Fitness: Did you hear?…

Bally offers a tax break to stressed taxpayers, IHRSA's March trade show attendance up 12%, two lobbying summits in DC planned, SportsArt America hits home run in Men's Journal, plus much more....
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>> Uncle Sam may have collected a chunk of change on Tax Day, but Bally Total Fitness tried to soften the blow for taxpayers by opening all its club doors April 15 free of charge. The promotion was part of a nationwide effort to encourage people to work out their tax day stress. As part of its "Every Body Needs Something" educational initiative, the fitness club said it's dedicated to helping Americans live a healthier and more balanced lifestyle. Bally staff also distributed free stress-relief guides, which outlined stress-reducing techniques and exercises. Now, if the club had had tax advisors on-hand to finish documents and answer questions while someone worked out, that would be a cool deal.

>> U.S. health clubs do pretty well when it comes to resolving complaints, according to info put out by the U.S Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB). In its recently published booklet, "Annual Inquiry Complaint Summary," it found that in 2003 American health clubs recorded 3,484 complaints of which only 972 (27.9 percent) remained "unresolved" by year's end. Compared to other industries, U.S. health clubs ranked No. 49 in terms of complaints. (Automobile dealers took the No. 1 spot. Why is that not a surprise?) With 36.3 million U.S. health club members using their clubs on average 100 times per year, it translates to about one complaint for every 1 million service experiences in 2003, the IHRSA group also reported. To get your copy of the BBB booklet, contact 703-276-0100.

>> Say bye-bye to Snickers. Adios to potato chips. There's a new vending machine in town. To ride the still-rising wave of the low-carb diet plans, "Low Carb Vending" is partnering with Monumental Vending, one of the largest vending operators in Maryland, to offer a new branded vending machine packed with low-carb treats. Among the popular goodies stocked in the machines are shakes, bars and vitamins of the moment, from companies such as Atkins, SlimFast, EAS, Carb Solutions and CarbWise. The company will also adapt already existing machines to handle the new items. Within the next month, the company will roll out 50 to 100 machines in New York, California and Arizona, with the goal to have low-carb snacks in 6,000 machines by the end of the year. SNEWS® View: And are they already putting their plan in place to un-modify the machines when the low-carb trend goes ker-bang?

>> Divas can kick up their heels and get a little workout in with the attachable shoe weights that Jolie Weights donated to VH1's Seventh Annual "Divas" Concert. The Las Vegas concert held last week raised funds for the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to preserving instrumental music programs in America's public schools. Jolie World (www.jolieweights.com) donated 320 pairs of one-pound weights to the event. The majority went into gift bags for donors who purchased high-priced ticket packages, while 20 pairs went to the "Divas" themselves, including Jessica Simpson, Ashanti, Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle. Next time we see one of these ladies on a walk with shoe weights, you'll know where they came from. You go, girl!

>> IHRSA has news: Attendance at the association's annual convention and trade show in Las Vegas in March increased overall by 12 percent, with attendee registrations up 18 percent and trade show exhibitor personnel and staff up 28 percent. That significant jump in trade show staffers came from the exhibitors increasing from 346 in 2003 in the Moscone Center in San Francisco's sold-out 260,000-square-foot hall, to 396 in the 300,000-square-foot Las Vegas hall. The 15 percent of attendees not from the United States included 68 other countries.

>> In other IHRSA news, the group has said that club membership reached a record high in 2003. According to data from a study done recently by American Sports Data and sponsored by the association, the number of health club members in the United States increased by 8.5 percent in 2003 to 39.4 million, up from 36.3 million in 2002. IHRSA also estimates that the total number of commercial health clubs and fitness centers in the United States now exceeds 23,500. In addition, the industry posted $14.1 billion in revenue in 2003, reflecting a nearly 8 percent increase over 2002. Health club membership numbers have increased steadily in the last five years, growing 33 percent from a total of 29.5 million Americans in 1998, and 2003 represented the second consecutive year during which membership levels rose by better than 7 percent.

>> Don't forget to mark you calendar for one of two legislative lobbying summits in Washington, D.C., coming up in the next few weeks: National PE Day will be May 5, and is sponsored by the SGMA and PE4Life (www.sgma.com or www.pe4life.org for details and registration). IHRSA's second-annual summit will be May 19-20. Go to www.ihrsa.org for information.

>> UNITED KINGDOM -- Neil Gillis, chief executive of the health and fitness club chain Esporta, has called on the government to embrace the fitness industry and slammed a government health services statement saying gardening is better exercise than going to the gym. Esporta has seen a 23 percent growth in membership for the first quarter of 2004 compared to 2003, he said, and Gillis attributes it to increased awareness of fitness, partly thanks to the government's health debate. However, he said he believes the government is tackling the issue the wrong way and that exercise, not diet, is the cure."Some people within the government are trying to hijack the exercise initiative and use it as an opportunity to attack businesses," he said.

