IHRSA show rocks to the end, new stuff all around

After three days of a bustling trade show and a gorgeous sunny San Francisco day beckoning, you'd think IHRSA show attendees would start to trickle out. But the floor hummed until the end. The trade show was filled to capacity and exceeded attendance goals too.
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After three days of a bustling trade show and a gorgeous sunny San Francisco day beckoning, you'd think IHRSA show attendees would start to trickle out. But noooooo. Only minutes before the trade show was to shutter its doors March 1 on the 2003 edition, the floor was still humming with people and the aisles were filled with activity.

That about sums up the show's three days, from beginning to end. IHRSA not only ran out of room on the exhibitor floor (more than 400 companies in every nook and cranny) and had a waiting list, but also bested its attendance goals of 7,500 by more than 25 percent, reaching a total of 9,000 -- not including the 4,000 or so exhibitor staff.

"I'm pumped," John McCarthy, IHRSA executive director, told SNEWS, as he dashed from booth-to-booth on the show's last day personally shaking hands with every exhibitor to thank them for coming. McCarthy is "pumped?" Boy, that says something, with that kind of vocabulary.

Even the early morning workout floor was "pumped" with energy, with booths filled and waiting lines for machines all around the floor minutes after the doors cracked open at 6:30 a.m. This is impressive (although we know security guards think we're nuts). One early morning workout attendee told SNEWS that sometimes you walk in and you wonder if they cancelled the gig. Not this year. The music and pulse nearly pushed you back out the door.

What's the difference? Even with a rather flat economy, fitness seems to be holding its own, maybe not growing but hanging steady, which is a lot better than most other industries are doing these days. But the questionable economy also meant that some companies that may have bought pre-show held off, came to check out the options first-hand, then were ready to sign off. Even though the dot-coms that swarmed the show a couple of years back have disappeared, there has been an influx of new small companies taking up space -- and new product and names helped add energy and buzz all the way around. Even the mainstays had new lines, product unveilings and redesigns that kept interest high, with lots of technological features showing up all over.

"There's a lot that's new, and that's pulling them in," said Roland Murray, Cybex's vice president of marketing, who also noted what seemed to be a larger international contingent. Of his company's 68 distributors outside the United States, 34 had come to the show, he said.

Finally, as IHRSA's Bill Howland pointed out, attendees -- especially international attendees -- like to come to San Francisco. Next year's show in Las Vegas opening March 22 should also be a draw, the organization believes.

One note: We know Clint Eastwood won't show in Vegas. Yes, Dirty Harry himself was snooping around the show (with his entourage) and took a minute to drop into the Nautilus booth to try out the new 2ST selectorized vertical chest press. Go ahead, make our day.

So what was new or attention getting (beside Clint)? SNEWS made the rounds to help you get a feel for a few high points. Never ready to claim an exhaustive booth-by-booth survey, we chime in about companies, product, marketing or other eye- and thought-grabbers:

Precor -- Maybe not bowling you over with product launches (four new recumbent and upright bikes), the company nevertheless just about managed to be the talk of the show with its in-your-face signage at all escalator entrances. At the top of the long escalators going down (with three sets of about 18 steps on a stairway between them) were signs with the words "Move Beyond," then pictures of French Fries sandwiched around asparagus or a couch sandwiched around gorgeous mountain peaks. Simple enough, but as soon as you got on the escalators and looked down you saw the harassment on a sign at the bottom: "Move better through life. Take the stairs." Ooooo, zinger. But the worst part was being caught on one of three escalators going up, then looking up at the back of any one of the signs. "Go ahead. Take the escalator. It's not like exercise is important or anything." Or, "What kind of fitness buff takes the escalator?" Or, "Ironic. Leaving an exercise equipment show on the escalator." We did see more people walking up the stairs -- what's wrong with a little guilt? And we heard some giggles as people noticed the signs. Although one competitor called it "arrogant." Naaah, it was fun, in-your-face and made you think. All good stuff.

