SNEWS Editorial: Is the fitness industry killing its own show?

Rumors and questions about the potential demise of the Health & Fitness Business show started filtering into the SNEWS® offices as early as last fall, but the ol' rumor mill ramped up into high gear in the last few weeks. It began to feel like a junior high school dance. Sorry, not even mature enough for a high school analogy. Everybody is buzzing about whether the other person was going, then nixing attendance for fear they'd be the "only" ones there. Like a speeding swirl of water rushing down a toilet bowl, so the industry has started to flush its own show into oblivion. Is that a cold slap in the face? You bet it is.
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Rumors and questions about the potential demise of the Health & Fitness Business show started filtering into the SNEWS® offices as early as last fall, but the ol' rumor mill ramped up into high gear in the last few weeks.

"Is the Health & Fitness Business show going to be cancelled this year?" "I heard nobody is going." "Maybe we shouldn't go since 'nobody' will be there."

It began to feel like a junior high school dance. Sorry, not even mature enough for a high school analogy. Everybody is buzzing about whether the other person was going, then nixing attendance for fear they'd be the "only" ones there. Like a speeding swirl of water rushing down a toilet bowl, so the industry has started to flush its own show into oblivion. Is that a cold slap in the face? You bet it is.

Folks, if everybody stops coming for fear there will be "crickets" in the aisles, there will indeed be crickets in the aisles. This has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the more the industry's members buy into this, the less of a show there will be. Certainly show manager and owner Nielsen Business Media has said in no uncertain terms it will not, repeat not, cancel the show this year (yes, those rumors are coming to us at SNEWS nearly daily these days!), but there is only so long a company can keep a show alive if it continues to get smaller and smaller.

Do you want a show? Do you want an annual industry gathering or celebration? Do you want education and workshops and parties? If so, then now is the time to toe the line and show up in Denver. We must hand it to Nielsen (and SNEWS has certainly consulted on and is helping on some show aspects as the media sponsor) since the company is doing all it can, punching buttons on phones and doing classy email sends to hundreds of retailers and buyers alike, as well as to manufacturers. No matter how many people are there, the show will go on and quite nicely, thank you, but that doesn't say anything about its future. For this year, we are ourselves looking forward to:



>> the new pre-show community service project to help Boys & Girls Clubs of Denver the afternoon of Aug. 5. If there aren't dozens of attendees to scrub, clean and polish a few of the downtown clubs, we will be truly disappointed in the industry. If you are coming to the show, but not to the community service project, we ask you, why not? Isn't this industry really about helping people live healthier lives? Then what better way to show that service and profit can go hand-in-hand than by giving of your time to help improve some youth clubs and fitness centers? If you haven't already RSVP'd, then send us a note at hfbevents@snewsnet.com. Need to know more? Click here.

>> our own fifth-annual SNEWS® Fitness Forum and luncheon, this year with two nationally known retail experts who are graciously giving of their time for the industry -- Ron Hornbaker of Retail Minds LLC and Sandy Stein of Stein LLC. (Click here to read more about them and the seminar planned.) In fact, they are both sufficiently interested in the industry and in offering any solutions and information they can, that they will both make themselves available in the SNEWS Booth/Community Hub following the panel on Aug. 6 for personal, free consultations. Planets revolve around each other in the universe and so do businesses, all reliant in some way on each other, so reach outside of your day-to-day with sessions like these.

>> an annual industry party, again generously sponsored by SportsArt Fitness. We have to step back here for a moment and congratulate SportsArt for sticking with the show and continuing to support its events. Over the years, we have seen increasingly more manufacturers cancel, saying they don't need the show, then come anyway to poach in the aisles and hole up in neighboring hotel rooms, indeed sucking off the show's investment but not giving back. That reflects a company's self-centered and selfish view of business that is both myopic and shortsighted. SportsArt has not once done that. And for that we must offer kudos. (Click here to read about last year's fuss about non-exhibiting manufacturers in a Sept. 15, 2008, SNEWS story.)

>> exhibitors offering products and insights. No, we won't stick our heads in the ground. The show is going to be small. Really damn small. Perhaps half the size of last year, no thanks to a longer and longer list of folks who mumble that they don't need it but still want to be part of the industry or those who are acting like junior high school kids afraid they won't be cool if they show up. Aside from SportsArt, there are other companies who continue to come, from the Body-Solids and Bodyguards to the tiny Productive Fitness company to Vectra and, yes, even Life Fitness, which has continued to support the HFB show platform in recent years.