>> In the latest Men's Journal (May 2004), SportsArt America hit a grand-slam home run: Featured larger than life in full color nearly filling page 108 is the company's 807 elliptical (with a smaller shot of just the console) in the magazine's "Personal Trainers" column called "Customize your workout with the latest in fitness technology." It was also tagged with the little button of having received the Men's Journal "Breakthrough Award," which was the only award on the page and we think it means something good. The 807 is described as the only elliptical now on the market that has an adjustable stride length.

>> FINLAND -- One of Scandinavia's leading health club chain, SATS, which acquired Finnish market leader Club Wellness 38 last July, has recently opened three new outlets.

>> FreeMotion Fitness has announced the promotion of two original members of the company's sales team. Gerry Daley and Bill Bartlett have been appointed regional managers of the Southeast and Northeast regions, respectively. Having spent nearly five consecutive years with FreeMotion Fitness as the mid-Atlantic territory representative, Daley was responsible for Maryland, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. As the Southeast regional manager, Daley will be responsible for territory reps covering 19 states. Bartlett will now be responsible for six territory representatives covering 18 states. As part of the original sales force for FreeMotion Fitness, Bartlett rejoined the team in September as the representative for Illinois where he has spent the majority of his 15 years in the industry. Bartlett's experience includes time spent with StarTrac, Cybex and Matrix.

>> UNITED KINGDOM -- David Lloyd Leisure has been voted Best Health and Leisure Complex 2004 in the Parent Friendly Awards, hosted by the baby charity, Tommys. More than half a million people voted for the awards. The chain has also scooped an award in the Top Sante Health and Beauty's annual vote for Best Gym Chain. "We are delighted to win these awards," said sales and marketing manager, Grant Wright. "We are particularly pleased because these awards were voted for by members of the public."

>> Working to empower older adults to maintain their independence as they age, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has named the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), the world's largest trade association for the senior fitness and wellness industry, as an official aging information partner. An ACSM spokesperson said the educational partnership with ICAA, which has produced high-quality education, information, resources and tools for those who work with older adults, will enhance ACSM's active aging activities. ICAA will serve as a resource to ACSM members who educate older adults about the benefits of active aging, and in turn, ACSM plans to serve as a resource for ICAA members interested in the benefits of ACSM certification programs.

>> According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), March retail sales in the GAFS category (general merchandise stores, clothing and clothing accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, electronics and appliances stores, and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores) rose 8.2 percent over last year and increased 0.6 percent adjusted over February. GAFS sales for the first quarter rose an astonishing 9.8 percent. March retail sales released by the U.S. Commerce Department show that total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gas stations and restaurants) rose 1.8 percent seasonally adjusted for the month and 10.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year. "Though March retail sales were strong, it could be difficult to sustain this growth in the second quarter," said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. "Year-over-year comparisons will become more difficult and the economy is still facing lingering concerns including rising energy costs and instability in Iraq."

>> A couple of weeks ago we wrote about over-used business clichés, which have also spread into our industries, in our "did you hear" section of news, like, 24/7, it's not rocket science, at the end of the day… (see SNEWS March 29, 2004). Now, we get a press release from an agency that calls itself a "news" group that has more nonsense in it than some of the worst press releases we read. The group, which calls itself a "centralized sports industry resource," was announcing a partnership with a "leader in supply chain execution solutions for sophisticated environments." (Stay with us here, this is only the first sentence.) Called a strategic partnership, it said it "closely aligns both companies’ business initiatives by providing a relevant and innovative solution to operational performance issues." SNEWS® View: We're wondering what a sophisticated environment is, exactly, and how a supply chain execution solution is supposed to help? Frankly, a supply chain execution sounds to us like someone is going to be executed, which we suppose makes sense because clearly they had operational performance issues and this was the most humane way of treating the disease.

>> The non-profit physical activity advocacy group PE4Life has signed a multi-year sponsorship agreement with Polar Electro Inc., Lake Success, N.Y., a manufacturer and distributor of heart rate monitors and fitness assessment technology equipment. PE4Life is funded by numerous businesses and entities that share a commitment to get children and adults more active in everyday life. The group says that sponsorship opportunities are available at various levels. For more information, call Craig Jonas, director of sponsorship development, 816-472-7345. For more info on the group, go to www.pe4life.org.

>> Guess Americans want their cake and to eat it too. Or, should we say, fries. McDonald's announced last week a nationwide rollout of adult Happy Meals called "Get Active" with salads and bottled water, as well as the intent to make sliced fresh fruit a choice instead of fries. Great PR moves on the company's part. (As is the 36-day walking/bicycling trek across America with Oprah's trainer Bob Greene kicking off at a McDonald's on La Cienega in Los Angeles on April 20.) But in one Associated Press story last week, a McDonald's lunch customer in Garrisonville, Va., told the wire service, "I come to McDonald's for one reason: the fries … I think this healthy eating thing has gone too far." AP didn't share a peep about the gentleman's -- how do we say it? -- girth. Greene, by the way, on his trot around America will stop at a McDonald's each day "to raise awareness about the importance of food/energy balance." We hope they're offering fruit.

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