Technogym -- Setting the stage on the first day of the trade show, Technogym wrapped the world launch of its new Excite line with a lot of, yes, excitement and worked hard to build the momentum and mystery, leaving the equipment draped at the show's opening . Set for 30 minutes after the show opened, the booth and its perimeter area were packed by the time launch time struck. "Are you ready to rumble?" asked a Technogym staffer (something about that phrase with a heavy Italian accent didn't quite jibe, but was cute, to say the least). Then the company spent about 15 minutes "emoting" with pictures of happy people, dogs, forests and ocean waves -- a tad over the top -- as it set the stage for its line it said incorporated "sensorial design" and stimulated all the senses. Then the coverings came off and the crowd swarmed. "Wow, this is cool," said one user. We had to say, it was. The large flat screen allowed great viewing and the touch-screen controls were easy to operate. Small joystick-like speed and incline controls on the side rails on the high-end treadmill were intuitive. A built-in fan on the top of the console was a subtle breeze in your face. (Granted, we're skeptical of aromas clubs can pop-in to come out of the fan, but maybe in a stinky gym the like of citrus and forest scents will be welcome....) Attention was high the entire show for its entire line. List prices on the commercial-grade treadmills were about $7,000 to $9,400, or similar to others in its class.

Nautilus -- All the brands that are now a part of the family were in one booth space. The one new item in the booth was one of the most innovative in its why-didn't-I-think-of-that engineering on the entire floor. Two new treadmills -- an LED and LCD version -- had a control "pod" in the center of the front rail that made changing speed or incline or stopping the treadmill the easiest of any treadmill by anyone. No ungainly reaches. No balance challenges. And the key itself -- the same as the one on the console -- was a small dome with a "switch" so when you pressed on it, you felt and heard a quick click to know you had made a change. It also has a lower-profile console (so you don't feel as if you're hiding behind The Great Wall) and a built-in reading rack so you can prop up a magazine without blocking the controls. All in all, great design work.

Cybex -- Front and center with 11,000 square feet and the largest booth in the hall, Cybex greeted attendees with banks of its highly touted "Arc Trainer" all painted in different vivid colors. In fact, Cybex was one of the few booths and about the only big guy in the front that had splashes of vibrant color. Also marching along one side were treadmills with frames from orange to lime green. A real statement, to say the least, and one whose time has come in fitness. Can we get over the black, white and gray routine? Please? Also, for the first time, the company presented a complete line of its Eagle strength equipment.

Life Fitness -- The company rolled out a new selectorized line called Pro2. A nicely featured line with two versions, the real notable was its look -- 10 upholstery choices included blues and reds and seven frame colors (including midnight metallic and ice blue metallic) gave it a sleeker and more inviting look in a very Matrix-like look. What is that saying about imitation and flattery? Also new on the floor was the Stretchmate stretching system of which the company is now the exclusive distributor (SNEWS covered that a few weeks ago). P.S. Sources tell us that Life Fitness was doing a private showing of Technogym-like equipment for later launch. So stay tuned on that.

Star Trac -- Continuing its new booth pizzazz, Star Trac had big screens, stage presentations, flashing lights -- and Johnny G emoting about the soul within during Spinning classes. What more could you ask for?

Matrix Fitness -- For a company that's less than 18 months old, it already rolled out a new booth, new colors and new branding. Why wait, eh? But the branding and colors continue its theme of warmth, class, elegance and inviting design. "Strong, Smart, Beautiful," the new branding campaign says. The nice thing is that "beautiful" stays elegant without relying on cleavage and six-packs but instead simply shows a nice-looking woman with muscles near some equipment. "Finally, a cure for the common gym," the material starts. Finally, a cure for copycat, look-alike equipment, we say. One interesting feature on its treads is the so-called "Ergo Pulse" grips. Where most machines force you to hold fixed handles in awkward positions while running or walking, these handles pull out of their sockets so you can hold them naturally while getting your pulse and continuing to exercise comfortably. The little things that count.

