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Fitness product unveilings, newbie companies show wares at Germany’s ispo

SNEWS® in its annual visit to the ispo winter show saw a few products of interest, both in the fitness hall (some of which allowed for a preview of things coming to the United States) as well as in the area for new companies that have been selected as winners of the BrandNew innovation awards.

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We wrote earlier this month about the continued growth in sophistication in the fitness halls at the ispo sporting goods show in Germany – better companies, more legitimate gear, busier aisles, and generally a more energetic vibe.

“The foot traffic at the show has gone up over last year, and there’s just more interest in fitness,” said Ulfert Boehme, managing director for the Horizon and Vision brands in Germany. “Fitness is becoming a well-established category.”

SNEWS® in its annual visit to the winter show saw a few products of interest, both in the fitness hall (some of which allowed for a preview of things coming to the United States) as well as in the area for new companies that have been selected as winners of the BrandNew innovation awards.

Several things are clear:

>> Europe has seen a growing number of specialty fitness stores. Not long ago, you could count on one hand the number of fitness stores in Germany, but now you’d need both of your hands and several others too.

>> Not sure which came first – more specialty stores or a willingness to pay more for quality equipment. Either way, that’s the other trend that is now quite clear. Customers outside of North America are no longer shy about seeking equipment that is higher-end, costlier and even bigger.

>> Stationary bikes used to be king. They haven’t been totally dethroned, but treadmill sales are catching up. (Because consumers have space constraints in homes, they demand treadmills that fold up.)

>> Compact anything will still rule. Although newer homes In Europe are bigger, most still have tighter spaces than homes in North America, so bikes are small, treadmills fold and home gyms collapse. Space efficiency still rules.

>> Germany’s Kettler still dominates, and Icon has nearly disappeared. But others are infiltrating the market as customers become more open to looking around.

With those notes, let’s take a look at a few items that caught our eye on the ispo show floor in the fitness hall. As usual, this is not an all-inclusive list, but a mere summary of highlights in the main fitness area. (Note that if there were not USD prices available, we did not translate from the euro since the dollar’s weakness would have come up with a USD price that would not be equitable.)

BH Fitness – Leaning heavily toward that intangible “Euro” look, BH showed off some sleek treadmills that just looked fast. Curved tubing, angles going in directions they usually don’t go, and one with a sleek single support tube for the console called, appropriately, “JetSet.” Maybe it should have been called “Jetsons,” after the cartoon space family of decades yore. JetSet (approximately EUR 2,000, no USD established yet) had Bang & Olufsen-reminiscent design and stood out in its simple sleekness and clean lines. The one-armed support folded down onto the treadmill belt, sort of nestling around it for a “plug and play” type set up or storage. “BH tries to go one step beyond in design and ideas,” BH Fitness managing director Pablo Perez de Lazarraga told SNEWS®. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.” We have to give the company credit for trying. Also rather innovative was an ergometer called, simply, “HomeBike.” It had a square, compact design in the base, and a console support bar that, with one click, folded back toward the base (approximately EUR 350, no USD set yet). It actually gave a nod to the joke of exercise equipment becoming clothes hangers: The handlebars were shaped so a user could actually hang a jacket over it when not in use, and a tube along the back of the base actually functioned as a nightlight. Perez de Lazarraga told SNEWS® it is likely more geared toward hotels. The company also debuted a home gym that converted into a closet-like structure with doors and attachments hanging on the doors. Called Belize, it looked quite a bit like one by Personality Gym (see notes below).

Biogym – We were skeptical of these hand weights because studies show that carrying weights while walking just isn’t good for the joints. However, the Biogym system uses kinetic energy to force more muscle activation and the product is very light – a little more than 13 ounces. The Biogym is shaped like the handgrip on a bike handlebar, but its core is filled with tiny iron beads that shift. Sounds interesting. The German company debuted at ispo and is now moving into running and specialty shops.

Cardgirus – When we first read about Cardgirus, we kinda yawned. OK, we thought, it’s another bike that you ride while playing games or following a course but without much interaction. Looks – and descriptions – are deceiving. Users can choose bikes, change gears and track their progress. Plus, the resistance changes automatically with the course. You can test your fitness and ability on the bike using a built-in Conconi program, and the bike will then use data from the program to set up a training program for you. It was actually developed 15 years ago by a professional bike trainer in Spain for training bike racers, and it has been on the market there for a decade. The ispo show was its debut to a broader market. There are various models: some that users attach to their computer, some with built-in screens and some with touch screens. They run about EUR 2,100 to 4,000 (no USD available).

Cardiogym – Taking its gym to the next level, Cardiogym showed “wings” that wrap around and also allow it to be closed into a closet-like structure. It is also designed to literally fit into a closet so you could indeed put it behind closed doors if you wanted.

