Club Industry reflects economic doldrums: smaller gathering, few product intros

Not surprisingly, the 2009 Club Industry show, Oct. 15-17, was another tick smaller this year, reflecting a trend not only in most trade shows but also, in particular, in the fitness and sports segment.
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Not surprisingly, the 2009 Club Industry show was another tick smaller this year, reflecting a trend not only in most trade shows but also, in particular, in the fitness and sports segment.

A quick glance around the exhibit hall at the Club Industry show Oct. 15-17, 2009, also proved that it's not just about company numbers dwindling, but also about the company's themselves downsizing.

This year, the hall had approximately 160 companies that occupied about 70,000 square feet of exhibit space -- down from nearly 200 in 80,000 square feet a year ago and illustrating a continued trend (2007: 217 in 82,400; 2006: 219 in 86,100; and 2003-2005 each with about 240-245 exhibitors in 90,000 square feet).

It's clear that belt-tightening by exhibitors in the last few years to save costs may be here to stay -- and some downsizing may happen at the last minute: There was a gaping, empty swath of carpet between the Nautilus and Precor booths that became a play area for the dog that assists one of the Kranking instructors in a wheelchair. Although show management declined comment, it was clear an 11th hour change meant a new floor layout wasn't possible since the maps showed no such hole. Expresso Fitness, still on the map at the door and in the brochure, also wasn't to be found (click here to see a Sept. 28, 2009, SNEWS® story, "Expresso Fitness reports 'financial hiccup,' closes doors for now"); that space was filled in with Schwinn indoor cycles set up as if ready for a class.

This year it wasn't gorgeous fall weather on Lake Superior that helped traffic to trickle down quickly each day since temperatures were 20+ degrees below normal. But trickle off the traffic did. Each of the first two days started busy enough, but by early to mid-afternoon, numbers in the aisles had thinned considerably. Even Early Morning Workouts suffered: On the first day, traffic was moderate, but on the second day, exhibitor staff predominated, mostly filling their own classes and equipment. Weather? Late nights? Too much imbibing? We're not sure, but we've never seen such a mellow morning workout.

But that doesn't mean the show was off for everybody -- it had its moments, it seemed, depending on who you were and where you were.

"We were over-run a few times," said Ken Carpenter, SportsArt director of sales, acknowledging the company's booth was smaller, therefore, also compacting people in a smaller space. "It was surprisingly better than I thought it would be."

For Cassidy Phillips, CEO of Trigger Point Therapy, the show -- the company's first in the fitness or health club segment -- was "incredible."

"It's been great traffic," he said. SNEWS watched a constant stream of trainers, instructors and club representatives stop to look at the massage balls and rollers and therapeutic rollers he offered.

Club Industry offered an "Inclusive Fitness Pavilion" showing equipment that is adaptable for those with limitations, such as in wheelchairs or with arthritis, and a section was labeled the "Fitness Apparel Mart," to give apparel companies a larger showing. Otis Wilson, former wide receiver for the Chicago Bears and a 1985 Super Bowl team champion, was patrolling the floor and checking out equipment. Jack LaLanne accepted a lifetime achievement award (click here to see that Oct. 19 story). Bobby Hinds (pictured right), 79, known as "the Jump Rope King" and founder of Lifeline Fitness, was a ball of energy cruising the floor with his new "PowrWalk." And for those who had a few minutes to spare -- sit down, roll up your sleeve, and get a flu shot.

Since a down economy isn't when companies usually launch new equipment, only a few did. Here are some highlights:

Exerbotics, which introduced its computerized strength-training system (photo to left) at IHRSA, had a real coming-out party at Club Industry since the equipment was refined and expanded. A computer system on each piece in the circuit (now there are five) does an assessment of the user and sets up a personalized program on that piece. Members then access their workout with a PIN. An LCD screen helps users perform the right intensity. Trainers can track and analyze clients, and clubs can track who is using what. www.exerbotics.com

FreeMotion Fitness had a new functional training piece called the Fusion (photo bottom right). A column with the weight stack had an arm that moved 360 degrees with a sliding pulley and cable system. When you do an exercise, the pulley travels to activate, per the company, more muscles in a wider range of motion. Also, the company formally showed its FreeStrider "A-Trainer," one of those not-elliptical-not-stepper-not-climber pieces that is all of the above. The stride is adaptable and moves based on a user's stride as long as 44 inches. The commercial version completes the family of three, one each for home, light commercial and club. www.freemotionfitness.com

IHRSA_FMF_Fusion.jpg

Lifeline Fitness was a whirl of activity. But first you had to find it. It was on the farthest aisle facing toward the side wall behind Matrix's tall black wall. Founder Bobby Hinds spent a good portion of the day walking around the floor with his new PowrWalk ($30). A plastic piece that looks like an upside-down stirrup attaches around each of a user's feet; a rubber tube is connected at the foot with a ball joint for full mobility in what look like grips of a walking pole that you hold. With the resistance provided between feet and hands, a user can walk, stride laterally, run, do floor exercises or you-name-it. www.lifelineusa.com

Matrix Fitness launched its "Virtual Active" entertainment system on its treadmills, offering crisp colors on the screens that take a user to destinations around the world. Imagine a walk or run to a real destination of a user's choice, with full sound, with locations already including Maui's Haleakalua Volcano, and the California Coast at Morro Bay, among others. www.matrixfitness.com

After a showing of the prototype at IHRSA in March, SportsArt Fitness debuted its Pinnacle Trainer with a few tweaks based on feedback. The trainer (list $7,500, photo to left) has a stepper-like pattern but with a slightly lateral pushback with each step. It is a cordless, self-generating piece with upper-body arms. www.sportsartfitness.com

With its bright orange shell attracting attention, Trigger Point's new "Grid" foam roller was launched as the anti-foam roller. A hard, hollow tube is covered with varying densities off EVA so it's not only less painful than other rollers but also better targets the muscles (MSRP $40, photo to right). "I wanted to make a better foam roller," said CEO Cassidy Phillips, who has fibromyalgia and develops the products with his own limitations in mind. www.tptherapy.com

--Therese Iknoian

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