Industry seems reinvigorated at sold-out IHRSA show

Was it a sign the economy is coming back for fitness or just due to a smaller show footprint? Whatever it was, IHRSA’s aisles were packed with people and positive energy. SNEWS was there and has more to tell.
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What a difference a year makes. Sure, preliminary attendance figures indicate numbers may have been down a bit at the 2011 edition of the IHRSA show, March 16-19 in San Francisco. But that doesn’t give any insights to the energy, the buzz, the smiles, and the overall enthusiasm for new product unveilings seen in the packed aisles – or behind closed doors -- at a sold-out show.

After a couple of years of economic doldrums, the industry seemed to be re-energized this year with suppliers reporting more customers were ready to buy, and dealers telling SNEWS® they were on the lookout for new products.

“It feels like a good amount of energy, like a good show,” said Dave Sheriff, owner of Colorado-based HealthStyles retailer and commercial dealer. “There are positive things going on.”

This year limited to just the main South Hall, the show was packed into the 260,000 gross square-foot hall with 305 exhibitors. Net space, only the space used for booths and walkways, was reported as 141,000 square feet by the show, although SNEWS has questioned that number and will report back on any updates. IHRSA for the first time also re-arranged its trade show hours – cutting out Saturday’s short third day to limit the trade show portion to two days and the early morning workout on the show floor to one morning.

“It’s been fantastic,” said Bob Quast, vice president of brand management at Life Fitness, which nearly didn’t come to the show in 2010.“It’s much better than last year. The economy is definitely getting better.”

A number of exhibitors and attendees said they felt having only one hall and a two-day trade show served to create more energy for two reasons: The changes compressed attendees into less time and less space, and they also created a sense of urgency to stay in the hall and get business done without the Saturday hours to fall back on.

“The hall just feels busier,” said Dai Manual, COO for Canada’s Fitness Town in British Columbia and Alberta.

The last time the show was limited to the San Francisco Moscone Center’s South Hall in 2005, it also reported a sold-out venue, but with about 30 percent more exhibitors (400) – we’re not sure what was different this time around, and haven’t been able to eke out a word on that.

The dilemma for IHRSA show management is how to configure the Moscone Center. Adding the secondary North hall – a brisk walk of a few minutes (or more) from the South Hall through a tunnel – allowed more brands to get into the show in 2007 and 2009, but left many grumpy about a lack of attendees making the trek to the hinterlands. This year, others grumped about not being able to get in. Although IHRSA didn’t confirm how many were on the waiting list, SNEWS talked to No. 41.

Although the show always attracts a good sized international contingent, this year several exhibitors commented about the increased international presence -- the weakening dollar likely playing a large role in the trend. IHRSA has not released final attendance numbers but sources noted a preliminary figure of about 8,000. The show had a high of 13,000 in 2007.

Certainly still just feeling their way out of the economic slowdown, exhibitors weren’t eagerly rolling out platoons of new products. Still, trends were seen – technology seems to be making a much stronger showing than ever before, “green” equipment that gives back energy is not just for the mom-and-pop brands in the back aisle, and the suspension training products were in every corner.

Precor – where were all the AMTs? -- and Matrix competed for the largest booth. Star Trac, its first show under new ownership of Michael Bruno, remained in the front row. The Nautilus commercial brand was now under the auspices of Med-Fit, with StairMaster and Schwinn commercial in a separate booth of their own.

Competing Latin dance fitness brands – Zumba to the far right and Batuka to the far left – were thankfully separated but their neighbors had to scream over the music. Vectra Fitness had its favorite spot on the back wall by the restroom (everybody has to go there at some point, right?).

And if anybody knows who that huge beefcake of a guy was in a yellow knit cap with Donald Duck embroidery, ankle warmers a la Jane Fonda, and a Hammer strength shirt with his traps popping it at the seams, could you please ask him what was in that 1.75 gallon Tito’s vodka jug he plunked onto the bottle holders of equipment?

In the next week, look to SNEWS for details about product trends highlights, select company product and program unveilings, and other treasures – or not – we found in the side aisles.

The 2012 IHRSA (www.ihrsa.org) show will try out a new city next year when it heads to Los Angeles, Calif., March 14-17.

--Therese Iknoian

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