Health & Fitness Business '08: Strength companies continue to talk space-saving, aesthetics, education - SNEWS

Health & Fitness Business '08: Strength companies continue to talk space-saving, aesthetics, education

SNEWS coverage of trends and new products in the home gym market from the 2008 Health & Fitness Business Show in Denver.
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Times are tough and signs of the prevailing economic climate loomed at this summer's Health & Fitness Business Show in Denver July 17-18. Consumers are feeling the pinch in many facets of their lives, from their pocketbooks to their gas tanks to the amount they're able to spend on workout equipment.

Where some see gloom, however, others see opportunity. You know, making lemonade out of lemons…. Several companies have seized upon the current situation, adjusted and focused their products on home workouts that they hope will be more appealing in today's times. Why? Because they require less time, are more entertaining or educational, and cost less while delivering more, particularly in user-friendly features and individualization opportunities that are simply presented.

At the same time, SNEWS® also noted a continued trend, which we wrote about a number of years ago, toward home gyms that are not invasive, can more harmoniously fit into their surroundings, and are simply "prettier," which also appeals more to women shoppers. And "low-profile" gyms to fit where there are lower ceilings continue to be a talking point.

Do more, be more, offer more, but do it in less space and do it simply and attractively.

Gyms are gaining in sales, according to the latest SNEWS Retailer Survey, and that is perhaps an indication that people are seeking ways to avoid driving to the gym -- and incurring gas costs. But that's not to say they aren't also clamoring for new products. Carlos Aviles, national sales director at Avanti, said, "We're focusing on offering something unique, that will save time, and keep you at home."

On a side note, we heard from a number of manufacturers' representatives we spoke with that their home gym was "the smallest footprint" in the industry. Now, really, we know that not everybody can have "the smallest" since a superlative like that really denotes one. If you want to be considered as "the smallest," send your gym's footprint to snewsbox@snewsnet.com and our team will take a look at the measurements to make a call for the industry. Let's really figure out who has the smallest footprint!

(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 issues -- 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; there are more reports to come. Stay tuned, this is just the beginning. But if you do want to raise an issue or ask a question about coverage, drop us a note at snewsbox@snewsnet.com.)

Avanti / CardioGym

Avanti continues to tout "Fusion Training" with its new CG 3500 (MSRP $2,999). Fusion Training incorporates both cardio and strength exercises simultaneously, thereby giving users the chance to really squeeze every last bit out of workout time, or so the company said. www.cardiogym.com

The CG 3500 is a recumbent exercise bike attached to a cable-based resistance system. The user simply cycles while lifting weights. Meanwhile, a digital console tracks the workout in minute detail. Afterward, the CG 3500 folds neatly into a tidy, enclosed 6-foot-x-3-foot-x-3-foot wall unit.

BodyCraft 

For BodyCraft, co-founder Alan Gore told us the last thing left to do -- since he said the company has already effectively combined functional training with a traditional machine in the GXP -- was to dress it up a bit.

That meant, for one, oval tubing to soften the angles and make it more attractive to female buyers, as well as adding a few color pops and basic accessories, such as water bottle holders. The color pop for the machines comes from the plastic, translucent acrylic panels, available in four colors, that attach to the stack shrouds to allow users to customize their gym and make it more attractive in the home. "We have heard we need to appeal more to women in how we present our equipment, and from what we have heard with these changes, we are on the right path," Gore told SNEWS. www.bodycraft.com

Body-Solid

"People aren't making the drive (to the gym) anymore," says Stuart Glenn from Body-Solid, explaining the company's focus on home gyms and giving that as a reason for the increase in sales the company is witnessing. The F400 (MSRP $1,799) focuses on the stay-at-home exerciser who does not want an invasive, metallic sculpture dominating a room. It is designed with a small footprint and includes a neutral grey mesh shroud over cable tracks, giving it a more finished look. This also helps to save on steel and shipping costs, which doesn't hurt a bit in this economy in attracting buyers.

Body-Solid also touted the Glutemaster (MSRP $249), a piece designed to address what women have considered traditionally a problem area. The Glutemaster takes up minimal space and is a kickback exercise, with weights. www.body-solid.com

FreeMotion Fitness

The Freemotion Fitness Dual Cable Cross (MSRP $3,499), which debuted at the show, is designed to closely complement the body's natural movements, the company told us. The result is a workout that allows the exerciser to train in a full, fluid range of motion, freed of a two-dimensional regimen.

