In the first independent survey about the Health & Fitness Business Show, SNEWS® readers gladly told us their opinions about the event, its location and what it could do to make it more attractive and be a better business venue.
A good mix of retailers and manufacturers responded to the concise survey (four required questions and four optional ones) that was live for two weeks in late August, closing Sept. 3. They expressed frank thoughts, including a majority saying:
>> Move the show from Denver
>> Add in other "non-traditional" fitness categories other than equipment
>> Bring back the keynote and add more education
Although a majority voiced the above opinions, it wasn't really so clear-cut when we broke out retailers vs. manufacturers or long-time attendees vs. short-time attendees. On both sides of the aisle -- retail attendees and manufacturer exhibitors -- voices were also strong for NOT moving, for NOT bringing in other types of exhibitors, and for keeping the show tight and concise without added speakers and days.
"Year after year there has been a dramatic difference in the size of the show, the energy of the show and the interest in the seminars," wrote one specialty retailer respondent. "This is the one time per year that this industry gets together to compare notes and figures out how to improve things for the year to come. This needs to be a joint effort between the exhibitors, attendees and the show."
Stay in Denver or get outa Dodge?
Overall, 62 percent of all respondents said they wanted to try another city please. Some were in fact a lot less polite: "We have worn out Denver. As BB King would say, the thrill is gone. A new city would hopefully draw people that are not coming to Denver given the been-there-done-that scenario," wrote one manufacturer.
Said one retailer, "These trips are the closest thing I get to a vacation and I am TIRED of seeing Denver. Also it would be nice to crack us East coast guys a break and swing east."
If we break out the stay-vs.-move answers by retailer, fewer vote so strongly for moving: Only 57.7 percent now say move, leaving the manufacturer vote at 66.6 percent in favor of finding another place for the show to call home each year.
"Denver has grown boring after all these years," wrote one manufacturer. "In my opinion if you want to keep people excited and motivated to come you should change the city each year. You could always come back to a city a second time, but by creating a change in locale you will spike excitement for a new scene."
Then again, on the pro-Denver side, there are still a number, as one sees by the percentage breakdown, who gladly come there each year.
"Centrally located. Inexpensive to get to. Plentiful hotels. Amazing venue. Beautiful city. Great weather," wrote one retailer who after a few years still wants the show in Denver.
Another way to look at the stay-vs.-move debate is by the number of years somebody has come to the show. We broke respondents, no matter whether they were retailers or manufacturers, into two groups: One to six years at the show, and seven or more years.
As expected, more of those who had been to Denver more often wanted to go someplace else: 77 percent of those who said "move" had attended for seven or more years with many of those noting 8 or 10+ years.
Where to go then?
Now this opens a can o' worms: We know that a more central location geographically will get the most folks there. Take it to the West Coast and the Easterners will more likely stay home and vice versa. Still, we heard a lot of votes for Las Vegas, and we do mean a lot, with nearly two of three people who chose to suggest a city (this was an optional question) mentioning Las Vegas -- not necessarily as their only vote but as one of several good choices. Why? Because of good hotels, inexpensive travel, entertainment options and, for the manufacturers, less costly exhibiting despite the heat. Only one respondent actually named it negatively: "We wouldn't go to Las Vegas if you paid us!"
Other cities named (and this was a fill-in-the-blank question): Chicago, Orlando, Atlanta, Minneapolis, San Diego (more than once), San Antonio, Austin, Memphis, Nashville, and, as one put it, "non-traditional convention venues" such as Seattle, Portland (Ore.), Boston and Charleston.
And, as usual, a few cast a vote for combining with another show, such as Interbike or IHRSA.
Other types of exhibitors?
We asked neutrally (leaving the definition up to the respondent): Would you be interested in seeing non-traditional fitness exhibitors at the show? (For example, apparel, footwear, yoga, nutrition/supplements, bikes, outdoor gear, patio furniture, kid's swing sets, etc.)
