Fitness suppliers pick up the pace at Interbike show

With more specialty bike dealers taking a hard look at fitness equipment as an off-season counter to their bike business, an increasing number of fitness equipment companies are making a play at the Interbike show to make it onto more retail floors between crankshafts and spokes.
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With more specialty bike dealers taking a hard look at fitness equipment as an off-season counter to their bike business, an increasing number of fitness equipment companies are making a play at the Interbike show to make it onto more retail floors between crankshafts and spokes.

This year's Interbike show, which slides in Oct. 12-14 right after the Club Industry show, will attract fitness-specific manufacturers, including first-timers Horizon Fitness and Spirit Fitness. Universal Gym Equipment is making a comeback after a hiatus of some eight years. Other fitness exhibitors on the list include LeMond (owned by Life Fitness and specializing in indoor cycle trainers), True Fitness, Star Trac (with the Spinning program and bikes), Nautilus/Schwinn (of course with a strong bike heritage and indoor cycles as a given) and Kettler.

Although most have small 10-by-10 booths, that doesn't mean they aren't serious about the business with bike dealers, which often allow a fitness manufacturer additional reach into secondary or even third-tier markets in small towns or rural areas lacking a specialty fitness store.

"It's a good fit for bike dealers," Mike Olson, marketing manager for Horizon, told SNEWS. "There are a lot of dealers where 50 percent of their floor space is fitness.

"Now that we're getting more mature in our markets," Olson added about Horizon, now in its fourth year, "it's a perfect opportunity to see about getting product out there to these dealers."

For Woody Fisher, vice president of sales at Spirit Fitness who got True to Interbike in the mid-90s when he was there, the match between fitness and bike is a no-brainer.

"We find there are a lot of the mom-and-pop bike dealers who are good bike dealers who then offset their season with fitness," Fisher said. He said Spirit will make an effort to educate the bike dealers about selling fitness equipment and will introduce at the show a detailed sales program.

"The mom-and-pops know bikes and specifics about mechanics," Fisher added, "but when you come in with off-season equipment like fitness, they don't know as much about how to sell."

In addition, suppliers attending told SNEWS that for bike shops, price points up to about $2,000 are easiest for bike dealers to sell since those are within their comfort zones; get higher and they get squeamish, we heard, although manufacturers attending hope to educate dealers to get them over that hurdle -- gradually.

Nevertheless, Nautilus had a huge bite from independent bike dealers about stepping up to the plate with fitness sales – President Kevin Lamar said the company sent letters to 4,200 bike dealers in September, not just Schwinn dealers, about joining the team, and the company fielded some 300 calls the first day the letters hit.

"They are open to the idea they can be more than a bike shop," Lamar said.

The most intriguing fitness exhibitor on the surface appears to be Universal, since selling bike enthusiasts off-season cardiovascular training seems logical. But Bill McGinley, Universal's director of national sales, says it's a grand fit, pointing to strong relationships with bike dealers that goes back some two decades. This season just happens to be the strength company's comeback to the Interbike show, as well as its comeback in general.

"The bike dealers were looking to increase their business in the slow winter season," McGinley said of the company's history with bike shops, "and the Universal strength machine made a lot of sense."

Once these dealers conquer the worries about space for fitness equipment, he said, they move on quickly, especially once they recognize the significantly larger margins available to them on fitness equipment compared to the bike business' notoriously low ones, as well as the ability to salvage slow winter bike sales.

"Half of them understand this is a profitable business, and that the family that bought a bike now wants a home gym setup," McGinley said.

"Plus, bike shops have the personnel there to do delivery and installation," he added, and their staff already understands quite a bit about mechanics and repairs.

"The bike dealer and fitness equipment is marriage," summed up Jay Hurt of Spirit. "Fitness gives them a year-round business."

SNEWS View: This doesn't seem to be a mere passing blip on the screen since SNEWS heard over and over that the bike dealer market is growing strongly. We think this offers manufacturers, especially B-stringers without a locked-up specialty fitness dealer base, to penetrate competing or smaller markets and cumulatively increase sales substantially. It seems like one big "duh" considering a bike shop's well-known winter slow-doms, which is of course the fitness industry's high sales season. We wouldn't be surprised to see more fitness companies taking a hard look at Interbike as an easy way to reach hundreds of dealers all at once. In fact, a spokesman for VNU, the owner of both the Interbike and Health & Fitness Business shows, said these aren't the only fitness dealers coming to the show -- although the others will just be checking it out for next year. But, no worries, we're told by the VNU representative: The show management company says both shows will remain as separate entities without the fear of August's HFB being rolled up into the fall's Interbike.

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