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2007 Annual SNEWS® Fitness Retailer Survey

Celebrating an astounding five years, the SNEWS® Retailer Survey really lit its candles this year by bringing in a remarkable 45 percent return rate of the specialty dealers contacted. When nearly half of all the retailers contacted want to take the time to tell you what they think, we know these are thoughts that they really want to share and need to be aired. Since it is the only independent survey that isn’t in any way connected to, commissioned by, done by or influenced in any way by a manufacturer, the retailers speak their minds. And we listen. We hope you do too, since we have raked in thoughts and votes from stores that represent more than 600 doors and several hundred millions of dollars in sales, cumulatively. Remember, only one survey (and one vote) is allowed per store brand, whether it is one store, a retailer with a dozen doors, or more. Remember too that these votes are not influenced by SNEWS® or GearTrends® by offering lists of names from which retailers choose; rather, we ask a question and let the respondent write-in his or her vote. If you want to see the rest of the story, as they say, that is housed on SNEWS® (, and is open to subscribers with password (Qualified retail staff members, not owners or executives, do have access to a free, limited-access subscription. Just go to to find out more).

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After five years, our independent survey is still gathering steam—and vehement, emotional, uncensored opinions.

Celebrating an astounding five years, the SNEWS® Retailer Survey really lit its candles this year by bringing in a remarkable 45 percent return rate of the specialty dealers contacted. When nearly half of all the retailers contacted want to take the time to tell you what they think, we know these are thoughts that they really want to share and need to be aired. Since it is the only independent survey that isn’t in any way connected to, commissioned by, done by or influenced in any way by a manufacturer, the retailers speak their minds. And we listen. We hope you do too, since we have raked in thoughts and votes from stores that represent more than 600 doors and several hundred millions of dollars in sales, cumulatively. Remember, only one survey (and one vote) is allowed per store brand, whether it is one store, a retailer with a dozen doors, or more. Remember too that these votes are not influenced by SNEWS® or GearTrends® by offering lists of names from which retailers choose; rather, we ask a question and let the respondent write-in his or her vote. We don’t or won’t ever call this scientific—heck, we’re writers, not statistician geeks with antique slide rules in our desk drawers—but nonetheless the vote tallies and opinions expressed are a good barometer of what the specialty retail world has on its mind. And, hey, we aren’t naïve—we recognize that the survey has become important enough to some suppliers that a few ask their retailers to cast a ballot in their favor, or that some retailers may cast a ballot in favor of their A-list suppliers and equipment as a return favor. Nevertheless, we know most of the answers are pretty honest and come from the heart based on accompanying comments that are written-in as explanation. Some are astoundingly and frighteningly honest.

Like much of what we do here at SNEWS® and GearTrends®, the survey is a learning tool for suppliers—don’t ignore the voices and votes since they mean what they say and say what they mean. Despite that, our goal is not to point a bony finger at anyone and cackle in glee if they do or don’t do so well. We just want the entire industry to listen to what’s happening on the front lines so all suppliers can take the opinions into the board rooms to improve their business, and all retailers can realize they aren’t alone in what they are experiencing. If discussion and debate ensues, we say, “Hoorah!”

Our methodology: At the end of March we sent emails to our long list of retailers around the country, big and small, new and well-established, in small towns and in the biggest cities. We asked them to go to a secure website and take the survey during April, and specifically noted we were looking for comments and votes pertaining to the previous calendar year. For laggards, we sent a couple of reminders during the month. With a fifth year under its belt, the survey now has some excellent comparative data, and we’ll draw a few comparisons in our analysis of questions. But, if you want to take a look at past surveys, go to to find all the past editions to download (assuming you don’t have your own rack of archival GearTrends® magazines to flip through). Note, however, that starting last year we only put a summary in the magazines, which includes the highly read answers to “best” supplier and “most difficult” supplier.

One final note: If you as a retailer were not surveyed this year and want your vote to count next year or, as a reader, just want to send along a comment or question, drop us a note at

For a look at the cheers and jeers from retailers this year, read on. No holds were barred.

(The SNEWS® Retailer Survey may not be reproduced for redistribution of any kind, in whole or part, including for promotional or sales purposes of any kind, to consumers or the trade, without the written consent of SNEWS® LLC. Contact SNEWS® at for reprint details and restrictions.)


In your opinion, who is the “best” supplier in the business?

