Nautilus shuns booth at HFB show, plans own event

Nautilus has declined to participate as an exhibitor at the Health & Fitness Business show in August, opting inside to run a pre-show dealer event while planning its own mini-show in 2006.
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Nautilus has declined to participate as an exhibitor at the Health & Fitness Business show in August, opting inside to run a pre-show dealer event while planning its own mini-show in 2006.

That means it will be one of the only major retail suppliers not represented in some way on the floor. This is not precedent-setting since other companies have made similar moves: True Fitness has returned as an exhibitor after renting only meeting room space last year for its exhibit (and prompting a new show rule that no company can gain meeting rooms without being an exhibitor). Life Fitness now maintains a small floor presence to meet-and-greet after bowing out of a show floor booth a few years ago. Amer Group will exhibit its wrist-top computer brand, Suunto, and is expected to represent Precor in the booth in some way after Precor too opted out of the show a few years ago.

Other large players to exhibit include new North American-based Tunturi owner Accell NA, Keys, SportsArt, Hoist, as well as Vision, Horizon, Pacemaster and others. Icon is still apparently negotiating with show management, SNEWS® was told. Last year, it too had an on-site meeting room only.

"Our guys are on the streets everyday," said Tim Hawkins, Nautilus chief customer officer and chief marketing officer. "To pack up and go to a trade show and see them all again isn't the best use of our resources."

Nevertheless, he added the company is "still incredibly committed" to the specialty fitness industry. To be fair, Nautilus is still debating some kind of attendance, education event or sponsorship, but has said it will absolutely not have a booth, even a small one for presence. "Go big or go home," is the Nautilus motto in regards to a booth, said both Hawkins and Ron Arp, senior vice president, corporate communications.

The Nautilus company's corporate headquarters are in Vancouver, Wash., while its secondary facility has been in Louisville, Colo., just outside of Denver. However, it has under construction a new headquarters that is five times the size of its current Vancouver office. By next year, everybody except product developers will move to Vancouver. That 500,000-square-foot building will have conference and meeting rooms, where Nautilus plans to hold its own event in 2006, perhaps even inviting other smaller suppliers.

Pre-show and dealer fly-ins vs. show floor
For this year, however, Nautilus isn't shy to say it is indeed planning a pre-show dealer event -- Life Fitness, Hoist, Precor and others have in the past done the same. With the exception of Precor, the companies have also maintained their exhibit space on the floor. Hawkins said Nautilus is looking for other ways to benefit the industry, including scholarships and education, rather than just having a show floor presence.

"We're not taking people's time from the show," Hawkins said. "It's complimentary rather than parasitic."

The company said the dealers like the focused one-on-one time at events. But dealers we spoke with -- Nautilus and non-Nautilus -- were not unanimously in favor of such pre-show or dealer events, especially instead of show floor booths.

"I feel that vendors should participate in the HFB show. Like anything, the more effort you put into something, the greater the return," said Ilan Katz of Fitness Headquarters, not a Nautilus dealer. "If everybody went to a designated, specific show -- and all made a significant contribution to it -- it would be a resounding success. If, on the other hand, the opposite is true and people pull out, the effect of the show is substantially diluted.

"They want the benefit of the people coming into Denver and would like to take advantage of everybody being in the same place, but they don't necessarily want to pay for that. They are not alone in this regard -- they are but one example."

Said Nautilus dealer Roger Bates of Fitness & Spa Outlet, "I still think Nautilus should have a booth at the Denver show. They should be there and part of it. What it says to me as a retailer is that you don't care about me."

Mike Cirillo, president of Northridge, Calif.-based, The Fitness Store and a premium Nautilus dealer, said the advertising and promotion Nautilus does -- even as a part of its direct-to-consumer channel -- benefits not only himself as a Nautilus dealer but the entire industry. Still, he said he'd like to see a "continual, concentrated effort to drive business to the specialty retailer" so the relationship is a true marriage and not just an affair. About the show, he added, "at least be a part of it, even if the smallest booth possible."

Not all Nautilus dealers were so forthright, with most fearing retribution if they spoke on the record. One said dealer fly-ins and special events might be fun getaways but normally involve the owner and not necessarily the buyers. That means the buyers must still go to the show and check out all the equipment for an ultimate business decision.

