For the fitness and cross-training world, January isn't exactly the ideal time to unveil new product or for retailers to get out of their stores to see it. That means the show for the medium and large equipment manufacturers for the most part becomes a time to network, show tweaks on already introduced gear, or simply meet with customers.
In fact, quite a few have told us that any new product shown in January would be slyly photographed with camera phones by international attendees and be on the market competing with them at the next show. It's a different story for the little companies, sporting goods equipment, and sporting goods product lines that cross-over into fitness (think balance products, electronics, yoga gear, sweats, blinking safety lights for outdoor activities or sports food edibles).
Still, we saw -- or heard about -- a few new pieces in the fitness world on our wanderings through The Super Show. All in all, we'll say that we saw an awful lot of yoga, Pilates and balance products -- from good quality stuff by companies that were on the cutting edge to late-comers that had something worthwhile to offer to cheap-o me-too's. But we can't blame them all for trying since the mind-body fitness and "functional exercise" movement hasn't shown signs of slowing.
By no means is this mini-product round-up all-encompassing, but it's a brief look at a few innovative or new concepts.
Bollinger/Bell -- Some 18 months after Bell Sports acquired Bollinger, the company seems to have found its feet, fully meshed the two brands, smoothed and tweaked packaging and, here's the show kicker, rolled out a "premium line" of yoga and Pilates gear under a new name, Savasa, which has the tagline "Stretching my potential." With the Bell name not a known entity in fitness and the Bollinger name targeted toward mass market and sporting goods, Savasa will be the premium sporting goods line with some focus on specialty, Melissa Darney, senior marketing manager, told us. "We wanted to create a line that would not go to mass and bring the truer feeling of yoga," she said. For example a Bollinger mat would be approximately $14, while a Savasa mat would be $17. The colors are richer, the mats thicker, and the kits more full developed with CDs and carrying straps. Nice stuff with very attractive packaging.
Entertrainer -- An odd-shaped "box" (was that seven sides?) about the size of a small cantaloupe, the Entertrainer's tagline is "Power your TV with exercise" (www.theentertrainer.com). When we saw it in the World of Sports Innovation, we wondered if that was taking the carrot a bit too far -- slow down and your TV goes off? But what actually happens if you slow below your target (which would be completely individualized and change day-to-day) is the TV's volume goes down. Stop, and the TV turns off. Well??!?! Basically it's a universal remote control that goes on any equipment, and the inventor Joe Volpe thinks QVC is interested. We wish him luck.
Grizzly -- In the last year, Grizzly has done some major revamping, including separating its women's line so now women have their own Power Paw Wrist Wrap glove, which was introduced at the show. In addition, the company is now carrying a Canadian brand of treadmill lube that retails for $18 to $20 and is good for six to 12 months of use. Also look for a really cool unisex Neoprene Sticky Paw (suggested retail: $12) that has a four-loop design for fingers and opens down the back for quick in and out. We think it looks great for cross-training, adventure racing, and even light paddling or equipment workouts.
Harbinger -- This accessory company too has moved beyond its name for good-quality gloves and hand ex to a fuller line that now also includes mats, great looking weighted balls and stability balls. Also new was a G2 Glove (suggested retail: $25) that is two-in-one with an inner light-weight layer for example for use on cardiovascular equipment as well as a thicker leather outer jacket for weight workouts. They can be worn together or separately. Quite an innovative design.
Hoist -- Primarily at the show to demo its new BodyGear sporting goods line of equipment, Hoist also had one of the coolest products we've seen in awhile. Called the RocketLok, it's a dumbbell set in a plastic carrying case that moves beyond putting plates on a handle. Instead, the plates twist-and-lock onto the plate next to it. They release with a button in the center that simply can't be knocked accidentally (although we found fingernails do get in the way when you do want to release it). What a perfect item for work, travel, personal trainers, small spaces or you-name-it. The small set in one case weighs from 3 to 12 pounds per handle and will retail for about $70, while the larger set (two cases) goes from 5 to 30 pounds and will retail for about $140. This is a top product.
Icon -- Well, we would tell you what Icon had but we can't since no one showed up at the meeting rooms to meet with the media and anyone except specific buyers were blocked at the door. Still, we hear the company is rolling out two lines of workout and fitness clothing.
Impex -- Another company truly on the move, partly because of the arrival eight months ago of Marketing Director Mark Ulves (who has worked over the years at Pacific Fitness, Paramount and Precor) who is working to get the company to, yes, market itself. It introduced at the show its IGS-16, Iron Grip Strength home gym (retail: $1,000 and under license from Iron Grip), which seems to be amazingly sturdy and offer an incredible range of exercise for that price. In the works? All kinds of stuff: A stationary aerobic bike that will do something NO other bike does (trust us: it will attract attention and it will stand out with its "simulated terrain technology") and will still sell for $199. Also home gyms designed just for a women's build and needs. We like the sound of this since so many gyms just can't fit someone who is smaller framed. Stay tuned for more.