Octane Fitness — 15%*

Vision Fitness — 15%*

Precor — 12.5%

Hoist — 7.5%

Body-Solid — 6.3%

Life Fitness — 5%*

PaceMaster — 5%*

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Bodycraft, Bodyguard, Cybex, Hampton, Horizon, Humane, Inspire, Kettler, Landice, Lifecore, Spirit, SportsArt, True Fitness, TuffStuff, Tunturi, Vectra.

*Tied companies are listed alphabetically with order not indicating any differences in ranking.

We again saw a lot more significant changes among those deemed “best,” which will mean celebrations in a couple of headquarters and a few groans in others. Vision kept the No. 1 spot it attained for the first time last year after a creep to the top over the last few years, but … wait … it’s not alone! Octane must be doing something right, because it’s not only grown strong in the last couple of years, but this year actually gave Vision such a tight run that the two companies came in neck and neck at the tape. Precor still had a strong second-place showing, but take a look at third place and fourth place: What do we have here?!? Hoist Fitness, which usually has garnered a few points, but not enough for a top six placement, suddenly sprang into place behind Precor. And Body-Solid, also a company that is a steady mid-packer, leaped with gusto into the top ranks right behind it. In fifth place we had another tie, transforming our top-five list into a top-seven one with two sets of ties: Nipping the tape together were Life Fitness and PaceMaster (a.k.a. Aerobics Inc.). For Life Fitness, this means a significant slip from last year’s third place when it garnered double the percentage compared to this year; for PaceMaster, it’s status quo but a great place to be hanging out for such a small company in relationship to its comrades.

So who’s missing? True has been slipping steadily in the last few years and, this year, dropped down into the list of also-rans. Certainly, the company has had a number of shifts in the top ranks in the last few years, but we can’t say yet which came first, the chicken or the egg, so to speak (i.e. management shifts or a drop out of “best” placement). Interestingly, we had 23 companies earn at least one vote, compared to 20 last year and 16 the year before. So, are more companies doing decent jobs, or are there just more companies overall, which is spreading out the votes?

Now, what are the retailers saying? Over and over, they named suppliers for reasons that invariably came down to service and listening, not necessarily for the deepest product lines, delivery without any flaws, or even a product that garnered the most awards. For example, one retailer said, “Vision Fitness is still great, BUT it is currently experiencing QC issues, … yet they aim to please and are ALWAYS available to discuss any issues.” We’d say that’s a vote of confidence. Octane consistently earned mentions for great sales training, high-quality customer service and being just plain easy to deal with. Shoot, even trying hard wins points. As one retailer said about Horizon: “Horizon is constantly improving their line and tries extremely hard in regards to solving issues and involving dealers to get better.” Isn’t that what it’s all about in the end? Building a business together and getting better—together?

Which supplier do you consider the “most difficult” to work with?

Nautilus– 40.3%

N/A or decline comment — 10.4%

Keys Fitness — 7.5%*

Life Fitness — 7.5%*

Horizon — 4.5%

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Bladez, Body-Solid, Cap, Cybex, Diamondback, Hoist, Icon, Landice, Quantum, Powertec, Precor, Spirit, SportsArt, TuffStuff, Vision, York.

*Tied companies are listed alphabetically with order not indicating any differences in ranking.

Well, our “winner” last year again took the top spot in a division where nobody but nobody wants to be No.1. No quibbles about a close vote or incorrect math here. Nautilus as a company, including all its brands, was a runaway top placement for the second year in a row, although it maintained about the same percentage as last year. We must add that we did have comments from those who named Nautilus citing a real effort of late to improve. For example: “In all fairness, (Nautilus is) putting in great efforts in trying to correct … problems.” Although we don’t offer a “no comment” as a vote choice, some respondents this year realized that instead of writing in a company name, they could simply write N/A or some other indication of declining to name a supplier in the blank. That meant our second-place spot was taken over by all those wimps (yeah, we call it as it is) or those who didn’t want to commit for one reason or another. (One respondent just said all suppliers were bad; another said his business declines to work with suppliers who are a pain to work with—“We have stopped doing business with anyone who is hard to work with. Too many other lines available to deal with a difficult vendor.”) The second company named, however, was Keys Fitness, in a place it gained last year. This year, Keys was not alone, as Life Fitness actually moved higher on a list where higher isn’t a reason to celebrate.

