H&F Biz Show '05: Saunas, swings and spas, oh my…

Spas, saunas, Jacuzzis and lawn furniture at the Health & Fitness Business show? Sure. These non-traditional items might raise a few eyebrows, but they help retailers survive the thin months.
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It is no secret that the season for selling steel and iron and sweat-inducing or muscle-priming product comes and goes all too quickly. That can leave retailers and manufacturers feeling a bit like farmers who are dependent on the success of seasonal fitness equipment crop sales to carry them through the thin months -- in this case spring, summer and early fall.

Although it may seem a bit odd -- and raise a few questioning eyebrows -- to see spas, saunas, Jacuzzis, lawn furniture, outdoor toys and kid's play gear, hyperbaric chambers and a few other "huh" items on display at this year's Health & Fitness Business show in August, think again. SNEWS® knows of a few really smart retailers who have already picked up on off-season items like the above and "cross-trained" their business well; and we know that number is growing -- just like ski and snowboard retailers sell patio furniture and barbeques in their off-season. Now we are seeing a few fitness equipment manufacturers also entering the cross-training business and exhibiting their wares at the specialty retail show alongside specialty companies, like Helo Sauna, who are standards at the show.

What, exactly, does an infrared sauna have to do with specialty fitness retail? Everything, if you want to grow your business and not rely only on strong sales that occur a few months out of every year, according to Keys President Tim Chen, who bought Icon's Image Spa division in January 2005 for $6.6 million and began a separate Keys division which it calls "Keys Backyard." Icon had told SNEWS® at that time that the spa business was not a part of its core business and was not contributing enough to the bottom line.

"By adding 4 Seasons Sauna program to our business, and offering it to our retailers, we now have no slow season," Chen told SNEWS®, noting that in its first year, he expected the sauna division to generate nearly $50 million in total sales.

"The fact is," said Chen, "saunas, spas, high-end lawn furniture -- they all fit very well into a retail environment that is also selling fitness. Many of the same customers that come to a fitness retailer for a treadmill or elliptical are also looking to buy health and leisure products such as spas and saunas."

Now that we at SNEWS® have covered all the categories the industry lives for -- from strength and cardiovascular equipment, to accessories and yoga/Pilates -- we'd also like to showcase a few oddball exhibitors, if you will. OK, OK, let's not call them odd, let's call them forward-thinking:

(Several weeks of show coverage began Aug. 29, so don't miss any of the category reports or stories about speakers and events. Today, SNEWS® wraps up the best and most detailed show coverage anywhere with a summary of non-core or offbeat items we found as we perused the show aisles.)

Keys 4 Seasons infrared saunas
We climbed into the two-person Infrared Sauna (list, $2,500) at the show and had to admit, it felt pretty darn relaxing, even if we were trying to scribble notes in the 100-degree heat with Tim Chen peering through the door (Yes, we were still fully clothed too). Made of either hemlock or pine, the kits reportedly assemble in 30 minutes, plug into a standard wall outlet, and include a reading lamp, CD player with speakers, tempered glass window in the door, and bench seating. Each comes with a five-year warranty. www.keysbackyard.com

SolaJet DryWave Spa
At first glance, the company's booth looked like it was filled with bathtubs, each covered with fabric stretched over the top, secured in place by a padded edge. Noting that other retailers (and more than a handful of exhibitors) were apparently taking naps on the bathtubs, we took it upon ourselves to investigate further. Ooooo, ahhhhh. Each SolaJet tub (list, $5,900) plugs into a standard outlet and is filled with approximately 35 gallons of water. The water is heated and a pressured water jet fires fingers of water up against the underside of the flexible bed surface above. Intrigued, we lay down -- all in the name of research, of course -- selected the length of massage time and area to be massaged and actually received a decent massage courtesy of pressurized water shot up against the underside of the flexible sheet. The jets felt like, well, water pushing deeply against our muscles. Unlike a hot tub, we were clothed, dry and felt like taking a nap immediately. www.solajet.com

Colorado Altitude Training CAT 150 hyperbaric chamber
Yes, you read that right, the CAT 150 is a portable hyperbaric chamber that can be set up directly on top of a queen-sized bed, or, if preferred, on the floor. The basic concept is the unit sucks air pressure and O2 out of the sleeping area so you sleep at a higher altitude (you dial that in) -- up to 9,500 feet elevation added to the elevation you are already sleeping at or, up to 12,500 feet elevation added, depending on the model. The system on display was composed of a tent that seemed fairly air-tight which was connected by a hose to an oxygen concentrator -- looked like something out of a medical nightmare. Elite athletes swear by the system for its reported altitude-training benefits, and it is backed by an impressive list of medical doctors. However, the fact remains that the science behind the system is not yet 100 percent proven. http://altitudetraining.com/home

Dry-Doc Multi-purpose Dryer
Stuck in the back of the SMC Innovations booth, you may not have seen this little diddy. It's a small plastic device (about the size of a small step stool) that re-circulates room-temperature air and pushes it out various size tubes or other openings to dry anything a user has pulled over the top. That can mean footwear, but also gloves, workout bags, hats or whatever else may need drying. The beauty is, it avoids heat, which can ruin material and cause it to age before its time or crack and otherwise deteriorate. Heck, even people who exercise indoors sometimes may run or walk outside, or take ski vacations or other outdoor adventures, or have kids involved in teams and other activities. For a suggested retail of $50, it keeps a user from putting on damp footwear and apparel ever again. www.smc-innovations.

Sunset Swings

By Health in Motion founder Ted Habing (one of the founders of Pacific Fitness), the company has two divisions, one that debuted traditional strength equipment and one that caused the most smiles and one of the biggest traffic jams at the show -- Sunset Swings with teeter-totters and high-end patio swings and recliners. SNEWS® talked to more than one retailer who said the swings were "the best thing" at the show and intended to carry them, and we saw a few folks having casual meetings tucked into the recliner swings. These aren't your everyday patio swing, but use the same sturdy tubing and seat-adjusting mechanisms on strength equipment, plus they have footrests and little tables. Overbuilt, some might say, but they feel so sturdy -- as if you could just swing forever. We heard one attendee say she felt a bit guilty just sitting there at a fitness show. Hey, relaxation is a part of good health, isn't it? Some swings have canopies (available in a multitude of colors). Not cheap, nope, not at all, but we want one at SNEWS® headquarters for our important meetings! How did Habing get started on this? By building a teeter-totter for his toddler daughter in the same sturdy tubing, with the same sealed ball bearings and in crayon-bright colors that he now also sells. One at the show also became a prime attraction that sparked more smiles than a lot of the traditional stuff scattered about. www.sunsetswings.com

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