IHRSA packs the halls and aisles, thumbs nose at sluggish economy

On a year break from San Francisco, the 27th annual IHRSA show could spread out comfortably in its new San Diego venue, ably accommodating exhibitors and attendees without anybody feeling crowded or slighted.
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On a year break from San Francisco, the 27th annual IHRSA show could spread out comfortably in its new San Diego venue, ably accommodating exhibitors and attendees without anybody feeling crowded or slighted.

On a year break from San Francisco, the 27th annual IHRSA show could spread out comfortably in its new San Diego venue, ably accommodating exhibitors and attendees without anybody feeling crowded or slighted.

Sure, there were fewer splashy product introductions than a year ago (we'll discuss product and company specifics in a coming story), but the buzz in the aisles didn't subside from opening hours to closing minutes. Trainers, club managers, dealers and retailers alike came to IHRSA to check the economy's temperature and figure out ways to keep the customers and members they have -- better to not lose any in this kind of economic situation. We even spied some retailers in the aisles checking out gear as they were looking to add on a new commercial business.

We must say that San Diego knows how to do a show, even one as big as 400,000-plus square feet. The layout is great in the exhibition hall with all booths easy to access and in one place (compared to San Francisco's need to split the booths in a north and south hall). The access to the city and waterfront is ideal. The convention staff is helpful. And the registration area ran smoothly and quickly. 

“On behalf of IHRSA, I extend our deepest appreciation and gratitude to all who joined us last week in San Diego,” said Joe Moore, president and CEO, in a statement. "The superior quality of the educational programming and the trade show made our great event the best ever, and San Diego could not have been a more gracious host city.” 

It's about business

But all that is just frosting, of course. The show is about business -- checking out equipment, gear, promotions, programs and information or buying and selling the same. Booths accommodated the crowds too: Star Trac spread its wings even further once again, filling the front aisle near registration with a brand new sweeping booth that was 130 feet by 80 feet, or the biggest in the hall, with maroon arches and an upstairs meeting area and showroom. In a dark tunnel under an arch, you found tastings of Hansen's sodas, part of one partnership that is linked to the company's Expect Different direction (click here to see a March 5, 2008, SNEWS® story.) Technogym had an expansive 110 feet by 80 feet with an espresso bar (it is Italian, you know), and product areas separated by filmy partitions so visitors had to make their way in a bit of a maze.

Other huge booths came from Matrix, which debuted its partnership with Johnny G's new Kranking program (click here for a Feb. 27, 2008, SNEWS® story about the partnership and program). That may have been the only true whoo-hoo glitzy debut in the show with large classes going pretty much non-stop on a sexy version of an upper-body ergometer. Precor showed off a new logo -- its first in 26 years -- and had mostly its year-old AMTs in the booth instead of its trademark elliptical, which had been its calling card for years. Cybex, FreeMotion Fitness, Life Fitness, SportsArt and Nautilus also had sweeping expanses, although some were decidedly fuller than others. Power Plate had a large and dynamic front-row booth that made attendees wonder how many vibration plates one industry can buy.

According to IHRSA, this was once again the largest-ever show, one-upping last year even with 400-plus booths covering more than 400,000 square feet (413 exhibitors). Rumor had it that the floor was a quarter-mile long. A spokeswoman said preliminary numbers showed about 7,300 attendees, with more than 12,000 total if you include exhibitor staff and any person that attended for any reason or for any length of time.

"I've never had so many appointments set -- just non-stop," said Terry Woods, Star Trac's director of product development. "It's been constant, busy all the time.

"People are coming to this show regardless of the economy," he added. "They see the long-term picture."

It wasn't just the front-and-center huge companies that had such glowing testimonials.

On the farthest wall to one side was a new company called Helix with one product in a 10-by-10 booth, but the owner and inventor Lenny Snyderman was all smiles -- even in the last hours of the last day.

"We've had great traffic," he said, then motioned at the two chairs in the booth that exhibitors pay a pretty penny to rent. "These chairs were a waste of money."

Early morning sweat, celebrities here and there too

Per usual, the early morning workouts packed 'em in. Funny thing is, the security staff didn't seem as bamboozled by the dedicated folks showing up in the halls that early to workout as the ones in San Francisco who always seemed stunned -- and half-asleep.

Many of the larger booths had classes going either to introduce programs or just how to use equipment: Kranking with Johnny G, indoor cycling at many from Life Fitness to Star Trac to a new company called Real Ryder (with an indoor bike that leaned and moved as it might in real life that got some buzz), treadmill workouts at True, Pilates at Stott and SpinPilates (former Spinning/Mad Dogg and now SpinFitness), and many others.

Celebrities, not counting those fitness "experts" who tout themselves as such, even showed up -- if you could find them. Somehow the fitness industry doesn't do a very good job promoting its in-booth celebrities and celebrity athletes: Greg LeMond, former Tour de France champion and co-owner of LeMond Fitness, was there showing off a new indoor cycle. Tennis legend Martina Navratilova was on hand to sign autographs and speak. And we found Olympic gold-medal decathlete Dan O'Brien in the Pneumex booth against the back wall behind the Precor walls. That was sad to find an Olympic legend like O'Brien with basically nobody there to say hello.

But not everybody needs a celebrity to attract people to the booth. The attendees flowed well down well-planned aisles.

"This is a great show," said retailer Scott Egbert. "It's good for the industry. It gets you fired up."

Augie's Bash, the third-annual fundraiser for money to find a cure for ALS, also fulfilled the "bash" in its name, attracting a huge crowd on March 7. 

“It is our hope that each and every attendee returns now to their business with a renewed commitment to grow our industry," Moore added, "with the collective goal of enriching the lives of all through regular exercise."

The 2009 IHRSA show will return to San Francisco, March 16-19.

SNEWS® will report on company product and program debuts, as well as a few things we found in the side and back aisles, in a coming story.


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