SportsArt, Spri, True Fitness, TuffStuff, York.

One can't argue that Nautilus has taken quite a hammering at specialty -- and overall financially -- in the last couple of years. And this first place hasn't changed since we started the survey. Now, what has changed is the percentage reaped in maintaining the first-place slot: Are more folks fed up with Nautilus or has it become an easy scapegoat? Every year since our first in 2003, the company has gained more and more votes. This year the percentage dropped insignificantly (from 40.3 percent), but we had more votes to count and it actually gained a few votes. It is now so overwhelmingly considered the No. 1 "most difficult" at specialty that there isn't much of a race anymore. A few select comments: "They constantly contradict what they say they are going to do, and undercut their dealers with direct and sporting goods dealers. Their products need to be reworked. Horrible customer service, lack of information, frequent backorders;" "Everything that could be wrong with a company is right here;" "Stop acting and treating the specialty dealers as if you are doing us a favor;" and "Individual employees try, but corporate structure will not allow them to properly serve the customer."



Way down below Nautilus are a few others: Keys Fitness kept its No. 2 spot -- still with only a fraction of the vote that Nautilus had -- but that's not surprising since it has been having financial problems and in April 2008 declared Ch. 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Despite reorganizing not long ago to offer more support to retail and specialty, Life Fitness has taken another hammering and is still on the "most difficult" list, although if you look back to 2004, its percentage continues to drop: from 18 percent in 2004, to 13.8 percent in 2005, to 8.9 percent in 2006, to 7.5 percent last year (about the same as this year). That's a great trend. Vision has popped up onto the list for the first time ever -- it's actually not unusual to watch a company fall off or drop down on the "best" list, then climb up on this one at the same time. That, of course, is not a good trend. A vote of 3.7 percent is honestly lower than we might normally report, but we had to point out that respondents are getting braver about naming a "most difficult," with very few wimping out.

Again, comments focus on responsiveness. About Life Fitness, "Institutional indifference to customer support." About Keys, "Nobody knows how to help." About Vision, from a rather articulate respondent, "They continue to apply pressure to dealers to grow their business with Vision even during this downturn. To do this, dealers must decrease business with other suppliers to have an even remote shot at keeping Vision satisfied and thus being able to take advantage of the freight and pricing programs that are so important to profitability." And more about Nautilus, "Wow, what a bunch of boneheads. If they want to improve, first they have to want to improve." About others who didn't make it into the "top" group, responding retailers over and over asked for more training, better service, increased communication and quicker shipments.



Only one respondent this year gave the all-encompassing thumbs-down: "Once again, the bar is so low any number of suppliers would fit the bill." We think that's a sad statement. So everybody, whether they are on the list or not, should take heed to the underlying messages: listen, respond and react. Treat folks as you'd want to be treated.



Please rank, in order, your top-selling categories this year of all types of fitness equipment and accessories?

No. 1

Ellipticals -- 75.7%

Treadmills -- 23%

No. 2

Treadmills -- 74.3%

Ellipticals -- 20.2%

No. 3

Recumbent bikes -- 39.2%

Home gyms, traditional -- 31.1%

Home gyms, functional/cable -- 13.5%

Two years ago after watching ellipticals creep up on treadmills, we bet that ellipticals would overtake the big "T" last year. They did. Strongly. This year, they stuck there, still strongly but not quite as strongly. Treadmills still own the second spot. But there is some movement right below that. Last year, we broke apart recumbent and upright bikes as well as traditional and functional home gyms to track them separately. Recumbent bikes, as expected, sprinted ahead of uprights. Worth a look is that traditional home gyms not only fell below the recumbents, but the category also lost a good number of votes. Functional gyms are still strong and we suspect will, in the next couple of years, start gaining more sales.


What is your overall fastest-growing product category?

