Health & Fitness Business '06: Slammin' start trickles down early, questions abound

A slammin' start on the show floor of the annual Health & Fitness Business expo floor on the first day, Aug. 3, continued into the first half of the second, but trickled down and left a rather empty floor on the last day, Aug. 5, raising questions about the show structure and how to get more retail staff there.
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A slammin' start on the show floor of the annual Health & Fitness Business expo floor on the first day, Aug. 3, continued into the first half of the second, but trickled down and left a rather empty floor on the last day, Aug. 5, raising questions about the show structure and how to get more retail staff there.

Although preliminary attendance numbers were not available as of deadline, show management said it appeared that the number of stores was status quo, but that the number of total buyers had gone down slightly.

Nevertheless, those who where there experienced high energy for most of the first two of three days, and retailers seemed upbeat and ready to buy.

"The energy seemed high," said Lance Camisasca, show director. "People said there was a buzz – more than in recent years. If there's energy, we're doing our job. The vibe was strong."

With the expo itself not opening until noon the first day, after a morning of education and networking, SNEWS® got the feeling that attendees were saving money by coming in that morning instead of the day before and that they were leaving earlier – either Friday evening or Saturday morning.

"People are economizing when it comes to trade shows," Camisasca said, with perhaps that meaning coming later and leaving earlier to save on hotels and meals.

According to the show's Onsite Guide, which includes exhibitor updates and cancellations, there were more than 180 brands on the floor. Granted, the brands listed don't really represent booths since for example one company with three or four brand names would have three or four listings, such as Lamar, Nautilus or Fitness Master.

Was it good for you?
But higher numbers don't necessarily mean even better business. Most exhibitors SNEWS® spoke to indicated they had filled their appointment book before the show and were churning non-stop during show hours demonstrating and selling product.

"The show's been good," said Pete Schenk, LifeSpan president, showing an appointment calendar without one hole. "It's been successful for us."

Said Octane co-founder Tim Porth, "People enjoy coming here, and it's great to see our retailers."

Even those who did not have pre-scheduled appointments, the business was enough to keep a smile on their faces, many told SNEWS®.

Retailers large and small also said they found enough to look at – although the general feel was that there was less really new stuff but more upgrades and tweaks – and that made attendance worthwhile.

"The show is good to understand the competition," said Carlos Vazquez, co-owner of Busy Body/Gyms to Go based in Florida. "The attendance is pretty good too, although the show seems smaller. I still like coming to the show in Denver."

Said Victor Proudian, owner of the Treadmill Factory, "This is great for relationship-building."

In other news…
Unfortunately, attendance was significantly lighter than usual at opening-day education sessions, including a keynote about customer loyalty by a Disney executive and a rousing panel discussion on sales and training put on by SNEWS®. Also light was attendance at a session on branding and packaging on Saturday morning and at on-floor talks on Friday sponsored by Danskin Fitness on selling to women.

SNEWS® will bring detailed news on these presentations in coming stories. Meanwhile, we can't help but wonder why retail staff doesn't take advantage of education offered, although it is still limited.

With the show not growing – although thankfully mostly stable – and retailer buyer numbers declining, questions abound about how to increase the vitality of the only show that is really focused on fitness retail. Past surveys have indicated that Denver remains a top venue choice, yet suggestions are still broached about touring the show to different cities to help make it more attractive. In addition, some exhibitors would like to see even more lectures and workshops to help attract more retail staff.

"We'd like to see the venue increase its efforts to help the specialty retailer increase business, whatever that means – through education, morning workouts or whatever," said Chris Cox, marketing director for Vision Fitness, which sponsored the keynote address the first morning. "

Vision was also the only exhibitor to invite its retailers to a pre-show workout on the second day. Although the show has not normally offered early-morning workouts, when SNEWS® asked a few exhibitors if they would have anything against it, the answer was "no." Certainly, a morning workout gives buyers a chance to really experience a piece of equipment and extends yet another opportunity for networking on a more casual level.

Another attendee rightfully noted that the show wasn't really a "fitness show" but was really a "fitness equipment show." Without more nutrition, yoga, accessories other than balls and weights, apparel or electronics, the show indeed remains an equipment show. And although many specialty retailers do not carry much other than equipment and a smattering of accessories, buyers were seen from sporting goods, mass, etail, and even the likes of Target and Costco, and fitness specialty stores have, may and will perhaps rethink their merchandise offering to take advantage of wellness trends in today's society.

New or not?

Last year, SNEWS® noted that there was a surge in new and buzz-producing products. Although this year wasn't devoid of new equipment and gear, there were less of that sort on the floor; companies in general seemed to have spent more time in the last year updating electronics, consoles, design and colors and tweaked here and there for consumer ease, while also adjusting prices. Yes, yes, there were exceptions and we will take a look at specifics in various categories in a string of stories over the next few weeks.

Almost non-existent this year was the vitriol last year aimed at no-show suppliers. True and Precor still weren't there. Life Fitness, on the other hand, had stepped up its presence with a booth that was small compared to its norm but one of the classiest on the floor with a backdrop that looked like a room so the equipment in front looked like it was part of the room. Nautilus listened to the voice of criticism last year and this year stepped up to support the show with a small booth where it showed its new Nautilus-branded apparel and a couple of pieces of equipment. Cybex took a large space to be able to introduce itself to the retail market after a long absence, showing prototypes of its new home and light commercial Arc Trainers and to discuss its re-entry into the retail arena.

Once again, Accell Fitness with brands Tunturi and Bremshey, as the title sponsor, dominated the entrance with a large booth with a sleek and Euro feel packed with equipment. Other sponsors were Lamar Fitness, Diamondback Fitness, SportsArt, Keys, Vision, NSGA and SNEWS® (official media and online lounge sponsor).

Don't panic if you don't see more on equipment or gear at the show! As is its tradition, SNEWS® will cover various equipment categories, as well as education and trends, in a series of separate stories. Look for more in coming weeks as SNEWS® continues the best and most detailed show coverage -- you won't find more complete or more accurate reports anywhere else.

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