Fitness ispo still lacks spark, product innovations of most show segments

As the others halls rocked with music, crowds and shows, fitness ispo once again sat isolated and silent, with such a lack of energy that anyone who happened to wander by would wonder if it were open for business. That's not necessarily the fault of ispo management, but is partly due to, one, ispo's success with other segments such as outdoor/ski and fashion, two, the lack of interest in large fitness manufacturers to support the ispo show and, three, the logistics of the halls.
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As the others halls rocked with music, crowds and shows, fitness ispo once again sat isolated and silent, with such a lack of energy that anyone who happened to wander by would wonder if it were open for business.

That's not necessarily the fault of ispo management, but is partly due to, one, ispo's success with other segments such as outdoor/ski and fashion, two, the lack of interest in large fitness manufacturers to support the ispo show and, three, the logistics of the halls.

Imagine this layout as it is at the Munich fairgrounds: One long spine of an "atrium" on the second floor with meeting rooms and restaurants that runs the entire length of the fairgrounds, or nearly a mile. Off of that spine radiates in both directions six halls that have contact with the spine, for a total of 12 halls. Layered behind the first row of halls on one side is a second short row with two additional halls off the beaten path and separated from the common commute area (i.e., the upstairs spine and other walkways that run the length of the convention area on the first floor) by the length of one hall. There, in the "C" halls layered behind the first row, you find fitness.

That's the layout nightmare that likely leaves ispo management in a bind. Some have told SNEWS® that they don't think fitness really is a priority to the show, perhaps because it has so much success with its winter show with the likes of ski, outdoor and board sports. But the problem that even SNEWS® recognizes is where could fitness possibly go without wrecking lines of halls that seem to work so well together? On one side there is a row of running, outdoor and ski with related energy and products. On the other side is a row with board, style, sportswear and textile trends with the same. Where does fitness fit? One could move an attractive segment back to the more hidden C halls – combining it with halls in the B area in front so for example board or textile is double-stacked in B and C -- knowing that the likes of those enthusiasts will head there anyway.

It doesn't help the fitness area that the large manufacturers such as Nautilus, Life Fitness and Precor – and even Europe's own such as Technogym and Gym80 – choose to focus on the FIBO show in late spring. ispo management has told us it has tried repeatedly to entice these folks, believing it could help overall interest in energy, but the attempts have been in vain. Last year, Nautilus did have a presence, but Precor's showing has been relegated to one piece of equipment in the Amer Group booth in the ski area that focuses on its Atomic and Suunto brands. Life Fitness hasn't been at the show in a couple of years.

"The ispo is almost exclusively focused on the 'home fitness segment,'" an ispo spokesperson told SNEWS®, which is about double the size of the commercial segment, but unfortunately only half as exciting."

That means the companies represented are in general ones with the low retail prices. Of course, the hall was, as always, dominated by two front-row dueling fortresses – walled-in kingdoms with one belonging to Kettler and one to Icon (known as "Aicon" in Europe). Tunturi also made an impressive showing, partly forced into that since its distributor Bremshey had gone bankrupt and the company wanted to make clear it was still around. Hammer had a moderate booth, and SportsArt (Asia) had a small showing. In the third row back behind Kettler and Hammer in a wide-open and welcoming booth was Style Fitness with Horizon, Vision and Matrix equipment, with both Kettler and Icon watching its every move carefully as it swipes market share, as we hear it. Others included York Worldwide, Andy Fitness, Inno-fit, Powerbreathe, Daum, Sportline and Water Rower.

The problem is the image that happens after about half-way back in the hall – rows of booth spaces are lined with cheap-o bikes and itsy-bitsy treadmills that mostly all look the same from booth-to-booth. Here and there you also find toys and sports awards, oddly placed in the fitness hall.

"Generally ispo seems to only attract exhibitors selling to the mass market and sporting goods buying associations," said one attendee, who pointed out that the market is still young, with only about 20-30 retailers in Germany that would count as specialty and no more than about 100 in Europe.  

After the first row in the fitness hall, the energy dies quickly – no central area to gather as in other halls. No lectures, no music, no product demos, no awards, just dead space. And with the Kettler-Aicon/Icon walls taking over the first row as a visitor enters the hall, there is a less-than-inviting look and feel to the front of the hall.

Aicon/Icon showed its interactive iFit equipment. Kettler made a lot of noise with some higher-end product and an announcement of great steps to come (see SNEWS® story, Feb. 7, "Kettler introduces revamped product lines for multi-channel onslaught"). Hammer continued to tout its Nordic walking treadmill that has a separately moving belt on each side for a user to plant poles. Reebok had its equipment but in the running hall with the rest of its clothes, shoes and poles.

One long-time European fitness insider told SNEWS®, "I didn't see any innovations and I continue being disappointed that the fitness industry is not able to put itself into a better light."

Others have pointed out that price – the lowest – has become the driving force in selling fitness for many retailers, with constant specials giving consumers the idea that any equipment should be dirt cheap.

In addition, pointed out Ulfert Boehme, managing director for Style Fitness in Germany, the highest unemployment to hit the country in a long time means that "luxury" items like fitness equipment are the first to go.

Nevertheless, the quality of equipment – despite what is seen in such a large section of the fitness hall – has continued to go up with very decent treadmills now available for under Euro 1,000 (about USD $1,300, depending on the dollar's current exchange rate), several say.

Despite the atmosphere in the fitness hall, the ispo show in general rocked (see SNEWS® story, Feb. 21, "Germany's ispo show cutting edge, uses marketing savvy to add global pizzazz"). That didn't preclude some fitness exhibitors from having a good show: On the heels of its announcements of bigger and better equipment, Kettler was all smiles and non-stop traffic. Style fitness (Johnson brands) may have looked somewhat quiet, but the upstairs meeting room was constantly busy.

"The show was outstanding," Boehme told SNEWS®, "way beyond our expectations. We assumed our competitors would make a big showing, and they did. But the quantity and quality of the meetings we had all four days was incredibly good."

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