Health & Fitness Business ’08: Accessories go retro, green and beginner-friendly - SNEWS

Health & Fitness Business ’08: Accessories go retro, green and beginner-friendly

Sometimes accessories and widgets garner nothing more than a yawn. Sometimes it’s the little stuff that gets folks talking. This year’s marketing buzzwords we heard when we visited companies at the 2008 Health & Fitness Business show July 17-18 were ones that ring with what can be heard in many other retail arenas: Green. Retro. Beginner-friendly.You could just as easily be discussing new cars, camping gear or fashion apparel.
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Sometimes accessories and widgets garner nothing more than a yawn. Sometimes it’s the little stuff that gets folks talking. This year, it seemed there may have been fewer companies with full hand-held accessory lines, but there was a smattering of rather non-traditional companies, most of whom were first-timers at the show.

Nevertheless, accessories can round out sales, and this year’s marketing buzzwords we heard when we visited companies at the 2008 Health & Fitness Business show July 17-18 were ones that ring with what can be heard in many other retail arenas: Green. Retro. Beginner-friendly.

You could just as easily be discussing new cars, camping gear or fashion apparel. That’s because fitness manufacturers seem to be picking up on some key consumer trends that transcend many markets and demographics -- the desire to lessen one’s environmental footprint, the emphasis on old-school style and, in this case, simple effectiveness, and the ever-present need to make healthy lifestyles easier and more inviting to couch potatoes.

As the economy tightens and people look for ways to save money (and fuel) by working out at home, accessories and smaller home workout gear are becoming more popular, said GoFit spokeswoman Heidi Hageman. Several manufacturers at the show said they are seeing more interest in portable, affordable accessories this year. To that end, here is an overview of some of the latest products in the category that SNEWS® spied at the recent show.

(Several weeks of show coverage began July 17 with our SNEWS® show HotSheet and will continue for weeks so don't miss any of the reports We are covering, will cover, or have covered everything from general attendee information to stories about presentations and special events to product trends and equipment unveilings to broader industry and show issue -- and with the economy there are a few of those. As always, SNEWS gives you the best and most accurate and detailed show coverage anywhere. If your product or company wasn't mentioned here, that's either because it didn't strike our team as new or different (we emphasize new in our show reports) or perhaps we were totally brain-dead and missed it -- anything's possible! But don't fret if you felt overlooked in one report since there are more to come. Stay tune, this is just the beginning. But if you do want to raise an issue or make contact, drop us a note at snewsbox@snewsnet.com.)


Saving the planet

Saving the planet one yoga mat at a time, some manufacturers are recognizing that consumers don’t want PVC, phthalates and other toxins hanging around their gym bags. Natural Fitness (www.naturalfitnessinc.com), known for its line of eco-friendly accessories, introduced its Resistance Toning Kit (MSRP $29.99), which includes natural rubber tubing, recycled plastic handles and a phthalate-free exercise ball, plus a DVD workout program and wall chart -- and for every purchase, the company plants a tree. AGM Group/Aeromat (www.ecowisefitness.aeromats.com) says it will also be expanding its line of EcoWise yoga mats, which are latex-, PVC- and chloride-free.

One of the most exciting accessories we saw also happened to be one of the simplest -- and although bamboo fibers aren’t all there is to being green, these products use a really soft bamboo that elicits a “oooooo.” Libby Andrews, creator of Yoga Stick-e Socks, introduced the Yoga Stick-e Towel (www.yogastickysocks.com, MSRP $17.95), a no-slip, machine-washable bamboo fiber towel (there is a narrow strip of rubberized material down each side) that you can use on yoga mats or cardio equipment. How many times have YOU chased a towel as it slipped from a treadmill rail and tangled underfoot before it flew off the back? Yeah, thought so. Andrews said she was looking for a stay-put antimicrobial barrier for those grimy gym yoga mats in studios, but customers will also appreciate that the towel won’t slip off their treadmill or elliptical in the middle of a vigorous workout. The towel, along with a new yoga mat and Stick-e Gloves (gloves like her socks that have a slightly rubberized palm/sole) will be available in October.



Don’t leave home without it


Newcomer Armpocket Enterprises LLC (www.armpocket.com) is launching a line of armband pouches made with bamboo fabric and PET. Available in three sizes (MSRP $20-$35), they’re designed to hold your iPod/MP3, cash or credit cards, cell phone, keys and more. Armpocket President Jytte Nielsen says she expects the first production line to be available in August. “There will be many colors and prints to choose from, and retailers or corporate buyers can personalize Armpockets with custom embroidery of their logo,” she added. SPIbelt, which SNEWS reviewed in April 2008 (click here to see that review), came to the expo for the first time and showed its simple little waist pouch (www.spibelt.com) that is tiny but expands to hold quite a bit of gear, including something the size of a passport. Use it to carry an iPod at the gym, sport gels during workouts or races, or when you’re traveling. Two sizes fit different waists (MSRP $19.95)

Back to the future

Another trend on the show floor was a back-to-basics approach to fitness. Simple resistance training kits, brightly colored kettlebells and beginner-friendly medicine balls were just a few of the new offerings. Spri Products (www.spriproducts.com) updated the colors of all its medicine balls and made them easier to use by adding more seams and by changing the grip to a pebble (basketball-like) texture.

