Fitness: Did you hear?

Wall Street Journal column called "Why gym memberships make me sweat," Life Fitness introduces new cross-trainers, sunken treadmills in gym, Sears' November comp store sales bleak, NSGA regional report: XC ski exercises sell in mid-atlantic but he wants fishing gear and guns in the south, SGMA enters joint venture in research business called Sports Research Partnerhip, plus much more….
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>> Did you happen to read the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 7? The Love & Money column in the business section had the headline: Why Gym Memberships Make Me Sweat. Columnist Jeff Opdyke writes about his wife's occasional insistence she need some piece of equipment or a gym membership to help her step back onto the fitness wagon. "My wife wants to start working out…again," he starts. "I say 'again' because my wife goes through these exercise phases every few years…." He continues that this time she wanted to join a gym, saying that paying the money monthly would guilt her into going. He's obviously not a fan since his second section starts with, "Personally, I've never enjoyed working out; it's mind-numbingly boring." And then he quotes others who join gyms and either go or don't go, including one who knows she doesn't go very often but likens the membership to the police or the library -- "something you always want to be there for you even if you don't use it all the time."

>> The PRO Sports Club in Bellevue, Wash., -- a ritzy gargantuan of a club with the largest membership of any health club in the country -- has upgraded its facility and added a second facility in downtown Seattle. Both clubs have been equipped with new, state-of-the-art equipment from The Nautilus Group, including a whopping 125 new StairMaster 2100LE treadmills in the two facilities, with 80 of these in the cardio room of the Bellevue club.

>> Speaking of treadmills, SNEWS was recently in Orlando, Fla., (Mickey says "hi") and saw something in a club facility we had never seen before -- sunken treadmills. The smallish fitness center at the hotel had constructed treadmill-sized pits so the tops of the treadmills were all flush with the floor. (True treads, by the way.) Kinda nifty and likely done to decrease liability since it is an unstaffed center, but what happens when the facility needs to upgrade treadmills or decides to change models? Will the pits fit different treadmills? Where did this idea come from? SNEWS has questions.

>> Frank W. Abagnale, whose exploits as a young man were recently chronicled in the movie "Catch Me If You Can," will be a featured speaker at the NSGA Management Conference & Team Dealer Summit. The conference will be May 16-19, 2004, at the Hilton Head Marriott Beach & Golf Resort, on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Abagnale is known as one of the world's most respected authorities on check fraud, embezzlement and secure documents. He has developed new procedures and created manuals and educational programs utilized by more than 14,000 financial institutions, law enforcement agencies and corporations. As portrayed in the feature film by movie star Leonardo DiCaprio, Abagnale was an international airline pilot, doctor, college professor, attorney and accomplished check forger. He turned his knowledge of fraud into a positive force when he went to work for the FBI, helping the Bureau spot forgeries and fraudulent activities. He lectures and instructs extensively at the FBI Academy and FBI field offices.

>> Life Fitness is phasing out its 9500HR, 9100 and 8500 elliptical cross-trainers with the introduction of a series of new cross-trainers at the Athletic Business Conference called the Fit Stride line, with models 95Xi, 93X and 90X. To develop these ellipticals, Life Fitness' research team, in conjunction with Concordia University, River Forest, Ill., conducted a study of the motion and, as a result, the new units have an increased stride length, a new ellipse position, refined arm motion and improved knee clearance for taller users. In addition, the pedal position is a mere 2.8 inches apart -- the closest of any elliptical trainer in the industry among machines that comply with TUV (an international standard of quality), according to Life Fitness -- to minimize any hip or back pain caused by lateral shifting of the hips.

>> Athletic footwear industry veteran Kate Bednarski has turned her focus to brand strategy, with a specialty in women's and sports marketing. Bednarski -- former president of Ryka, global marketing vice president of Avia, and global marketing director of the women's division at Nike -- now heads up her own brand strategy and design agency called Asterix Group where she is president. In 2004, the agency will be adding more women's and lifestyle brands -- particularly in the sports industry since this is where Bednarski says her professional passion and expertise is. Located in Portland, Ore., with an office in San Francisco, the agency is a year old. www.asterixgroup.com.

>> Retailers aren't alone making special offers this time of the year. The National Sporting Goods Association is offering 30 percent off all NSGA research reports purchased by Dec. 31. The offer includes: Any Sports Participation Report, The Sporting Goods Market (consumer purchases report), Brand Share reports, Team Salesmen's Compensation report, Sports Equipment Expenditures report, Sports Clothing Expenditures report, and Used Sports Equipment Purchases report. To order, call 847-296-6742, or e-mail: info@nsga.org. For descriptions of NSGA research reports, go to www.nsga.org.