The Dual Cable Cross consists of two multi-adjustable cables attached to no-clang weight stacks. Long cable travel allows the user to perform dynamic ranges of motion with resistance. For example, one could practice a tennis swing, complete with a forward step and follow-through. www.freemotionfitness.com

Said Patrick Hald, president and COO of FreeMotion Fitness, "In life, you never move in a fixed isolated motion. The Dual Cable Cross simulates both life and sport."

Inspire Fitness

Still considered a leader in the home gym arena, Inspire unveiled a new piece, which, for want of a better description, is rather like Smith-machine-meets-functional-trainer (MSRP $3,995). It has six separate pull points when you count the Smith System. There is a place to hang exercise instruction booklets and an accessory hook for towels or other gear, as well as two weight stacks.

But wait…Inspire also has redesigned the M1 gym to help lower its cost while keeping its features; the result is a price that dropped to $1,399 from $1,795. How, you ask, considering the price of steel and other inflationary issues? The company retooled moving parts so they are not as beefy, costly or heavy, but still get done the required job. www.inspirefitness.com

Torque Fitness

One of the most impressive innovations in the strength category -- and perhaps among all categories and unveilings at the show -- came from Torque Fitness and had very little to do with hardware or equipment. Recognizing that education has been an Achilles' heel of the industry in attracting and keeping users, Torque introduced a website called "Torque Trainer" that is chock full of advice and comes free to consumers when they buy a Torque product. Its benefits include individualized workout programs, animated exercise how-tos and instruction, feedback from a personal trainer, a workout calendar, reminder system and even meal plans.

Key for retailers (and Torque, of course) is the ability to build a database of contacts, President Pete Borchert said, that can allow a retailer to build strategic long-term customer relationships, for example following up to find out if a customer has questions, is sticking to the program, or needs advice or add-on gear.

Also unveiled -- and part of the Torque Trainer website program -- was the F7 Foldaway Strength Trainer (MSRP $3,149, plus $399 for an optional bench), which offers a wide array of exercise motions in a package that folds into what it claims to be the smallest footprint in the industry (a corner-friendly 42-inches-x-42-inches).

"How do we maintain that relationship with the customer?" asked Borchert, voicing a question that has perplexed the industry. The company believes the F7, with the Torque Trainer, is a leap toward finding the answer. www.torquefitness.com

TuffStuff

Enter what the team there calls the "6-pack," an affectionate name for the MFT-800, the first 6-pulley (two high, two mid and two low), non-adjustable cross between a home gym and a functional trainer. The company said it is simple and easy to use, very effective, has all the exercises a home user needs and none that they don't. There is no lat pulldown, for example, so it can maintain its low profile and can be used in rooms with lower ceilings. The 150-pound weight stack accommodates most average users. (MSRP $1,999) www.tuffstuff.net

Vectra

Noting the company has long been known for producing a superior commercial functional trainer, Robert Orr, director of sales for Vectra, told SNEWS that it was introducing a two-stack version of the popular single stack VX-FT -- the VX-FT2. Why? Well, because customers were asking for it and the logic Vectra was hearing was personal trainers like to have the ability to have two people working out on the same machine at the same time. It also means one user can perform opposing position exercises not possible with a single stack. "If the customer is asking for it, and it makes sense to us, we're going to try to provide it," said Orr. Other than the two stacks, nothing was really new other than the improved pulley system, which will debut on the two-stack machine and then make its way onto all the VX-FT machines. The pulley has a second attachment point underneath that allows the user to attach a set of handles and then utilize body resistance to perform a series of exercises rather than the machine weights.

Also new at Vectra (www.vectrafitness.com) is the VX-DC, what Orr told us he believed was the only convertible standing or kneeling assisted dip-chin machine on the market. "This was driven by homes and workout spaces that do not have the ceiling height to accommodate a standing assisted dip-chin, so the solution was to create one machine that meets both needs -- lower or higher ceilings -- and accomplishes all the exercise requirements of an assisted dip-chin."

WaterWorkx

In the looks-could-kill category came an entry in the home gym category that could appeal to women or others simply looking for something racier-looking or just very unusual. The makers of the one-of-a-kind WaterRower, which uses water for resistance, introduced to the U.S. market a strength training piece that also uses water for resistance called WaterWorkx (www.waterworkx.de). The multi-functional trainer when the bench is folded up looks like it could be a clothes rack or a set of stretching bars and can sit very closely to a wall. But fold down the bench and you can do an array of exercises using pulleys with a resistance of up to 175 pounds. The entire piece -- in a classy looking wood finish that comes in a customer's choice of finishes -- weighs sans water about 130 pounds. Fold up the bench and you have a fooprint of a mere 8 square feet (MSRP, $2,495-$2,995, depending on features and finish).

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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