HFB 2013: Attendees, exhibitors have mixed feelings about new venue and say smaller show could signal bigger problem

Sentiments about Mandalay Bay mixed; some say smaller show signals bigger problem.
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After enjoying a few years of togetherness with Interbike, Health and Fitness Business was back to occupying its own ballroom at the joint trade show’s new home at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

Attendees and exhibitors had mixed feelings about the new spot, and some said the lower number of exhibitors signals the end of retail as we know it.

“It feels like we’re at a wedding,” said Tuff Stuff’s national sales and marketing manager, Mike Ryser, as he waved his hand around the ballroom.

Julie Creed of BH didn’t have the same sentiment.

“I love it,” she said definitively. “This move was a lot smoother, the marshaling area is a lot closer and it was a lot less of a headache. At the Sands I had to fight to get electricity, fight to get equipment — everything was a problem.”

“It feels more isolated to me,” said Rumble Roller Founder Ron Johnson. “We’re seeing less traffic.”

To offset that decline in Interbike traffic he said he knew would happen, Johnson also had a booth at the bigger show in the main hall. It was worth the investment, he said.

Schwinn usually exhibits its stationary bikes and other fitness products at Interbike, but this year chose to exhibit only at Health and Fitness Business. Jeff Bitterman, national account manager, said the company would decide at which show they’ll exhibit next year after this year’s show ends on Thursday.

“The hardest thing about any new place is learning the layout of the land,” Bitterman said, adding that the show will likely go through some growing pains in its first years at the new spot.

Most people SNEWS chatted with were lukewarm about the venue and more concerned with the fact that the show was a few exhibitors short this year.

Some HFB staples, like Lifecore Fitness, were missing from the line-up this year. Owner Roger Bates told SNEWS he simply wasn’t seeing a return on the investment of attending the show.

The decline in the number of exhibitors — it was down about 10 from last year — also signaled a bigger problem some say: Traditional specialty retail is continuing on its downward trajectory.

Brent Swanson remembers when the show used to be huge, nearly as big as Interbike he said.

“Fitness shows have gotten so small,” Swanson said. “Unfortunately this is the only show and we don’t see as many buyers as we used to, but we still come to support the industry. There’s a lull in fitness equipment sales.”

Industry veteran Jerry Greenspan, who's president of Exercise Equipment Experts, said the end of specialty fitness retail for the home is near and retailers need to find another way to do business.

While some attendees liked the separation, many missed the added traffic from being physically connected to Interbike. Jay Vollmer of Power Block said he has a solution for that.

He said, “I think it would be neat if this square would be plucked and placed somewhere in the big show.”

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