>> Backing up recent retail surveys showing that high-end stores such as Sak's and Nordstrom and lower-end discounters such as Costco are doing great, leaving the middle flailing a bit is comp store sales reports from Sears for November. Sears, Roebuck and Co. (NYSE: S) has announced that comparable domestic store revenues decreased 3.6 percent for the four weeks ended Nov. 29. Total domestic store revenues were $2.5 billion for the four-week period in November 2003, down 3.2 percent compared with the four weeks ended Nov. 30, 2002. "Overall, November results were below expectations and we are disappointed that the results weren't stronger," said Sears Chairman and CEO Alan J. Lacy.

>> An analysis of regional demographics by the National Sporting Goods Association breaks down which region has a tendency to buy more of what product. The national average for a product is 100 -- any amount above or below that means significantly more or fewer sales in that region. For example, ice hockey sticks have an index of 539 in New England but metal-tip darts were a lowly 10. (SNEWS thinks the ice hockey part is a big "duh.") The most avid purchasers of sports equipment are in the Mountain States, where 29 of 39 products had indices more than 100. The least avid was in the East South Central where only 12 had more than 100. We've selected a few highlights, by region, for your entertainment: New England -- Ice hockey sticks, 539; XC ski exercisers, 241; heart rate monitors, 198. Middle Atlantic -- XC ski exercisers, 280; heart rate monitors, 177; rifles, 153; multi-purpose home gyms, 151 (Feel like working out after you've done some shooting?). East North Central -- Bowling balls, 180; elliptical/cross-trainers, 160; shotguns, 144; treadmills (motorized), 142 (Whoa, now that's some mix.). West North Central -- Metal-tip darts, 176; tents (1-2 person), 154; treadmills (motorized), 149; free weights/weight sets, 149 (Wonder what the relationship is between the darts and the two-person tent…). South Atlantic -- Fishing reels (separate), 156; free weights/weight sets, 145; fishing rod-reel combos, 141; XC ski exercisers, 141 (Beefing up and casting go together?). East South Central: Fuggedabutit. West South Central -- Shotguns, 156; metal-tip darts, 142; tennis rackets, 107; fishing rod-reel combos, 106; handguns, 105 (Bubba-land means guns and fishin'.). Mountain -- Volleyballs, 319; binoculars, 241; tents (1-2 person), 227; elliptical/cross-trainers, 216 (go figure). Pacific -- Lanterns (gas/propane), 214; bicycle helmets, 211; sleeping bags, 193; tents (3-person or more), 187 (So in California we need three-person tents but in the West North Central they do 1-2 person? Are you calling me fat? Or are they anti-social?). For more on this survey, go to www.nsga.org.

>> Sears says it knows what's hot this holiday season for gifts.During the kick-off to the shopping season Nov. 27-30, fitness equipment was the No. 4 top-selling product area, tallying both in-store and on-line sales. Nos. 1-3 were tools, DVD players and TVs.

>> Saying it has perceived a gap in research provided for the sporting goods industry, SGMA and Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS) have entered a joint venture called Sports Research Partnership (SRP), which will initially focus on team sports, fitness equipment and athletic footwear. Established in 1984, SMS has offices in 10 countries. The organization provides manufacturers with research in many sports activities. SGMA management says the research by the joint venture will fill the void for its membership as well as unaffiliated organizations. William Lawliss will join SRP as director of business development. He has extensive experience in the sporting goods industry and was founder of Sports Research Inc., a market research company that was purchased by SMS in 1998. The new firm will also offer custom research services by using the consumer panel derived from its well-known sports participation survey and online research using a panel of active sports participants for ad hoc and continued research, based on software developed by SMS for its Sporting Insights panel. For more details on Sports Research Partnership's syndicated and custom research capabilities and offerings, contact Bill Lawliss at 802-372-9099 or blawliss@sportsresearchpartnership.com, or contact SGMA's Sebastian DiCasoli at 561-840-1120 or sdsgma@aol.com, or visit www.sportsresearchpartnership.com.

>> Ms. Fitness magazine has selected the Slendertone Flex abdominal belt as its Product of the Year for 2003. We are told the belt helps improve abdominal muscle tone, strengthen abdominal muscles and develop a firmer abdomen, and that the magazine chose it because it makes "keeping New Year's resolutions easier than ever before." SNEWS View: Er, ah, where do we start? OK, we won't go there.

