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Fitness retailers reluctant to jump on tracking device bandwagon

Tracking progress and growth is a great training and fitness tool, but specialty fitness retailers are hesitate to stock products like FitBit, Bodybugg or Nike Plus. Why? SNEWS gets their views.

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Tracking personal progress and growth is a great training tool. Perhaps that’s why the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show featured several new fitness tracking devices, including FitBit and Bodybugg, that record users’ activity and calories burned.

Specialty running stores and outdoor retailers have experienced success selling GPS devices, heart rate monitors and watches in the past. And Leisure Trends Group reports in its Running and Outdoor RetailTRAK data that watches posted strong gains from 2010 to 2011 across two channels while wrist-mounted GPS devices saw a more modest uptick in sales at specialty running stores. 

While fitness tracking devices are not quite the same, fitness retailers might have an opportunity to capitalize on their increased popularity. Mark Daly, spokesman for Anytime Fitness with 1.3 million members, said his customers are using such devices more and more.

SNEWS brings you perspective from fitness retailers and gives you a peek at new products that debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show.

While specialty fitness retailers SNEWS talked to said they think their customers would rather rely on equipment consoles for feedback, Daly said people want to record their activity progress over an entire day and see their improvement over time.

Items like FitBit Ultra, Bodybugg, Jawbone Up, BodyMedia Fit or Nike’s newest product, the Nike Plus, come in handy because consumers can clip them on, or secure them to the wrist, and go about their daily lives and workouts and upload their activity to their computers and see how they are improving over time.

All the products are compact, lightweight and able to record steps, activity and calories, though accuracy may be an issue. Even companies well known in other industries are making a play for this market. SNEWS recently reported on Magellan’s plan to enter the fitness market with new GPS watches.

For retailers who are more comfortable offering equipment from fitness manufacturers, products from PCE Fitness, which makes the LifeSpan brand, may fit the bill. The company offers tracking and monitoring technology on its USB-enabled equipment, which is compatible with its USB-enabled accessories like its pedometer and scale. Users who purchase LifeSpan brand products get a free membership to the LifeSpan Fitness Club, where users can input their activity, set goals, track their success and get personalized workouts.

Company President Pete Schenk said the newest piece is the company’s USB-enabled pedometer.

“If somebody wants to go walk outside and hike and do other outdoor activities they can automatically capture that activity,” Schenk said.

Atlanta, Ga.-based specialty running store Phidippides, has success selling GPS devices and heart rate monitors, but assistant manager Teresa Gibreal said the most popular device they ever sold was a Garmin model that allowed users to track steps both in the gym and out on a run. The product is no longer available, and they don’t currently sell anything like it. She doesn’t have advice for fitness retailers in terms of carrying that type of product.

“That sort of thing would do OK,” in a fitness store setting, Gibreal said. “But it would take business away from us.”

Despite that possibility of taking business away from other types of specialty stores, for now, it seems fitness retailers are content not offering accessories like this.

“They’re not too popular,” said Ryan Sanchez, manager at Joe’s East Coast Fitness Store. “People have not called and asked for them.”

Over in Arizona, At Home Fitness co-owner Bryan Dorksen said he’s looked into it, but can’t bring himself to pull the trigger. For one, there are too many choices and he doesn’t want to pick one and customers ask for another, leaving him stuck with the inventory.

“It’s been a category of fitness we’ve looked into but not confidentially pursued,” Dorksen said. “We don’t want to order 100 of these and people say, ‘Oh, I can get that on my phone for free.’” 

But he has noticed customers coming in asking about the FitBit.

“The FitBit seems like an amazing product,” he said. “We’re having customers start to come in and ask about them but I still don’t know.”

–Ana Trujillo