H&F Biz show '05: "Best ever" for many, vitriol aimed at three non-exhibitors

Although there were about 20 fewer buyers perusing the goods at the just-completed 2005 Health & Fitness Business show, they represented six additional retail businesses – or, put more practically, six more chances for a manufacturer to sell its product and to reach the public.
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Although there were about 20 fewer buyers perusing the goods at the just-completed 2005 Health & Fitness Business show, they represented six additional retail businesses – or, put more practically, six more chances for a manufacturer to sell its product and to reach the public.

Early and unaudited numbers released to SNEWS® on the last day of the show in Denver Aug. 25-27 showed the total number of buyers down to 1,040, or off about 1 percent compared to last year, while the total number of attending retail businesses at 493, or up about 1.2 percent compared to 2004.

"Best show we ever had," said Kevin Huels, director of marketing for Diamondback, also one show sponsor. "It was a good turnout of dealers, and the dealers said they felt the show was strong this year."

Echoing that comment was Steve Lindenau, Vision Fitness national sales manager, "It's been an incredible show for us. I'd say it's been the best in four years."

Additional educational sessions on Thursday morning to kick-off the show and a strong session on the last morning were also called welcome additions by many to an overall program at a show that many rely on.

"This is the show. There is no other," said Brian Bowman, owner of specialty retailer Niagara Fitness in Ontario, Canada, a six-year attendee. "It's good. It always is."

Despite such complimentary words by most that represented an overall positive feeling, the manufacturer presence was pegged at 144 companies filling 58,500 square feet, down about 6 percent over last year's 150 for about 62,000 square feet.

"Our key exhibitors told us repeatedly that this past event was essential for their 2006 product lines and being a part of an event that is solely focused on the retail segments for product previews, order writing and retail education is paramount for their businesses," said Lance Camisasca, show director for HFB show owner VNU. "We hope our past efforts at HFB 2005 will be noticed by the few remaining retail fitness brands that were missing and that they decide to take part in HFB 2006.

"Still, I am very encouraged by the number of attending retail businesses and strong 'vibe' we had on the HFB 2005 show floor," Camisasca added.

Nautilus, Precor and True take vitriol for not exhibiting
Only dropping 6 percent overall after both Nautilus, last year's title sponsor, and True Fitness bowed out was something of which the show management remained proud -- True waited until four weeks out to cancel despite word on the street circulating for a couple of months. Nevertheless, retailers, other attendees and exhibitors were clear in expressing bitter or angry feelings that none of the three would support the industry's only fitness retail show.

"When manufacturers don't support the industry, its dealers and the event by not showing their product, it represents a lack of respect and no class," said Steve Fetherstone, owner of Champion Fitness, "particularly when they come to the show to do their own due diligence and check out everybody else. It irritates me."

Most weren't as brave as Fetherstone, declining to speak on-the-record, fearing retribution of some sort.

One of the other big equipment suppliers of the industry, Life Fitness, was given kudos for maintaining a presence, albeit small, to support the industry and to network with its dealers. Several pointed out that that company didn't really need to be there either.

Bands of representatives from True and Precor were seen by attendees wandering the floor, inspecting competitor's equipment and having meetings in corners with retailers, although only one Nautilus representative was spied in the convention center.

Show director Camisasca said the management granted Precor a number of badges since its sister company, Suunto, also owned by Amer Sports, exhibited in a 10-x-20 booth. Although he said the show didn't know how many were strictly Precor reps, some said they saw anywhere from about eight to 12 in logo'd shirts. In addition, the show granted True Fitness 10 badges since its late cancellation meant giving up its large, non-refundable booth fee.

True plans its own dealer fly-in in mid-September at his headquarters in St. Louis, Mo., per several dealers, who have been asked to pay their own way. Precor has already had its annual Hawaiian retreat for its top dealers. The loudest outcry, however, seemed to be aimed at Nautilus, which declined to exhibit, while still taking advantage of the show by having a two-day dealer fly-in at a local Omni hotel tagged on to the front end of the show. Several dealers told SNEWS® they were not offered payment for flights since they were coming to the show anyway, and even they said Nautilus was unfairly using the show while not having to support it in any way.