OK, the economic downturn has hit fitness pretty hard. We acknowledge that. And since it's hit the industry hard, we can't deny that some of the cutbacks have affected SNEWS too, but rather than duck for cover and run, we're committed to a longer view for the good of an industry, not just a singular business. We recognize we are part of the industry and we are doing what we can to continue to support it -- perhaps making a few changes here and there to save a little money. A booth doesn't have to be 50 x 50 or even 30 x 30. How about 10 x 10 or 10 x 20? Oh, it won't appropriately represent the grand company you are you say? So, you need a booth to define your business and you think its size and grandeur does that? If you are there with a nice backdrop and a place to meet, it'll meet the industry's needs just fine…and yours too, and it will show you support the industry that supports you. That's a winning message.

In addition, a retailer may not bring a dozen people -- we understand economic pinches -- but flying in for only a day when you are rushing to see the people you know then dashing back to the airport just doesn't make good sense, nor is it a really great investment. The ideas and inspiration most often come when you don't expect them, so if your visit is so short and so structured, you won't have that breath of free time to network and let creativity and inspiration strike.

Going to a show -- no, stop, let's call it an Industry Gathering -- is not just so you can meet with your current vendors. The true worth of a show is to be able to network with others in the industry, stumble casually upon new ideas, and be exposed to different ways of thinking. If businesses don't look outside themselves, they are destined to be dinosaurs. The show -- sorry, Industry Gathering -- should be, could be, fertile ground for planting seeds of ideas that will transform themselves into new products, new ways of merchandising, new business direction and that, of course, means industry success.

So that brings us to the grand question: Is the specialty fitness industry as we know it destined to be a dinosaur … at its own hands? If there is no show, there is no gathering. There is no interaction or idea exchange. The death of your show is the first step toward the death of an industry.

That leads us to another thought: Is it time for the industry to die? Ouch. Did we just say that? If it's not ready to change and interact, maybe it should die? Maybe then it could rise like a phoenix from the ashes to become what it could and should be -- a broad-minded, open and honest and self-critiquing industry that is open to new ideas and to (goodness knows) actually talking to others for the broader good. This is harsh, but SNEWS has never been the place that minces words.

Now, will all this be saved by one show in its current form? Nope. It won't. Certainly coming to the Industry Gathering is a step in the right direction (SNEWS will host the HFB Happy Hour from 4:30-6 p.m. on the first afternoon, Aug. 6, in the SNEWS booth and we'd love to bat around the future of the industry and its gathering at that time.) Still, the issue the show managers at Nielsen have said they are looking at hard is what kind of gathering the industry wants, needs and will support…. Repeat…will support. Yes, that means you. If you raise your hands for an educational weekend with workshops and panel discussions with just a dash of trade show on the side, will you promise support only to bail again? If you opt in for a "speed consulting" type weekend melded onto a mini-show format, will you promise support, only to bail again? If you want to do smaller one-day meetings on a regional basis, will you promise support, but bail again? If you moan about the timing and it's moved, will you still bail? We hear this is truly the last year for a long and productive run in Denver, a gorgeous Rocky Mountain city. In our own survey last year, we found that many of you wanted to see it move -- even if you liked Denver (click here to see those 2008 results). We have continued to hear that a new city alone could help re-energize the show and bring a few folks back.

Now, if you are one of those manufacturers who is saying you'd do better holding a dealer fly-in, realize this -- such a move serves only your brand, and only a select few retailers. Looking through a wider lens, how does that move really support your retailers, and the industry at large? Recognize too that retailers are increasingly becoming ticked off having to attend two, three, four or more time-consuming fly-ins when they could do it all in one place, at one time, at one show. And then what about the smaller one-shop dealers who don't get asked to attend. They WANT to sell your stuff in some corner of the country that is underserved. How did not showing up at a trade show where you can meet with them become a good business decision? In fact, how did it become such that not showing up simply to support the industry, in which you do business, the one that pays your bills and supports your family, is viewed as good business?

And, since when did it become good business to whisper and pass rumors in the halls of the industry that you've heard so-and-so is not going so you aren't either? This is not a junior high dance, folks. Your business, its success or failure, depends on you and you alone. If the show is important to you and your business, are you going to base a decision about going or not because you "hear" so-and-so is not going? This industry, as well as its success or failure, depends on all of us, together.

SNEWS will be at the upcoming Health & Fitness Business show, no matter how many or how few members of the industry show up. This industry is THAT important to us. How important, then, is the show, your show and your Industry Gathering, and this industry to you? Your attendance is your vote.

Now jump into the discussion yourself by clicking on the Chat link, below.

--SNEWS® Editors

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