Health & Fitness Business '06: Size, attendee numbers down as industry re-assesses show direction

The Health & Business Show this year dropped in size, exhibitors and buyers, according to preliminary and unaudited numbers, although store count only slipped slightly.
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The Health & Business Show this year dropped in size, exhibitors and buyers, according to preliminary and unaudited numbers, although store count only slipped slightly.

"There's a lot of consolidation in the industry," said Rich Kelly, show marketing manager.

Added senior sales manager Robert Roman, "We're optimistic that the full story will be better once we get the full drill-down of numbers."

Most exhibitors still seemed to indicate they had a good show with plentiful meetings (click here to see our Aug. 7, 2006, SNEWS® story, "Health & Fitness Business '06: Slammin' start trickles down early, questions abound."), so quantity may not be indicative of success; however, when the show shrinks, worries abound and SNEWS® heard plenty on the show floor Aug. 3-5.

Overall, there were 2,116 total attendees, counting exhibitor staff, media and others registered. That compares to 2,360 in 2005, meaning this year's total in the aisles and booths was down 11.5 percent.

The key figure really, though, is buyers and stores, and that story wasn't glowing either: The early numbers showed 856 buyers, down 250 (24 percent) over a year ago, when buyer numbers had dropped only 1 percent compared to 2004. Last year, the news of a slight decline in buyers was offset by an increase by six in stores represented. This year wasn't as bright: Total stores represented on the floor was 475, which was down 23 from 2005 representing a 4.6 percent decrease, which may be better explained by consolidation and bankruptcies in the last couple of years.

As show director Lance Camisasca said in our Aug. 7 story, stores are economizing more and bringing fewer staff, which was also apparent in lower numbers at workshops and the keynote. And exhibitors are also bringing fewer staff, which decreases the total number.

"They're really taking a look at who they need to send to do the business," Roman told SNEWS®.

Net square feet covered by the booths was also down, with 57,250 this year compared to 61,000 last year, which had been down a bit from 2004's 62,000 square feet. The 2006 figure represents 572.5 booth spaces, with a "space" equaling a 10-x-10 booth which many companies combine for a bigger booth area.

Total exhibiting companies was down to 118 compared to 152 in 2005, showing a 22 percent decrease. The return of Life Fitness and Cybex, as well as Nautilus' showing with a 10-x-20 space after last year's absence, didn't help push the numbers up any higher. Several companies had meeting room space on the lower level to either have meetings or show prototype equipment, including Bodyguard, Lamar, Life Fitness, TKO, Nautilus and Vision. Based on a brouhaha two years ago when non-exhibiting companies still had meeting space off the floor, a company now must at least have one booth on the floor to be allowed meeting rooms.

SNEWS® will report final numbers when they are released.

SNEWS® View: Despite reports of non-stop meetings, marathon appointments and basically good business, when numbers decline, a trade show can fall into a spiral. With this being really the only retail show for specialty fitness, many wonder what's next. Suggestions we have heard for years is combining with another show, such as IHRSA or Interbike, but the fitness segment would get lost at the bike show and we don't see IHRSA and HFB show management working together. And IHRSA's spring show is the wrong time of the year anyway.

The answer, it seems to us, is making this more of a well-rounded fitness show and not – as we overheard one attendee put it – just a fitness EQUIPMENT show. There are many more segments in fitness and health than are represented at this show, from apparel to nutrition, with segments such as electronics and a wider representation of yoga and Pilates possible too. But to make that a reality, fitness specialty retailers must recognize that fitness isn't just about equipment, and that selling and encouraging Pilates, fitness walking outdoors or swimming may not damage their business if they truly embrace it. Today's health and wellness customer wants a fuller choice, and fitness retailers need to take a look around and figure out how they can become "fitness boutiques" with high-end equipment, as well as accessories and other wow-factor gear that is complementary to a wellness lifestyle. Until the retailers on a large scale can learn to sell other segments, it will be difficult to make the show a fitness and health show rather than an equipment show.

Even as an equipment show, it could remain viable, as long as manufacturers encourage retail staff to come – not just a buyer or an owner, but floor sales staff – so they can see there is life in the business that goes beyond selling chunks of iron and plastics in a small store. We know all are economizing, but we'd like to see manufacturers and retailers work together to get staff to the show, to the workshops, to the networking sessions and parties, so the excitement that all the current owners felt when they built their businesses a decade or two ago can be passed on to a younger generation.

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