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Wellness and Fitness Videos Strike the Perfect Pose

1 Feb, 2003 By: Dan Bennett

From the hips to the belly and beyond, things are twisting and shaking in the fitness video industry. For the past three years, fitness titles have been booming at retail, and as technology advances and routines are perfected, titles are expected to shimmy up the sales charts.

“There is consumer interest in product that can be used at home to stay fit,” said Michelle Rygiel, senior brand manager for Anchor Bay Entertainment. “If you look at the television infomercials running now, a large percentage of them market fitness products.”

Anchor Bay has helped lead the charge with its “For Dummies” line, including Basic Yoga Workout for Dummies, a former No. 1 sales charter, and a long string of successful titles since. On Feb. 4, the company will release Crunch: CardioSculpt and Breakthrough Core Conditioning Pilates.

“Fitness sales look good,” Rygiel said. “Early POS at Kmart shows the strongest fitness sales that Anchor Bay has had with them in three years, and our fitness sales are up 31 percent from last year.”

TV impressions have helped fuel the fitness video business, with Anchor Bay, along with other companies, emphasizing two-minute spots.

“Obviously, fitness infomercials are creating interest in the category as a whole and raising consumer awareness of fitness videos,” Rygiel said. “It's good for the whole industry.”

Natural Journeys, meanwhile, has continued to brand its wellness/fitness line as a complete package emphasizing healthy living, with video a primary part of the package. The company, sister to well-known Goldhil Media, is releasing more than 20 titles a year, emphasizing everything from yoga to hula dancing to belly dancing and beyond.

“There is a significant upside potential for the Natural Journeys brand,” said company president Gary Goldman. “What we seek is not only competitive numbers, but high-quality programming in every major category.”

What Natural Journeys did with belly dancing is the talk of the industry. A few years ago, the company introduced belly dancing twins Veena and Neena on video.

“When we came out with belly dancing on video, a handful of retailers gave it a try because of our track record,” Goldman said. “They were willing to take a chance because they knew we did innovative programming, but they were skeptical. It was probably perceived as too sensual. But the numbers across the board were amazing. Now you see one or more belly dancing titles, from Wal-Mart to Target to Best Buy to Borders to Barnes and Noble.”

Natural Journeys is releasing belly dancing titles featuring belly dancer and certified aerobics instructor Rania.

“We're trying to expand on the idea of making working out fun,” Goldman said. “We're basically taking belly dance moves and implementing unique routines to keep the metabolic rate high.”

The company is taking another old-school idea and making it new again. It's turning the Lotte Berk Method into a video franchise, using the formula of modern and classical dance, orthopedic back exercises and Hatha yoga that has been popular for more than 30 years.

“It's one of the last unique fitness concepts yet to be released in the marketplace,” Goldman said. “Parts of the method have existed for more than 70 years. It's a challenging but familiar property to try and develop.”

Natural Journeys markets through two-minute TV spots and its Web site at www.naturaljourneys.com.

“On the site, we try to bring much more to the consumer than e-commerce,” Goldman said. “We have recipes, monthly newsletters and all kinds of advice. It's a way to build brands while also helping people build a lifestyle.”

Fitness videos have even become more exotic, if not overtly erotic. Philadelphia Films has released The Art of Exotic Dancing on VHS and DVD, seeking to reach the everyday woman and help her build self-esteem and confidence. The program earned big publicity after exposure on the TV shows “The View” and “Hard Copy,” and in various national publications.

“Women are learning some sexy dance moves, but the main idea is to gain confidence and allow women to express their authentic self through dance,” said company president Leah Stauffer. “Once they find the authentic beauty in themselves, they are able to show that to other people in their everyday activities. They look people in the eye, and they walk with a confident aura.”

The company used women who had experienced the program from its inception, women from ages 28 to 60.

“Ten percent of these women are breast-cancer patients,” Stauffer said. “They say it helps them reconnect to their sexuality.”

The title has sold more than 40,000 units, Stauffer said, and the company is employing both a direct response campaign, via its Web site at www.artofexoticdancing.com, and by expanding its studio workout routines to Chicago, New York and other major cities around the world. There also are other media promotions in the works.

Retailers like to hear about the media campaigns the suppliers push.

“Fitness seems like a perennial best-seller, and our customers can't get enough of Pilates and yoga titles,” said Randy Schaaf, video buyer for the Oregon-based Fred Meyer chain. “These titles do very well after the holidays, when people are practicing their New Year's resolutions.”

Borders placed their fitness titles in distinct sections, and in some cases separated hot yoga titles for even more visibility.

“There is a massive opportunity for suppliers of these videos to continue to impress us with new ideas,” said Borders video buyer Dan Bogucki.

That seems likely. Wellspring Media is a company that has long combined fitness and wellness titles, everything from its best-selling “Soul Food” line to upcoming releases such as Miracle of Life: Pregnancy Workout and Eleonora Goya Fitness to repromotes such as Pilates: Body Control and the recent Simple Steps to an Exceptional Life.

“A few years ago, topics like Tai Chi, yoga and organic foods were all very esoteric, but that's not the case anymore,” said Wellspring VP Dan Gurlitz. “These things are now a part of people's everyday lives.”

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