So, the question remains, did Keys get better or did Life Fitness slip? In Keys’ case, we heard complaints about the company not responding or being way too slow or simply not believing a retail customer. Commenting on Life Fitness, one respondent wrote, “I strongly believe that companies should stay humble and helpful even as they’re becoming these giants in the fitness industry.” Of course, this could apply to other large companies, but may not in all cases. A company occupying the next place also catches the eye: Horizon Fitness is growing like gangbusters and even gained some strong comments as a “best” supplier, but STILL managed some sock-it-in-the-gut comments and votes here, with one respondent, for example, picking on slow response time. Remember, we poll only specialty dealers, and they are all very sensitive to brands that sell to them and the big-box stores if the brand seems to be burning them in the process. We can’t speak to Horizon’s issues, but that’s a point to ponder. Reading between the lines, you can see that respondents are posing an important question to suppliers: Can sincerity and communication be so hard? Retailers just want to deal with someone who is nice and trustworthy and there for them. As one pleaded to us about Nautilus: “Please have them answer the phone!”

What are your three overall top-selling product categories, best seller first, of all types of equipment and accessories?

No. 1

Ellipticals – 83.6%

Treadmills – 16.4%

No. 2

Treadmills – 78%

Ellipticals – 15.3%

No. 3

Home gyms, traditional – 41.7%

Recumbent stationary bikes – 38.3%

Home gyms, functional/cable – 13.3%

We must point out a couple of changes here this year. First, we decided to break out separately recumbent and upright bikes to be able to show what retailers and our gut was saying: that recumbents were far out-selling uprights. Oh boy is that true, with four times as many retailers naming it as the third best-selling product compared to those that named an upright as third. Although we don’t publish the results for fourth, retailers that named recumbents as fourth best-selling also far exceeded those that named uprights by even greater margin. Second, we also broke the home gym category into TWO – one for functional/cable gyms and one for “traditional” home gyms. We had seen enough comments in last year’s survey to determine that the functional ones needed their own category. Although they have not immediately risen to be best-sellers — or even named second best — they’ve garnered a solid percentage as third best-selling. We expect they will rise in the ranking as retailers learn how to sell them and more materials are available to help consumers understand how to use them.

Now, about the really WOW part of this question: Two years ago, we forecast that by 2006 ellipticals would overtake treadmills as the No. 1 best-selling piece of equipment in the store (after we had watched a slow climb for the three previous years). Indeed, they did, but only at about 51 percent to 33 percent. This year? Ohmigoodness, look what happened: Ellipticals trounced treadmills for the No. 1 spot, with more than five times as many retailers naming that category as their overall best-selling piece. Treadmills still rule now as No. 2, but what’s happening here? And why did it take a dozen years after they were introduced to get here? It could be that, within just the last couple of years, manufacturers have offered home models with prices that aren’t so shocking—AND are still solid and quality pieces. We’re not sure if they can keep this huge slice of the best-selling spot, though. Frankly, we expect they will drop just a bit over treadmills but that they will still maintain the No. 1 spot.

What is your overall fastest-growing product category?

Ellipticals — 81%

Same as last year, nothing even managed to stay close enough to eat the dust kicked up by the elliptical surge to the forefront. It just so happens that the surge this year was even bigger, with ellipticals going from 68 percent of respondents saying it was the fastest-growing to 81 percent this year. We received one very lengthy comment from a long-time retailer who noted it was bothersome that companies were dissing the impact of treadmills. Why? Because the body needs some impact to maintain strong bones and the ability to balance. He’s quite right in this regard. An elliptical is simply not the best choice for everybody; everybody needs to get what is best for them, their body and their needs. And the message we see is that manufacturers and retailers ought to spend less time disrespecting what the treadmill can do and does well. In fact, they should mention that a treadmill may be best for some, and consumers shouldn’t follow the leader to the elliptical. Interestingly, functional/cable gyms were second, although still only part of the also-rans. Nevertheless, with 9.5 percent saying they were fastest-growing when last year it didn’t exist as a vote-getter tells you something about where functional/cable gyms are headed in the next couple of years. We found it intriguing that one respondent named balance as fastest-growing; perhaps this person is a soothsayer, since we firmly believe this category has tons of potential. On a more comical note, one jokester in the bunch named as fastest-growing, “Chinese garbage.” Remember, we are only the messengers!

