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Health & Fitness Business ’08: Exhibitors praise business accomplished despite declining numbers

With aisles less than bustling at the Health & Fitness Business show July 17-18 in Denver, it seemed that everybody would be moaning about the lack of valued business getting done. Not exactly true. In fact, the show with its normal number of business hours packed into two full days instead of spread over three, forced both retailers and manufacturers not to dilly-dally.

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With aisles less than bustling at the Health & Fitness Business show July 17-18 in Denver, it seemed that everybody would be moaning about the lack of valued business getting done.

Not exactly true.

In fact, the show with its normal number of business hours packed into two full days instead of spread over three, forced both retailers and manufacturers not to dilly-dally. Meetings in many booths were back-to-back with only enough time to hustle off to the next. That, of course, left some smaller or new companies on the periphery trying to scrape up crumbs or nab buyers zipping by on their way to meetings.

“It’s the slowest show I’ve ever seen,” said Libby Andrews, founder of Yoga Stick-e Socks, a first-time exhibitor and new company that locked in a central booth, “but the quality of the buyers is tops. The people I’ve seen are all the right ones and they placed orders. It wasn’t just tire-kickers.”

Still, there was no hiding from the fact that retailer numbers were significantly off compared to a year ago — and displayed a continued downward trend in store numbers and buyers that began about five years ago. Also, exhibitor numbers, albeit a couple of ticks up over the last two years, have not recovered to where they had been four and five years ago.

Preliminary numbers released to SNEWS (final ones may be slightly different and won’t be available for a few weeks) showed exhibitors totaled 124, nearly on par with 122 in 2007 but way down from 2004’s 150. More significant is that many who still want to be at the show are taking smaller spaces, shipping less freight and bringing fewer staff to save money: This year’s show only covered 48,200 square feet, compared to last year’s 55,200 — although there were two more exhibitors — and also down from 2006’s 57,250 square feet despite about six fewer exhibitors. For comparison, the show covered 62,000 square feet with 150 exhibitors in 2004. For perspective, show management told SNEWS that exhibitors sent 220 fewer staffers overall and that freight shipped was down too.

Retailer numbers aren’t showing any upswing either: Total stores, based on preliminary figures, came in at 325, down from last year’s 388 — or down about 16 percent. Total buyers racked in at a mere 640, down closer to 27 percent from the 875 who came last year. All in all there were about 20 percent fewer bodies on the floor (1,670) — a number that includes every attendee, from exhibitors and retailers, to media, non-exhibiting manufacturers, reps and others. Of interest was the continued strong showing out of Canada as well as an international showing with SNEWS talking to retailers from Poland, France and Mexico.

“We did see less this year — bodies on floor and freight shipped,” said Andy Tompkins, group show director for show owner Nielsen since May. “We realize the economic activities are unique right now and companies are being very conservative with their dollars.

“Most companies still agree that it’s the best opportunity to be in front of the industry,” he added.

“It’s very challenging,” he said. “There is no doubt there are some forces affecting the industry.”

Tompkins said that his staff would be taking a hard look at ways to combat the decline, including the long-time Denver location, the dates, and the additional chances to cross-market it to other audiences the Nielsen group has available since it also runs the Outdoor Retailer, Interbike and Action Sports Retailer shows.

“We have to figure out what the show may not be doing,” Tompkins said.

Supporting the show

From large and long-time exhibitors to new or smaller exhibitors to retailers both specialty and sporting goods, business seemed to be on a roll. Scott Logan, director marketing at SportsArt Fitness, said his company even had to use the early morning workout hours to fit in its appointments and that its company representatives were booked solid. But by the second day, traffic already began to drift off, and the day felt more like a third day, he said.

ST Fitness, the consumer arm of Star Trac, debuted its line, with executive vice president Kevin Lamar noting, “The show traffic has been down, but we have gotten everyone we needed to see and the quality of the buyers is very good.”

David Homa, owner of All Around Fitness in Seaside, Calif., near Monterey, told SNEWS he finally was getting the opportunity to just poke around the smaller booths on Friday afternoon. He was wearing an Armpocket from the new exhibitor of the same name and said he was picking up that line.

“It’s been great for us,” Homa said, because he’s also had the chance to spend a little more time with some manufacturers. “I would have liked to see some other manufacturers here to try everything out. This is where you get to get educated.”

Major players Cybex and True Fitness backed out of their preliminary booth bookings (for True, the third year in a row), and Hoist and Precor continued as no-shows, while Nautilus was likely too busy restructuring to even think about the show. Another no-show was Smooth Fitness, which is also restructuring its brands. Mike Cochrane’s Redzone Fitness also wasn’t on the floor.

But major players not on the floor didn’t mean they weren’t there. The show reported that non-exhibiting manufacturer registrations nearly doubled over last year to 65. Precor and True, among others, were seen marching around the show in significant numbers. Redzone Fitness had a private meeting room off-site but told SNEWS it did not have equipment.

And Precor not only had two new pieces of equipment in an off-site hotel meeting room but drew retailers there for meetings. Last year, SNEWS confronted the issue of basement meeting rooms off the floor used by a half-dozen companies, including Precor which along with Smooth Fitness, only had what appeared to be place-holding booths on the floor so they could qualify for a meeting room behind closed doors to do their real show. Click here to read that debate in a September 2007 story, “Private meeting rooms continue to draw debate at Health & Fitness Business Show.”