Free Motion Fitness -- The Icon Fitness-owned company unveiled its new Epic line of strength equipment with 16 pieces. In addition, the company unveiled commercial-grade versions of the Nordic Track 9800 incline trainers. Eye-catching in lobby displays -- in fact, stopping passers-by in their tracks -- the trainer is an advanced version of the earlier 9600. It has inclines that go up to 30 percent, declines down to minus 3 percent, speeds up to 12 mph, and a long enough deck (60 inches) to accommodate running. Especially in mountain communities or clubs geared toward sport-specific training, this trainer could be a hit.

Hoist Fitness Systems -- Aside from its new Kid's circuit line (in a separate story this week), Hoist also featured one of the best items on the floor -- the so-called 480 Access Trainer. Why "access?" Because it's a full single-stack gym with a seat that can fold up so it's fully accessible for all exercises to those in wheelchairs. Utterly the best idea, and why don't more companies do this? Graded for light commercial use, it can be a super home gym too (list: $3,000). Another beauty: With the seat folded back down, it can be used by others not in chairs so it's adaptable for a couple or a family.

Color is popping up -- Without anything truly new, glove and accessory company Harbinger Sports still had some smashing new packaging for its PCT and Cross-trainer gloves that had trendier designs and graphics as well as eye-catching colors like lime green with swooshes of orange. - Ivanko continued with its colored plates in a normally bland weight world and introduced a new urethane plate with grips. -OK, OK, so we keep talking about colors, but we guess you can take it too far. European Gervasport had selectorized machines that were fully done in a range of neon colors like hot pink or orange -- a selection from its menu of 200 possibilities. Nearly from top to bottom -- tubes, seats, weights, you name it. Maybe the company was trying just to demonstrate what it can do, but with that kind of demo, who would go close? We want bright spots, not a poke in the eye.

Other new stuff -- The Ramp, a new workout by Gin Miller, the creator more than a decade ago of the Step. The ramp is a plastic board tilted toward the user so a person steps onto the platform. We were told it was about "pushing and pressing," rather than "stepping and lifting." - BOSU Balance Trainer was gathering a crowd with its half-balls upon which you do classes and balance workouts. Allegedly fit instructors in a morning class were falling all over themselves. - Airex Balanced Motion, a class from Germany that uses the Airex balance pad, was tested on the crowd and with the positive reception we were told it will be rolled out. Even the Airex pads themselves are great personal trainer and personal fitness tools. - Also:Trixter indoor cycling bikes with bars that move side to side with your movement as if you were truly climbing a mountain on a bike outdoors, and the Windjector by Dosho Shifferaw, the inventor of the Bowflex. On those, look for separate stories next week.

Huh? -- A company from France that probably had the snazziest booth in the show, LPG One introduced something called the "Huber, The Core Machine." Looking a little like Star Trek had deposited some unneeded flying machine, the Huber was a large silver creation with large "wings" that were handles. A user stood on a large platform while his or her core strength was measured based on some simple tests, then the machine put you through a core workout that testers found difficult enough to be challenging, but not so difficult they didn't like it. But at $22,500 to $27,500, the machine is for clubs that have some extra money to spend on a machine that only works the core. Also being shown was a gadget that looked like R2D2 had gone to the beauty salon but turned out to be a cellulite-reducing machine. No, really. A staffer probably told us it had received FDA approval three years ago and was being sold worldwide, with 20,000 already being used. When shown before and after pictures of women's buttocks with the after photo showing less cellulite dimpling, we asked, "and we presume that these women are also dieting and exercising?" "Of course, that's also a part," we were told. Hm... Guess you could call these a "profit center" for a club that wants to prey on women always desperate to reduce cellulite. But really... - Power Plate, introduced its vibration technology a year ago, and was back, shaking people around and calling it muscle training. A shake a day keeps the doctor away?

One final note -- Seen on a billboard across the street from the entrance to the show, a sign that has nothing to do with fitness or the IHRSA show, but we just simply liked. If you didn't see it, you can read it now: "The fast track is meaningless if no one is there to hug you at the end of the race."

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