Life Fitness kicks off Sport line to top German retailers

With top area retailers in town attending the ispo sporting goods trade show in Munich, Life Fitness' German office wined and dined some of them one evening during the show to unveil its lower-priced Sport line.
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With top area retailers in town attending the ispo sporting goods trade show in Munich, Life Fitness' German office wined and dined some of them one evening during the show to unveil its lower-priced Sport line.

In elegant candlelit chambers on a small formerly royal island on the Isar River that runs through Munich, retailers were told how the Sport line would offer them better margins and the ability to sell Life Fitness quality but with lower price tags. Draped in red throws glowing in the candlelight, the company one by one uncovered each piece -- to a purposefully melodramatic "Oooooo" by Aat van Winkelhof, executive vice president of international based in Franklin Park, Ill., who attended the gathering.

Seven pieces will make up the line -- two stationary bikes, two recumbent bikes, two foldable treadmills and one cross-trainer -- with the only major difference from their U.S. counterparts being that each one comes with the ability for users to wear Polar chest straps for built-in heart-rate monitoring -- something that German fitness consumers demand from every piece of equipment. Each piece comes with a Polar monitor. In Germany, retailers can expect delivery in March or April on the line that arrived at U.S. retail in about November. Suggested retail will run from a high of about Euro 3,000 (USD $3220) for one treadmill down to about Euro 1,200 (USD $1,288) for a bike.

"We have decided to make more of a push into the consumer arena," van Winkelhof told the group of about 35 retailers. "We want to show that we stand strong."

After dinner, some retailers -- dressed mostly in suits -- didn't hesitate to get on the bikes and treadmills. One even ran in his dress shoes on a treadmill! But that doesn't mean the crowd was unified in its opinions after it saw the equipment for the first time and got to test it. One retailer SNEWS talked to at the event said he'd be able to sell them, no problem, despite being at a fitness section in an area department store. Another from a different department store poked and prodded the equipment a bit and then concluded it was still too expensive to take up his minimal high-rent floor space since he didn't think he could turnover enough to make the investment worthwhile. One specialty retailer -- one of the few in the country -- already sells Life equipment and planned to add these to his line.

SNEWS View: It seems the German fitness market is now beginning to demand higher-end equipment, although Life Fitness still owns only a very minor share there with the less-expensive likes of Kettler and Icon (known there as Aicon) still dominating. But that is changing as consumers in the last decade have begun to get to know better equipment in health clubs and studios. What this means is that the company that has the most presence in clubs may be a real winner at retail -- at least in the next few years until the market matures more. That's because the brand name that fitness enthusiasts see in front of them at a gym then means something to them when they see it in a store. Life has already made big steps in a short time on that front. Although it wasn't exhibiting at the ispo show during regular hours, the company had supplied six commercial treadmills to the show to use for demonstrations in the running expo area.

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