This year, only one company had a meeting room during show hours: AFG (Horizon Fitness) held a dealer award meeting and ceremony from 4-6 p.m.

“All manufacturers should be here. It is disappointing to me that some feel they are too important for the show,” Lamar said. “I understand all of the reasons — that your product is not ready, that you feel you do not need more retailers — but there is no reason not to at least take a 10×10 or 20×20 to show support for a show and the industry that supports you. It is #$%^ to do a fly-in and suck off the show that others are working to support. Be a part of the industry!”

Even in 2005, non-exhibiting key players took hits from retailers and exhibitors who were there. Click here to see that 2005 SNEWS story, “H&F Biz show ’05: “Best ever” for many, vitriol aimed at three non-exhibitors.”

Kudos were given to Life Fitness at that time for maintaining its support and, in fact, that company has grown its presence and booth, as have others such as SportsArt, Octane and Bodyguard, which for the second year had an end-of-day booth bash, this year with champagne and pasta to toast four decades of business.

Packing available hours with education, fun

Despite fewer attendee numbers, less show days and less time, activities — some sponsored or organized by SNEWS — filled off time.

SNEWS sponsored and organized its third annual Golf Scramble with about six dozen players playing a round the day before the show opened and, in the process, not only having some off-floor networking time but also raising more than $10,000 for Augie’s Quest, an arm of the MDA begun by Life Fitness founder and Octane chairman Augie Nieto to raise money to find a cure for ALS. Click here to see the SNEWS show HotSheet with a story and photos from the golf tournament.

A State of The Industry presentation sponsored by SNEWS and presented by editor in chief Therese Iknoian was given over a free lunch sponsored by the show. A standing-room-only crowd listened as Iknoian presented a brief look at changing economic indicators, fitness retail trends and a future forecast. Click here to download the powerpoint. A story about the presentation will be posted by the end of July.

An Industry Party at Lucky Strikes bowling alley and bar was sponsored by SportsArt Fitness and also hosted a silent auction for Augie’s Quest, raising another $500.

The show opened its doors early the second day for an early morning workout the second year in a row. Still, there were more booth staff in attendance than attendees looking for a workout and a chance to test equipment. Steve Lindal of BH Fitness said the number showed a positive trend, but exhibitors, not the show, needed to do more to ensure retailers were sufficiently motivated to attend the event and try out products.

“The momentum is building, but exhibitors need to get creative about attracting retailers by establishing programs – maybe even discounts off orders placed at the show – to get them up and in the door before the show opens.”

And SNEWS kicked off the show the second day with its fourth annual SNEWS Fitness Forum, this year tackling the issue of the need for collaboration. Three panelists from outside the industry (from outdoor, bike and running) and one from inside (from a combo bike-fitness store) discussed the pros and cons, benefits and hurdles. Look for an in-depth story on that in the coming weeks.

“If you are in this industry, then you need to be here,” said Steve Lindenau, president of newly founded Teutonic, specializing in vibration technology. “And certainly if I was having a tough time in business, as a manufacturer or a retailer, I would come here to get inspired.”

SNEWS® View: Nobody can candy-coat the numbers: The show numbers are in the basement, and the aisles didn’t exactly have a buzz it could have. However, let it be said that because exhibitors kept their meetings and parties on the show floor, and all the show events, other than the party were on the show floor, the buzz and show energy was higher than one might have expected. A large, casual sampling of exhibitors by SNEWS found that almost all still said they were doing great business and it had been worth their while to be there. Retailers — the ones who did make the trek to Denver — had the meetings they needed too, we were told.

But there is something to be said for aisle buzz and energy. Not as if anybody could be exuding enthusiasm and energy with the economy taking the hit it has on the fitness industry. Nevertheless, down year aside, the show needs more energy, that’s a fact. In the coming weeks, SNEWS will post stories not only about product but also activities, and we’ll take a closer look at issues that could help the show rev up again, including later dates, a different location, and even a wider breadth of exhibitors that would attract other cross-over slices of the retail pie.

Of course, we would challenge those that are there or do come to take fuller advantage of the show: Come to educational seminars, wander the side aisles, have meetings, drop in to happy hours, network, USE the show and what it offers, and use the time you have in one place with others in your industry. An industry without a place to meet (trade show) would be a sad industry, and we don’t want the fitness industry to get to that point.

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(Note: Several weeks of show coverage began July 17 with our SNEWS show HotSheet and will continue for weeks so don’t miss any of the reports We are covering, will cover, or have covered everything from general attendee information to stories about presentations and special events to product trends and equipment unveilings to broader industry and show issue – and with the economy there are a few of thoses. As always, SNEWS® gives you the best and most accurate and detailed show coverage anywhere. If your product or company wasn’t mentioned here, that’s either because it didn’t strike our team as new or different (we emphasize new in our show reports) or perhaps we were totally brain-dead and missed it — anything’s possible! But don’t fret if you felt overlooked in one report since there are more to come. Stay tune;, this is just the beginning!)