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Home > Water Fitness Brings Hefty profits

After decades of feeling the burn and sweating to the oldies with strenuous aerobic exercises, baby boomers want a reprieve.

Many are catching on to the low-impact, stress-relieving ease of water workouts. It's a preferable alternative for staying active and keeping fit, with no burn, no sweat.

The dawning of the age of aquatic fitness brings with it a burgeoning new market for water-exercise products. This brings more opportunities for pool and spa retailers to expand their offerings beyond water-care and equipment supplies.

"It makes you more of a one-stop store," said John Spannuth, director of the U.S. Water Fitness Association, who believes retailers can cash in on selling a new image of pools that goes beyond its stereotype as a recreational, fair-weather watering hole. Today, the pool can be a year-round, 24-hour total fitness gym.

"Less than 5 percent of Americans can swim 400 yards without a stop," Spannuth said. "So why not expand the appeal of the pool? It's a way of keeping your customers involved."

The many choices out there should keep fitness-crazed consumers interested. Besides aquatic dumbbells, buoyancy belts and water jogging shoes, which retail for less than $30, manufacturers are designing big-ticket products such as underwater treadmills and cycles for use in pools and swim spas.

"There is even a larger potential market on the horizon for the millions of people who don't yet have pools," said an aqua treadmill manufacturer. "What this is going to do is expand the industry tremendously."

However, aquatic workout stations can retail anywhere from $2,000 for a sell-powered treadmill to $20,000 or $30,000 for a multi jet swim spa. As a result, the higher prices and promises of increased inventory have made some retailers hesitant to gamble on what they think may be a passing fitness fad.

"We consider ourselves pretty savvy about things going on in the industry," said Rick Chandler, owner of Baja Spas in Tucson, Ariz., "and we haven't been too tickled by it in terms of what we think can make a dollar."

Burton Greene of Dover Pool & Supplies in Toms River, N.J., added, "We do better with toys and games. It moves a lot faster, and when you have a small space, you need stuff you can move quickly."

While jumping on this bandwagon may take a leap of faith, Nick Nicholas, vendor partner manager for BioGuard, insists that retailers can't afford not to pay attention to this growing trend. "Pool and spa retailers need to look at areas like this to grow into because if we don't do it, somebody's gonna do it," he said. "It's going to happen."

Most industry insiders believe that there will be greater interest from retailers during peak season in the spring. But Pat Bright, owner of Prism Pools in Knoxville, Tenn., has carried a line of aqua treadmills since October. Consumer interest, even in the waning winter months, has been high.

"We make the mistake of deciding what our customers, want and what they can afford," Bright said. "Customers are looking for more ways to use their pools and we have to supply them. If you don't offer [the products], they'll go someplace else. I don't want them to go someplace else."

In fact, Pools Plus co-owner Linda Butler, said more and more customers are walking into her Elizabethtown, Ky., showroom and requesting aqua fitness units. It's not just boomers, rehabilitation patients or people trying to lose weight either.

"I think more people are understanding how good exercise in the water is and see ways they can do that at home," said Butler, who sells low-priced and high-end products. "If you can get the customer past the cost of the unit, it's definitely going to be a growing market."

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