Fitness ispo: products and brands also a highlight at Germany-based show

Like with most of SNEWS®'s trade show coverage -- especially that of such a sprawling show as ispo (imagine nearly 2 million square feet of teeming exhibits) -- we can't begin to see it all, but we did pick out some product highlights, changes, intriguing bits and award winners of interest, from both sides of the pond and around the globe. We also size up how companies in general are representing themselves.
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We said in our story Feb. 14 that fitness ispo and fitness-oriented products at the show in one corner or another did have something to offer. So, you ask, what?

Like with most of SNEWS®'s trade show coverage -- especially that of such a sprawling show as ispo (imagine nearly 2 million square feet of teeming exhibits) -- we can't begin to see it all, but we can pick out some product highlights, changes, intriguing bits and award winners of interest, from both sides of the pond and around the globe. We can also size up how companies in general are representing themselves.

For example, in our overall story on Feb. 14, 2007, we noted that Aicon (a.k.a. Icon) had withdrawn its normally huge fortress booth at the front of the fitness hall and disappeared. Horizon/Vision's mid-hall representation was up by nearly a third. Reebok Fitness (Greenmaster) had moved in with lights, camera, action to the front, as had Accell Fitness. Nautilus was in the running hall with a high-end gym (rather massive for much of the Euro market unless they were thinking vertical markets) and club-quality treadmills.

Of course, the European brands had representation, from Daum to Hammer/Finnlo to BH to accessory brands like Airex and Xco. German equipment supplier Stamm was in the running hall ("Honestly?" they said about the location. "It was a mistake.") with its ergometer bikes and its first ellipticals but … ho-hum. Honestly, we can't say we saw some earth-shattering new piece of equipment at any of those Euro booths, although we did see some interesting accessories. More below on those.

We did find it humorous that some brands, when asked what a point of differentiation was for the product, replied that what they hawked was, of course, "Made in Germany." So, SNEWS® pushed, "German quality," is what you'll say to folks? Yes, they'd say, noting that consumers don't look for "Chinese quality" or even "American quality." What's particularly entertaining is that many products from Germany-based brands these days are actually made in Asia, while just the name remains German. This side note actually applies not only to fitness, but also to other sports segments and brands.

If you want to take a look at the list of brands and exhibitors at the ispo show, click here. You can also drill down deeper to specific locations by clicking on the link by any one company called "hall." You can also click here to see an overall fitness-specific hall layout on the ispo website.

Meanwhile, here's an idea of a few things we did see:

Accell Fitness -- Prepping what the company plans to show at the Health & Fitness Business show in Denver in August, Accell has unveiled a true family of entry-level Bremshey products with big, simple consoles and controls and all front-drive ellipticals. We agree, with one big button that one turns then clicks on the item of choice, that the console is indeed quite intuitive. Tunturi will also incorporate some of the same control concepts. Plus, something shown in its early stages last year, was a workout program with video showing paths, roads and the like. The now dubbed "T-Road" screen and program will be on every high-end "80" level product and it is clear, colorful and bright. For the record, Tunturi is all about features, while the Bremshey brand is all about price with corresponding specs. Many products, still with that classy Euro look, have also been "North Americanized," as Sales Manger Dave Neziol put it. "We've now created a family of products," he said. www.accellfitness.com

Carl Lewis Fitness -- For those of you who aren't track geeks like some of us at SNEWS®, American Carl Lewis was one of the greatest sprinter/long jumpers of all time. Yet, he actually has more of a following in Europe than in North America because of our continent's lack of interest in track. Carl Lewis Fitness has a line of products that was begun under license about four years ago in the United Kingdom, and it is just now in the last year or so trickling onto the continent, with this ispo being its first winter show. "We wanted to create a fitness brand that's instantly recognizable to the consumer," we were told. SNEWS® in fact a few years ago happened to sit next to the man himself on a flight out of Chicago and we spoke (of course!) about his workout and what equipment he owns. The product isn't itself hugely impressive or innovative, but rather simple and entry level and mostly cardio with a few weights and benches thrown in for good measure. Said Mark Simons, managing director, "When we first approached him, he was very fond of the idea." www.carllewisfitness.co.uk

Horizon/Vision -- For seven years or so now, brands Horizon and Vision have been represented at ispo by the company's representative, Style Fitness, and over that time it has done nothing except slowly increase its presence. Mostly the product is the same as one sees or will see in North America. Interestingly, Managing Director Ulfert Boehme told SNEWS® that it was launching two upright bikes that were designed in Bavaria by a German firm to make sure the look and controls fully matched the country's needs. We asked, so, what's the difference? Jokingly came the response, "Made in Bavaria?" OK, maybe that won't be the hook, but since bikes are what it's all about in central Europe, this was an important step, he said. "We're on the attack," Boehme admitted, grinning just a bit. Another interesting note was the company's Evolve treadmill, an itty-bitty thang that was nothing but cute and, in some ways, quite artsy. (Click here to see it.) But for such a wee thing, it ain't cheap (Euro $800 or about USD $1,000). Per Boehme, it's for those who can afford any piece they want AND have the space but want something that has an upscale, artsy look.

