Fitness: Did you hear?...

German sporting goods sales plummet in February, SportsArt launches separate commercial/retail divisions, fitness helps push Sears sales up, Congress says if you're fat you have no one to blame but yourself, and much more…
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>> GERMANY -- Sales at sporting goods stores for February compared to February a year ago were down a whopping 13 percent in Germany, based on a survey of 89 representative stores by the German trade magazine sport+mode. Comparing the first two months of this year to the same period last year, sales were down 6 percent overall, compared to having been up 10.5 percent the previous year's same period.

>> SportsArt America has officially launched truly separate commercial and retail divisions with Lee Guthrie being named as the director of commercial development. Brian Davidson has also been promoted to national sales manager, and Jim Philbrick has been named northwest regional commercial manager. "The net result is that we will be more aggressive from a direct club-selling standpoint," said Scott Logan, director of marketing, "and we will also be more aggressive in seeking out better commercial dealers."

>> After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 3, shoe retailer Footstar Inc. announced two days later that it will close 165 underperforming stores -- all of its 88 Just For Feet locations and 77 of its 429 Footaction stores. The $2 billion retailer filed for bankruptcy protection amid accounting problems, decreasing sales to major customer Kmart and a continued Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. Since its acquisition in 2000, Just For Feet has not been profitable because of high lease costs, according to Footstar. The West Nyack, N.Y., company will receive $300 million in debtor-in-possession financing from lenders, including Fleet National Bank and GECC Capital Markets Group, to pay for future product and cover payroll. The company plans to liquidate more than $100 million in retail inventory in a March 16 auction to avoid the expense of moving the merchandise to other Footaction stores. "Our objective is to use the Chapter 11 process to create a financially stable company and to maximize value for our creditors," said Dale Hilpert, Footstar chairman and CEO, in a statement. To that end, its remaining 352 Footaction stores will operate and focus on major metropolitan markets. The company has had a string of bad luck that includes reviewing its accounting and preparing to restate its financial statements for 1997 through mid-2002, to the recent guilty plea of former Just For Feet executive Don-Allen Ruttenberg for SEC charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and submitting false auditor statements.

>> Sears, Roebuck and Co. (NYSE:S) has announced that comparable domestic store revenues increased 1.1 percent for the four weeks ended Feb. 28, 2004. Total domestic store revenues were $1.7 billion for the four-week period in February 2004, down 0.5 percent, compared with the four weeks ended March 1, 2003. The growth was paced by "healthy gains" in fitness equipment, among other categories. More at www.sears.com.

>> GERMANY -- Asics will open its first brand store with a shop in Cologne's downtown called "Asics Sports by Dauerlauf." Dauerlauf, which means distance running in German, is the name of the store that will manage the operation.

>> The U.S. Congress is getting ready to tell overweight Americans that if they eat the wrong stuff, they have no one to blame but themselves. The House is expected to approve the so-called "cheeseburger bill," which would prevent Americans from suing fast-food giants such as McDonald's for making them overweight. In the past, fast food has gotten the finger pointed in its direction for being responsible for obesity and related ailments that have increased health-care costs. Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., sponsor of the "cheeseburger bill," represents Orlando, Fla., a fast-food mecca. He said the nation has "got to get away from this new culture where people always try to play the victim and blame others for their problems."

>> Higher-priced footwear sales are down, while sales of the middle-priced product have gone up. Athletic footwear costing $100 or more slipped from 2.6 percent of the sports footwear market in 2002 to 2.2 percent in 2003, according to data released by the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA). Sales also slipped at the low end of the market (under $20), accounting for 20.5 percent of sales in 2003 versus 21.8 percent in 2002. Upper-middle priced footwear ($40-$59) showed the strongest growth, increasing to 27.5 percent of the market in 2003 from 26.4 percent in 2002. Lower-middle priced footwear ($20-$39) also grew, going to 31.9 percent of the market in 2003 from 31.0 percent the previous year. More available from www.nsga.org.

>> GERMANY -- The Kettler brand has named Frank Koch as its new director of sports and fitness. He follows Fritz Franke who will retire at the end of May after being with Kettler for some four decades. Koch was previously managing director of competitor Icon (Aicon).

>> Everlast Worldwide Inc. (NASDAQ: EVST) announced that it has entered into a licensing agreement with Alantic Sports Pte. Ltd. of Singapore for the launch of Everlast-branded men's, women's and children's apparel, and underwear, footwear, socks and sports bags in Singapore and Malaysia. The new Everlast products will be launched mid-2004 and will be available in stand-alone Everlast brand shops and concept shops in the major department stores in these two countries. George Horowitz, chairman and CEO of Everlast Worldwide Inc., said the company is finding Asia to be "a fertile market for expansion."

>> Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) has reported net sales for the four-week period ending Feb. 27, 2004, of $20.162 billion, an increase of 14.0 percent over the $17.689 billion in the same four-week period in the prior year. The Wal-Mart division's sales for the four-week period were $13.628 billion, up 12.6 percent over sales of $12.108 billion in the same four-week period in the prior year.

