Nearly a decade ago, when SNEWS® visited the ispo show for the first time, the one hall of 15 that was labeled “fitness” was a depressing collection of infomercial-type junk and fat-jiggling vibration belts -- once a visitor stepped beyond about the first row of booths.
We even wrote in 2002 (click here for that Feb. 11 story) that one could have set up a full-scale bowling alley in the aisles and hardly disturbed a soul.
We’ve watched things change year after year, and this year was again a step in the right direction with some quality equipment, although from mostly European and Asian brands. Well, mostly. One U.S. visitor wanted to know why there was so much cheap stuff in the fitness area when all the best name brands filled the halls in other segments like outdoor and ski. The thing is, the fitness market is still so dominated by Germany’s Kettler, with Horizon and Vision now just making a dent, that it’s not worth it for many brands to show up to fight over a fraction of a percent. Granted, the distributor for the Johnson Brands, Style Fitness, celebrated its 10th anniversary at the show, and it’s taken nearly all of that time with a concentrated effort to rise to the occasion. Style re-did its booth last year, moved to the front, and indeed looks pretty classy.
Still, the fitness-oriented segment in one hall of 15 saw pretty steady traffic much of the four-day show, Feb. 7-10, 2010, in Munich, Germany. (Click here for our Feb. 12 story, “Show regains numbers lost, continues with energy and breadth,” about the overall show traffic and feel in this 40th anniversary year for ispo. )
“There’s more going on than last year in this hall,” said Ulfert Boehme, managing director of Style Fitness in Germany. “There’s more traffic. The trend of fitness equipment is growing.”
The so-called “barometer” of trends by the German trade magazine, SAZ, which surveys retailers, found that fitness sales had again taken hold. Sales were rated as “average/middle” by 44 percent, as “good” by 25 percent, and as “very good” by 9 percent. Nineteen percent said sales were “bad.” That compared to the year-ago survey where 43 percent said sales were “bad” and even 10 percent last year said they were “very bad.” “Very good” sales a year ago? Forget it. Didn’t exist. And another story in the paper also noted, as we have, that inexpensive equipment is fading to dark, while good, quality, sturdy equipment is becoming more of what people want.
Of course, also playing a role is the slow growth of the fitness and wellness market in much of Europe -- and the lack of understanding by many U.S. companies of the widely different needs of those participants -- or potential participants. Germany and the German-speaking countries used to be a solid decade behind fitness in North America. A small wobbly ergometer was top of the line, and treadmills or ellipticals were out of the question due to design aesthetics and the lack of space for such monsters, not to mention the price. The United Kingdom was catching up quickly, and in fact, has caught up. France is still far behind, while the Eastern European countries are still working on their markets -- partly due to economics.
Germany, on the other hand, has grabbed fitness and “wellness” by the horns. Treadmills are now accepted -- as long as they are foldable in most cases of models that are in the lower to middle price ranges. Ellipticals are growing strongly including those with front drives -- proof of the acceptance is that Kettler at this show made a big to-do about its first front-drive ellipticals (photo left). That makes total sense since they tend to take less space, feel more like walking and have a comfort factor that is higher than wobbly ergometers, and can be foldable. Kettler also introduced a new line of handheld accessories in bright colors -- which is unusual for the company.
One big transition on the show floor is the total disappearance of Icon (there known as Aicon). Back in the early 2000s, the front row was an impenetrable battleship with Kettler and Icon fortresses taking the entire aisle, making the hall overall not very welcoming. Now there is an open feel and even Kettler’s booth has some open sections -- although you still have to pass muster to get past the front desk.
Still, many of the smaller booths, dominated by what the one attendee we cited earlier as deeming “junk,” are suppliers looking for customers -- of course, not all have small unappealing pieces. Strength Master, the supplier for LifeSpan Fitness, was there with LifeSpan President Pete Schenk going through a presentation of the company’s online health program, Interactive Health Partner, to Tiedje Fitness (www.sport-tiedje.de), one of the growing and highly respected specialty fitness chains based in Germany.
Also on hand were Dyaco, WaterRower, Accell Fitness with Bremshey and Tunturi, Finnlo, Reebok Fitness (Green Fitness), Everlast, TuffStuff, BH Fitness and even TKO Sports made its first showing.
“This reminds me of the old days of The Super Show -- a lot of people,” said Garry Kurtz, TKO president, who in the back of the expansive hall noted there were still streams of people. “It’s truly international.”
In a coming story, we’ll review some of the truly fascinating new gear and equipment brands as presented in the BrandNew award area for new companies.
SNEWS® View: We think as the European markets continue to mature there is some room for additional quality equipment and accessory brands. This is the only retail-oriented show, and it has now proved it is on the right track. While the commercial show FIBO is large and attracts all the major global brands, the club market has shrunk considerably in the last year due to economic caution. Meanwhile, home fitness has begun to come back, and indeed there is an overall growth in cultural awareness of fitness, health, wellness and activity. Certainly, the equipment, the marketing and the sales tactics must be tailored to other markets, but as they mature, so can that perspective.