SNEWS 2009 Fitness Retailer Survey, part 4: Treadmills, bike, ellipticals, A-trainers and overall best-selling cardio

This week, we present results from our annual SNEWS Fitness Retailer Survey about the dominating cardio equipment segment with the best brands, as voted by our respondents, in treadmills, bikes and ellipticals, thoughts o the developing “A-Trainer” category and, in general, what’s selling overall...

With so much to present from our annual SNEWS® Fitness Retailer Survey, we broke up the results for 2009 into four parts, three of which have been posted to our site over the last few weeks. All of the news and votes make for interesting reading, and we don’t want any one category to get lost in the information overload that can prevail when it’s presented as one huge story.

This week, we present results about the dominating cardio equipment segment with the best brands, as voted by our respondents, in treadmills, bikes and ellipticals, thoughts on the developing “A-Trainer” category and, in general, what’s selling overall.

The full detailed results are open to any All Access SNEWS® subscriber.

What are your three top-selling cardiovascular equipment product categories this year in terms of overall sales?

No. 1

Ellipticals – 58,2%

Treadmills – 40.3%

No. 2

Treadmills – 56.7%

Ellipticals – 37.3%

No. 3

Recumbent bikes – 76.1%

A-Trainers – 7.5%

Wow, we are talking a major turnaround here in what our respondents said was the overall best-selling type of cardio equipment. Although in first as the best-selling, ellipticals lost more than 14 percentage points while treadmills gained more than 13 (remember, we don’t name every piece named so it may not equal 100 percent). Could it be that those consumers who did buy equipment were turning back to treadmills as the tried-and-true, especially if they had to make a choice between one piece and two pieces to keep the household happy? That’s what we hypothesized when ellipticals also gave up significant points this year as the overall best-selling piece of any equipment (click here to see those results in our first part of the survey on July 27, 2009).

On the other hand, ellipticals gained ground as No. 2 best-selling. Nevertheless, the top two spots still belong to those two categories. In No. 3 is still recumbent bikes — hands-down. What now varies is what’s eking up behind that. Last year we saw indoor studio cycles make a showing, but this year the nascent “A-Trainer” category gained enough votes to rank up behind recumbents. A-Trainers, a term coined by SNEWS, are those hybrid elliptical-like climber-stepper-trainer pieces. We think that category will continue to rise — especially once the name for it takes further root since some are calling them ellipticals still. 

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

Vision – 12.3%

Precor – 11.4%*

True Fitness – 11.4%*

Spirit Fitness – 11.1%

Landice – 10.1%

Life Fitness – 8.9%

PaceMaster – 6.7%

BodyGuard – 6.2%

AFG – 4.9%

Others receiving one or more votes (in alphabetical order): BH Fitness, Body-Solid, Bremshey, Cybex, Diamondback, FreeMotion, LifeSpan, Nautilus, Schwinn, Sole, Star Trac, SportsArt, Tunturi.

*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.

Vision hung onto the No. 1 spot by a hair. The biggest change of note is Spirit Fitness’ climb up the ladder — from being tied for 6th last year to only missing out on 2nd by the teeniest smidge (we could call the difference insignificant since we certainly aren’t statisticians). Precor also gained ground, while Landice and BodyGuard lost ground. Life Fitness showed slightly greater strength but couldn’t overpower Spirit’s climb and remained 5th overall. Brands? The number named is way down, which doesn’t bode well for smaller brands as retailers pare back the vendors they deal with: Only 21 named compared to 31 last year and 24 the year before. With a plusher economy, more brands can find a taker, but as the economy tightened so did the space. We may see a few more cutback or even disappear yet this year.

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

Octane – 17.8%

Spirit Fitness – 12.5%

Life Fitness — 10%

Vision Fitness – 9.8%

True Fitness — 8%

Diamondback — 3%*

Lifecore – 3%*

AFG – 2.6%*

Precor – 2.6%*

Star Trac – 2.3%

Others receiving one or more votes (in alphabetical order): BH Fitness, BodyGuard, Bremshey, Cybex, Eurosport, FreeMotion, Infinity, Kettler, Keys, Lifecore, Nautilus, Schwinn, SportsArt, Sole, Tunturi, Volume.

* 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.

