IHRSA ’09 manages up-tempo mood despite economic doldrums

The big bold question was how the turnout for the 2009 IHRSA show would shape up with the economy slapped hard. While it started with less of a throng and trickled down a bit earlier than usual, most people breathed a sigh of relief.

The big bold question mark in everybody’s mind not more than a week ago was how the turnout for the 2009 IHRSA show, back in San Francisco, would shape up with the economy slapped hard.

Sure, the trade show floor when it opened March 17 for it’s three-day run started with less of a throng and it trickled down a bit earlier, but most breathed a sigh of relief: Preliminary numbers indicated only a slump in attendance of about 15 percent or so (about 10,000 compared to last year’s record high of 12,000, which includes all attendees, from exhibitor staff and media to dealers and trainers).

On the opposite side of the aisle, though, exhibitor numbers took more of a hit: Closer to 20 percent off, or 327 exhibitors this year compared to 400+ at the San Diego venue last year. Square footage covered wasn’t a confirmed number, as of March 23, according to a spokeswoman, and wasn’t being released. However, SNEWS® suspects that many of those exhibitors who were there had stepped back in space too: In 2007, IHRSA had expanded for the first time to a second “north hall” at the San Francisco Moscone center, easing exhibitors out of the ballrooms and cramped nooks they had been stuffed into during the two prior years. While the show packed the additional space, this year the back half of the added north hall was vacuous with spacious cross aisles.

Spirit Fitness with its e-Ryde partnership held down a front spot in the secondary hall (Click here to see a March 20, 2009 SNEWS story, “Xterra license foretells new direction, new life for Spirit Fitness), and the company reported steady traffic. 

“We’ve been pretty steady the whole time,” said marketing director Don Puerling. “The days have gone by pretty fast.”


To help add energy to the north hall, Star Trac's Chain Reaction indoor cycling fund-raising effort sat shoulder-to-shoulder at the front entrance doing indoor cycling mano-a-mano with RealRyder group cycling.

In the main south hall, Matrix had a sprawling booth (to house its 40 new products), while Precor’s (no new products) and Star Trac’s (final eSpinner cycle rolled out) kept pace in this year’s Gargantuan Booth category.

Yes, we have new products, but…

Yes, there were new products, but the focus seemed to be on tweaking and expanding current products and lines, while much of the new stuff was left behind closed doors or as prototypes to garner feedback. We suspect manufacturers are hesitant to roll it all out now when the economy may keep it from selling, but want to be ready to pounce when the turnaround comes. Commercial sales haven’t been hit as badly as retail fitness; however, they have felt a small pinch. (Click here to see a Jan. 26, 2009 SNEWS story, “Commercial fitness sales starting to feel economic woes.”) From talking to exhibitors, it’s clear that clubs don’t want to put spending on hold since they must keep up to hang onto members, but they may be cherry-picking a new piece here and there without signing on for full lines.

For example, Schwinn rolled out a new indoor cycle that replaced its old one; Octane Fitness had a final version of the prototype it showed last year of the xRide recumbent elliptical; and Vectra added a fixed point on its VX-FT cable gym to allow a user to do body weight training.

In general, we also saw a continued expansion of what SNEWS dubbed “A-Trainers” in our 2007 GearTrends magazine (now called SNEWS magazine), with SportsArt showing a prototype of its Pinnacle Trainer and FreeMotion showing its model good for light commercial use. (Click here to read about A-Trainers in the 2007 magazine.)

Other themes:

>> Going green: Not only did one company show new gear to retrofit indoor cycles to generate power (and eliminate paying money for power), but a number of companies such as Woodway and SportsArt Fitness also showed manual and self-generating equipment that was immediately described as “green” – not something we would have heard even a year ago.

>> Xergame gets its game on: It’s not just a novelty anymore with Expresso Fitness being talked about all over the floor, distraction and entertainment touted as the way to go, and iTech Fitness showing an arcade of fitness games.

>> Small pieces matter: Forget laser focus on the big stars like ellipticals and treadmills. We saw more ab trainers, benches, balance trainers, and just interesting stuff to compliment workouts.

Joe Moore, IHRSA CEO, told SNEWS he was a club operator back in the early ‘80s during the last large recession, and the industry just needs to be smart to keep chugging along – and it needs to remember its resilience. “They call them business cycles for a reason,” he added.

About the show, he said attendance seemed good. “The mood is very positive,” Moore told SNEWS on the last day. “We’ve very pleased. There are definitely sales being made.”

The 2010 IHRSA show will return to San Diego, Calif., March 10-13.

Look for information about company product and program launches and other finds in the side aisles on SNEWS in the next week.

--Therese Iknoian



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