"They should support the show if they are using it," one fly-in attendee said.

Another retailer said, "I think this is fine if they did not use the show to do it and they were to sponsor something at the show and support the industry."

The Nautilus shindig, which CEO Gregg Hammann apparently did not attend, included about 200 total retailers representing about 60 separate businesses. Part of one day was spent playing softball – in softball jerseys emblazoned with "Game on!" – with enough beer flowing and games delayed by rain and thunder storms, that one attendee said "Attrition took over" when asked who won. Nautilus also chose the Friday of the show to announce new treadmills by press release that are to be sold by specialty retailers.

"We have heard feedback from a number of our customers who weren't pleased to see representatives from non-exhibiting companies walking the show floor," Camisasca told SNEWS®. "We certainly understand these concerns and will do our best to address them, but at the same time we hope our critics can appreciate the fact that we're trying to keep the door open for these brands to come back into the fold in terms of supporting the industry and the show."

Sponsors, new faces, positive vibes
Even with a few negative vibes floating, the biggest feeling was positive, with less of a yawn that in some years when it comes to product as some companies displayed some true innovation of varying degrees. (SNEWS® will address various product segments in upcoming reports over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for stories about strength, accessories, cardiovascular, and yoga/pilates categories, as well as educational sessions and other bits heard or seen in the aisles.)

"This is the one of the best shows in a long time," said Trevor Glanger, Fitcorp USA president. "I've seen more new stuff than I have in a very long time – more innovation."

Title sponsor Accell Fitness took over a large and very Euro-feeling booth with a coffee bar, wood paneling and silk-screen backdrops to show off its new Tunturi, Bremshey and BS&T product, while also offering snacks and beer in its booth the first two afternoons. Associate sponsor Lamar Health, Fitness & Sport, also was knee-deep in customers in its packed booth the entire show, with a range of new cardio and strength equipment under the brand names Lamar, Universal and Ignite. Danskin Fitness sponsored well-attended sessions – from a stage located on the show floor -- on both the second and third day of the show on how to market and sell yoga and Pilates.

Vision Fitness sponsored show-opening seminar by sales guru Harry Friedman, who spoke to a packed house, while GearTrends® sponsored a panel forum following the opening session called "What have you done for me lately?" with retailers and manufacturers discussing and even sparring a bit about topics such as branding, training, and marketing. Other sponsors included Diamondback, SportsArt, Keys Fitness, Storis management systems, SGB and NSGA.

GearTrends® also sponsored the first-ever show floor Block Party with party pals, Lamar, Stott Pilates and Fitter International, with attendees emptying four (yes, really, four) kegs of beer in less than two hours. A raffle of about 15 prizes -- from balance boards and Crocs, to hotel nights at next year's show and Pilates educational packages -- from GearTrends®, Lamar, Stott, Fitter and the Health & Fitness Business Show attracted a crowd of retailers and other attendees.

In addition to a bevy of specialty retailers in attendance, the show also attracted a good number of sporting goods buyers too. Also noticed were buyers prowling for "finds" from Discovery Channel stores, Target and QVC.

Even small exhibitors were smiling:

  • "This is our second year at the show with our product and it seems like the interest is there from the buyers, even though the show seems physically smaller," said Jim Parker, JP Design & Manufacturing Inc. "So despite the smaller show it has still been a good one for us.”
  •  “This is our tenth year in the business and our third at the show and every year here has been awesome," said Dan Santana of Treadlube. "We have had great success here again this year.”

Remember, stay tuned to SNEWS® in the coming weeks for the best and most detailed show reports – you won't find more complete or more accurate coverage anywhere else. We'll cover categories separately, including cardiovascular and strength equipment, accessories, yoga/Pilates, educational sessions and other news and entertaining bits heard around the floor.

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