Fitness: Did you hear?…

Chicago Marathon Expo draws Club Industry exhibitors; Obesity keynote has sobering stats; Nautilus puts firefighters to the challenge; Competitors get touchy; Bally selects TV agency; Sears earnings up 3.2 percent; Cybex earns MESA award; Iron Grip and Men's Health partner on cross-promotion; plus more.

>> For the second consecutive year, the Club Industry show shared McCormick Place with the Chicago Marathon Expo, held the day after CI closed on Sunday, Oct. 12. SNEWS cruised that expo too and found two fitness industry exhibitors taking a stab at the marathon group, apparently with success: Nautilus settled into a table and sold its accessories, with spokeswoman Jean Suffin telling us that a lot of runners were snapping up the company’s Stability balls despite the larger box and one woman on the first day even bought a medicine ball saying she couldn’t turn down the deal and would carry it on the airplane on the way home (hope security doesn’t decide it’s a weapon!). Also being sold were CD carriers and Champion products. A couple of aisles over, we found Life Fitness in a small space with one Cross-Trainer, one treadmill and a Parabody Home gym. Actually, the booth was staffed by The Fitness Experience’s District Sales Manager Dave Erber, who was we must admit glowing. He said he was confident he’d sold a number of pieces that would more than pay for their time and expense in being there, although he had been mighty skeptical of the endeavor: “I’m surprised. I didn’t think it would be good,” he told SNEWS. “It was a good venture for us.” He also said he’d enjoyed hearing from passers-by about their training on the pieces. One woman said she trains exclusively on the Cross-Trainer and only runs in the marathon! SNEWS View: Although the marathon expo required separate drayage and other exhibit costs because it was in a different building, it’s something companies should consider down the road. We wrote about this in the spring after making our way through the Boston Marathon Expo. It’s good to see it does work. No, the LF booth wasn’t swamped as the food and clothing booths were. But sports gels and extra gloves cost a few bucks while the equipment is about a thousand times that. So being swamped isn’t necessary.

>> The keynote address at the recent Club Industry show, “Winning the Food Fight: Making a Difference in Solving America’s Obesity Crisis,” by Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale University Center of Eating and Weight Control, had plenty of predictable and sobering statistics: a soft drink serving size, which used to be 8 ounces, now has more than quadrupled to 34 ounces; 80 percent of kids had daily physical education in school in 1969, but by 1999, only 20 percent do; and the entire U.S. budget for nutrition education is approximately a fifth that of the advertising dollars for Altoids. Brownell said that today’s “toxic environment” — made up of an abundance of inexpensive junk foods, a food industry run amok with huge portion sizes, and ever-declining physical activity — is a disastrous recipe for our country’s alarming obesity rates especially when most folks seem rather defenseless when faced with this constant barrage of bad food options, he said. According to Brownell, quelling the ballooning of Americans ultimately will require policy change, including making schools healthier, curtailing promotion of unhealthy food, and altering fundamental economics by making good food cheaper and unhealthy food expensive. Clubs certainly can contribute to the public health, he added, as research shows that exercise is the strongest predictor of weight loss, and fitness facilities provide structure and staff that can lead to lifestyle change. SNEWS View: While we appreciated Brownell’s remarks to the standing-room only crowd, we left hungry waiting to hear his specific suggestions about what the fitness industry could do to play a role in controlling this epidemic. It seemed that Brownell was rushed a bit for the post-address Club Industry Lifetime Achievement Award presentation to Joe Weider, which we think was a shame.

>> The Nautilus Group held a firefighter challenge from 1-5 p.m. on the first day of the Club Industry show, Oct. 9 — Chicago firefighters had to each don a 50-pound backpack and climb the equivalent of the Sears Tower at level 20 (that’s the highest… oh, ouch) on the company’s StepMill. When we wandered by, two guys were dripping all over the things, totally bent over and draped on the handlebars while a Nautilus instructor on the floor chirped them on (that was the easy part we think). The guys were making it “to the top” in about 10-15 minutes or so. The final winner got a free StepMill 700 for his firehouse. SNEWS View: As grueling as this looked, the firefighters seemed to be having a pretty good time actually (we bet they enjoyed the audience), and the challenge proved to be a fun and energetic event in the booth.

>> We know that companies can be protective of their equipment being analyzed by competitors but Technogym has taken it to an extreme in a few cases. A competitor who wandered in during Early Morning Workout at this weekend’s Club Industry show was quickly approached by a staffer and told he couldn’t be there and asked to leave. And we discovered later that the same thing had happened at IHRSA earlier this year to someone from a different competitor. Let’s not be silly here. It’s not as if the sales folks don’t get together for drinks and discuss stuff, and it’s not as if every company doesn’t have every competitors’ stuff in their lab being tested and prodded anyway, so what’s the paranoid point to ask someone to leave? That’s the SNEWS View.

>> Bally Total Fitness has announced it has selected the nation’s largest television direct response agency, A. Eicoff & Company, to lead its direct response broadcast initiatives. A. Eicoff & Company joins Bally’s current marketing roster, which includes strategic branding agency Foote Cone & Belding Chicago, and general market media agency Initiative Media Worldwide.

>> Heard and seen on a club floor: A relatively novice exerciser gets on an elliptical trainer that does NOT have upper body arms. She fiddles a bit. Looks at the upper-body elliptical trainer next to her and moves to that. “It looked more interesting,” we were told when we casually inquired about the reason for the move. Next, she tries the other one without upper body movement after all and says the one with the arms was “easier.” Go figure. But that’s straight from the user’s mouth.

>> Sears, Roebuck and Co. (NYSE: S) announced today that comparable domestic store revenues increased 3.2 percent for the five weeks ended Oct. 4, 2003. Total domestic store revenues were $2.5 billion for the five week period in September 2003, up 3.5 percent compared with the five weeks ended Oct. 5, 2002. The company said that fitness was among strong areas that also included women’s ready-to-wear and men’s apparel, as well as lawn and garden and footwear.

>> Cybex International Inc. (AMEX: CYB) has announced that it has been named as the top manufacturing enterprise in providing superior customer responsiveness. As the recipient of the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Organization International (MESA) award for 2003, Cybex placed first in leveraging Peoplesoft solutions to provide customer responsiveness.

>> The SNEWS offices got a promo card for the compact closet-sized “Personality Gym” by Stradivarius before the Club Industry show. First of all, it said it was “introducing” the gym, which is odd since we first saw it at the Health & Fitness Business Expo LAST year and called it out as an interesting concept for small areas and a low price. But all that aside, what caught our eye was the company’s website address: No, really, could we make up something like that? Guess it’s a bad ass, that strad ass.

>> Iron Grip Barbell Company and Men’s Health magazine have entered into a partnership to cross-promote the men’s fitness and lifestyle magazine to Iron Grip customers and members of Iron Grip-equipped gyms. This cross-marketing collaboration was kicked off at the Club Industry show in Chicago. Iron Grip gave away free copies of Men’s Health to attendees who visited the booth. The magazine giveaway will be going on in conjunction with a Men’s Health-sponsored contest running on its website (, where entrants will have the opportunity to sign up for subscriptions and enter a drawing (no subscription necessary, drawing to be held in early 2004) to win a complete set of Iron Grip urethane free weights and an Olympic bar. By the beginning of 2004, Iron Grip will be joining with Men’s Health to offer a quantity of discounted subscription packages to every fitness facility that purchases Iron Grip equipment. Iron Grip and Men’s Health will explore other cross-marketing opportunities in the coming year, the company says.