Finnlo – Another company debuting closet home gym systems was Germany’s Finnlo with its Autark Interior design.

Handy Trim – Granted, the name sounds a bit like an infomercial, and the gadget itself could sell in that arena. But at a glance, this small thing has something going for it. It was developed by a German tennis coach and uses kinetic energy to give the user an upper body workout. Imagine two steel loops connected by cords that are about the same length as a person’s shoulder width. In the middle is a steel puck-like chunk. You hold the loops and swing the puck (as if you were wrapping a towel to thwack somebody). Once it gains momentum, you then pull on the loops to keep it in motion, which exercises your arm, back and shoulder muscles. Really, it’s kinda cool. There are two sizes for harder and less-difficult workouts, which allow you to “pull” up to 10.4 kg or 5.8 kg (22.9 or 12.7 pounds). No USD established yet but euro is approximately 30 to 35.

Horizon/Vision Fitness – This was one of the largest booths – yet an open one showing its equipment on all four sides – and the Horizon/Vision representatives were a busy bunch. Representative Ulfert Boehme said popular price points are going up, and even the elliptical is gaining ground, noting it may soon surpass the sales of bike. It showed off its itsy-bitsy totally flat-folding Evolve treadmill (click here to see it on the U.S. website ), which has had a run in the United States on the Home Shopping Network. At least in Germany, a third of the sales are of the cherry red finish, and Boehme called it a “designer piece.” The company also completed the family design (different from the North American look), which made its debut last year in bikes and has been extended to ellipticals.

Kettler – The German company was showing off its entire line of “ME” equipment that is allegedly for women. Kettler still focused on its German-ness and German standards, with a couple of testing stations in front of the booth showing how it tests durability.

Personality Gym – Personality Gym was one of the first, if not the first, with compact foldaway home gyms. But its calling card is a sleek, high-end look. We’re told the gyms out of Sweden sell in furniture stores! We saw one of the originals a number of years ago at the Health & Fitness show in Denver, but it hasn’t been back. Now its product is going to start making bigger steps into the U.S. market, director Tomas Svenberg told us. It will sell directly to stores, trying to eliminate a middleman to cut expenses. Manufacturing has also now moved to Asia to lower costs. The gyms run about EUR 2,500 to 3,000 or more depending on the look (e.g. powder coating or wood trim) and attachments. No USD was available. They are tall, narrow gyms that must for safety be attached to a wall, but fold-out to reveal a bench and attachments. No, not all the bells and whistles, cables and arms, but basics. Svenberg also showed a prototype for a new adjustable dumbbell designed from his own patent with the same furniture-like look. It actually still looked like a dumbbell, compared to other multi-weight systems we have seen, and it has no special dials: You just reach down to grab the handle and turn it to the desired weight. The plates interlock, and only the length you need is then lifted, i.e. it eliminates the bulk of some other systems that still have large ends and bars sticking out. Said Svenberg, “It’s nice people are building things that blend into the home more.”

Sveltus – We talked about this French company last year when we saw it for the first time, and although Sveltus still appears mostly in France, we were told it is looking for distributors for its accessories. We still think a new item it showed last year, the FlexOring, is hugely innovative. Think of a Pilates ring, but one that can adapt to different strength needs depending on where and how you hold it. Plus, it can bend and twist in different directions. Inexpensive and just plain cool. It sells for about EUR 28 with an instructional DVD. Click here to go directly to the product on the Sveltus website because you have to see it.

>> And in the BrandNew area, a couple of items of interest:

Yoga Stick-e Socks
– Owner and inventor Libby Andrews was blown away with the reaction to her toeless socks, just out in December, with a rubbery bottom for yoga. In fact, she said on the first day she already had distributors fighting over the rights for their country. They are a fascinating, simple idea that goes beyond yoga to dance, martial arts and other forms of workouts and practices that are best with barefeet but where you need a little grip or protection.

Xtenex laces
– Actually a U.S. invented product, these laces are just also super cool and simple. They are dubbed “the lace that stays in place” because of its string of knots on an elastic band. Stretchy enough to allow the user to take shoes on and off but not so stretchy to allow give. And the knots catch on the eyelets. They are, frankly, ingenious. There are models for athletic wear, streetwear, kids and hiking.

Click here to see our general overview of the ispo fitness halls that ran Feb. 8, 2008, “Germany’s ispo show’s fitness segment gaining increased legitimacy.” To see our comments and overall review of the entire 2008 ispo winter show in Munich, Germany, including attendance, click here for a Feb. 1, 2008, SNEWS® story, “Most massive ispo show ever burns hot with non-stop energy, action, exhibits.”