Ellipticals -- 59%

Home gyms, functional/cable -- 13%

Now, despite what respondents said about "top-selling" regarding ellipticals, they are themselves forecasting something interesting to come: Ellipticals are still the fastest-growing but lost just over 20 percent compared to last year. In addition, functional home gyms strongly gained the second place; we've actually never had a category of equipment gain such a strong second-place showing and we think that's something to watch. Also interesting, but not significant enough to break out as a percentage, was the votes that came in for all kinds of other categories, not just big equipment. We saw votes for whole-body vibration, kettlebells, core training and balance/stability, even exergame gear! Retailers are looking and they are open-minded.

CARDIOVASCULAR EQUIPMENT

What are your three top-selling cardiovascular equipment product categories this year in terms of overall sales?

No. 1

Ellipticals -- 72.7%

Treadmills -- 27.2%

No. 2

Treadmills -- 66.2%

Ellipticals -- 26%

No. 3

Recumbent bikes -- 79.2%

Indoor studio cycles -- 10.4%

Not surprising, ellipticals still claim No. 1 and treadmills still claim No. 2. No. 3 is again where it gets interesting. Stationary bikes usually own this one, with recumbents basically being the subset named. But this year, we again see retailers thinking outside the box a bit with enough naming indoor studio cycles for that category to claim its place in print. We think that's significant since we also believe the category has been somewhat overlooked for the right demographic.


Specify the brand names of your three top-selling treadmills.

Vision -- 12.7%

Landice -- 12%

Precor -- 9.4%

BodyGuard -- 8.5%*

True Fitness -- 8.5%*

Life Fitness --7.5%

PaceMaster -- 6.6%*

Spirit Fitness -- 6.6%*

Horizon/AFG -- 5.7%

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): BH Fitness, Body Break, BodyCraft, Bowflex, Bremshey, Cybex, Diamondback, FreeMotion, Kettler, Keys, Lamar, Leisure Works, LifeCore, LifeSpan, Matrix, Nautilus, Quantum, RedZone, Schwinn, Sole, Star Trac, Smooth/Evo, SportsArt, Tunturi.

*Although tied in overall percent, the company listed first of the two had more first- or second-place votes that bumped it above the other.

Lots to study here: Vision barely squeaked ahead of Landice to nail the top spot. Could we argue insignificance since as we said in our introduction we are not statisticians? Perhaps. Nevertheless, the vote tallies remain what they are and Vision has pulled off a remarkable feat in a very competitive category. Precor is still in third place, but its percent has dropped. PaceMaster slid way off its fourth-place mark of last year which was already off its second place the year before. What happened? Well, BodyGuard has climbed progressively, perhaps stealing some of those points, going from eighth place last year and a much lower percentage of votes. Another climber is Spirit Fitness, which wasn't even on the list of top-ranking brands the last two years! Life Fitness isn't too far off but with others climbing, it has slipped in rank. Of note is the increase in brands named -- 31 this year, compared to 24 last year and 19 the year before. If that doesn't serve to dilute votes, nothing does. But that's another story.


Specify the brand names of your three top-selling elliptical trainers.

Octane -- 18.6%

Vision Fitness -- 13%

Precor -- 12%

Spirit Fitness -- 7.5%*

Life Fitness -- 7.5%*

True Fitness -- 6.6%

SportsArt -- 5.3%

Diamondback -- 5.1%

Horizon/AFG -- 4.2%

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): BH Fitness, Body Break, BodyCraft, BodyGuard, Bremshey, Cybex, FreeMotion, Infiniti, JK Fitness, Kettler, Keys, Lamar, LifeCore, LifeSpan, Nautilus, RedZone, Schwinn, Sole, Star Trac, Smooth/Evo, Tunturi.

*Although tied in overall percent, the company listed first of the two had more first- or second-place votes that bumped it above the other.

After slowly climbing its way to the No. 1 spot two years ago in THE category to own, Octane refuses to give up the mountain. For the third year, the elliptical-only company -- a bit of an oddity, for sure -- has its claim staked out firmly. Vision snuck ahead of Precor and sits pretty as second overall. Life Fitness again lost a few points, although it remains tied for fourth place, same as last year and even with the same company (Spirit)! Spirit has also proved its jump onto the rankings last year wasn't a fluke, and Diamondback for 2007 showed it had indeed managed a bit of a turnaround after disappearing a year earlier -- with all the changes there we'll see how that shakes out in a year. True also eked its way back up a smidgen. But all smidgens need to prove themselves in subsequent years. You will note that the now-defunct Lamar brand has again surfaced, so despite going away by September 2007, it had still managed to be "best-selling" in the eyes of some. As with treadmills, brand numbers are up to 30 being named overall, compared to 28 a year earlier and 25 the year before that. When will it stop?


