In the perpetual quest for self-improvement, a common goal for millions of Americans is to ‘get back in shape’ during the post-holiday months. For many, January 1st marks the day they will start reading nutritional facts, buy new workout clothes and reactivate their gym memberships. New Year’s resolutions are a given and the consumers they’ve created have become a targeted segment for numerous health and fitness-focused retail promotions. But who do these promotions really help? And do they succeed in getting us fitter?
The health and fitness industry is a large and growing one, boasting enormous projections for 2010. Since it’s common knowledge that people pack on pounds during the holidays and then look for ways to shed them in the early months of each new year, one could imagine a surge in sales for health and fitness-related products (such as exercise equipment and dietary supplements) during Q1. In fact, according to Craig Pepin-Donat, who penned The Big Fat Health and Fitness Lie, the post-holiday consumer (January and February) provides a significant lift to retail health and fitness product sales and alone accounts for more than 30% of annual revenue for the industry. These numbers are not only significant in the midst of a recession, but also since people tend to spend less in the post-holiday months. So what are they buying?
People tend to sign up for the gym more in the early moths of each year than during any other time. According to statistics provided by IBISWorld, the post-holiday customer accounts for 12.4% of all January new gym membership sales; February falls to 9.5%, and March accounts for 8.7%. Vice President of Fitness Services for Town Sports, Ed Trainor agrees that the sudden increased interest in health care is expected among businesses in these post-holiday months. One gym reported that in the months of January through March, perennially, there is a 20% – 30% rise in gym traffic. This helps explain all of the fitness-related promotions and advertisements that one sees online, in-store and on television this time of year.
It is no secret that, for many, New Year’s resolutions simply don’t last. Market research company DataEnterprises has noted that 75% of the estimated 72 million American dieters loosely follow dieting fads, which makes for one shifty consumer. The typical American dieter makes four attempts annually to lose weight, which is the highest it’s been in fifteen years. Diet pills and meal replacements were up 3% in sales in 2009 at $2.66B for this market, which is noteworthy given the recession. And MarketData recently projected that the weight-loss market would continue growing by as much as 6% in 2010 – much of which is expected to occur in January and February.
So where do new fitness buffs look for inspiration? How about television? NBC’s popular weight loss television show “The Biggest Loser” has produced a remarkably successful health & fitness personality in the show’s personal trainer, Jillian Michaels. Michaels launched several fitness products in 2009, ranging from dietary supplements to workout DVDs. Perhaps Michaels’ most innovative product on the market is a fitness game for Nintendo’s Wii Fit. Having launched during holiday ’09, “Jillian Michaels’ Fitness Ultimatum 2009” beat out the ever-popular game “Guitar Hero” in a year-over-year comparison. Sales of this game are similar to increases in other exercise products at this time and are most likely conducted in preparation for January, when the official resolutions are made. The end of December is likely the time holiday indulgers really start to feel the pinch, both in their waistbands and their wallets.
So what else do these fitness-focused shoppers buy when they want to get in shape right away? Workout DVDs, especially those focused on getting a workout that doesn’t feel like one. Jake Steinfield of “Body by Jake” credits popular dancing competition television programs like “Dancing with the Stars” with helping boost product sales. Many gyms also offer dance-themed classes, which help expand the trend. In the past, however, workouts DVDs haven’t always been so popular. While trendy at times during the 1980s, it wasn’t until the release of Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo workout videos in 1998 that this niche market began its current upswing. Confirming the strength of the fitness market during post-holiday months, Senior Product Manager for Bay Entertainment, Michelle Rigel states, “…retailers want to talk about fitness in January, much in the same way they want to talk about horror in October.” It’s a ‘strike while the iron is hot’ mentality.
It’s no secret that, though somewhat gimmicky, these health and fitness products are a huge help to industry sales. Look at Shape Ups by Skechers, which are now among the most popular shoes in America. According to the brand, wearing Shape Ups will help improve posture and blood circulation and will make for firmer backsides. Sounds great, right? With this bold claim the shoes have become immensely popular in the last year. Skechers CEO, David Weinberg confirms the post-holiday sales lift claiming that - from January to June 2009 – Skechers flew off shelves at a record pace, and that this year, sales are expected to further improve.
It might be disheartening to know that diet and fitness companies are banking on short-lived relationships with their products, but then again, it’s up to the consumer, not the weight loss product manufacturer, to actually stick to a diet or exercise routine. With that said, it’s fascinating to see how one industry can be propped up during the first few months of a year because of consumer behavior in the final months of the preceding year. And in the end, the shopper who resolved to improve his or her health may have only succeeded in improving the health of industry sales.
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