Health & Fitness Business ’07: Good energy, buyer numbers on par

Despite show aisles that on occasion seemed less than full, traffic for the first two days of the 2007 Health & Fitness Business Expo remained steady, leaving exhibitors feeling satisfied. Activities on and off the show floor and mostly packed appointment calendars left many using words like “phenomenal” or “best-ever” to describe the three-day retail show in Denver.
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Despite show aisles that on occasion seemed less than full, traffic for the first two days of the 2007 Health & Fitness Business Expo remained steady, leaving exhibitors feeling satisfied. Activities on and off the show floor and mostly packed appointment calendars left many using words like “phenomenal” or “best-ever” to describe the three-day retail show in Denver.

Indeed, preliminary and unaudited numbers released to SNEWS® within minutes of the show’s close on Aug. 4 showed the total number of attendees, including exhibitors and media, was insignificantly different from last year at 2,099 (2006: 2,116) and the number of buyers actually increased, albeit also insignificantly, to 862 from last year’s 856. Not such happy news was the number of total stores represented: This year, early numbers showed 387 compared to 475 in 2006. Continued consolidation and bankruptcies were again blamed for the numbers. Net square feet (booth space, not aisles or other booked areas like food sales or registration) shrunk just a bit, going from 57,250 in 2006 to 55,250 this year, partly blamed on some companies taking smaller booths. Total exhibitors tallied more than 120 or pretty much identical to 2006’s total of 118.

But all that status-quo didn’t mean the show’s product, events, celebrity athlete appearances, parties and education didn’t draw crowds, provoke conversation, provide a platform for networking and refreshing relationships, or allow both retailers and manufacturers to take back new ideas to the office.

“The energy on the floor was better than I’ve seen in a few years,” said Lance Camisasca, HFB show director for Nielsen Business Media. “The vibe on the floor was strong, and the conference, other events and content were strong and attracted good numbers.”

As the exclusive media sponsor, SNEWS® also upped the wattage a bit with a pre-show golf scramble that attracted about 70 players from the industry and raised more than $6,000 for Augie’s Quest, which is working to fund research to find a cure for ALS. In addition, a show floor putt-putt mini-golf challenge and a silent auction raised nearly $5,000 more, all going to Augie’s Quest, which was begun by Life Fitness founder and Octane Fitness chairman Augie Nieto, who was diagnosed with ALS in early 2005. (Look for more pictures and details in coming weeks, including golf scramble winners and silent auction gear winners. Click here to listen to a SNEWS® Live podcast from the Golf Scramble, and click here to read the show SNEWS® Day 1 HotSheet newsletter with a short story about the event and a few photos to whet your appetite.)

Celebrity athletes appearing in the Community Hub/SNEWS® booth to chat with attendees and sign autographs included former NFL quarterback and Charlotte Fitness owner Steve Beuerlein, former NFL defensive end and GoFit co-owner Trace Armstrong, and three-time Tour de France winner and LeMond Fitness co-owner Greg LeMond. (Again, look for pictures in coming weeks; meanwhile, check out The HotSheet daily show newsletter by SNEWS® and its photos and stories by clicking here.)

As compared to previous years, when the only show floor end-of-day woo-hoo and networking “with beverages” was provided by SNEWS®, show management provided for a happy hour on Aug. 3 that jammed the Community Hub/SNEWS® booth, while Bodyguard Fitness’ soiree on Aug. 3 spilled out of its booth into the aisles with laughs and food until 90 minutes after the official close of the show. On Aug. 2, after the show, the Industry Party rocked for the second year at Lucky Strike Lanes.

Keynote speaker Paul Zane Pilzer, economist and author of “The Wellness Revolution,” told about 200 attendees that the fractured fitness industry needed to pool its resources to create more of a wellness industry as well as community hubs where consumers could go to fill their needs. Still, the fitness industry, he said, is behind and “has a lot of work to do,” if it wants to capitalize on the next economic growth boom. The 3rd annual SNEWS® Fitness Forum, “Scoring with the women – How to satisfy a woman and make her a customer for life,” attracted a large audience that after 90 minutes was still peppering the panel with questions. And Joe Marcoux, who spoke pre-show on the last day, Aug. 4, talked to nearly 100 early birds about “Boutique thinking in a big box world.” (Look for a story in coming weeks with details of the show’s educational offerings; meanwhile, click here to listen to a SNEWS® Live podcast with a personal interview with Pilzer. )

Of course, new product and business meetings are the glue that binds all the events, parties and speakers. SNEWS® heard words about the show energy like “spirit” and “optimistic,” despite a retail year that started strongly but by early spring had slowed dramatically.