Cardiovascular Equipment

What are your three top-selling cardiovascular equipment product categories this year?

No. 1

Ellipticals – 77.8%

Treadmills – 22.2%

No. 2

Treadmills – 76.2%

Ellipticals – 22.2%

No. 3

Recumbent stationary bikes – 93.7%

Since cardio is still king at retail, these answers mirror somewhat what we saw for the overall best-selling equipment, a few questions above this. Interestingly, one retailer actually put treadmills as No. 3 – that would have been unthinkable even two years ago. Recumbent bikes reign supreme in the No. 3 spot, but indoor cycle trainers actually got voted in by a small percentage as the No. 3 best-seller. We think this is the beginning of an awakening toward the compact versatility of the indoor cycles and what they can do for home workouts.

Specify the brand names of your three top-selling treadmills.

Landice – 13.3%

Vision Fitness – 11.7%

Precor – 11.5%

PaceMaster – 10.1%

True/Fitline – 8.8%

Life Fitness – 8.5%

Horizon – 6.9%

Bodyguard – 5.6%

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Bladez, Bodycraft, Bowflex, Bremshey, Cybex, Diamondback, Evo/Smooth, Keys, Lamar, LifeSpan, Nautilus, Quantum, Spirit, SportsArt, Trimline, Tunturi.

Since we ask for respondents to tell us who makes their first, second and third best-selling treadmill, we use point totals for complete fairness, tallying three points for a first-place vote, two points for a second-place vote and one point for a third-place vote. What did Landice do in the last year to leap from fourth to first and gain 4.3 percentage points? Those points seemingly came mostly from Vision, which still maintained second place but only by the teeniest and likely insignificant squeak. Precor jumped up a bit too in points to displace PaceMaster and maintain its third place. Interesting is that True and Life Fitness actually gained points but still couldn’t move up. Both Horizon and Bodyguard were steady in their rankings. The one that slipped from the Top 8 list was Nautilus/Bowflex, landing into that pile of brands all scratching to be sold. Here, as in just about every category this year, there was a pretty substantial leap in the number of brands named by respondents. In the treadmill category, we had 24 compared to only 19 last year. More brands and fewer retail chains. How is that going to fly in the long run?

Specify the brand names of your three top-selling elliptical trainers.

Octane Fitness – 22.6%

Precor – 13.3%

Vision Fitness – 11.1%

Life Fitness – 8.8%*

Spirit – 8.8%*

Horizon Fitness – 5.4%

True – 4.6%

SportsArt – 4.3%*

Lifecore – 4.3%*

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Bladez, Bodycraft, Bodyguard, Bremshey, Cybex, Evo/Smooth, Keys, Infiniti, Lamar, Kettler, Multisports, Quantum, Schwinn, Tunturi, York.

As in the treadmill category, we ask for respondents to tell us who their first, second and third best-selling treadmill is, so we again use the point-scoring system of first (three points), second (two points) and third (one). That also allows us to break ties; so if totals are the same, the company with the most first-place votes gets the higher ranking. The big story here, just as last year, is Octane’s march to basically rule the elliptical category. The-little-company-that-could has made big jumps every year of our five surveys, finally claiming No. 1 last year. Not willing to stop there, however, Octane increased the votes it earned for top-selling by almost 50 percent! What’s next? Octane for president? Vision fell a couple of percentage points as Precor regained some ground to second. Life Fitness lost substantial points and, though it only slipped one place, it now shares that place with – wait, who’s that? – Spirit Fitness, which seems to have started a forward march at retail. Horizon crawled up one place and gained some votes. SportsArt remained on the list, but only barely, losing a third of its percent over last year and tying with newcomer Lifecore. Falling off the list were Nautilus and Schwinn. We must point out again the numbers of brands mentioned: Last year, we had 25; this year there were 28. That only makes the votes and the sales they represent harder to gain. 

Specify the brand names of your three top-selling stationary cycles.

Vision Fitness — 17%

SportsArt — 12%

LeMond – 10.9%

Life Fitness – 10.6%

Diamondback – 8.2%

Lamar/Universal – 7.4%

Schwinn Fitness – 6.4%

Lifecore – 5.9%*

True/Fitline – 5.9%*

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Bladez, Bodyguard, Bremshey, Cybex, Fitnex, Horizon, Kettler, Keys, LifeSpan, Nautilus, New Balance, Precor, Spirit, Trixter, Tunturi, York.