In an effort to turn up the volume on the renaissance of the old-fashioned Russian sport of kettlebell training and bring it to the masses, GoFit (www.gofit.net) is marketing several sizes and colors paired with educational DVDs to big-box stores such as Target and Dick’s Sporting Goods (MSRP $34.99 and up). “We’re specifically targeting women and boomers with the kettlebell kits,” explained spokeswoman Heidi Hageman. In addition, GoFit offered a sneak preview of its Suspension Gym, slated to release in late 2008 or early 2009. This resistance-training bar mounts in any home doorway and includes arm and leg straps, or it can be used as a simple chin-up bar. (Think TRX Suspension Trainer, except more beginner- and home-friendly, as well as more affordable with an expected MSRP of between $99 and $120.) In all, GoFit’s Suspension Gym offers more than 120 possible exercises using a person’s body weight as resistance.

To accommodate all those balls and weights in a facility or home, Body-Solid (www.bodysolid.com) introduced a convertible dumbbell/kettlebell rack (MSRP $245): Smartly, one side fits dumbbells, while the other has a place for kettlebells. Simple but neat.

Traveling fitness

TravelRoller (www.travelroller.com) offers the Acupressure Kit (MSRP $99) which includes a compact roller for self-myofascial release and three balls of varying density that you can place inside or use separately to customize the pressure you apply. The balls store neatly inside the center tube of the roller, where you can also stash other travel fitness goodies such as resistance bands, or even your iPod -- or clothes if you want to pack the tube into a suitcase. A softer surface on a hard tube mimics the give of a human therapist’s arm on your muscles, the founders said.

Twist Conditioning Inc. (www.twistconditioning.com) offers its version of an all-in-one, self-contained home gym with the Smart Gym, a bar with interchangeable Smart Toners (basically fancy rubber resistance bands with handles and a safety sleeve that prevents overextending or snapping in a user’s face). Included with the kit is an instructional DVD and free online membership to Smart Gym. The Smart Gym is available in September. Similarly, Gymstick (www.usgymstick.com) introduced to the United States a full line of versatile resistance trainers that combine sticks and bands. You can increase or decrease resistance by rolling the bands around the stick. Or ditch the bands and the stick becomes Nordic walking poles or a hiking stick. A waterproof version (Gymstick Aqua, MSRP $79.95) is also available. We found it entertaining to watch the models walking around the aisles with the resistance bands looped around their feet.

Showing an influence from its acquisition by EB Sport Group in October 2007 (click here to see a SNEWS story), Valeo showed some additions to its line, including a new Gel Flex Tube upper-body conditioner. Catering to the aesthetic tastes of, yes, women, the device, which has two gel handles and three gel straps connecting them, come in green, pink and blue (MSRP $13; www.valeoinc.com).

Surfing 'til the cows come home

In an attempt to attract couch potatoes -- or type-A executives -- a new accessory called SurfShelf (www.surfshelf.com, MSRP $59.95) promises easy access to your laptop or DVD player while you’re using your favorite cardio equipment. This one-size-fits-all polycarbonate (read: shatterproof) tray attaches to any console with Velcro straps. Our verdict: Unless you’re taking a really leisurely pace or you’re on a recumbent bike, you’ll find it hard to focus and surf the Internet while working out, considering the vibrating that will happen. There’s also the obvious concern of sweating all over your laptop. But if all you want to do is watch a DVD while you pedal or slowly saunter along, the SurfShelf is a great alternative to more expensive entertainment consoles.

In a different vein, the “Great Handbook” series of gloriously simple how-to booklets added another to its series hot-off-the-press: The Great Kettlebell Handbook. Super smart for the company, Productive Fitness, to tap into that market and show a solid collection of exercises in one place with the weights (www.productivefitness.com, MSRP $10).

But, wait, there’s more…

Aside from the big legitimate abdominal trainers seen in most gyms (such as Quantum Fitness’ Power Crunch 600, list $499), we sometimes thought we were watching TV. Just when you thought ab-sculpting technology couldn’t get any more innovative (or more odd), a few new products entered the market. The Ab Rocket by Emson, (www.tryabrocket.com, $134.80) which debuted in early 2008, garnered a lot of attention at the show. This as-seen-on-TV contraption is a fold-away seat that basically supports your back and provides resistance as you do various crunch-like exercises, as demonstrated on the DVD (included). The back of the machine is made up of foam rollers that sort of massage you while you work out. Maybe your customers would be all over it ... or not.

Want to go bigger than a seat? Pre-order a home version of the Absolo (www.absolo.com, $599), an interactive core-strengthening machine that reminds us of the mini-basketball arcade game where you toss as many balls into the net as possible within a time limit. The Absolo basically does the same work as a partner tossing a ball to you while you do sit-ups except, yes, you can do it solo. Weighted balls sit in a chute. You sit on the bench, secure your feet under the footpads, grab a ball, lean back and toss it back into the chute. Repeat. Great exercise. Big piece of equipment.

And, last but oh certainly not least, the AB Puncher promises to help you do twice the work in half the time. How? By punching you in the gut. Warning: Tighten first and make sure your lawyer is on-call. No information available since the company said the puncher-thing was a prototype. OK, so all three are certainly a lot more exciting than crunches, but whether the entertainment value or size is worth the price tags is for you and your customers to decide.

Remember, if your product or company wasn't mentioned here, that's either because it didn't strike our team as new or different, or perhaps we were totally brain-dead and missed it. SNEWS started detailed show coverage on July 17 and we will continue to cover products, trends and issues in a variety of ongoing reports for the next few weeks.

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