"I think all of the major vendors need to be represented (at the show). The show has multiple purposes," said one dealer who wished to remain anonymous. "It's supporting the entire industry,… and we go to look at everybody's stuff and to find something new or see some new accessory."

Dealer fly-ins, often limited only to the high-end dealers for a supplier, can still be beneficial, Katz added, especially when a manufacturer is looking for feedback on a new piece that can't be shown on the floor or seeking in-depth discussions about partnerships and promotion.

When that event is tagged onto a show that a retailer is coming to anyway? Arp of Nautilus said, "Having a Nautilus event immediately before or after the HFB show eliminates any competition to the show and helps specialty retail leaders and Nautilus economize on travel time and costs."

Added Hawkins, "Parasitic to me would be renting space in the hall or adjacent to the hall. We are looking for ways to benefit the industry, in other ways rather than just through the show itself."

For-profit vs. non-profit
One of Nautilus' arguments against the show and for non-appearance is that HFB is run strictly for-profit by a corporation, in this case, VNU Expositions, which also runs large and successful shows such as Outdoor Retailer and Interbike.

But that's not necessarily true: VNU bought what became the HFB show from the non-profit National Sporting Goods Association, which still receives a "substantial" part of the profits, according to show marketing director An Le. Nevertheless, one could argue that NSGA isn't truly a fitness association but a sporting goods one that dabbles in fitness.

As a part of VNU's outdoor and bike shows, the company supports advocacy groups and non-profits with large donations from show profits, Le said. In fact, the non-profit Outdoor Industry Association survives partly based on funds received from the large, twice-annual Outdoor Retailer shows.

Le said VNU and show organizers want to develop more industry support stemming from the fitness show too.

"We would love to support some key advocacy programs in a more robust way," Le said.

In its heyday, The Super Show gave millions of dollars to non-profit, youth programs, scholarships and research, but that dried up a few years ago when the show shriveled after big guns pulled out.

"If fitness is going to grow up and be a real industry," said one long-time industry observer, "then companies need to support the industry organizations and be part of the competitive environment of the industry."

SNEWS® View: As others came and went, Nautilus maintained its presence at the fitness show in Denver, in fact, debuted its new schmantzy booth last year there, making a grand impression when attendees entered the hall. But we must say that the booth was perhaps even overkill for the rather intimate show. No reason a company has to spend a half-million bucks or more on that kind of presentation. We do however believe that being there, in some way, is necessary if a company indeed wants to remain an accepted and viable part of the small industry. We must applaud Life Fitness for keeping its postage stamp booth, from which it obviously gains nothing but makes a nice impression and can meet-and-greet as needed. Even True has chosen to come back, and with Precor sister company Suunto already signed on for a booth, it wouldn't be a stretch to envision a piece of equipment and company manager pulling up a chair on-site either. How can any company expect to be a true part of any industry unless it takes part? And it doesn't have to drop a mint. Without a presence, a company seems to say, perhaps arrogantly, "We expect you to want us, but you have to come to us."

When it comes to the claims of for- or non-profit, we're not convinced. Yes, VNU is for-profit, but it gives money from proceeds to support the industry and, in the case of fitness, there will be more coming from the fountain. Plus shows are not just about booths, but education, networking, relationships and a little fun too. It is a meeting place for the industry, if you will. Some will claim that fitness needs could be met in one place by the IHRSA show, run in early spring for the club and commercial market by the non-profit IHRSA association. But, non-profit or no, this show is all about IHRSA and is focused exclusively on club needs and club equipment-- as it should be since that's its mission as an association. Plus, the timing in spring would be all-wrong for retail fitness and any kind of equipment debut for all the same reasons January and even February timing for The Super Show is wrong.

Now, not that one can truly compare The Super Show of yore, with its sprawling halls packed with exhibitors, with the HFB show, with its brands numbering 200 tops. But let's try for a moment: Once the heavyweights in sporting goods bowed out of The Super Show -- think Nike, Reebok, Wilson and others -- there was less reason for some of the buyers to come. Once the buyers stopped coming or limited their time, the little guys and the new companies -- who rely on the shows to find exposure and customers and who are the lifeblood of any industry -- had less of a chance, and they too stopped coming when the business being done was abysmal.

And once the show's attendance and exhibitors -- be it big guys, little guys or buyers -- start dwindling, so comes the death of a show, any show, no matter how big, or how small. The Health & Fitness Business Show is one that the fitness industry needs since no other speaks to it, alone. 

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