*Although tied in overall percent, the company listed first of the two had more first-place votes that bumped it above the other.

Vision hasn’t slipped much in place, but this year it dropped a good number of percentage points/votes in all categories, including in cycles, although here it still maintained its first place. SportsArt crept back up the list by gaining more votes – perhaps from its X-Trainer. LeMond eked in above Life Fitness, albeit barely, but it’s a step-up that is noteworthy since LeMond only makes a couple of models of bikes. Just as in the elliptical category, newbie Lifecore jumped up from being an also-ran to slip into the Top 8, tied with True but beating out that company based on more first-place votes. Take a look at the group in the fine print that also received votes: Trixter’s only product is indoor cycles and it seems to be making some headway in the specialty market. A few respondents specifically mentioned indoor cycles. But, still, nearly every single first-place vote was cast for a recumbent bike. Not on the top list this year was Horizon, which didn’t make bikes last year but is coming back for next year, and Nautilus. Of note is Lamar, which more than doubled its votes earned.

Strength-Training Equipment

What are your three top-selling strength equipment product categories this year?

No. 1

Home gyms, traditional – 66.1%

Home gyms, functional/cable – 22%

No. 2

Home gyms, functional/cable – 33.9%

Home gyms, traditional – 23.7%

No. 3

Smith systems/racks – 49.2%

Benches – 15.3%

A few changes here, but those could be due to the fact that we broke out traditional and functional/cable home gyms into their own categories. Last year, home gyms as one big category earned 90 percent of first-place votes; this year, the two together tally about that much. We’d call it a wash. But home gyms swept into second place at top sellers, a spot that Smith products have traditionally taken. Perhaps there is some learning going on about all the things one can do with a cable gym and how adaptable it is for a family. Benches were the big loser there. But since many folks will need a bench to go with their gym, they still sell (see the No. 3 spot). The push-back on Smiths, then, dropped them to the third-place spot, with a strong showing that bumped out multi-weight dumbbells.

Specify the brand names of your three top-selling home gyms.

Hoist – 15.9%

TuffStuff – 13.7%

Inspire – 12.1%

Precor – 10.1%

Body-Solid — 9.9%

Vectra – 7.9%

Life Fitness – 6%

Bodycraft – 5.5%*

Nautilus – 5.5%*

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Batca, Bowflex, Evo, Inspire, Keys, Lamar, Nautilus, Paramount, Powerline, Powertec, ProSpot, Torque, Trion, True, Universal, Vision.

*Although tied in overall percent, the company listed first of the two had more first-place votes that bumped it above the other

You need to look beyond the No. 1 vote-earner, Hoist, to see the real changes here. Hoist still has a firm grip on the top spot, but below it? Let the skirmish begin…. Inspire Fitness, only on the market about a year or so after its intro in late 2005, jumped from nowhere to third, amassing a solid number of votes to get there. That’s one incredible showing, and we frankly expect to see more from this small company. TuffStuff only moved up one spot, but amazingly gained about 50 percent in votes and percentage points. Precor is back on track with its gyms at specialty and crept up in points. Nautilus came back onto the list, tied with Bodycraft, after dropping off last year. Keys fell off the list with an astounding thud, and Bowflex came off after just jumping on last year. Although only an also-ran (see the fine print), Torque showed up after just getting equipment out to retail late last year; stay tuned for more from that new company too!

Specify the brand names of your three top-selling free-weight brands.

Body-Solid — 15%

Hoist – 14.5%

TuffStuff – 11.8%

Keys/Ironman – 10.3%

Powertec – 6.8%*

Nautilus/Bowflex – 6.8%*

Parabody/Life Fitness – 6.2%

Lamar – 3.8%

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Apollo, Batca, Bodycraft, Cap, Cybex, Hampton, Intellbell, Paramount, PowerBlock, Powerline, ProBell, ProSpot, Quantum, TDS Fitness, TKO, Trion, USA/Troy, Yukon, Vectra, Vision.

*Although tied in overall percent, the company listed first of the two had more first- or second-place votes that bumped it above the other.