Overwhelmingly, overall, the response was YES, with 60 percent voting for other exhibitors to broaden the show, its size and the number of attendees.
Named as options were bikes, outdoor equipment, health and wellness products, soft goods and accessories, other medical type gear that would "complement" the industry such as power chairs and beds, footwear and nutrition.
"I think as our industry is struggling to stay relevant, we need to partner with other industries that our customers would also apt to be involved with," wrote one manufacturer. "Obviously outdoors and more generalized sporting goods are obvious choices as most fitness-minded people are physically active outdoors and many are very sports-minded.
"We need to come together to help each other as specialty retailers and suppliers to specialty retailers to share ideas on showing real value to this common target market of like-minded enthusiasts," he concluded.
Breaking it down further, though, retailers were more split on the issue, with slightly fewer (53.8 percent) voting for other types of exhibitors. Among manufacturer respondents, even more asked to broaden the show, or 66.7 percent.
As some said to open the doors, a few wanted to keep them shut:
>> "We are specialty fitness dealers! We cannot have enough inventory of all other things mentioned and we couldn't compete with 'Big Box Stores.' If we had those kinds of products we would just be sealing our fate for disaster."
>> "There are more than enough fitness-related businesses that could attend. They just need to participate. I don't see yoga or nutritional items being non traditional."
>> "This is a fitness equipment show so stay that way. That is why we like the show."
And some were more open-minded too: "Nothing wrong with diversification -- for the show and the retailers. It just might help us survive the off-season."
Etc, etc, etc…
We then gave respondents two options to say anything else they wanted, with one question asking "What one idea would you propose to help make the show more appealing to attendees or exhibitors?" and another asking simply, "Any other comments to add?"
This opened the flood gates, of course, but a good number of respondents on both sides of the aisle mentioned education and talks, including bringing back the keynote speaker that was dropped this year and adding back in or scheduling additional seminars. We know this is touchy because we have heard the request for more education before and believe in it ourselves at SNEWS but attendees have to be willing to come early enough or stay around long enough to take part in these and they have to bring some key managers who will benefit.
We at SNEWS have tried to help in this regard and we're glad it hasn't gone unnoticed but, as one respondent said, perhaps it's not up to us.
"Bring back the guest speakers and round table discussions in the mornings while the show is closed. Insist that at least one representative from every exhibitor attend and make the topics relevant. More value added. It shouldn't be the responsibility of SNEWS to make this happen it should be up to the show!"
Other ideas included awards dinners and events, celebrities, demonstration stages, keynotes by business or wellness/health experts outside the fitness industry, different timing (such as earlier in the spring), better hotel deals, and more networking opportunities:
"I preferred the three-day show," said one. "Two days severely limits the time a dealer spends at the show. Because there was only one night for vendors to entertain dealers, it greatly affected the attendance at the industry party. Most dealers came in on either Wednesday night or Thursday morning and most left Friday night after the show."
We saw a good number mentioning some kind of collaboration, forums for networking, awareness-raising or the need for an industry association, all topics that SNEWS has harped on for a number of years and brought to a crescendo at this year's show.
>> "A vendor forum group to discuss how we can band together to promote fitness in general better to the general public," suggested one, "and a retailer forum group to discuss the same topic."
>> "Our industry really needs to work together from all participants to increase exercise awareness and promote exercise to the general public. If more people are avid exercisers, then all involved will do better and grow," wrote another.
A few also took the chance to lash out at manufacturers who do not attend but either have off-site meetings during the show or send a number of representatives to walk the show anyway and have meetings in the aisles and at local coffee shops.
"I find it particularly unfair that there are vendors that choose not to support the show financially but are present at the show and meeting with accounts," wrote in one.
On that topic, watch for a story in the next week with comments and information from show management, Nielsen, about the ongoing issue of non-exhibiting manufacturers and other options for the show.
Note: Our survey is closed but the SNEWS Chat area is now open. Click below to voice your mind and start a dialogue with your industry.