IHRSA show rocks Las Vegas with new stuff and big numbers

Returning to Las Vegas, the annual IHRSA show attracted a much larger crowd after two static years in attendance and amped up the energy: An industry resurgence seemed evident since more companies introduced new equipment -- or upgraded current stuff -- and more new companies introduced themselves and their equipment.
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Returning to Las Vegas, the IHRSA show attracted a much larger crowd after two static years in attendance and amped up the energy: An industry resurgence seemed evident since more companies introduced new equipment -- or upgraded current stuff -- and more new companies introduced themselves and their equipment.

Attendees at the 25th annual event totaled about 12,000, not counting exhibitor staff, or 2,000 more than both 2005 when the show was in San Francisco and 2004 when it was last in Las Vegas. In addition, the expo moved from the south hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which drew loads of complaints because of its long, narrow configuration, to the center hall, which allowed better exposure for more exhibitors with its wide format.

"It was by far the busiest show we've had in several years, with many high-level very active and productive scheduled meetings, and many equally productive, unscheduled ones as well," Michael Rojas, president of Iron Grip, told SNEWS®.

Although covering a smaller space than in San Francisco's 260,000-square-foot Moscone Center, this year's 240,000-square-foot hall held a record number of 450 exhibitors, compared to last year's 400 in a sold-out and packed Moscone hall, and 396 individual exhibitors the year prior, also in Las Vegas. No word whether the booths this year were generally smaller, which allowed more companies to get onto the floor, despite 20,000 fewer square feet.

"IHRSA is always slammed, and I certainly didn't see a reduction," said Terry Woods, director of product management for Star Trac.

In typical fashion, early morning workouts were loud, sweaty and packed -- one door guard told SNEWS® that a few folks asked to get in without badges, but he'd let them in anyway because he figured it was healthy for them to workout. Ironically, the association for all things sold in vending machines (think candy, soda and chips) was setting up for its show next door, but a manager humorously warned off a curious IHRSA attendee by noting if the person came in, it was going to require more time on machines in the IHRSA hall. The snack food convention was also going on at the Mandalay Bay (think chips and pork rinds). Oh boy…. Just a typical week in Las Vegas.

Keynotes, honors and retirement

Keynote speakers included former President Bill Clinton (see separate SNEWS® story dated March 22, 2006, in this Digest), as well as Jim Collins and Ken Blanchard, with presentations by Deepak Chopra, Stephen Lundin and Steven Blair. Augie's Bash to raise money to find a cure for ALS was a success, raising nearly $2.8 million (see separate story, dated March 23, in this Digest).

Although announced a year ago, it was also retiring Executive Director John McCarthy's last show after 25 years with the association. No replacement has been found when he retires June 30, and Joe Moore, chairman of the board of directors, will step in on an interim basis.

"On behalf of the association, I would like to extend my warmest thanks to everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to be here in Las Vegas with us," McCarthy said in an official statement. "It is an absolute pleasure to host this annual event, which has grown exponentially in size, scope and focus over the past 25 years, and at which experiences are shared, friendships are made and pathways for our industry's future are laid."

In contrast to this year, IHRSA's first convention and trade show took place in 1982 at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas with just over 200 people attending the event.

Other association honors this year were given to: Augie Nieto, founder of Life Fitness, IHRSA's Person of the Year; Julie Main, president, Cal West Group, Dale S. Dibble Distinguished Service Award; Pete Kight, chairman and CEO of CheckFree Corp., John McCarthy Industry Visionary of the Year Award; and SCIFIT, Associate Member of the Year Award.

Back to the shoe…

As Ed Sullivan would say, the "shoe" was non-stop action, with the buzz that, well, there was a buzz at all. There seemed to be an awakening in innovation with a number of new products, big and small, and new companies being shown, from Technogym's Cardiowave to Star Trac's HumanSport acquisition (see separate story, dated March 24, in this Digest) to the unveiling of Panasonic's Core Trainer and Fitter First's Cobblestone Walkway.

An optimistic energy, combined with the range of products launched, seemed to indicate the fitness industry was optimistic.

"A couple of years ago, people would say, 'I hope I can live through this,'" said Buell Ish of Vectra Fitness, "Now they're upbeat. It's a big difference in my perspective."

Look for details in early April on product launches and an overview of what was on the show floor.

SNEWS® View: One thing we can say, IHRSA listens. The roar of complaints two years ago after the last Las Vegas show about the hall configuration and check-in glitches was so loud that the association had to do something if it planned to return to Sin City. Although many attendees seem to like going to San Francisco, the show has outgrown the Moscone Center, so IHRSA is going to be forced to confront possible changes in venue. It was a breath of fresh air to hear about and see legitimate new products -- not just ones called new that were no more than redesigns and refreshes. The industry has seen clearly that it will take continued innovation for a company to compete in the marketplace if it is going to stand out from the crowd of yes-another-treadmill, yes-another-lat-pull ho-hum.

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