IHRSA returns to SF with two expo halls, exceeds past numbers

Returning to San Francisco after a year in Las Vegas, the 26th annual IHRSA convention and trade show spread out over both the north and south halls at the Moscone Convention Center, allowing more exhibitors and bigger booths.

Returning to San Francisco after a year in Las Vegas, the 26th annual IHRSA convention and trade show spread out over both the north and south halls at the Moscone Convention Center, allowing more exhibitors and bigger booths.

A continued resurgence was evident with manufacturers telling SNEWS® that clubs, dealers and other customers seemed more actively interested in buying more than a few items or just looking at the March 28-31 show. Plus, it was the second year in a row that new products, new types of equipment and categories were sprinkled throughout halls — and we mean more than color updates and name changes disguised as new product. Partnerships were announced and new products were also unveiled all around.

The show floor only slowed in the late afternoon, and even the afternoon of the third day (Saturday’s short schedule) didn’t leave the aisles empty and ready for the bowling leagues.

An impressive speaker lineup didn’t leave attendees feeling uneducated (although a few still glowed about the opportunity to see former President Bill Clinton a year ago). Feature and keynote presentations were given by Vice Admiral Richard Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General of the United States; Michael Eisner, former CEO, Walt Disney Company (sponsored by Precor); Frank Abagnale, former con artist and the inspiration for the movie “Catch Me if You Can” (sponsored by Technogym); Dean Ornish, founder and director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute; Augie Nieto, founder and former CEO of Life Fitness and co-chair of Augie’s Quest, a foundation to raise money to research the cause of Lou Gehrig’s disease; and Lyn Heward, former president of creative content, Cirque du Soleil (sponsored by Technogym).

“We must become a nation that embraces prevention,” Carmona said, a message that wasn’t lost on the audience of trainers and club owners who make their living on that very quest.

Expo hall changes

One change that seemed a little questionable pre-show was the addition of a second hall that was in the north building or a few minutes brisk walk from the south hall that was previously the only show area (not counting the walkways, ballrooms and nooks that IHRSA took to stuffing exhibitors two years ago to get in as many as wanted, still maxing out the floor).

The addition of that north area added 190,000 square feet of space to the 2005 show’s sold-out and packed-to-the-gills 260,000 square feet, upping the show to 450,000 square feet (including all aisles and miscellaneous expo areas, not just booths).

But the booths in some cases are also getting bigger, with Star Trac winning the prize (if one existed) for my-booth-is-bigger-than-yours, hitting 90 x 130 feet (11,700) or just a smidge bigger than Nautilus, Matrix, Cybex, Precor and Technogym. Shoot, Life Fitness didn’t even hit the top 5 of booth size. (Does it really matter?)

What this means is that the just-completed 2007 show had 410 total exhibitors in 450,000 square feet, while 2006 in Las Vegas had 450 in 240,000, per IHRSA reports, and the 2005 edition in San Francisco had 400 in 260,000 square feet. Wait, is that possible? Certainly, there were some large swaths of walkways this year and some spaces to spare in the secondary north hall, but my my that is elbow room.

The biggest question was whether the secondary north hall was going to be as dead as the add-on ballroom was two years ago in San Francisco. It had none of the Big Guns (although many were offered cut-rate enticements to move there) and a lot of small booths with new companies, as well as products like insurance, flooring, turnstiles and accessories. No, it turned out, it was not dead, at least for those in the front to middle sections.

“Would we rather be in the other hall? Yes,” said Scott McDonald, co-CEO of Body-Solid, which had a small booth for the first time at IHRSA. “But we’ve seen all the dealers. It’s been a good show.”

A few companies told SNEWS® they actually chose the front area of the secondary hall over the back or sides of the main hall with the fortress-like humongous booths where a small player can get lost or, worse yet, hidden.

“We’re very pleased overall,” said Brooke Ayton, president of Quantum Fitness, which was a few steps inside the front entrance in the north hall. “You can actually talk to people without the pounding music. This worked out much better.”

The only disappointment for many was the Early Morning Workout, where 99.9 percent of participants (OK, that wasn’t a scientific figure but you get the picture) made a beeline for the south hall and made little effort to try out folks in the secondary hall such as Koko Fitness, Quantum or Body-Solid. The management made a big mistake, most agreed, in not placing the breakfast in the north hall to get folks there to realize it too was open for business.

Vectra Fitness chose a rear-of-the-hall booth in the main south hall, placing it squarely in front of the bathrooms. “The show is coming to us,” joked West Coast sales manager Bill Miller.

Attendee numbers up, product buzz too
IHRSA reported preliminary numbers that showed nearly 13,000 industry professionals attended the event, excluding exhibitor staff, without discerning between whether the attendee was a full-show registration, just attended the conference or expo, or only came in for a day or two. Still, that’s again eking upward a bit from the 12,000 chalked up a year ago and the 10,000 from 2005.

Educational sessions were mostly filled, and the early morning workouts didn’t want for folks to sweat with classes and new equipment showing wait lists in some cases. But the security guards were sometimes a tad over-zealous this year with one trying to nab an attendee to show a badge before she even got near trying to enter the show floor: “Ma’am, can I see your ID?” “I’m going to the bathroom,” she said in haste. “We need to see your ID,” the guard insisted trying to follow her down the hall to the bathroom. “You need an ID for the bathroom?” she asked, but dug around for the ID so she could indeed go take care of business.

Product unveilings were done by Nautilus Inc. for its “Nautilus One” selectorized strength system that was one of the most-talked-about pieces on the show floor and definitely one of the product highlights. To help build anticipation, a large wood shipping crate was in the foyer, printed with big read letters: “Do not open until 4:01 p.m., 03/29/07.” Precor launched its AMT, or Adaptive Motion Trainer, a new approach to cardio training that was a combination of elliptical, stepper and treadmill running. Matrix Fitness debuted its Ascent Trainer, another take on climbing and a quasi-elliptical motion all in one.

Star Trac showed off its own free weights and announced a partnership with MYE entertainment. Hoist was a star with its new selectorized line called Roc-it that you had to see and feel to realize how cool it was. Life Fitness, Star Trac and Technogym showed off new systems under license with Apple that made their equipment officially iPod-compatible, while Precor’s system made it compatible for MP3 players in general.

Are we teasing when it comes to product information? Well, yes. SNEWS® will do a roundup in April of a few product highlights — no, not everything. Com’ on, we may be super, but we’re not super-human.

SNEWS® View: The show continues to grow, although this year’s was spread out more than it likely needed to be. But the extra space allows it the freedom to expand more when it returns to the City by the Bay, expected in two years. Next year, the show will be in early March in San Diego. Meanwhile, the product introductions were enough to make gyms and centers want to buy. New equipment made an enticing statement that showed companies were again moving forward.