Specify the brand names of your three top-selling stationary cycles.

Vision --18.2%

LifeCore -- 9.4%*

Diamondback -- 9.4%*

LeMond Fitness -- 8.8%

SportsArt -- 8.6%

Life Fitness -- 5.9%

Spirit Fitness -- 5%*

True Fitness -- 5%*

Bremshey 4.8%

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): BH Fitness, Body Break, BodyGuard, Buffalo, Cybex, Expresso, FreeMotion, Horizon/AFG, Johnson, Kettler, Lamar, Multisport, Nautilus, Precor, Saris, Schwinn, Star Trac, Smooth/Evo, Trixter, Tunturi, York.

*Although tied in overall percent, the company listed first of the two had more first- or second-place votes that bumped it above the other.

Two years ago we wrote about Vision's runaway victory in this category (24.8 percent vs. 9.9 for second) and last year it hung onto the spot although SportsArt tiptoed up behind it much more closely than other competitors the year before. This year, Vision has proved it had the kick to the end, still leading with a pretty significant percentage and knocking competitors back. The real story here may be second place where LifeCore leaped from eighth place last year to a tie for second place with Diamondback (which had also been a step up for that company); LifeCore likely took this one based on its popular recumbent bike that has such a compact footprint. LeMond stayed in third behind the second-place tie, but Life Fitness dropped -- a bit of a story for that company this year. Of course, it and other companies can have some trouble climbing on such a list if they put all their eggs in the basket of one retailer since one-retailer, one-vote still rules here. Making it a threesome in cardio categories for Spirit, it is now on this list too. A couple of points that are visible by the numbers: Although we ask retailers to name whether the brand they are naming as top-selling is recumbent or upright for them (and this year we also asked to tell us if it were a "studio cycle"), not all do. Still, recumbents seem to dominate. OK, no real surprise there. What was of interest were both the indoor cycles or interactive game cycles that were mentioned, such as Saris, Trixter and Expresso. Two years ago that would have been unthinkable. Last year, Trixter was named. But we at SNEWS® have always said there was more to this indoor cycle category, not to mention exergaming/interactivity, and perhaps that is catching hold at retail. We'll wait to see how this develops in the next few years.


STRENGTH-TRAINING EQUIPMENT

What are your three top-selling strength equipment categories this year?

No. 1

Home gyms, traditional – 59.1%

Home gyms, functional/cable – 23.9%

No. 2

Home gyms, functional/cable – 28.2%

Home gyms, traditional – 21.1%

Smith systems/racks – 15.5%

Benches -- 15.5%

No. 3

Smith systems/racks – 32.4%

Benches – 23.9%

Like last year, when we first split “home gyms” into two categories (traditional and functional/cable), the overwhelming top vote for home gyms was divided between the two. However, this year traditional gyms have lost a few ticks, and functional/cable gyms have gained a smidgen. We believe that category will start to gain a few more. In second place, functional/cable gyms topped the heap over traditional gyms, BUT by fewer votes. If you add up the two gym categories, gyms overall were less popular as the second-best selling category, with Smith systems and benches picking up more votes. For our third spot, Smith still takes the prize but, again, less overwhelmingly. We only mention benches as a runner-up, but when we drilled down, we found that other categories also received votes—not a lot of votes, but enough to dilute the top spots. Multi-weight, adjustable dumbbells fared well, and for the first year kettlebells received votes too.


Specify the brand names of your three top-selling home gyms.



