Fitness ispo holds head higher with better companies, positioning

Only taking over one hall on the ispo trade show grounds of 12, the fitness segment nevertheless could hold its head up (mostly) this year with top brand names and steady traffic.
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Only taking over one hall on the ispo trade show grounds of 12, the fitness segment nevertheless could hold its head up (mostly) this year with top brand names and steady traffic. Not buzzing like outdoor or board, mind you, but steady.

Although some exhibitors felt the normally slow first day was even putzier, an apparently busier Sunday and Monday made up for it, with the last day on Tuesday being its average start-teardown-early self. But that wasn't necessarily bad news for fitness exhibitors.

"It's been a great show," said Ulfert Boehme, general manager for Horizon and Vision Fitness in Germany. "It's been steady, busy, with better traffic than last year."

One reason for the segment's upward climb, according to ispo management, is that fitness itself as a concept has gotten bigger in the German trade, partly because more consumers are also expressing more of an interest in working out.

The entire ispo show, which covered 1.6 million square feet, seemed to draw an increasingly larger number of both exhibitors and attendees from Eastern European areas, and in fact has become THE show of not only the European Union for retailers, distributors, buyers and media to attend, but also of a broader spectrum from Eastern and Mediterranean countries. Nevertheless, German attendees and exhibitors still make up the largest single group, although non-Germans as a group outweigh Germans. Of 1,517 exhibitors from 43 countries, only about one in four was from Germany (360), with the next largest representations from Italy (211), Taiwan (121), VR China (102) and Pakistan (98). The contingent from the United States numbered 57. These exhibitor numbers slipped downward slightly from last year's 1,584 from 46 countries.

All told, there were 47,000 trade visitors on the four days, with 60 percent from outside of Germany. That is down only slightly from a visitor count in 2002 of 47,565, of which 63 percent were from outside Germany. Another unofficial measure of attendance: How jammed the Underground is in the mornings and evenings. Sunday (second day) felt like rush hour in Tokyo or New York, with folks jamming in nose to back-of-head. Don't bother holding on because bodies were so closely jammed that you didn't need to. By Monday evening, you still couldn't find a seat.

In the fitness area, visitors still find -- how shall we call it? -- embarrassing items such as electro-stimulation devices for weight loss, cheapo plastic accessories, and those machines where you put a belt around your legs or butt and jiggle, jiggle, jiggle. But those seem fewer and farther between, with the legitimate likes of Polar, Ciclo Sport, Tunturi, Sports Art (Asian division), Schwinn/Nautilus, Horizon/Vision and Reebok, not to mention brands you've never seen in the United States such as Compex, Fassi, Turner and Daum.

The biggest representation was made by homegrown Kettler, known all across Germany as the maker not only of fitness equipment but also garden accessories, ping-pong tables and kid's toys. Kettler sat directly next to Aicon Fitness (European spelling of Icon Fitness), with the two companies doing their best dueling fortress imitation. Both had constructed huge booths that took up about an eighth of the hall each with tall walls and only one entrance (carefully guarded at that), where all visitors were queried as to their business. According to some retailers SNEWS spoke to, Kettler is far and away No. 1 if you count all the full-line sporting goods stores that sell fitness equipment (which you have to do since there aren't more than about 20 specialty retailers in the entire country). Aicon (known mostly as the ProForm brand there) is said to be No. 2. After that, the market is up for grabs.

Other bit of news from the front:

  • Remember, there is a separate running show that took up part of a hall, two halls down from the fitness show. That's where you found the footwear, apparel and sporting goods companies such as adidas (with a monumental booth with huge rotating billboards and more space just for show than real function), Champion and McDavid, as well as Euro companies Tao and Kappa, among others. The social area (i.e., the mandatory beer garten and espresso stop) was sponsored by Runner's World magazine with six Life Fitness treadmills for demos and the European 24-hour ultra runner champion Jens Lukas scheduled to be running all day, every day. Except when we came by, he wasn't there.
  • Fitter International's CEO Louis Stack had decided about eight days before ispo opened to book a tiny spot on what he called "a fishing trip" for his balance company. Although sandwiched between two companies that had high walls, leaving him basically impossible to see unless you looked right in front of his 10-foot space, Stack said he was gathering lots of leads but wasn't actually selling in Europe yet. In fact, he practically ignored people walking by unless they came in to ask questions, and he kept some product under a table behind a drape to hide them from the "R&D" (ripoff and duplicate) teams that were surely wandering the halls.
  • As reported last week, Matrix Fitness equipment will be introduced to the commercial market in Europe at the FIBO show in May. Meanwhile, one booth comfortably houses both Vision and Horizon equipment with the same salespeople dealing with both. That's not a sight you'd see anytime soon in the States -- where the two companies seem to want to distance themselves despite being related. Oops, we didn't say that.
  • Hugh Walton, Descente's North American importer, was seen taking an afternoon ice cream break, having come over to ispo to snoop around the running show and check in with Descente's coming line.
  • Masked by the name "Andy Fitness," Laurus Worldwide (the new name for York Barbell) was checking out its future European markets.
  • Stunning was the sudden appearance of yoga and wellness products, with yoga mats and other props holding their own between treadmills and stationary bikes. Still, stationary bikes (ergometers as they call them) are the big sellers in Germany -- partly because they take up less space in generally smaller German homes. But what you'll always find as a part of any piece of equipment there is either a chest strap or hand grip for users to take their heart rate with a chest strap or hand grip. "You can't sell a piece of equipment without heart rate monitoring," one long-time retailer told SNEWS.

SNEWS View: The German and European fitness markets are growing exponentially. Although still behind the North American market, it will be catching up and reaching the same level in half as many years as North America took to get there. Just so we can get rid of those jiggle machines. Please.

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