FIBO fitness show boasts record numbers, but volcanic cloud casts shadow on attendance

The annual FIBO commercial fitness show in Germany had its attendance dampened a bit with the ill-timed volcanic eruption in Iceland, but the show must go on -- even if some didn’t make it or slipped in late.
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Despite clouds of randomly floating volcanic ash shutting down most of the European skies just as the FIBO fitness show in Germany was ready to kick open its doors, the show boasted afterward of a new attendance record.

But that was called into question by those SNEWS® spoke to and emailed with during and after the show, all of whom spoke of slow traffic on the first two trade-exclusive days April 22-23, then of jammed aisles on the last two days April 24-25 when the doors swung open for local deal-seeking consumers.

That’s not to say the meetings didn’t remain “quality,” as several put it. Still, many non-Europeans, including many Americans and Asians, scrambled to find replacements for their cancelled flights and either arrived late at the show or just gave up and stayed home. Some European attendees just got in their cars and drove for 10 or 12 hours to get there, in the process also paring down those they had intended to bring.

Frustrating, for many, for sure: One attendee told SNEWS the Asian supplier section for manufacturers seeking customers was smattered with empty booths where a FIBO show representative sat to tell passers-by the intended exhibitor couldn’t make it.

Jason Lo, CEO of Johnson Health Tech in China, had to re-route through various cities and ended up driving in from a different country late Friday. Buell Ish, of Vectra Fitness, who pestered the airlines enough to sneak his way onto a later flight, said his company’s Israeli customer rerouted to Zurich then drove the 300 miles to the show in Essen. Scott McDonald of Body Solid, as well as U.S. GoFit representatives, just stayed home.

“Unfortunately, with the volcano situation, our crew is not going to be able to go to FIBO this year,” McDonald said prior to the show. “We were scheduled to fly out yesterday, and once that flight was cancelled, it is impossible to get anything more out until after the show. We are ending up staffing the booth with our local distributors.”

Darren Piggins, president of CardioGym and Avanti Fitness, fought his way in from Australia, slipping in before the ash cloud hit the crisis stage that shut down many airports. He reported during setup many exhibitors were grousing about the show not being postponed -- certainly not an easy task so late before such a huge event.

“We started setting up today and I can tell you a lot of exhibitors were not happy the show was not postponed,” Piggins reported from Germany to SNEWS, less than two days before the show opened. “The hotel that we are staying at said they had a heap of cancellations. This is the closest hotel to the exhibition halls and it is (the show’s) first preference, yet the car park isn’t even half-full.”

Attendance up?

Grousing aside, FIBO management gloated post-show that it had a 5.3 percent jump in attendees to 53,200, which includes all visitors, whether trade or consumer. (In Europe, shows count “one” attendee each day he comes to the show, so one person who came three days would count as three.) In addition, the show had 560 exhibitors from 36 countries announced as registered prior to the show, or an 8.3 percent increase over 2009 -- nobody subtracted no-shows or pared-back exhibits afterward. And rumors circulated that FIBO representatives spread out around town to hand out free passes to the public for the weekend consumer days, apparently in one effort to boost numbers for the 25th anniversary show.

“It just seemed quiet in a lot of booths -- both in the people working there and in the customers,” said Chris Adsit, strength product manager at Matrix Fitness, who managed to get there on a Lufthansa flight, while his boss Mark Zabel found his Delta flight didn’t carry the clout and ended up staying home.

“Attendance was definitely down from the previous years,” Adsit added, “no doubt about it.”

Vectra’s Ish said there was a “significant absence,” but mostly among smaller companies since larger companies had local distributors who could pull in to manage things. Some of the dozen or more brands that were said not to have made it eventually did make it but not until late on the second day of the show.

“People were arriving, but a day or two later than planned,” Ish said.

Spirits still high

According to FIBO’s director Olaf Tomscheit, it was a fitting show for the anniversary. “We felt none of the possible aftermath of the economic crisis, and hardly any of the feared effects of the flight ban which had been lifted two days before the trade show opened and only interfered with the participants’ travel to the trade show in a few individual cases,” he said in a statement.

A so-called “Industry Barometer” poll conducted every year among the trade at the show by an independent market research firm indicated an increase in demand for fitness and health products. Almost 60 percent of the more than 700 companies interviewed expect a further noticeable increase in the demand. Only 15 percent expect demand to stagnate or even decline. A further 25 percent expect the industry to continue stable.

A strong secondary market to the classic gym fitness market is growing very strongly, the poll found. For almost 25 percent of FIBO trade visitors, the topics of physical therapy and rehabilitation are almost top of the list. Although commercial equipment for fitness clubs and studios continues to rank first in importance, PT and rehab are second, while “wellness” follows in third. In fact, the show reported that almost 20 percent of FIBO trade visitors came from the medical market, including physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Another strong message noted was technology’s influence on the strength product sector. Where in the past improvements and trends meant new designs and features in strength products, Adsit noticed that more companies were adding technological features like tracking and coaching screens, larger LCD screens and other computerized touches to strength pieces. But cardio wasn’t without: Large screen projections of heart-rate monitoring, for example, a part of Matrix’s Kranking area, drew large crowds, as did anything that was live, visual and dynamic. Technogym had live web browsers in its cardio equipment’s touch screens. X-Force out of Sweden, shown for the first time in the United States at the IHRSA 2009 show (click here for a video of the equipment as a part of a 2009 SNEWS story), was still pushing strongly.

As usual, there was a strong contingent of supplements at the show plus ongoing shows including pole dancing, jump rope, dancing and Zumba, as well as parkour and freerunning.

The show’s annual “Innovation Awards” were also bestowed in a ceremony April 25 (Click here to read an April 21, 2010, SNEWS story about the three finalists in each category, including links to their websites and photos). The winner in the Training Equipment category was Core Circuit by Proxowell; in the Health Promotion category, the winner was Aipermom with its device that records and analyzes workout information; in the category called Concepts, milon industry’s software system that assists trainers also won. In the special Design category, the winner was SVG Medizinsysteme with its Premion line of products with unique shapes and color schemes. For additional information, click here

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In 2011, the show (www.fibo.de) will be April 14-17 in Essen, Germany.

--Therese Iknoian

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