Inspire -- 15.6%

Body-Solid – 12%

TuffStuff – 10%

Hoist – 9.4%

Vectra – 8.9%

BodyCraft – 8.5%

Precor – 5.3%

Torque – 4.7%

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Batca, Bowflex/Nautilus, Cybex, Eurosport, FreeMotion, Keys, Lamar, Northern Lights, Paramount, Powertec, Prospot, TASK, Vision, York.

Two companies in the last year have done an Olympic hurdle over the other brands to rise to the top 2 spots. Inspire Fitness, only on the market since late ’05, went straight to the top after only its first appearance on the list in 2007. Can’t shake a stick at that gold-medal feat. Body-Solid, not exactly a newcomer, went from an also-ran two years ago to 5th place last year to 2nd place in this year’s results. A newcomer and a long-timer – quite the pair to take the category by storm. Although farther down, we still must point out another newcomer, Torque Fitness, which managed enough votes to creep onto the bottom of our list from nowhere. OK, so what other companies gained and lost points? Hoist Fitness took a bit of a dive from holding the 1st-place spot the last two years. The biggest losses, however, came from Precor, which saw its share drop by nearly half. Also, Life Fitness lost enough to fall off the list, though two years ago it was in 2nd place overall. Nautilus is also lost in the fray – such a pity as one of the venerable brand names. As we have acknowledged, the large companies may have a slight disadvantage in our survey because we stand by “one dealer, one vote,” meaning if they are with one large “national” or regional dealer, their possible count could be limited. On the other hand, smaller companies don’t have the number of dealers. Is it a wash? Maybe. One could twist and turn on that for many hours, but long story short, if the top guns weren’t doing something right, they wouldn’t be where they are.


Specify the brand names of your three top-selling free-weight equipment brands.

Body-Solid – 19.1%

Hoist Fitness – 10%

TuffStuff – 7.8%

Keys Fitness – 6.4%

Life Fitness -- 4.2%

York – 4%*

Powertec – 4%*

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Ader, Atlantis, Bowflex/Nautilus, BodyCraft, Cap, Cybex, Deltech, Eurosport, FreeMotion, Hampton, Inspire, Lamar, Legend, Magnum, Marcy, Matrix, Northern Lights, Stamina, Star Trac, PowerBlock, Precor, Prospot, Stamina, TASK, TDS, Titan, TKO, Torque, Troy/USA, Vectra,



*Although tied in overall percent, the company listed first of the two had more first- or second-place votes that bumped it above the other.

In all our years, we have never seen an exact repeat from one year to the next like this: The top four spots are exactly the same as last year, although Body-Solid gained significant percentage points – about the same number that Hoist lost, for whatever that’s worth – and both TuffStuff and Keys lost a few. Life Fitness lost a couple but others lost more, allowing it to move up a couple of slots. But the point totals between Life, York and Powertec are so close that we would go so far as to call it insignificant (if we were statisticians, which we aren’t!). Overall, the biggest kudos must go to Body-Solid which has been climbing steadily the last couple of years. The number of brands named went from 28 last year to a whopping 36 this year, although we note that a couple do come from our friends north of the border.

ACCESSORIES

What are your top-selling accessory categories?

1. Stability balls

2. Mats/flooring

3. Stretch tubing

4. Medicine balls

5. Weight attachments

Though most retailers carry some semblance of accessories, what they are selling varies widely. Sure, balls and flooring are no-brainers. Pretty much everybody sells those since they practically sell themselves. We found it interesting that medicine balls gained more votes this year; they take some work or perhaps a targeted audience. But particularly interesting to us were the retailers who named things like heart-rate monitors, balance boards, BOSUs and kettlebells as one of their top-selling accessory categories. A smattering for sure, but this indicates to us that these retailers take the time to offer service and education to customers since BOSUs and balance boards don’t usually walk out of the door on their own. Anything call sell if the retailer makes and effort to stock it and sell it, including less traditional stuff like agility devices, weight and body-fat scales, yoga mats and Pilates kits – all of which were indeed mentioned by a few.


Specify the brand names of your three top-selling accessory brands.