Polar -- Great news: The WearLink transmitter belt -- the flexible fabric one -- will be available as an accessory for all Polar heart rate monitors (retail about $50) and is out as of February. Also coming is a monitor to measure speed, distance and heart rate, using a pod on the shoe that transmits to a receiver on your wrist. Now the company can compete in that category with Nike and Timex.
Powergrid -- This one was only in the World of Sports Innovation and was likely missed by many since it was way in the back in the demo area. It's a cross between a game and a workout (www.powergridfitness.com), and we liked the concept although we're still not sure if it will fly. The company's KiloWatt system looks like an indoor cycle in a way -- but without wheels and pedals. You lean against a rest where the seat would be on a bike and run any PlayStation and Xbox games by pushing the console slightly forward and back or side to side, thus using isometric strength in your upper body as well as some core and leg muscles and balance to stay upright. The advantage over other concepts that crossed games with exercise is that this interfaces with any games on the market so the company doesn't have to write its own and because of its push-pull "Joy-stick" like controls you aren't relegated to only forward-motion games such as driving or flying. We admit, it was fun although the $700 price is pretty high.
Stamina -- The company introduced its VersaBell, another offering to what SNEWS has dubbed the "Multi-Weight Dumbbell System" category. Each dumbbell (retail about $70 each) can be from 5 to 25 pounds, depending on where you move a lever on each end and therefore how many thin plates it grabs onto for you to lift. The remaining plates stay on the floor or in a stand (which was just a prototype at the show). It was sleek chrome and nice-looking, but we found at least on this show sample that the level you pull up on then slide over and drop into the next hole wasn't totally reliable. In fact, twice we almost took out our own toes when the bar grabbed a plate, but then let go after we started to lift.
Under Armour -- Continuing on its roll, the technical apparel company rolled out six new items, including a loose shirt, a zip tope, a lightweight performance fleece, a performance polo, a tight "metal" series anti-microbial line, and a reversible sports bra.
Universal -- A row of color popped out at us as we walked past Universal's booth -- bright blue, orange, lime and lemon. Wow, this on a fitness floor? Called the X-Cycle, we must say these aren't high-end super technical, but we think they have a market in their inexpensive simplicity. A bit like a folding chair, the bike weighs only 45 pounds, uses magnetic resistance and folds to only 16 inches x 18 inches in floor space. For the couple of minutes we were on it, it felt pretty good for its retail of about $99 to $119.
York Barbell/Laurus Worldwide -- York with is reputation for barbells (see our recent story on the company's changes) has evolved into an integrated fitness company under the watchful eye of President Bill Thierfelder. At the show it introduced its Head Coach line of training gear for speed, strength, agility and reaction -- things like infrared timers, speed chutes and agility ladders, most of which also come with DVDs on technique and use. "We want people to have success," Thierfelder said. Also out for the strength company? Seven models of treadmills and a few bikes too, all done in partnership with Phoenix. The "Live Smart" treads start at $400 and move upward to reach a top $1,800 model that has patented "motion control" on the side rails -- that magical eye that you wave your hand over to have the tread slow down or speed up. In fact, the top five models (starting at $800) have the motion control design. The company has morphed into a different animal and still a credible one. "You're York??" Thierfelder told us a couple of people asked when they came by. He added, "We're definitely not just a barbell company."
Man, you could make your way along a few aisles just munching and snacking. What caught our eyes? Sharkies (www.sharkiesinc.com), which are the organic vegetarian version if you will of Gummi Bears, which are becoming quite the craze among triathletes, cyclists and trail runners as a sports energy chew (retail about $1.39). Also, we re-discovered JogMate (www.jogmate.com, recommended retail: $1.99), which is pudding-like protein product in a tube. We really like it, but lament the overuse to packaging in thick tubes also sealed in plastic wrap. Then there were all the low-carb bars (oh puuleez, don't get us started). The newest oddity was something called Zipfizz (www.zipfizz.com), which comes in a teeny tube that users in a mad scientist-like move dump into a water bottle to get an explosion of fizz. At about $1.49 per tube and with things like electrolytes, B vitamins, ginseng and guarna (a natural caffeine), it was compared to Red Bull. The flavor was good, but we didn't need anymore buzz.
Not quite ready for primetime?
Of course, we dared a few ganders through the licensed and collectible areas. Somehow it's weird to see stuff like wind chimes, snow globes and rubber duckies at a sporting goods show, but they sell. In the fitness area was a new product called a "Multy Task Work Out Center," (sic) which was a bike or treadmill that had a large kidney-bean shape piece of Plexiglas around the support rod/s on the console. What for? Oh, that's where you put your laptop, telephone, note pads, pencil cups and whatever so you can walk or pedal while working. Made in Serbia. Then there was the Aqua Skipper, which resembled a large tricycle but without wheels and only a thin metal frame. Pieces of aluminum on the back and front kept the gadget afloat on water. Hop on it and it propels forward. What happens when you hop to the middle of the leg and your legs bonk and you can't get back? Then there was the re-launch of Heavyhands, those really heavy handweights that the originator advocated swinging around your body as you walked or exercised. The front of the press kit read: "The rage of the '80s. Back. And just in time." Oh ouch. We won't talk about the vibrating platform exerciser or the combo bike, stepper thingamajig.