Despite seeing a big jump in brands named (28 this year compared to 22 last year), Body-Solid still managed to oh-so-barely sneak above Hoist in the listing, although both actually climbed slightly in votes and percentage points earned and the difference may not be truly significant. TuffStuff, in a solid third, gained some votes to hang onto that place. A bit of a loser here was Life Fitness, which lost about a third of its percentage points to drop from fourth to seventh overall. On the other hand, Keys gained a rung, while Powertec more than doubled its earnings and Nautilus also jumped significantly. This is another category with huge growth in brands being hawked, and we’re not sure they can all last, at least as stand-alone companies.


What are your top-selling accessory categories?

1. Stability balls

2. Mats/flooring

3. Weight attachments

4. Stretch tubes/bands

Does this order of items listed as best-selling ever change? Doesn’t seem to. Much. The accessory item named as second-best-selling by more retailers is far and away stretch tubes/bands … with stability balls close behind. Per usual, what some retailers sell and others shun varies widely. Some have straps/gloves/belts in their top group of sellers; others put it so far down the list as to be non-existent. Balance/wobble boards stand firmly in the top group for quite a few – those that likely get it – but disappear into the deep black hole at the bottom for a lot of others. Pedometers, chronograph watches/timers, and yoga and Pilates kits and mats don’t seem to be catching on fire at all, although a smattering still sell them. But what you find on the floors of specialty stores is a huge mix including, pedometers, balance boards, straps/gloves, yoga mats, Pilates kits, medicine balls, foam rollers, video/DVDs, mini-tramps, goggles, inversion products, jump ropes, reading racks, treadmill deck lube, foam rollers, supplements, body-fat analyzers … and the list goes on and on.

Although all respondents said they sold accessories, how much emphasis they put on them varies greatly. Based on answers to another question, we found that some likely just stacked some stuff in a corner or hung them on a wall and hoped customers would find them – these are the types that said 95 percent or more of their business was equipment. Then there are those who have figured out how to merchandise, promote and cross-sell accessories – those are the types that attribute 15 percent to 25 percent of their sales to accessories. Over the last five years that SNEWS® has done this survey, we’ve seen a growing number of retailers increasing their sales of accessories, which we think is a good sign. Get ‘em in on the small stuff and they’ll come back for big stuff. Or vice-versa. Especially if you know how to sell the accessory items. Either way, accessories are here to stay and can even bring a customer in the door.

What are your top-selling accessory brands?

Spri Products – 21.4%

TKO — 6%*

Troy/USA Sports — 6%*

Harbinger – 5.7%

Cap – 5.1%

GoFit – 4.8%*

Polar Heart Rate – 4.8*

Valeo – 4%*

Supermats – 4%*

Others receiving votes (in alphabetical order): Aeromats, Allpro, Altus, Body-Solid, BOSU, CardioSport, Creative Fitness, Everlast, Factory Direct, Fitball/Gymnic/Ball Dynamics, Fitness Quest, Fitness Wholesale, Fitterfirst, Fundamental Fitness, GIC, Grizzly, Hampton, Harbinger, Humane, Keys, Lifeline, Nautilus, NZ Manufacturing, Perform Better, Pioneer, Power Systems, Productive Fitness, OPTP, Reebok, RB Rubber, Savage/Danskin/Fitness EM, Schiek, SIL, Sissel, Spirit, Stamina, Tanita, Theraband, York.

*Although tied in overall percent, the company listed first of the two had more first- or second-place votes that bumped it above the other.

Ye gawds, Spri has not only outdone itself in votes for No. 1 over last year, it has literally trounced the competition. It is so far ahead at this point that everyone else is merely competing for the No. 2 spot. Spri in fact earned nearly 50 percent more in percentage points that it did last year. TKO is again second, but it sank by 8 percentage points (likely because of it went bankrupt in 2005 and eliminated its iron business and is now coming back). Nevertheless, that means that everybody else is fighting over the remnants. Take a look at the “others receiving votes” small print: We had a whopping 44 brands named this year compared to 24 last year! No wonder everybody else just ekes out such a small percentage overall, it’s all spread so thin. With this many brands to choose from, a retailer really can pick and choose since the suppliers are all so eager to sell. Among others: GoFit seemed to make some headway this year, making it onto the list for the first time, as did Troy/USA Sports and Cap, both of whom earned a higher percentage and jumped a place each. With the battle, Supermats sank a bit but actually gained more votes. Valeo, too, has obviously made some steps at retail.

Do you carry flexibility or stretching products such as ropes, cages, chair-like equipment or other gear just for stretching?

