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Fitness Sales Droop With Shelf-Space Crunch

28 Feb, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

With the wealth of other DVD product available, retail space for fitness is as crowded as a Pilates class the first week of January, suppliers said, and it's affecting sales.

Overall, unit sales of combined VHS and DVD fitness titles dropped nearly 20 percent from 2003 to 2004, according to Nielsen VideoScan data.

There's a spandex-tight battle for shelf space, and fitness lost some ground last year, especially in the number of facings, said Alan Fergurson, SVP of sales and distribution for Sony Wonder.

“I blame TV on DVD and all the boxed sets,” he said.

Still, titles like Sony Wonder's line of Kathy Smith fitness products are perennial sellers, he said. Sony Wonder carried 4.8 percent of the fitness video market share in 2004, a bit up from its 4.1 percent share in 2003.

Last year marked a significant shift to DVD for the genre, Fergurson said, in part thanks to retailers pushing the format, as well as increased consumer comfort with fitness DVD and soaring hardware adoption. Sony Wonder wrapped up the year at close to 90 percent DVD in fitness sales, he said. The supplier plans to make more use of the digital format's interactive features in upcoming releases.

This year, Sony Wonder also plans to increase exposure to longtime fitness superstar Kathy Smith by taking her product to direct-response marketing for the first time, Fergurson said.

A large but untracked number of fitness titles hit the market through direct-response campaigns. Expertise in direct response, especially to promote such heavy-hitting product as “Tae Bo,” “The Firm” and Leslie Sansone's walking workouts, keeps GoodTimes Home Entertainment at the top of the fitness heap year after year.

GoodTimes also saw a strong shift to DVD to about an 80/20 split, said Sue Haney, VP of marketing for GoodTimes.

“It's been really dramatic over the last year,” she said.

Shelf space is always an issue, she said, but noted that some retailers are experimenting with new merchandising, stocking fitness product outside traditional video sections, such as with sports equipment.

Last year, GoodTimes re-energized the “Tae Bo” line, releasing a set of DVDs that came with an inflatable punching bag in the Tae Bo Contact Complete set. That product was one of the top 10 DVD sellers of the year for fitness. “It was a really innovative product, and I think that's why the consumer responded so well to it,” Haney said, adding that the bag offered crossover appeal to the elusive male fitness video consumer.

Fitness queen Denise Austin re-upped with No. 4 fitness market share supplier Lions Gate Home Entertainment last year, and the supplier is fast at work on new releases from the perennial star. Lions Gate also has a slate of “Stott Pilates” titles planned for 2005, tapping into the still-growing popularity of the workout method.

It's the strong, established fitness brands that will always find places in the competitive retail landscape, said Anne Parducci, EVP of Family Entertainment and marketing for Lions Gate Home Entertainment.

Wal-Mart and Target are key retailers for fitness, she added, but shelf space is dwindling even at those retailers. “Wal-Mart has only 16 slots in line for fitness,” Parducci said. “So many titles out there are not getting the distribution at Wal-Mart and Target.”

At Lions Gate, the DVD/VHS split was about 60/40 for 2004, compared to 2003's 50/50 split. In anticipation of the fitness consumer's shift to DVD, last year the supplier launched Denise Austin's Personal Training System, a customizable workout exclusive to the DVD format.

Across the board, the top 10 fitness suppliers experienced dips in unit sales, but a few smaller suppliers saw major boosts last year. BodyWisdom Media, with a line of interactive Pilates and yoga DVDs saw a 22 percent increase in 2004 sales from 2003. Budget supplier Platinum Disc Corp. picked up a 1.7 percent share of the fitness market last year, after barely making a blip in 2003.

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