Spri Products – 18.7%

GoFit – 8.4%*

TKO – 8.4%*

Polar – 3.3%*

Body-Solid – 3.3%*

Cap Barbell – 3.1%

Sissel – 2.9%*

BOSU – 2.9%*

Valeo – 2.7%

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Ader, Aeromat, All Pro, Altus, Apollo, CardioSport, Danskin, Eurosport, Everlast, FitBall/Gymnic/BallDynamics, Fitness Wholesale, Fundamental Fitness, Grizzly, Hampton, Harbinger, Humane, Jasmine, Keys/Ironman, Lifeline, Power Systems, Raw Power, Schiek, SIL, Stott, Supermats, Teeter, Theraband, Troy/USA, York, Ziva and various private labels.

*Although tied in overall percent, the company listed first of the two had more first- or second-place votes that bumped it above the other.

The domination of this category in the last few years by Spri Products is so overwhelming that others are left to scrabble over the leftovers. Last year survey respondents mention a whopping 44 brands, but thankfully, this year the number dropped to 43. That’s a lot of balls, mats, boards, and ropes being hawked, so Spri must be doing something right. But do we dare say there may be a chink in Spri’s armor? Despite flat-out domination, Spri lost a few points, and GoFit jumped from 6th (and 4.8 percent) to a solid 2nd, up from an also-ran two years ago. There must be something going on there. And TKO still hits the top of the list despite bankruptcies, moves and personnel changes in the last couple of years. Gone off the list is Troy/USA and Harbinger, while added to the top list in a strong position is Body-Solid.


Do you carry flexibility or stretching products?

Even fewer this year compared to last said they bothered with stuff to stretch – 72.6 percent overall. Named were the Precor Stretch Trainer, LifeSpan Stretch Partner, Spri, Stretchmate, Teeter, as well as odds ‘n ends bands and ropes. Those who didn’t said there was no demand or they didn’t want to take up the floor space with it. However, a couple of retailers said they’d never thought about it, while others said the survey question would prompt them look into it. This is another category that requires education and true salesmanship, so unless the staff knows it stuff, the items will likely just sit around. Make a commitment before you floor it.


Do you carry kettlebells?

Every year – and sometimes for a few years running – we toss in a question about a new category or product. Last year we asked about kettlebells for the first time, and there has indeed been a big shift: This year 76 percent said they carried them, more than triple last year’s 21 percent! We commented last year it wasn’t a high percentage … “yet.” And, as forecast, it’s way up. No one brand has truly dominated, although GoFit earned more mentions that others, while Body-Solid and Spri earned their share too. Mark our words, this category will continue to grow. Will it pay the rent? Nope. But it will be a nice add-on sale if, as above with stretch products, sales staff is educated and can sell them.

GENERAL STORE / CUSTOMER INFORMATION

What is the average age of your customer?

Ok, so we’ll stop harping about big opportunities with the aging consumer. Last year, about half said the customer’s age was 35-44, and this year responses were about the same – 49.5 percent. The only difference was that the percent attributed to the 45-54 age group went up by a few ticks. And ohmigosh we actually have a few who noted 55-64 as the average age. Again, we give kudos to those who say they have no idea… Honesty gets you someplace … although we’re not really sure where.


How were your sales for 2007 compared to 2006?

Up between 1% - 5% -- 6.5%

Up between 6% - 10% -- 19.5%

Up between 11% - 16% -- 6.5%

Way up! (more than 16%) – 5.2%

Down between 1% - 5% -- 18.2%

Down between 6% - 10% -- 11.7%

Down between 11% - 16% -- 10.4%

Way down (ouch) – 7.8%

Even – 7.8%

Oh boy. What can we say? Oh boy…. In sum, we have 40.8 percent saying their business was up in some way, even the smallest smidgen (including some answers from the “other” category we counted as “up” answers), and we have about 50 percent saying it’s down at some percent, including a few who admitted to “way down,” see above. Let’s track that with the previous two years: For 2005, eight of 10 said “up;” for 2006, six of 10 said up; for 2007, about four of 10 say “up.” Do we see a depressing and descending pattern here? Even those who called it “even” were down by nearly half. In the “other” category we did have one gleeful retailer gloating about business being up 150 percent. We’ll have to ask about what he was selling. In last year’s survey covering 2006, most didn’t seem panicked, blaming the downswing on gas and housing, and a number expressed optimism. Not so this year. There seems to be an overriding pessimism. We just hope the industry can pull itself up by its bootstraps and instead of wallowing in misery figure out what it can do to change, promote and perhaps collaborate on the ideas that can help the entire industry float a bit higher.

