Big Return to Chicago Offers Big Returns for Club Industry

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The Club Industry Conference and Exposition returned to Chicago last week to a crowd of 4,000 and a valuable keynote address on how women's purchasing power relates to the fitness industry.

It seems Chicago was happy to see us again! (And we were happy to see Chicago again.) The Club Industry Conference and Exposition returned to McCormick Place in Chicago last week to a crowd of 4,000.

Perhaps the most valuable part of the conference was the keynote address by Bridget Brennan. She may not have had the same name recognition of some of our past keynoters, but the message that the author of "Why She Buys" delivered on the purchasing power of women and the way she related it with practical advice to the fitness industry were powerful.

The reputation that women have is that they are shoppers. And many of them are. But shopping is not a selfish act for women, says Brennan, who owns the Chicago-based consulting company The Female Factor. Women shop on behalf of most of their family members. They buy the birthday gifts, the wedding presents, the anniversary cards, the groceries and the school clothes for the kids. Women are used to spending their time shopping—and many have gotten good at it. They expect a lot. They expect excellent service. And most importantly, when women find excellent service, a great price or a valuable product, they feel it is their duty to share that information with their friends, Brennan says. Word of mouth: we all know what a valuable marketing tool that is.

Women make purchasing decisions based on several factors, Brennan says. First, they are highly attuned to ambient details, which means you must provide a lovely and clean locker room with great lighting.

Women also evaluate not just the product but the salesperson.

"They want to give their money to people they feel deserve it," Brennan says. That means salespeople need to establish a rapport with women and focus on the soft sell, especially because women have higher expectations of service, she adds.

Women look for inspiration and a connection to your brand and reinforcement that they made the correct decision.

"It's how you make a woman feel that makes them want to buy from you," Brennan says.

The key to doing this is offering good customer service, Brennan says, which means making eye contact with women, giving them a warm welcome, knowing their name or at least recognizing them when they come in. It also means proactively asking them about their experience because women tend to hesitate to share unless asked. But when you ask, they feel valued.

Women also want an environment that they don't want to leave, which again leads back to cleanliness, natural and warm lighting, comfortable seating areas, a stretching area, mirrors to check their form, and pleasant colors and textures in your facilities.

To provide a feeling of connection, women want you to communicate with them by following up with them after they come in for a tour, showing them everything you have to offer and how to use everything, and giving them the tools to easily share their experience with others.

To help women feel confident that they made the right decision by joining your club, you need to celebrate milestones, not just by sending them birthday cards but by sending them a congratulatory card for coming to the gym for the 100th time or other pre-set milestones. It also requires you to show them that you understand the reality of their lives by offering them short classes, the ability to kill two birds with one stone and options for their children.

Brennan shared even more on the differences between men and women in general that should help those in attendance gain better perspective on this half of the population that makes 80 percent of the purchasing decisions.

Another highlight of the show was watching Daniel Levin, founder and CEO of the East Bank Club, receive Club Industry's Lifetime Achievement Award. A large group of East Bank employees were on hand, causing Levin to joke that he wondered who was back at the club watching the store. Levin was humble in receiving the award, expressing his appreciation to his staff for all their support.

A packed house welcomed those who attended the opening night reception at the Public House, where people stayed long after the reception was officially over. There, I met Yvonne Greer, the winner of the Club Industry free registration, hotel and travel expense. Greer, who owns Power Zone in Peoria, IL, was attending her first Club Industry Show. She rearranged her schedule to be there, and I'm glad she was able to do so.

Also at the opening night reception, I met Rob Barker, the new president of Precor, Woodinville, WA. His international experience and long history with Precor should bode well for the company as it adjusts to the retirement of former president Paul Byrne.

I spent most of Thursday in the CEO Summit (sponsored by Motionsoft) where we had a record number of top revenue-generating club CEOs in the room—58 of them in all. The CEOs listened to a panel session in the morning, then heard a presentation on social media (which we will include online for our Premium subscribers in December) and then broke into discussion groups.

I was pulled away briefly from the CEO Summit to do a short interview with WCIU, a station in Chicago that was covering the Club Industry Show's return to the city. The station did a nice job of giving a quick flavor of the show in their segment.

We look forward to seeing everyone at next year's Club Industry show, which will be Oct. 22-24 in Chicago.

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