Club Industry show: Enthusiasm up for busy season

Pilates, bikes and core training -- with all the other usual and not-so-usual new products (we hope tanning isn't really back) -- took center stage at this year's Club Industry Conference & Expo over the weekend, which attracted what exhibitors seemed to feel was a smaller but satisfyingly quality group of attendees.
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Pilates, bikes and core training -- with all the other usual and not-so-usual new products (we hope tanning isn't really back) -- took center stage at this year's Club Industry Conference & Expo over the weekend, which attracted what exhibitors seemed to feel was a smaller but satisfyingly quality group of attendees.

"We've seen fewer people, but the people we've seen are committed to buying," said Bill Patton, worldwide marketing director for Concept2, which introduced its first new rower in a decade. "It's been a good show for us."

Aisle traffic was steady at the Oct. 9-11 expo at McCormick Place in Chicago, not overflowing, and SNEWS saw reasonable traffic and even business being done up to an hour before the show closed on the normally dead last day. Early morning workouts didn't have the bust-off-the-ceiling energy like last year, but had plenty of takers, although unless a booth offered a group activity, staffers often outnumbered exercisers in a mausoleum-like atmosphere.

Traffic "low but quality"
"The traffic has been a little bit low, but the quality has been good," said Ken Endelman, president and CEO of Pilates-specialist Balanced Body, calling it one of his top order shows ever. The Balanced Body booth had demos and workouts constantly, and Endelman said he has no problem with the quality-over-quantity feel.

Patton, Endelman and others were heard saying the buying, energy and commitment was "more than at any other show," and that attendees seemed "optimistic." Theorized Patton: "Maybe the pessimists stayed home."

According to show Marketing Manager Herb Greenebaum, preliminary estimates show 246 exhibitors -- a jump up of about 7 percent over last year's 230. Interestingly, both this year and last year's booth spaces were approximately 900, which seems to indicate the companies are still coming, but perhaps downsizing with today's economy. Those numbers compared to 2001's 200 in 875 spaces, which was depressed partly because it was less than two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, prompting no-shows, exhibitor cancellations and dampened enthusiasm. Cybex again took the "prize" of having the most humongous booth, with 60 booth spaces some 20 percent larger than both Nautilus and Life Fitness, each at 50.

Although never much of a T&A show, there are always a few tokens, normally the gals in supplement booths hired to attract attention. When one in a glittery outfit walked by an attendee, he fought the urge to swivel his head: "I was trying not to stare, but I guess that's OK here," he admitted.

Lifetime Achievement Award
The show also awarded its first-ever Club Industry Lifetime Achievement Award -- an event and award that didn't even make it into the Official Show Program, it was so late-breaking. That went to muscle and media king Joe Weider, who was honored by standing applause and mass attempts at photos when he was ushered to the front of the small room.

"We have created a fitness revolution, and we're still working on it," he told the smallish audience of about 300, seemingly since others either didn't know about the award or rushed off to get into the show. Former bodybuilding champ and new governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger became, humorously, a focus of Weider's few words: "To pick Arnold to run (California) is a credit to the body-building movement. It warms my heart to know I did the right thing in bringing Arnold to the U.S. to be a body-builder, actor and now governor. No one will now say body-builders aren't smart."

New and not-so-new products
As seems to be the case at shows of late, there weren't new products lining the aisles, but little sprinkles of them here and there. Pilates is gaining strength, followers and product offerings, such as efi's new, very solid and sane commercial Total Gym/Reformer-like Gravity Trainer system. Indoor cycles and bikes seemed to be making a "huh?" resurgence (although Matrix's new licensee Trixter -- "indoor mountain biking" -- that has moveable handlebars to simulate trail riding attracted attention, rightfully). Core training and balance products weren't wanting. Ellipticals aren't off-the-radar but they've become ho-hum in some ways, although companies like Technogym and FreeMotion Fitness that never had one are still lining up with new ones or planning on redesigns of old ones.

Recumbent step-like machines, like long-timer NuStep, suddenly became a "trend," if you can call it that, with three others unveiling their own recumbent products: Magnum, SciFit and medical company Biodex. And the continued big trend is aesthetics -- redesigns and relaunches with an emphasis on softer colors, smooth lines, lower-slung machines, curved steel, and an "ah" in looks and feel. (Of note: 2-year-old Matrix, and Nautilus and Life Fitness redesigns and launches spreading through the line.)

Odd perhaps was that show attendees seemed less eager than in years past to actually jump into ongoing show floor classes, from group strength and Pilates to indoor cycling and treadmill workouts. In fact, SNEWS saw way too many classes of all kinds with a token one, two or three participants and, in most cases, if you looked closely they were all hired hands, company instructors taking each other's classes, or other booth staff. Cybex's flotilla of ArcTrainers only attracted a small handful of users here and there compared to a year ago when it was SRO. Why? Going back to the comments of more "quality" traffic, we think managers and owners are less likely to take the time for a 30-minute-plus class; nor do they want to sweat in business clothes; when legions of perusing trainers and instructors came along, they were all about playing and working out. The one class that seemed relatively full was True's stretch demos on its marvelous True Stretch "cage" -- maybe that's because they were a mere 15 minutes and you didn't have to sweat. And walking around at shows makes you tight and sends you seeking relief.

But whether classes and demos are full or not is only about creating some floor excitement and not what the show -- doing business -- is all about. And the business part seemed to fly just fine.

"Traffic has been sporadic but quality," said Fred Bixby, Tuff Stuff's central regional manager. "Buyers are coming into the booth, like people opening gyms or expanding, versus just lots of people looking."

Next week SNEWS will present highlights among products it saw, as well as other bits and bites from the show floor in coming weeks, including attendee numbers and other stories it snuffed out.

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