IHRSA show part II: Lots of product waaaaay in the back too

We bring you Part II of our IHRSA trade show coverage -- last week SNEWS® focused on the overall energy and show happenings with a few product and company mentions from those Big Guns located in the front of the long, cigar-shaped expo.
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We bring you Part II of our IHRSA trade show coverage -- last week SNEWS® focused on the overall energy and show happenings with a few product and company mentions from those Big Guns located in the front of the long, cigar-shaped expo.

First, a few basic details to answer those questions you've no doubt been wrestling with regarding future location and show numbers.

Whether you're a fan of this year's venue (Las Vegas) or that of recent year's (San Francisco), the show will return to San Francisco next year (March 16-19, 2005). And, like a ping pong ball, it will shoot back to Vegas yet again in 2006. No official word on whether the show will continue the here-again-there-again rotation after 2006, despite rumors that say it will.

Also, if you're wondering how the numbers of attendees and exhibitors shaped up this year,… we are still too. IHRSA didn't return the latest calls and emails before deadline, and on March 31, nearly a week after the show, said it still didn't have final numbers. Granted, it may take a couple of weeks to tally up attendee numbers, but exhibitors? All we can tell you now is that we were told the day after this year's show that it had 396 exhibitors (which was said to be 40 more than last year), but we counted only about 368 on the map from this year, and last year we were told there were nearly 400. Either way, Mr. Smith of Algebra I class would have flunked us since those don't jibe. So we'll still wait for the final-final and let you know.

Now, on to products and companies. Since we can't begin to cover every last booth, every last product, every last cool and nifty-difty tweak, we'll only name a few that struck us.

Mid-Pack: Hidden by the tent in the front

The big whisper was all about Life Fitness' floor-to-ceiling draped booth -- impactful and impressive to attendees but the bane of those behind it. Didn't seem to be against rules, although SNEWS® was told a few complaints were logged, so we'll see what IHRSA does.

The mid-pack area -- a section 50 percent or so larger than the front of the hall but with at least10 times as many exhibitors -- had a lot to sink your teeth into (and we aren't just talking about the APEX protein cookies) including regulars such as Matrix and Keiser, as well as newcomers such as Shisei and No Slack. Shisei was a workout from Asia we didn't get a chance to experience. We're told it's like Tai Chi and Qigong...but different. We did see lots of hand fluttering going on in demo workouts. No Slack, introduced at IHRSA, was a simulation rope-climbing tower that we were told would exponentially increase upper-body strength after very few workouts. Imagine the firefighter's rope-climbing of yore, but with a belt and belay. OK, you got it. Not sure either are really ready-for-prime-time, but you never know.

Others showing their stuff including quality regular Body Bar, with its accepted and well-made weighted bars, Universal Gym Equipment making its re-entry into the commercial scene, and Power Plate, the vibrating machine out of Europe that is supposed to make you fit by standing on it, but we won't go there. Then there was Spri products, which is expanding and adding to its conservative yet omnipresent product line of rubber resistance products, accessories and educational tools every time you turn around, including the likes of Pilates.

And who could walk past the APEX cookie and nutrition booth without pretending to be taste-testing the food when you were really just ravenous and needed something in the tummy. Not to say the newest flavors of protein cookies weren't yummy. Although not edible, we also really liked the HUR strength-training products out of Finland that work on compressed air. They're sleek, non-intimidating machines that would be a great way to get the unfit, seniors and others into such training. Iron Grip also held court mid-court with its array of high-quality bars and plates -- nothing really new, but one doesn't really always need something new, does one?

Airex -- After a pilot launch last year at IHRSA, the Airex balance pad folks are back with the real deal. The pad's maker is out of Switzerland, and the program developer from Germany. SNEWS® reviewed it months ago, but now the Airex folks have an entire program with videos, online education and CECs and more to come. The package, for personal trainers but also seemingly great for consumers, will cost close to $200 and is coming soon.

Hampton Fitness -- What was really great at Hampton, we can't tell you about! Oh darn! But this company has one of the coolest new strength products that should find quite a market, both in the vertical market and homes. It's definitely one of those whack-on-the-side-of-the-head ideas that make so much sense. Is that enough of a tease? www.hamptonfit.com

Hoist -- What an impressive showing: Hoist for the first time had no white stuff in its booth (other than its new kid's line, which was being shown in its entirety on the open floor). We like the kid's line and think there is a place for a well-thought-out line of strength-training equipment that really is fun to use, but not made to look like toys. Also for the personal trainer, the company had a Functional Trainer set up and floor plans available to show a trainer with a small space what he or she could do and for how much money. Even a small studio with the basics on a 60-month lease would only run $304.

