Health & Fitness Business '09: Strength category focuses on light lifting in down economy

The strength category at this summer’s Health & Fitness Business Show, Aug. 6-7 in Denver, was looking far leaner than its normally bulked-up offering. Consumer cutbacks on spending resulted in fewer strength companies even showing up to the trade show with a booth, and those that did featured mostly minor tweaks and modifications to existing themes – a theme that carried throughout the show in all categories. Plus, offerings of simpler systems (with lower prices) were beefed up.
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The strength category at this summer’s Health & Fitness Business Show, Aug. 6-7 in Denver, was looking far leaner than its normally bulked-up offering. Consumer cutbacks on spending resulted in fewer strength companies even showing up to the trade show with a booth, and those that did featured mostly minor tweaks and modifications to existing themes – a theme that carried throughout the show in all categories. Plus, offerings of simpler systems (with lower prices) were beefed up.

Underscoring the findings from our annual SNEWS® Fitness Retailer Survey, home gym and function gym sales appear to have flattened off somewhat, in part due to the economy. But, in their place, sales of benches, hand weights, dumbbells, and multi-weight dumbbells have been going up.

“There has been a really significant pick up of sales in our solid weights and dumbbells and in our tools (exercise balls, medicine balls vinyl dumbbells, etc.) category,” Scott McDonald, CEO of Body Solid, told us.

Al Cockrill, director of consumer sales for Star Trac’s consumer division, noted that one thing that may continue to affect sales of functional trainers is sales staff knowledgeable enough to explain the systems and their use.

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“You have to have a person on the sales floor that knows how to sell functional training to be able to convey the benefits and features of a machine properly,” Cockrill said. “Of course, we are seeing sales of our Smith home system and Tech Tower continuing to do well, but it is hard to truly judge how well anything is doing until stores start seeing more customers.”

Value pricing made up the other noticeable trend. We noticed more strength companies looking to offer simplified but multifunctional designs for functional trainers and body-weighted resistance training. Simpler equipment translated into lower price-points than we’ve certainly seen in a while in a clear effort to juice up new consumer activity for specialty fitness dealers.

Lastly, a few companies, such as SportsArt Fitnesswith its solidnine-pieceDual Function Series of selectorized machines, chose to use the show to focus on product that was geared specifically for light commercial markets since that area hasn’t seen the declines the consumer side has.

Gravitational pull

Nowhere was the trend to value pricing and design simplicity more evident than at Vectra Fitness (www.vectrafitness.com). In addition to expanding its line of functional trainers to include the VFT-100, VX-FT 1-stack and VX-FT 2-stack (all with body resistance training features the company has dubbed “Body ResiStability” – click here to see a March 30, 2009, SNEWS story with a video demo), the company was testing a concept machine it dubbed the BRT (image up and to the right). SNEWS was the very first to see this new machine (sometimes it pays to be the first into a booth the second the trade show opens). The BRT combines both Body ResiStability and stretching options in one. Using the same kind of arms found on its functional training line, but with no weight stack, this machine is both elegantly simple and quite unique. At the end of each arm are cup-like hooks on a swivel that allow users to place a foot, ankle or hand in various positions or hold onto it in various ways to do different stretches and even yoga postures. (We were told there will be some modification in the structure of the hook.) Like its functional trainers, by using the handles and moving the arms into different positions, a user can work through numerous body-weighted resistance exercises. Buell Ish, Vectra’s CEO, told us on day 2 of the trade show that retailer feedback had been very good, and that the message was clear…price this machine at $1,200 or less and it will sell.

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At Inspire Fitness (www.inspirefitness.net), the new FT1 functional trainer was getting the biggest buzz for delivering a full-featured machine with a bench and all the bars, handles and straps for only $2,495 – and sales manager Jeff Laborde told SNEWS later that orders have been pouring in since HFB. But a far simple piece was also stopping folks in the aisle – the Chin Dip VKR (image to the left), which would have a retail of only $399. With one unit that tucks into a corner, a home user has a pull-up and chin-up bar, a Roman chair, and an incline sit-up. The back for the Roman chair detaches quickly and easily to become the incline board on the ground.

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Adjustable kettlebells

It’s not an absolutely new idea, adding adjustability to kettlebells. Aadjustable kettlebells have been around since at least 2004 with a small Massachusetts company called Kettlestack (www.kettlestack.com) making handles for standard weight plates and, since then, others, including Icon’s Weider brand, have jumped into the mix. However, two companies, Lifecore (www.lifecorefitness.com) and PowerBlock (www.powerblock.com) were showing some innovative takes on the theme at the show. The idea, naturally, is to offer up something for homeowners who wish to enjoy the benefits of kettlebells without filling up the corner of a room with a mountain of them in different weights.

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The Lifecore adjustable kettlebells (pictured right) will begin shipping sometime later this fall, Todd Keller told SNEWS. There are two versions: One colored red with a weight range from one to 17.5 pounds, adjusting in approximately 2-pound increments, will have an MSRP of $129. The other, colored blue, offers weight selections from 2 to 35.5 pounds and will be $179.

While Lance Goodemann of PowerBlock wasn’t quite sure of the exact price of his company’s newest offering, the KettleBlock (pictured with Lance holding one to left), he did allow that it would likely sell for between $199 and $220. Slated for shipping by November 2009, the KettleBlock will replace the need for 30 traditional kettlebells by neatly packaging them all into one unit with a very distinct PowerBlock look and feel.

Vibration

Steve Lindenau wants to help stores shake up their home gym sales with the increasing popularity of vibration training. His year-old company, Teutonic Sales, is touting the benefits of its compact Zen Pro 5400 (MSRP $1,400), a platform with a small footprint designed to be used with all functional training gyms. It features carry and tote handles on each end, and it has wheels on one end to ensure easy positioning. A magnetic-backed remote control allows the user to attach the vibration plate controls to a metal surface on the gym when working out. www.teutonicsales.com

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Sometimes old is new

Fitness Master, well known for its value-priced cardio equipment, is getting into strength with a 10-piece hydraulic line (www.fmiamerica.com/strength). Ed Banasky, national sales manager for Fitnex, told SNEWS the company has wanted to get into strength and saw a niche meeting the needs of schools and rehab facilities where hydraulics fit well. “Middle schools especially want to have strength equipment, but can’t have the liability that comes with plates, so hydraulics meet their need very well,” said Banasky. The price is certainly right. All 10 pieces in the line go for $6,500 as a package. Will this mean Fitnex might soon get into other types of strength equipment we wondered? Perhaps, but there is no rush, Banasky told us. The earliest for anything with plates would be late 2010…but a lot will depend on the economy and what the parent company develops.

--Michael Hodgson

The SNEWS® team of seasoned reporters covers a trade show to seek out product highlights, indications of a trend (to a product category, a company or the industry) or products that are new to the market. In our post-show reports, we do not write about every last piece of gear or equipment we have seen, although, promise, we have most likely seen nearly everything. Even if not in a show report, you never know how information may be included in a future report, trend watch, product review or story. If you have any comments or questions, please email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com.

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