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2009 SNEWS Fitness Retailer Survey summary: Dealers sound off (Freebie access)

Even while scrambling to keep consumers coming in and business flowing, retailers still managed to flood our virtual gates to respond to the seventh-annual SNEWS® Fitness Retailer Survey—the only independent measure of the pulse of the fitness industry and of its specialty retailers. This 2009 summary of the SNEWS Retailer survey originally ran in the 2009 SNEWS magazine and is open to all subscribers, including Freebies.

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Even while scrambling to keep consumers coming in and business flowing, retailers still managed to flood our virtual gates to respond to the seventh-annual SNEWS® Fitness Retailer Survey—the only independent measure of the pulse of the fitness industry and of its specialty retailers.

With seven years under our belts—and basically the same array of questions each year—the comparative data fascinates us as it builds year after year, and we’re sure it intrigues you, too. Yes, yes, we know, everybody simply can’t wait to see who came in as “best” supplier or “most difficult” supplier or who took the titles of “best” in various categories. Still, we find the overall trends in selling space, sales volumes, accessory sales and general comments the most revealing. Each year we also toss in one new question about a fresh category to gauge interest in it (this year, we inquired about “A-Trainers,” the hybrid elliptical/stepper/climber pieces). And we always ask two “thought-provoking” questions to really hear more insights that could benefit the industry. Of course, all answers and the results of the entire survey remain anonymous, and they always will. This year our “thinker” questions concerned the industry’s use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and how the current economy has changed respondents’ businesses as well as their customers’ buying habits.

One thing we did change this year: We always ask how far up or down a respondent’s business is, and allow you to choose a percentage range, e.g. up 1 percent to 5 percent, up 6 percent to 10 percent, etc. This year we added one more “down” category of “down between 16 percent and 20 percent” in addition to our normal “way, way down (ouch)” choice. Fortunately, we’re glad we added that because, unfortunately, we had a number of respondents check both of them, which sheds some light on the state of 2008, too. But you’ll see more on that slice of answers in our full survey analysis, as well as a full list of “best” and “most difficult,” plus all the other category responses and data, which are all available online at to All Access SNEWS subscribers. There, you can also download any of our past six surveys.

We’ll point this out again as we do every year: We are editors and wordsmiths, not statisticians. The survey is not and will never be scientific. Despite nits and picks we hear every year about why some way we ask a question isn’t fair, or that only allowing one answer per store no matter what its size is, we stand by this. We in fact agree there may be a lot of ways to do a survey like this. Ours, however, is based on listening to real people and then writing about what they said. Scientific? Hardly. Insightful and heartfelt? Absolutely. These are words from the soul of the industry—the retailers who sell the products and equipment and talk to the public day in and day out. They carry a lot of weight. Not only because they interact with the purchasers and users, but also because they trust us and they tell us things we know they would never tell a supplier. Trust in SNEWS, the anonymity of our survey and recognition of our independence allows retailers to open up in ways not usually afforded to them. These words, from retailers who represent many hundreds of doors and multi-millions of dollars (both U.S. and Canadian) in sales annually are not to be ignored. Listening is always the best reaction.

If you have comments or suggestions—or want to make sure you as a retailer get personal notification of our next survey—drop a note to

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

18.3% Octane Fitness

13.4% Precor

12.2% True Fitness

8.5% Bodyguard

8.5% Body-Solid

With Octane firmly planted in the top spot for the third consecutive year, we turned our focus to the jostling that is still happening below it. True Fitness seems to be doing something right as it has moved from a struggle to cling to the bottom, to last year’s fifth place to this year’s third place and not quite double the percent of votes. Despite that, Precor has hung onto its second-place ranking, although it did lose a few clicks from last year’s 16.7 percent. Bodyguard silently just keeps smiling after what appears to be another turnaround in the last couple of years, jumping onto the list with gusto last year. OK, it lost a couple of points, but it’s still fourth.

Body-Solid too has come back after faltering last year. Wouldn’t you like to see this written about your company? “Octane is the ultimate supplier because they are easy to deal with, they always have product, they have strong selling margins, their product competes with all others in their category, they answer the phones, their warranty claims are easy to file, and their dealer reps are awesome.” Ironically, it’s sad to hear it’s a positive when a company answers the phones. Shouldn’t that be a given?

For perspective, we had 19 companies named in some way, the first time that’s gone below 20 since 2005. Meanwhile, those at the top keep getting more votes. Seems the strong are getting stronger.

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

36% Nautilus

9.7% Life Fitness

9.7% Precor

9.7% Vision Fitness

The biggest change on the list is the lack of Keys Fitness, which went bankrupt and shut down in 2008. What seemed to happen as a result is more votes were spread around among the next-ups on the list. Starting at the top: Our “winner” here hasn’t changed since we started this survey seven years ago. However, we felt there were fewer angry comments this year about the company, which includes votes for its other brands Schwinn, StairMaster and Bowflex, perhaps because people have just made an assumption about their interactions with it. “I don’t know where to begin,” wrote in one respondent. Another respondent wrote in general about suppliers perceived as poor to work with, “They all need to go down with General Motors.” And, lastly, “Nautilus seems not to care if you purchase from them or not.” Ouch.

Our second-place “best” supplier, Precor, is also part of a three-way tie for second place as “most difficult,” with one comment standing out: “Not as ‘partnership-oriented’ as almost all other vendors.” Life Fitness has stayed on this list—one of the three tied for second—with comments noting the need for better service and retailer support. Vision? This has been a developing story and not in a good way. Last year, it pulled up onto the “most difficult” list for the first time after several years of either winning, tying or being highly ranked as “best.”

The change has been dramatic, with comments changing from raves about support to ones like these: “No service, no quality control, no accountability,” “staff turnover has proved to be a problem, no clear direction,” and “customer service has been destroyed in the consolidation of the various Johnson Health divisions.” If the leaders there have a vision and want to save Vision, there is no time to waste.

As always, a couple of retailers wrote in to tell us they have simply eliminated headaches: “I’ve long since quit dealing with problematic suppliers.” Business is too tough these days—can we all agree on that?—to put up with silly nonsense. The message is clear: Be nice, return phone calls, act like a partner…or you will be dumped.

(Want to read more about some of the moving, shaking and displacing on the list as well as others named? All Access subscribers can find more at

Where Are the Full Survey Results?

>> To read all the results of the 2009 SNEWS Fitness Retailer Survey—including a complete list of companies that earned votes for “best” and “most difficult,” plus full results and analysis by product category—go to Complete 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

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. Contact for reprint details and restrictions.

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 & Fitness 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.