Kettler -- The German company's emphasis was fitness for women with a line of products it is still considering for introduction into North America. Called "Me!" -- "Run me," "Cross me," "Bike me" --- the product line includes a treadmill, elliptical and bike that the company says are ergonomically designed specifically for women's frames, demands and size, are colored to be prettier and are lighter weight so they can be moved easily. "Now they don't have to put their equipment in the basement," we were told in the booth. The packaging and marketing is also bright, cheerful and not so conservative. Nice ideas and a nice look, but what if a household wants one piece for everybody there? And will a store want to give up valuable floor space for women's-only pieces when a unisex piece with lots of adjustments may fit the bill just as well? Another new piece with hints of old concepts was a "Nordic Trainer" prototype that was, for want of a better description, an elliptical with the old "NordicTrack" cross-country ski mechanism with cords and pulleys. The elliptical had an interesting hinging apparatus for the pedals so although it was quite short, a user didn't feel bouncy. www.kettler.net

Sveltus -- A new item called the "FlexOring" from this small French accessory company was one of the most interesting in the entire show. Think Pilates ring, but one that not only can adapt to different strength demands, like different resistance tubes, without any modifications to the structure whatsoever, but also has hand-holds for comfort AND can bend and twist in various directions. All that makes it adaptable for Pilates, as well as different users and a variety of different strengthening exercises, both upper and lower body. Plus, it's inexpensive, selling at retail for Euro 17 (about USD $24). Add a DVD and it goes to Euro 30 (about USD $40). Since it was introduced in France in October 2006, it's already sold 6,000 pieces and the company is working on a deal with the sporting goods mega-chain Decathlon. Click here to go directly to the product on the Sveltus website. The company (www.sveltus.fr) has a few other intriguing products that as far as SNEWS® knows are not sold in North America, including a resistance band and a multi-positional step that can morph into all kinds of levels and forms.

Togu -- From this accessory company out of Germany (www.togu.de), we saw a variety of inflatable-type stability discs in shapes we have never seen carried by U.S.-based companies, including ones geared for use for the feet and neck.

>> BrandNew award winners / WarmUp startups of interest:

Ballooning Ball -- One little piece we liked a whole lot among BrandNew award finalists was a small oblong inflatable ball, much like a mini-stability ball in its looks and sturdiness. Developed by a fitness trainer and instructor in Germany, the ball is versatile for a variety of exercises, both upper and lower body, as well as for balance and strength. You can even use it for some movements that one might normally do on a large stability ball. And this can even be easily deflated -- or not -- and can travel well too. Beautiful in its simplicity. The introductory price at the show was Euro 13 (USD $17) with the claim again of "Made in Germany." The website (www.ballooning-ball.com) shows a price of about $24. DVDs are coming.

Blatand / Body Network -- This BrandNew winner was more of a concept in search of partners to license it and the software. Basically, you wear the Blatand heart-rate transmitter belt (no other brand) and you can transmit your workout data -- heart rate, time, etc. -- to your mobile phone, which we just know you want to carry around with you and look at during a workout. Sarcasm courtesy of SNEWS®. But, of course, if you do not want to LOOK, you can then just simply record it and download it once you are home. Or, we were told by the German developers, you can also listen to music and you can program it to simply speak certain workout data to you. Trainers can also load workouts into it for a client to do. www.blatand.net

Streetstepper by BodyBuddy -- A winner of the awards, Streetstepper is a bike that is propelled based on a stepping device rather than a pedaling function. No seat. You just step along to move it around and they say you can easily go up and down hills too. You couldn't test that on the show floor. Coming from Austria with a suggested retail of Euro 2,800 (approximately USD $3,700), the bike-cum-stepper is a sturdy piece (better be for the price), made for the team of brothers by a mountain bike company. We were told the idea came when one of them was working out in a fitness club and wanting to be outside. So why not just go pedal a bike outside? We never really got an answer to that. Perhaps this is for the person who has everything. www.streetstepper.com

Cardio Gym -- We first saw the gym-in-a-closet from Australia at last August's Health & Fitness Business show, but what it showed was really just a prototype. It is now ready to ship, with a few workings improved based on feedback, and has begun selling as a U.S. test through Gym Source, said Director Darren Piggins. So serious were these folks, that even as a mere finalist for the BrandNew award, the company also took a large booth in the fitness hall AND had an ad on the inside front cover of the large ispo show catalog. The product will be at the coming IHRSA show in March and will have a retail of between about $2,800 and $3,000. www.avantifitness.com.au

Newtest -- In the startup area called WarmUp, we found one device out of Finland called New Test that was called "bone exercise monitor." Designed for women ages 30 to 50, the device is a bit like a pedometer, except it records impact and tells you how much good your exercise is doing for your bones or if enough of it has done you any good by showing a percent at the end of the session. It is already selling in Finland since the middle of 2006 and the company is looking for distributors with an eventual target of also coming to North America. www.newtest.com

To see our comments and overall review of the entire 2007 ispo show, including attendance, click here for a Feb. 14, 2007, SNEWS® story, "Germany's ispo show finishes with record-breaking growth, and non-stop glitz, glamour and gear."

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