BELLY-BUTTON PONDERING

What categories are you considering carrying, expanding or learning more about in the next year?

We can’t say there was a consensus on this, although there were a few categories that were mentioned a few times. What we can say is that the retailers, as we mentioned earlier, seem to be open to something new. We had a higher number of mentions of whole-body vibration and those devices as something of interest. But here are a few items mentioned (note the diversity!): swing sets, saunas, outdoor furniture, bicycles, stability and core products, natural/organic yoga equipment and instructional DVDs, youth fitness, interactive games, higher price point gyms (interesting variation on an answer), what SNEWS® has called “A-trainers” (those hybrid elliptical/ascent/hiker pieces), accessories in general, rowers (actually several said there was increased demand), and kettlebells “because everybody wants them.”

Then there are the pessimists: “Nothing really new to consider” and “I do not see a lot of innovative products.” Of course there are bigger thinkers. At least one indicated he/she was interested in expanding into a broader-based “fitness” concept that included running shoes, walking poles, outdoor bikes and inline skates. We are impressed with what folks are considering since out-of-the-box thinking will certainly help them stay alive.


What one thing could your suppliers do to help the two of you do better business together?

We asked for an earful and we got an earful. With the breadth of the insights, we can’t begin to summarize them all here, but we did a loose count and found that a third of respondents mentioned the need for more promotion, marketing and advertising in some way. This didn’t just mean a local newspaper ad, although some did mention the need for more co-op dollars. A good number put out a call (or, shall we say, plea) for more collaborative advertising to the consumer to simply build more awareness of fitness, of specialty retail and of working out for health. “Better marketing programs geared to getting people to work out at home.” “Increase suppliers marketing budgets to build their brand names like other small companies did such as Under Armour.” “They could do a better job marketing the industry as a whole to build awareness.”

We had a few mention increased pressure by some vendors and another plea to be a partner and not dictate the business, as well as to please get off their backs: “…stop trying to put (your) dealer network out of business…and stop trying to undermine the dealer network.” “Realize we are all partners working for the same goal.” Two other simple words reiterated over and over: “communicate” and “listen.” Gee, sounds like the basis of a good marriage, which is I suppose what a supplier-dealer partnership should be like!

If you haven’t made note of some discussion on SNEWS® about some interest in more collaboration in the industry, click here to see that discussion, and then don’t miss our 4th Annual SNEWS Fitness Forum at the 2008 Health & Fitness Business Show on that very topic, Friday July 18, 9 a.m. on the show floor. Click here to read more about that.

Note: Scroll down to click on the Forum below to chime in on the “one dealer, one vote” discussion regarding the survey tallying.

 THE FINE PRINT

>> Our methodology: On April 1, we sent emails to our long list of retailers around the country, big and small, new and well-established, in small towns and in the biggest cities. We asked them to go to a secure website run by a third-party survey provider and take our personally designed survey. We reminded retailers frequently on the survey that we were looking for comments and votes related to the previous calendar year, 2007. We also do not influence votes by offering lists of brand names from which retailers chose; rather, we asked a question and let respondents write-in their choices. For laggards, we sent a couple of reminders during the month of April and published a reminder story in SNEWS® to not forget to vote. After five weeks, we shut the survey's doors so we could get to tallying.

>> All answers have been rounded up to the nearest 0.5 percent, and since we don't name every single company name or category with a percent, the percentages may not total 100 percent.

>> Note: The SNEWS® Retailer Survey may not be reproduced for redistribution of any kind, in whole or part, including for promotional or sales purposes of any kind, to consumers or the trade, without the written consent of SNEWS®. Contact SNEWS® at survey@snewsnet.com for reprint details and restrictions.

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