Germany's ispo show's fitness segment gaining increased legitimacy

With the growth of the specialty fitness retail business in Germany and other European countries in recent years, the fitness hall at the ispo show is beginning to resemble an authentic showing of solid, quality equipment rather than an oddball collection of wannabe cheap gear and old-fashioned butt-jiggling jokes called equipment.

With the growth of the specialty fitness retail business in Germany and other European countries in recent years, the fitness hall at the ispo show is beginning to resemble an authentic showing of solid, quality equipment rather than an oddball collection of wannabe cheap gear and old-fashioned butt-jiggling jokes called equipment.

OK, sure, there are still the booths with stuff of the last century that was called exercise, for example, where you wrap a band around your body, flip a switch and get jiggled for your workout, but they are so few and the sales staff look so lonely that they will someday soon disappear. We can only hope.

"Fitness in Europe is changing," BH Fitness managing director Pablo Perez de Lazarraga told SNEWS®. "Specialty is just starting here, and we want to be in that market.

"In Europe, the higher-end market is growing. They are the second-generation user," he added. "It's good for all of us."

Meanwhile, there were some big changes overall this year: First of all, Icon (known as Aicon in that area of the world) was simply gone. Poof. From its monstrous walled-in position assuming the front half of the wall, it was not represented on the floor, and sources say it has basically disappeared, from Germany at least. Kettler, the German-based company that traditionally had also plopped its walled fortress on the other half of the front of the hall -- dueling with Icon's castle -- had moved to the rear of the hall and opened up the front of the booth for a less-intimidating look but remained just as large. That was a great move, which we are guessing came partly from ispo management in its hall reorganizations this year (fitness was now under the umbrella of "performance" and was shoulder-to-shoulder with other running, workout and training gear both in the same hall and in a neighboring one).

With the 20-foot booth walls now in the back, the hall was much more inviting and gave show attendees who walked in a welcoming embrace rather than a bit of a brush-off. Also, since Kettler will in its home country always attract endless strings of appointments and gawking passers-by, pulling it to the rear meant more traffic would walk the length of the hall. Which it did. In general, the traffic seemed to be up from the first day to the last; the hall had less of a deadly quiet aura and more energy.

And even small companies seemed thrilled: "The quality of the leads is high," said John Danbury, sales and marketing manager for HandyTrim, a "handy" little toning device from the United Kingdom we'll tell you about later, who named buyers from really large U.S.-based companies coming by. "It's been fantastic for us."

Next to Kettler, the Horizon and Vision brands occupied one of the larger spaces, as did the Accell brands Bremshey and Tunturi next door. Germany's Hammer, Spain-based BH Fitness, and Reebok (a.k.a Green Fitness and run by Icon's former head in Germany, Frank Koch), all had large offerings. Strength Master (LifeSpan in North America) showed its equipment, as well as Dyaco (Spirit in North America), and SportsArt (flooring this year some of the same kind of heavy-duty equipment seen in North America rather than the tiny Asian-focused gear). Power Plate had its vibration equipment, and was one of the few such things in the hall after last year's explosion in that segment.

Colors were a story mentioned by several attendees as attention-getting, and SNEWS® would agree -- the equipment wasn't just about a plethora of shades of gray, but white, red, silver and other showier hues. Of course, we can't truly vouch for whether those sell, but they are there at least, leaving the hall less gloomy, if nothing else.

"Compact" was another theme, including compact gyms (closet-style) and compact treadmills (fold them nearly flat). Of course, more space-efficient equipment is in general a larger story outside of the United States, but the story seems to be translating to North America too.

All in all, we didn't see much that was earth-shattering or stop-the-presses in terms of equipment, but there were a few intrigues and unveilings, as well as some nifty accessories. We'll talk about those products, as well as other fitness-oriented products in the BrandNew awards area for new companies, in our next installment this month.

To see our comments and overall review of the entire 2008 ispo show in Munich, Germany, including attendance, click here for a Feb. 1, 2008, SNEWS® story, "Most massive ispo show ever burns hot with non-stop energy, action, exhibits."

SNEWS® View: We are really happy to see the progress that has been reached at this international show. Even six years ago, frankly, the hall was depressing with only a few booths with legitimate equipment between all of the tiny, look-alike ergometer bikes, jiggle belts, trophies, kitsch and kid's balls. Today, it's real and it's authentic and it helps the public and press realize fitness and wellness themes are not just a joke, but are truly a legitimate part of the sporting goods world. All good stuff.


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