Just like with treadmills the number of brands named has dwindled, although not by as great of a number — 27 compared to 30 a year ago and 24 a year earlier. Even without losing as many brands being named as top-selling, it’s clear the larger brands are gaining more ground since our votes trickled off more quickly. We continued to name the last five on the list since they were all so close, but the real story is Octane’s non-stop rise to elliptical domination. Look in the dictionary and where it says “elliptical” Merriam-Webster may decide to put in Octane as the definition. Well, maybe not quite, but this is the fourth year it has taken No. 1 in the category that many covet. We think it lost that fraction of a percent to Spirit, which is the next big story here: Just like in the treadmill category, Spirit has made huge leaps in ellipticals. Last year it was tied for 4th; this year it gained more than half of the percentage points it had last year to gain No. 2 best-selling, leaping right over Life Fitness and helping to bump down Precor. Life Fitness is also creeping up slightly here as in the elliptical category. (Note, one person who still voted for Keys put down a L to note his unhappiness with its demise.)

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

Vision — 14%

LifeCore – 13.2%

Life Fitness – 9.3%

Spirit Fitness – 8.6%

Diamondback – 8.3%

True Fitness – 7.6%

LeMond Fitness – 6.9%

Schwinn – 4.9%

Others receiving one or more votes (in alphabetical order): AFG, BH Fitness, BodyGuard, Body-Solid, Cybex, Cyclops, Eurosport, Expresso, Fitness Master, Keiser, Kettler, Lifespan, PaceMaster, Precor, Real Ryder, SportsArt.

Vision’s sun continues to set it seems in the stationary bike segment; although still in first, its margin over second is now a smidgen. Even last year it had nearly double the percentage points over second, while three years ago it had even more. Meanwhile, Spirit has now racked up “rising star” status in all three cardio categories, wrapping up huge gains and not looking back. Among best-selling bike brands, it went from a tie for 5th to a solid 4th place. What will next year bring in the top slots? Lifecore Fitness also gained huge ground, likely being another that ate away at Vision’s lead; Lifecore gained nearly 50 percent in percentage points. Also, Life Fitness has re-emerged in another category to climb up the ladder, showing that it is a company with a mission. Slight loses in placement were seen by LeMond Fitness, Diamondback; gains by True Fitness; and SportsArt fell out of the top group. We did find it interesting to have votes won by companies that did purely interactive bikes (Expresso) or studio cycles (Cyclops/Saris and Real Ryder).

Do you carry A-Trainers?

We threw this question into the survey partly on a whim. We have found more talking about this category of elliptical-stepper-climber hybrids. As expected a few said they didn’t know what it was. But most knew and the vote was a split with half saying, “yes,” and half saying, “no.” A few named the Cybex Arc or the Precor AMT, but others said there was no customer interest and that their particular vendor didn’t make any. We are curious how this category will fare as more manufacturers look into the segment or launch products that are adaptable to various gaits and preferences. Said one respondent, “They are here to stay so we need to have them for customers.”

Our Methodology

In mid-April, we sent emails to retailers around the country, big and small, new and well-established, in small towns and in the biggest cities, inviting them to take our survey. We also wrote a story on SNEWS online seeking respondents, and our survey was promoted in a newsletter from the Health & Business Expo. We also sent several reminder emails. Each time we asked retailers to go to a secure website run by a third-party survey provider and take our personally designed survey. We reminded retailers frequently on the survey that we were looking for comments and votes related to the previous calendar year, 2008. We did not influence votes with lists of company names; rather, we asked a question and let respondents write-in their choices. We scanned responses frequently, accepting only one survey from each retail business. After about six weeks, we closed the survey so we could get to tallying.

Where are the full results?

Complete survey result details are a special feature available only to SNEWS All Access subscribers. To subscribe, or to upgrade a SNEWS Freebie limited-access subscription, visit

>> Click here to see Part 1 with expanded results covering Best Supplier, Most Difficult suppliers and general industry insights and revenue trends. 

>> Click here to seePart 2 covering the strength category as well as a look at the development of kettlebells. 

>> Click here to see Part 3 covering accessories as well as our annual “thought” questionsasking for insights this year on social networking and economic survival. 

The Fine Print

>> Tied companies (marked with an “*”) for “best” and “most difficult” are listed alphabetically on the list and all are considered statistically equal in terms of ranking unless otherwise noted.

>>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.

It’s a no-no to reprint: The SNEWS Fitness 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. Contact SNEWS at for reprint details and restrictions.