Matrix -- Matrix had a bummer. The first 1.5 days, the company had people constantly trying out its new Body Scan device, available to clubs and promoted as a profit center. The Body Scan is an entirely open table on which a user lies and is scanned, with results showing not only muscle and fat content but also bone density AND breaking it down to specific areas. Great stuff. Except the machine broke half-way through the second day and the company couldn't get a tech out to fix it. Nevertheless, the company's booth, which seems to grow every show, was packed with enough equipment to take the burn off that bummer. The Matrix version of the X-bike (see Trixter, below) had group cycling classes going strong.

SportsArt -- Spike, the new "face" (woof) in its new ad campaign (see SNEWS story, March 11), was the star, gracing T-shirts, early-morning-workout signups and walls. No, not really any new product, but the booth was packed throughout.

Trixter -- In a larger booth than in its debut last year (hard to believe the X-bike is only a year old!), Trixter nevertheless had ongoing classes on its bike, which is the only indoor cycle that mimics mountain biking -- the handle moves up and down as if you really were outdoors on the trails. Trixter is Matrix's partner and bike supplier. The concept adds an entirely new and fun dimension to indoor cycling. Trixter introduced a 32-click shifter, nearly tripling its former 9-click shifter to add even more options for users. There is an upstart nature about the company -- seen again in its ungrammatical but attention-getting line "Fitter. Funner. Faster." www.trixter.net

TuffStuff -- In a booth packed with equipment so tightly there was hardly room to move, TuffStuff showed its new treadmills, not just the prototypes it had at the Club Industry show last October. They are big and beefy, but still a lower profile and are named "Proformance" and "FasTrac" and have a rather huge, if not overkill motor, of 4 HP. Now, the company is talking with customers to find out what they think about the price, the look, and is going to decide soon which models to keep and what changes it should make. Stay tuned.

Vortex -- Think you've heard the name before? You have. At the IHRSA show in 2001. The company makes a rather different strength-training machine (actually three now) that are totally functional, adaptable to any body size and sport-specific exercise, and simple to use since you just grab a handle and move in the way you want. They look like huge half-moons. After the intro three years ago, Robert Piane Jr. started to build the business but told SNEWS® when 9/11 struck, new businesses just weren't in the right place. So he went back to his catering business (if you can't workout, cook and eat. That's what SNEWS says too!), but kept working on the Vortex (www.vortexfitness.com), patent now pending. These are all new and, without going through complete exercises, seem to be something different on the strength front that could find a niche market.

Back of the Hall: We needed an aid station to make it waaaay back there

OK, so we're kidding. But only sort of. It really was a true hike to the back. Although the hall in Vegas is about the same size as in San Francisco, with the entrance only at the short narrow end, you couldn't get to the back as easily (in San Francisco, there were entrances all along the front, which was the long wide end of the rectangle). And once you were back there, you were there to stay with no skipping back and forth from 200s to 2700s in a snap.

Not only that, it seemed like a totally different hall since you also had to go down a flight of stairs or a ramp to get there. What that did mean is the folks who did make it back there were serious about finding the new stuff, the quirky stuff, the first-timers, and the small guys -- some of whom can have some great product and ideas.

Even a few stand-bys were back there, including Fit Ball (Bal Dynamics) with its omnipresent range of stability balls and other accessories, and Fitter International with its always-impressive range of balance boards and other balance products that simply every gym should have.

Dew Rags -- In the very back row, facing a wasteland, was newcomer Dew Rags, with activewear in technical fabrics. What really grabbed a lot of the trainers and indoor cycling enthusiasts and instructors were the slip-on caps and tie-on thin caps that can go over your head in classes or even under a helmet outside. And the "cool factor" was so huge it burst all over the show floor. James Evanow, developer, said he was having the time of his life there and hadn't been able to sit down he was so busy. Moral: Being in the back ain't all bad. www.dew-rags.com

Lateral Edge -- Basically a ski-trainer, the products are already selling on television. Denny Palmer developed it to try to teach his wife to ski. Now, "it's like a magnet," he told us, about how it attracts people to his booth who just have to try it. The two products sell for about $700 to $800. Granted, they are also an extremely niche market, since most people just won't be comfortable with the Alpine-ski-like side-to-side movement, nor do most people need to do a lot of that. Still, if it were in a club and folks would try it for a minute or two, it could target muscles often neglected AND get you in your abs too. www.tricorefitness.com

Smart Snack -- Also in the very back, facing never-never land was a new meal-replacement cookie that -- what a concept -- tasted real. Low in sugar and lower in carbs, the protein cookie (www.smartsnack.com) is going to be at GNC stores in a couple of weeks and is working its way into the gym market. Yummy, what a great find just when you needed a little snack to find the energy for the hike back to the front.

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