>> Bally Total Fitness (NYSE: BFT) has announced the appointment of Anita M. Augustine to assistant vice president of training and development. In the newly created position, Augustine will be responsible for the creation and implementation of employee courses for the company that will target employees from both fitness facilities and Bally's corporate office.

>> Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) has reported net sales for the four-week period ending Nov. 28, 2003, of $21.657 billion, an increase of 11.2 percent over the $19.471 billion in the similar period in the prior year. Sales for the 43-week period were $203.969 billion, an increase of 11.3 percent over $183.277 billion in the similar period in the prior year.

>> P.E.4LIFE, the Washington, D.C.,-advocacy group for physical education, has announced the appointment of Craig Jonas of the Jonas Group, Highlands Ranch, Colo., as the 3-year-old organization's first sponsorship development consultant. Jonas, 39, will be responsible for raising funds for the campaign to improve school-based P.E. He will also help corporate sponsors gain maximum value from association with P.E.4LIFE (www.pe4life.org). Jonas is the former executive vice president of Coach's Edge and Sportvision where he forged sales and marketing relationships with a variety of companies, from Sega to Yahoo!

>> The Sports Authority (NYSE: TSA) has announced results for its third quarter that include an increase in comp store sales of 1.7 percent partly thanks to fitness equipment and net income of $4.4 million. In addition, the company updated its guidance for fiscal year 2004 to between $2.55 and $2.60 per fully diluted share, excluding merger integration costs. The merger of Gart Sports and TSA was completed on Aug. 4, so the results for the third quarter represent the performance of the new, consolidated company, while the year ago results reflect Gart Sports Company on a stand-alone basis. Third quarter net loss of $7.7 million, or $0.31 per share, includes the effect of after-tax, merger integration costs of $12.1 million, or $0.50 per share. Excluding merger integration costs, third quarter net income was $4.4 million, or $0.17 per fully diluted share, compared with $0.11 per fully diluted share in the prior year's quarter, as reported by the former Gart Sports Company on a stand-alone basis. Total sales for the 13 weeks ended Nov. 1, 2003, increased 143 percent to $552.5 million compared with $227.8 million in the prior year's third quarter as reported by the former Gart Sports Company on a stand-alone basis. Look to changes in some departments in the next year, including fitness, where the company will embark on more private labeling and exclusivity, among other things, with most changes visible by fall 2004. For more information about this company or its financial reports, as well as to view stock prices updated every 15 minutes, visit the SNEWS® Stock Market Updates. Click on: www.snewsnet.com/cgi-bin/snews/stock_report.html.

>> According to the National Retail Federation, top gifts purchased over the kick-off weekend for holiday gift-buying season were nesting items including CDs, DVD players, home furnishings, video games and clothing items. More than 71 percent of consumers were shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, according to the third installment of the NRF 2003 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch for NRF. More than half of consumers have begun their holiday shopping, but they are not as far along as they were last year. According to the survey, the average consumer has completed 36.9 percent of his or her holiday shopping -- last year, consumers had finished 38.7 percent of their shopping by Dec. 1. While 43.3 percent of consumers visited discounters, 29.4 percent purchased from department stores and 24 percent shopped at specialty stores. Also, as expected, many consumers are choosing to shop online this year -- 31.2 percent of shoppers purchased holiday merchandise online over the weekend. NRF continues to project an increase of 5.7 percent in holiday sales this year over last year, bringing estimated revenues of $217.4 billion this holiday season.

>> And on a why-are-they-writing-about-this note: A press release from the Chocolate Manufacturers Association this week added this: "There are so many delicious and creative ways to enjoy chocolate and cocoa that it is easy to come up with just the right gift for anyone on your holiday list. Chocolate not only tastes delicious, it comes in so many varieties you can express just the right sentiment (sic)." In a series of suggestions of how to include chocolate in your gift-giving comes this: "Target the workout enthusiast with a box of sugar-free chocolate candies or sugar-free cocoa mix wrapped in a box with a T-shirt or a subscription to a fitness magazine." SNEWS View: We like chocolate but it had better be the real deal, dark as dark can be, since as the association also pointed out "chocolate continues to be valued as a special and welcome gift. Best of all, enjoyed in moderation, it can fit any healthy, active lifestyle." Sigh, the press releases that cross our desk….

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