>> IHRSA has announced that Jack Groppel will replace Jim Loehr at the following events at the association's trade show, March 22-25: "The Power of Full Engagement," on March 22 at 6 p.m. and the Tennis Forum, "Tennis: The Ultimate Activity for Full Engagement," on March 23 at 2 p.m. An internationally recognized authority and pioneer in the science of human performance, and an expert in fitness and nutrition, Groppel is an adjunct professor of management at the J.L. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and co-founder of LGE Performance Systems, Inc. Groppel is a fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine.

>> FINLAND -- Amer Group Plc has published its 2003 annual report. It can be ordered from Amer Group's corporate communications department. It is also available in PDF format at www.amersports.com.

>> Communities getting in the swing to fight obesity and inactivity together: In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the NBC affiliate has begun an on-air and interactive campaign, partly based on being cited recently as among the "fattest cities" in America by Men's Fitness magazine. The program, called Commit To Be Fit, is a multi-platform initiative that will focus attention on obesity and the related issues of diabetes, hypertension, weight control, nutrition and exercise.

>> The Sports Authority has awarded a $27 million, five-year contract for networking services to AT&T. TSA says it will "help the company expand its marketplace presence and enhance profitability" after its merger with Gart Sports to create the nation's largest sporting goods retailer with 385 stores in 45 states. The AT&T networking solution will enable The Sports Authority to standardize its information technology infrastructure and deploy advanced networking capabilities to each of the company's retail outlets, while also linking all company locations to support its inventory-control system and provide business continuity capabilities in the event of a disaster.

>> UNITED KINGDOM -- Leading figures from the health club industry in the U.K. have called for more government action to help improve the health of the nation. Members of the Fitness Industry Association's Vanguard Council told the sports minister, Richard Caborn, that more help was needed if the private sector was to help the government increase physical activity levels. The industry heads also called for a national campaign -- similar to the government's drunk driving and seatbelt campaigns -- to raise awareness of the dangers of inactivity. In response, Caborn said that while the government recognized the need to change the public's mentality about exercise, the industry must be more creative if it is to secure help from the Treasury.

>> Galyan's Trading Company Inc. (NASDAQ: GLYN) has announced the resignation of Robert B. Mang, chairman and CEO. Edwin J. Holman, currently the president and COO, has been elected by the board of directors to succeed Mang as CEO, effective immediately. Mang has resigned for personal reasons and is expected to remain with the company for up to three months as an employee in order to facilitate the management transition. The company will immediately begin a search for a new chief merchandising officer who will assume Mang's previous responsibilities for marketing and merchandising.

>> Life Time Fitness has named Dan Finanger as its running club director. Finanger, who recently served as executive director for the Twin Cities Marathon, will lead the continued growth and development of the national Life Time Fitness Running Club, including efforts to expand Running Club membership, develop and launch new training programs, and broaden partnerships with running organizations nationwide. Finanger has also served as program director of the Northwest Athletic Club running program where he trained more than 4,000 people through a marathon. He founded and directs Finanger's Running Adventures, a distance running camp designed for adults and held around the United States.

>> Overseas markets are most interested in exercise equipment "Made in the United States," as well as golf gear, gymnastics equipment, athletic footwear and fishing tackle. Those are the finding of SGMA's most recent exports study. The dollar value growth rate of U.S. exports of sporting goods increased by 0.9 percent in 2003 after declining by 7.2 percent in 2002. "The up-spike in U.S. exports for 2003 reflects the generally improved economic conditions in Canada and most of Europe, as well as the decline in the value of the U.S. dollar against the Euro, Canadian dollar and the yen. The value of the dollar fell by about 10 percent in 2003 and probably won't strengthen much in the near term," Sebastian DiCasoli, SGMA director of market intelligence, said in a statement.

>> So now it's Cuts for Men competing alongside Curves for Women, but for the other gender. There are 14 Cuts gyms now and plans for 38 more by July, said founder John Gennaro, who said he projects he'll have more than 2,000 gyms operating within three years -- with 15 percent to 20 percent in California. It features a 30-minute circuit training workout, is in suburban strip centers, and targets men 30 to 60 years old who are somewhat out of shape and haven't worked out for years. Since the opening of its first franchise in May 2003, over 50 franchises have been acquired with 14 facilities open in Illinois, New Jersey, California, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

>> The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has hired Hillis Lake to join the executive team as director of corporate accounts. Previously, Hillis was vice president of global sales for Free Motion Fitness 1999 to 2003. He has also worked for companies such as Nautilus, Cybex and Forza Fitness.

>> Iron Grip recently approved its licensee and retail channel partner Impex to manufacture a new line of free weights. This new line carries the Gold's Gym name, under an agreement with Icon Health & Fitness, the licensee for fitness equipment bearing the Gold's Gym brand. Impex began selling the weights to Wal-Mart in the fourth quarter of 2003. Both Impex and Icon are currently licensees of Iron Grip -- Icon since 2003.

>> Dick's Sporting Goods Inc. (NYSE: DKS) announced today that Jeffrey R. Hennion has been named as senior vice president, strategic planning. In this newly created role, Hennion will be responsible for leading strategic planning and analysis, as well as market and consumer research, investor relations and e-commerce initiatives. Hennion, 37, joined Dick's in January 2000 as vice president, treasurer.

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