This year we changed the wording of this question because last year we asked, “Do you carry flexibility products?” and some responded that they carried medicine balls, indicating that some retailers didn’t even know what flexibility products were. We think we made ourselves clear and, like last year, nearly three of four respondents said they carried them – 72.6 percent. The ones who said they didn’t noted there wasn’t demand or interest, and one said they take too much floor space for something so few want. A couple indicated they wanted to carry them but either the brands they carry don’t offer them or they are simply now considering it. We think this is still a matter of education of retail staff. Teach ‘em the importance and how to do something and they can pass on that knowledge. We will lay money that the sales staff members at most stores don’t stretch themselves.

Do you carry kettlebells?

Although not new – their use dates back decades and maybe centuries – kettlebells are making a comeback in everyday fitness circles. So this year we wanted to know who is selling them or would consider them and what they know. As suspected, they haven’t made much headway … yet. Only 21 percent of respondents said they sold them, meaning there is a big market out there to be tapped. But, like flexibility products, this will take education. Some responses indicated a few were just now looking into them and planned to carry them later this year; one said he couldn’t find the right product with the right margins; another said it was too narrow of a product to bother with. A good number again mentioned no interest or demand. Thing is, this is a brand new item that the trendy women’s and men’s fitness magazines are writing about as we speak. Why couldn’t a retailer carry them and then do a little promotion to area media about what they are and offer a demo class or workshop? A little self-marketing and PR never hurts!

General Store and Customer Information

What is the average age of your customer?

In past years, we’ve simply asked respondents to check age ranges for us. Last year, one honest retailer said “we have no idea,” so we decided this year to make that a choice. Astounding is that 7.7 percent said — admitted – they have no idea. Isn’t that an important fact about a store’s demographics so you know, one, where and how to market yourself and, two, what you may need to change? Other than that, the numbers are skewing a bit younger this year, with half (50.8 percent) saying their customers are between 35 and 44, while 41.5 percent say their customers are 45 to 54. But, as with all our previous surveys, what about that HUGE group of potential customers called aging Baby Boomers? Many of them are now above 54 with money to spend on stuff that will keep them healthy and fit. Aren’t’ they coming into your store? Shouldn’t they be?

How were your sales for 2006 compared to 2005?

Up between 1% – 5% — 13.9%

Up between 6% – 10% — 21.5%

Up between 11% – 16% — 10.8%

Way up! (more than 16%) – 13.9%

Down between 1% – 5% — 9.2%

Down between 6% – 10% — 4.6%

Down between 11% – 16% — 6.2%

Way down (ouch) – 4.6%

Even – 13.9%

Of course, everybody knows the talk of 2007 is how slow the business has been since about March or April, depending on your area of the country. Of course, some are still hanging in there. But we were addressing 2006 here, when most were happier campers, although apparently not as happy as a year earlier. For 2006, 60.1 percent noted that their business was up in some way (compared to 80.3 percent a year earlier) and 24.6 percent said it was down in some amount (compared to 5.9 percent a year earlier). About the same as this year said they were “even.” Heck, last year a third of respondents said the business was “way up” and none said it was “way down.” In 2006, the tide was obviously starting to turn, with a few even willing to admit the “way down” part of their business. At this time, most don’t seem panicked with 2007 now half over – blaming the downswing on high gas prices, fewer housing starts and those mean ol’ big screen TVs – and they seem optimistic that the tide will again turn later this year.

Belly-Button Pondering

Do you find industry blogs useful or a waste of time? How do you use blogs? If not, why not? Are there any useful fitness blogs?

So much for the Internet age of bling-bang-wowie-zowie when it comes to fitness. Nearly all of our respondents didn’t mince words: either they find blogs a waste of time or filled with biased information, or they don’t even know what they are. “No, don’t use them,” said one. “Didn’t know there were any. Well, I really don’t understand how blogs work.” Ah, we love honesty here. Said others, “Waste of time, incoherent and uninformed nonsense,” “Am too busy to hang out on blogs,” and “do not use, have enough to do.” Of course, there really aren’t a lot of fitness industry blogs. Sure, we at SNEWS® have our Forum/Chat area (click here to see it., which is a bit like a blog, letting subscribers comment about stories and the industry and read other comments. In fact, one respondent mentioned it as a favorite: “We don’t use blogs per se because our management is not computer savvy and views it as a waste of time (He’s probably right). et when I come across something good or interesting I might check in periodically…. I don’t think there are any amazing blogs dedicated to the fitness industry. The “SNEWS® Forum” blog I put on my favorites list because it’s amusing and entertaining!…” Glad you think so.