“We’ve had good conversation with retailers,” said Steve Lindenau, Diamondback president. “Traffic has been steady, but maybe a bit down from last year.” Buell Ish at Vectra Fitness also felt there was less aisle traffic but added, “Our guys are booked solid.” John Coyle at BH Fitness echoed those sentiments, also noting that traffic seemed “a little light,” and again adding that “our guys have been busy.”

Although show management stopped allowing non-exhibiting companies to rent convention center rooms for private showings, that didn’t stop a laundry list of exhibitors from showing product, holding dealer events and putting on parties on the lower level -- “an underground show,” as one long-time fitness industry member put it. That in part -- along with at least two non-exhibiting companies doing events and private shows off-site -- was blamed by some for light aisle traffic since retail attendees were taken off the floor during show hours. Again, watch SNEWS® in coming weeks for more news, analysis, opinions and a SNEWS® Live podcast about this issue.

Nevertheless, the show remains vital to the retail fitness industry, retailers and manufacturers told SNEWS®. Said Paul Goldberg, GoFit vice president of sales: "We're very pleased with the show. It's the most critical show in the industry for us."

Retailers voiced a similar opinion: “I get to touch bases with somebody I normally talk to on the phone and I get to see them in person,” said Mike LeMere of MGL Fitness, “so you get to build a tighter bond. Face-to-face is much better.

“It’s still one of those shows you have to come to see what’s out there, even if you’ve been in the business for awhile,” he added.

“In my 17 years of attending shows,” said Pete Brask of Torque Fitness, “this was one of my favorites. It was our first year on the floor, and we saw new customers excited by what they saw and hungry for innovation.”

In fact, innovation or solid product wasn’t AWOL. “There is an incredible number of high-quality products out there,” said Jerry Greenspan, Ohio-based owner of Exercise Equipment Experts. SNEWS® will in the coming weeks post reports about what it saw in cardio, strength, accessory and other segments, so stay tuned.

With the show remaining vital to the industry -- and being the only one that caters to retail fitness -- show management is taking a look at its future shape.

“We intend to do more research moving into 2008,” said show director Camisasca, “to see what else we can include in the show and other segments that might be missing -- other areas that might make the show more dynamic and help to increase attendance.”

Meanwhile, mark your calendar for July 17-19, 2008, for the next Health & Fitness Business Expo, again in Denver.

SNEWS® View: With the importance of this show to the retail fitness industry, SNEWS® is concerned, as are many retailers and exhibitors we spoke with, about the continued proliferation of the “underground” show -- private rooms on the convention center’s lower level -- as well as the off-site meetings during show hours. SNEWS® is going to take a serious look at the issue in the coming weeks, talking to those on both sides of the coin, to bring you some opinions and discussion as well as to solicit comments and an industry forum. If you have any comments about this, email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com.

We noted this year that the show seemed to have a positive energy, despite not growing over last year and despite the fact that the aisles were only full in waves. Full aisles, of course, don’t mean better business, but the additional energy can help the show floor enthusiasm. Being veterans of numerous industry shows, including other industries, for too many years, the SNEWS® team enjoyed the energy the additional show activities, events and appearances brought to the floor since we believe any show is not just about a string of sit-down meetings about product in a booth, but also about the networking, face-to-face interaction, and community building that also occurs. We think and hope the show -- and the industry -- can begin to take a broader look at The Industry to include additional segments and wellness-oriented themes that can broaden the scope of the show and the industry to keep it more viable.

Meanwhile, we will look forward to seeing the industry in July 2008 not only at the show but also at the 3rd annual SNEWS® Golf Scramble the day before the show.

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