Fitness equipment market survey on U.S. market released … sort of

An independent analysis of the U.S. fitness equipment market says the challenge for big and small players alike is to create brand awareness.

An independent analysis of the U.S. fitness equipment market says the challenge for big and small players alike is to create brand awareness.

"It is difficult to create brand awareness without a lot of money," said Collin Tam, researcher for the Frost & Sullivan growth consulting company. "Large companies use all of the marketing tools, such as the Internet, direct sales, dealers, infomercials, etc., to create brand awareness."

Last week, Frost & Sullivan ( promoted the report done by its medical devices branch in a press release and conference call. It also announced as a part of the research it was giving awards to five fitness equipment companies, in the areas of market engineering leadership, product line strategy, product quality leadership, product differentiation innovation, and business development strategy. (See our SNEWS view for more on the awards.)

"The fitness industry is still in a growth stage and, as the years go by, it will reach closer to maturity," Tam told SNEWS in an interview. "Mergers are part of the development of the industry. There are still a lot of players in the market, and it will probably remain that way for many years because the barrier to entry is not that high. Fitness products do not require sophisticated technologies (sic), and we will probably see more companies entering the market from overseas."

Tam also said that if another new product category is developed it could do several things. That product could take away from other categories, just as the elliptical took away from steppers, but it could also expand the market in general as it attracts more people to fitness.

The report -- The U.S. Fitness Equipment Market, #A316-54 -- has three chapters. The first includes an executive summary and discussion about the company awards, followed by an overview of the total market including its drivers and challenges. "While larger players get bigger, smaller players need to become more specialized," Tam said.

The second looks at the cardiovascular equipment market, including revenue forecasts in various categories and a competitive analysis and market share discussion. Tam said that cardio equipment holds a share worth about $1.5 billion in manufacturing revenues for 2002 and had about a 20-percent annual growth.

The third chapter discusses the strength equipment market, as above. Tam said this segment will claim about $881 million in revenues by the end of this year, which is about 8 percent to 9 percent growth over last year.

The report will be about 100-150 pages in its final format. It costs $3,950. (No, really.)

SNEWS View: When an independent market research company announced on Nov. 4 the release of an industry study on fitness equipment -- with a conference call to be held Nov. 7 on the contents -- SNEWS was all ears. This seemed like it would be a goldmine of a story and great information to offer the industry. The only problem was, getting information on the contents, the company and the report was like pulling teeth.

This is a tale in how not to do business.

First, as instructed in the press release, SNEWS emailed the person noted to get instructions on the call three days later. The next day, no answer, so we emailed again and left her a phone message. The next day, no response, so we emailed and left two phone messages yet again. On the third day, with no message and 30 minutes until the alleged conference call was set to begin, we found a general company number, and finally dug out somebody else in public relations. This person apologized and said she'd email the information. We asked for it also over the phone -- just in case, since the call was set to begin in 15 minutes. (Note: Thanks goodness for that since the email didn't arrive until about 45 minutes after the conference call was complete!)

A big "whew" from our editorial offices could be heard 'round the world, as we dialed up eagerly. The call turned out to be nothing more than a sales pitch, regurgitating the table of contents and giving contact information to find out more on how to buy the report. Nary a nugget of worthwhile news was to be had. The company even announced the award categories -- but didn't announce the recipients. When badgered in the call by yours-truly, researcher Tam said he guessed he could release them and named the five. (FYI: Icon was given the award for marketing engineering leadership, Life Fitness for product line strategy, Star Trac for product quality leadership, Precor for product differentiation innovation, and Nautilus Group for business development strategy. But more on the awards later?)

The call was a basic waste of time (and seemingly with SNEWS as the sole participant), so SNEWS went back to the company to set up an interview the next day with Tam to get more information for a story with a deadline of that day. The next day we got a message saying this was possible, but when we left a return message we received no answer for three hours. By this time, with the weekend approaching, we were wondering if this company really wanted to sell its report -- and we hadn't even heard the price yet.

Then we found out the researcher wasn't available that day (Friday the 8th) and was going to be on vacation on Monday, our deadline. But he agreed to answer a few questions by email. Meanwhile, we badgered the PR person for a table of contents, information about the awards, and price and page count of the report. You'd think we were asking to be named as the sole heir in her rich aunt's will, the way she ignored emails or only answered select parts.

An email interview with Tam was under our belt finally on Monday, and we now realized that too held relatively useless information. So we asked again how many pages the report was -- since now we knew it cost a whopping $3,950. (According to Larry Weindruch, communications guru at the NSGA, "You couldn't spend $4,000 to get 'Sports Participation Series I and II' plus 'The Sporting Goods Market,' for the next five years.") We were told again the report name and number, but that Frost couldn't say the page count. Com' on, folks, if someone is going to spend $4K they want to know if they're getting 20 pages or 200 pages. We finally finagled a range of 100-150 pages out of 'em

But here's the real kicker on the awards: We asked if the companies knew and how the awards were announced. We were told the awards could not be announced unless the company pays a licensing fee for a promotional package by Frost. Wait, we say, feeling a little like Alice talking to the Caterpillar, you mean they get the award but they can't tell anybody they got it? Well, we are told, they can announce it internally, but they can't promote it, name it or talk about it externally --without paying. Oooo, that's like being told you've won the honor to be in the Who's Who of Americans, but first you gotta hand over a few thousand bucks. (Jim Zahniser of Precor says although Precor hadn't heard about this yet, it wasn't likely something the company would invest in since it was a 'pay for play.')

Oh, wait, but one more note on this dandy saga: Tam said to us, as we quoted in our above story, "fitness products do not require sophisticated technologies." Now that's the way to make friends and influence people. And sell reports for $4K


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