Certainly, times changed in the fitness hall of the sprawling ispo sporting goods trade show in Munich, Germany.
First, it's now all fitness, all the time: No soccer balls, blow-up pool toys, or trophy vendors.
Second, although certainly not as thumping with excitement as the rest of the show's nearly 2 million square feet in 16 halls, fitness ispo has grown up. Over the last five years, SNEWS® has seen fewer antiquated, butt-jiggling vibrating belt machines and other such fitness garbage. Hoorah on that front.
Lastly, oh boy, have the players and look changed. A few years ago, the front of the entire hall was a rather unwelcoming wall: Half of the impenetrable wall was Kettler's booth (see image to right) and, across an aisle that ran next to it, was the walled-in Aicon (Icon) booth/fortress. Visitors had to make their way around the walls (usually one was black and one was white, by the way) to realize there was actually more to be seen -- if they dared to wander that far.
This year, at the Feb. 1-4 show, Style Fitness, which represents the Johnson brands Vision and Horizon in Europe, moved for the first year, to the front of the hall with a new, bright, modern booth; Accell Fitness took a step forward, also with a sprawling open plan; Aicon/Icon has now disappeared completely from the scene, along with Nautilus; while Kettler has moved its fortress to the far back, next to strengthening European brand Reebok by Green Fitness. Kettler's booth is still an impenetrable black castle, though. Not only is it in the back, but the entrance faces the back wall. Dare ya to get in.
Economic slump a reality
Despite growing up, fitness seems to have been hit harder by the economic slump in Europe than other areas, such as outdoor or snowsports. In a survey of retailers done by the SAZ German trade magazine and published at the show, results showed that 43 percent said fitness equipment was selling poorly, while 26 percent noted fair sales, 21 percent said sales were still good, while a big fat zero said sales were very good.
And that was perhaps reflected in traffic in the hall.
"We have lots of appointments," said Ulfert Boehme, managing director for Style Fitness Germany, "but foot traffic isn't so high in the hall this year."
He added, "The people who are going to come, come by anyway, but people aren't just wandering through."
That could indeed be because the consumers, and therefore the retailers, are holding back just a bit, despite sales going up a smidgen over the downturn in November and December, he said.
You think that just snow, ski and outdoor are dependent on the weather? Those segments were rejoicing over the winter in European, but Boehme said that in most of central Europe it didn't really get properly cold until into December. That meant folks who normally decide to buy when winter sets in just kept putting it off. And, just like in the United States, the folks who have the money, SNEWS heard around the floor, were still buying, i.e. higher-end equipment was still moving reasonably well while lower-priced product was stagnating.
In a previous story, we addressed the North American launch of the balance/training equipment by Tunturi with its partnership with MFT. Click here to see that Feb. 9, 2009, story, "Accell Fitness partnership with MFT sports training expands to North America."
In both the fitness halls and the BrandNew award area, SNEWS saw a few additional new products worth mentioning:
Training Bull – Really, this is not bull. We've written about Afterburner Fitness' water-powered strength-training system (Click here to see the most recent story on Jan. 30.) and its push to enter an in-club testing program this year. Here (see image to right) is another water-based system out of Austria, developed by Egon Berger, who came up with the idea while studying mechanical engineering. A bit of a fitness enthusiast, he studied the fitness market, he told SNEWS, and decided that nothing had changed with strength-training equipment since it was first developed other than aesthetics. He took on the development of something different as his final project, coming up with a rather sleek-looking "tube" on a Smith machine that holds the water that is pumped into and out of the "plates" of the barbell. A user lying on a bench uses foot pedals to control the amount of water (weight). At this time, the one piece costs a sturdy EUR 5,300, but now that he has the basic foundation of the system, Berger said his next step is an entire circuit training line using water as well as a home line. "I didn't want to do something for my project that I'd just stick in a corner afterward," he said. www.trainingbull.com
Lakerunner – Maybe not ideal for most clubs, the Lakerunner (see image to right) by TU_Fin is a boat that is powered by an elliptical mounted in the center. OK, now that you've stopped laughing…. The team behind it said they have had interest from lakeside tourist areas and studios on lakes. It too was a university project by two students who didn't want to just research something and stick it on a shelf. The project's goal was for students to look at alternative energy means for transportation. This too carries a sturdy price tag -- EUR 8,000. But if it became a profit center, it could be a worthwhile investment. We, of course, wanted to know what happened if somebody stepped their way to the middle of a lake and then just got too tired to make it back. www.tu-fin.de
MihaBodyTec – We've seen electrical muscle stimulation devices (EMS) -- usually belts and gadgets somebody wears passively and calls exercise. Great infomercial come-on: Watch TV and get trim and fit. Although we can't vouch for effectiveness, the MihaBodyTec takes the concept a step further with an EMS training system that requires activity by the user. We watched a woman doing squats and lunges as her muscles were stimulated; she'd grimace and say, "Oh, yes I feel it!" A staff member at a neighboring booth said he'd gone through a workout the day before and still felt his muscles. www.miha-bodytec.de
Fitness ispo hall
Accell Fitness/Tunturi – Not really for sale, the Tunturi Concept Trainer was a sight to behold with beautiful carved inlaid wood foot platforms, arms and a console, elaborately painted supports, and gem-encrusted handgrips. It didn't even have a price tag but was part of a naming contest. Take a look here to see what part of the piece looked like (see image to right).
Halley Fitness – The manufacturer out of Spain has been in the business for 15 years, we were told, but has decided to move beyond just manufacturing for other brands. One of its launches includes an indoor cycle that can move in two places -- at the handlebars and at the base, so a rider can rock and move more like in real life. The bike we saw was a prototype but a spokeswoman said they were planning to sell the RPS, or reactive pendular system bike, later this year. The price was still in limbo based on retailer feedback but seemed as if it would fall into the range of other high-end indoor bikes. www.halleyfitness.com
Hammer/Men's Health – Branding is everything, but we took a look at the huge Men's Health cover blowup at the Hammer booth flanked by equipment and wondered how Men's Health could sell branded equipment by Hammer/Finnlo and still do "neutral" reviews. We didn't get an answer to that but we did see prototypes of the new Smith System, bench and adjustable weights that were being shown -- all with the red Men's Health logo. A company spokesman said they'd be ready to sell, via the magazine and select retailers, by early summer and would be known as "Men's Health Power Tools."
Next week, SNEWS will introduce in greater detail a new product concept by Kettler debuted at the show. In addition, further stories out of ispo will cover economic trends and what various buying groups and associations say about the current and coming times. Stay tuned!