The meager 6.5 percent of respondents who said blogs were useful or used them said they found it enlightening to read the opinions and comments of others:

“I think they are a great learning tool – interesting to see people’s thought process and ideas,” and “I find the blogs insightful. It helps to hear what is on everyone elses mind outside your own little world. I can’t say I can recall any certain blog, but anything that can help this industry become better educated through working and sharing ideas is a fantastic resource.”

That is in direct contrast to those who didn’t. We can understand if someone says he or she doesn’t have time. But to say they don’t want to know about others? That’s how businesses stay alive, by keeping abreast of competitors, thoughts about the industry, and even criticisms. Said one, “Don’t want to get too caught up in what everyone else is doing and lose sight of our mission.” Really? Wow, blinders aren’t a good thing, especially for the tiny fitness industry.

Can the Internet become a viable tool for selling fitness equipment and accessories? Should it? If so, how? Can it do that without harming brick-and-mortar stores?

What a firestorm here when it comes to the Internet. The answers were mostly very well-thought-out, be them pro or con. Surprisingly, a majority was not anti-web; in fact, many said they think it indeed is a viable tool for selling fitness and either use it (at least for accessories) or plan to use it: “We have not set up our website for sales, but it’s definitely on our planning board,” “it can be viable and, if done correctly, it won’t hurt store sales,” “…the two can co-exist without putting brick and mortar stores out of business,” and “the Internet compliments the store, it doesn’t hurt it.”

Many said they considered it a complement to brick-and-mortar stores, although of course some said it was their death: “Our treadmill sales have dramatically decreased because of the ability to order on line.” We’re not sure how this retailer knows this decline is specifically from web sales done by others, but it’s a great sounding excuse. And from another: “I don’t think we should be able to sell over the Internet. I’m a traditionalist, and I am seeing things evolve that I believe has hurt the specialty stores out there. The Internet is one of those.”

A few said they aren’t sure how to start using it, though, (“Yes, it can be viable, but we haven’t spent the time figuring out how to do it”), and some felt they were stymied by their suppliers’ verboten: “Yes it can (be viable), but with territory limitations from the vendors it’s hard to sell anything but accessories.”

Although not everybody mentioned this aspect, a good number emphasized the importance of their own website to help drive customers to their store or inform them about the products carried in advance of a visit, as well as the importance in general of product and equipment information online that can help a customer think through what he or she wants or needs before they arrive: “We do not sell online but it absolutely generates sales for us. It is currently our #1 revenue generator. Not from selling online, but from searches and direct links to our site that lead customers to contact us or visit us.” Said another, “The Internet is a viable partner to traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ stores in that the customer will be better informed and more likely to make a buying decision” and, on the same line, “We have found the internet to be an blessing and a curse. It’s great to help educate a customer before they come into your showroom. We make sure to post as much info on a product (size, specs, etc.) on our website so that the customer can make sure the item will fit in the room before coming into the showroom. We find everyone is very overwhelmed and is looking for help in finding the right type of equipment for themselves. That’s where a brick and mortar can shine over the Internet.”

And, in conclusion, this one we just love: “My favorite Mark Twain quote is ‘an expert is just some fellow from out of town.’ The Internet has created a world of experts. Use the internet to gain knowledge. It will never replace ‘brick and mortar.’” We need to strive to develop the Internet so it’s not just, as our writer said Mark Twain said, “Some fellow from out-of-town” and can indeed be a practical, viable, supportive tool for all.

THE FINE PRINT: All answers have been rounded up to the nearest 0.5 percent, and since we don’t name every single company name or category with a percent, the percentages may not total 100 percent.

» The SNEWS® Retailer Survey may not be reproduced for redistribution of any kind, in whole or part, including for promotional or sales purposes of any kind, to consumers or the trade, without the written consent of SNEWS® LLC. Contact SNEWS® at for reprint details and restrictions.

Thanks to all our retailers who participated in the fifth-annual SNEWS® Retailer Survey! If you did not get a survey or did not participate and want to make sure you are included in our mailing/e-mailing next year, please drop a note to with all your contact information (including accurate email!) and ask to be a part of this important, independent tool for the fitness industry.