Taking the stage at the Health & Fitness Business Show on the opening morning was a first: A panel discussion called "What Have You Done for Me Lately?," with a select group of manufacturers and retailers, organized and sponsored by GearTrendsÂ®.
The panel and the audience discussed the tops and flops of the industry, the good and sometimes not-so-good interaction between the two segments, the dire need for better staff training, ways to approach marketing, and how to better reach the consumer, among other topics in the free-flowing, free-flying and no-holds-barred discussion.
"People want the easy fix, and we aren't the easy fix," said panel participant Kevin Lamar, president of Lamar Health, Fitness & Sports.
After 90 minutes of discussion and Q-and-A, the audience still didn't want to leave what moderator Therese Iknoian, co-publisher and editor of GearTrendsÂ®, called "a scintillating, thought-provoking and pot-stirring session."
Participants in the panel included retailers Chip Hunnings, All About Fitness/Lifestyle Fitness; Carlos Vazquez, Busy Body/Gyms to Go; and Rick Viehland, The Fitness Store-MO; and manufacturers Alan Gore, Bodycraft; Scott Logan, SportsArt Fitness; and Lamar.
One topic that kept resurfacing was the need for staff and sales training and how difficult it is to get it and do it right. This didn't mean manufacturer-centric training about the in's and out's of a company's particular equipment, but general training on how to meet and greet customers, how to interact and assess people, and how to generally work and close sales.
"Invest in people," suggested Logan. "Work on a formal sales training program, and use manufacturers as a resource."
Said Gore to the retailers in attendance, "You need to ask us for training."
One audience member wanted to know what he should look for in sales staff: A personal trainer who knows equipment and exercise, or someone who is a salesperson like a furniture or car salesperson?
"The personality of a salesperson is key," Viehland said.
Added Vazquez, "I've hired a furniture salesperson who had extensive sales training. We don't do that (train people). We just have them shadow people."
And that, he even said, is a problem, recognizing that everybody needs to spend some money on training. The furniture salesperson turned into one of his best, he added.
Hunnings too said it should not be up to the manufacturers: "Training salespeople falls on retailers' shoulders."
Embrace the future
The Internet and the changing world also was a topic, with the question being posed about how the Internet has affected the industry.
"Things are going to change," Lamar said, "and we need to embrace it. They aren't the same."
He also pointed out that among Internet searches, porn is the No. 1 search word and fitness is the No. 2.
"Go with the times," Vazquez said. "Internet, electronicsâ€¦manufacturers don't embrace that."
Even with an audience and panel discussion that was still rolling 90 minutes after it started, it was time to end it.
As Gore said to the retailers at the show, "It means a lot to us manufacturers that you're here. We only get one chance to do this. Be our partner. You're a big part of R&D."
SNEWSÂ® View: As the organizer of this session, we want to publicly thank the panel for taking the time to be a part, and we want to thank the large audience for attending and participating. During the show, we were asked multiple times to do this kind of thing again and to either make it longer or try to focus it on a particular topic, such as marketing. If you were there and have suggestions and comments, please drop us a note. If you weren't? Well, you missed out, so don't make that mistake next year!