This Industry Could Use An iPhone-Like Buzz


I attended the annual Health+Fitness Business show last month in Denver, arguably the most important show for vendors and manufacturers of home-based exercise equipment geared to specialty fitness and sporting goods retailers. I was able to spend some time chatting with one of the most influential buyers in the industry, Matthew Losciale, director of merchandising and purchasing for FHI Inc. Our conversations were very helpful, especially one that stuck with me for several days.

No one really needs an iPhone, Losciale told me, and yet Apple had an enormous back log of demand and lines at Apple stores across the country well before its initial July launch date. Nearly everyone truly needs fitness tools in our country, he continued, and yet there has never been the kind of “buzz” for any fitness product the likes of which Apple created this summer. Losciale wondered why, considering the need for improved fitness among millions of Americans.

Before you start firing off letters to the editor, I am aware that an analogy between fitness equipment and Apple consumer products is, at best, a stretch. Business has seldom seen the genius and elegance of Steven Jobs and Apple's products. Our industry is not as large or ubiquitous as consumer electronics, and it's doubtful that consumers will ever be as excited about sweating as they are about watching something on YouTube on their iPhone. We must, however, accelerate the pace with which motivation — which includes entertainment — interacts with quality exercise programming.

I was very encouraged as I walked the show floor to see that several manufacturers are making significant progress in finding the balance between exercise and multimedia. Many vendors bear watching in the coming months. These vendors understand not only what exercisers need but also what will change their behavior over the long term.

These insights include the ability to record and track workouts, and the ability to compete against previous workouts or other exercisers. In many cases, manufacturers are partnering with companies who execute consumer technology in more highly developed categories. Some key factors that will soon make a difference include:

  • Total integration with consumers' media, from cell phones to MP3 players.

  • Partnerships with gaming companies to make exercise fun for the younger generations.

  • Finally finding a balance between too little and too much information to keep individuals educated, stimulated and on track.

  • Integration between entertainment and meaningful information that can be shared with personal trainers, doctors and others who influence behavior. USB keys and other removable memory that is transferable across different platforms are good examples.

  • Portability. Fitness must be available where consumers want it. Customers don't just exercise in clubs. They work out in hotels, homes, outside, even at their workplace.

  • Space-efficient technology. Because space is at a premium at clubs, technology must be truly integrated, not a separate video screen or a bulky kiosk that costs more and requires more space.

  • Personalization. It's no longer acceptable for several exercisers to share wall-mounted TVs with a choice of two programs. They expect personal entertainment in each machine. They also expect plasma and HDTV technologies.

The gap is closing between technology and the challenge of creating interesting, meaningful workouts for increasingly discerning consumers who have so many media choices. Regarding the health of our customers, this is very good news indeed.

Gregory Florez is CEO of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services and First Fitness Inc., which was rated as the No. 1 health coaching online training service by The Wall Street Journal. Florez can be contacted at [email protected].

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