CHICAGO -- Change was afoot at the 2010 Club Industry Conference and Exposition last month. The show was a day shorter, the keynote addresses started a bit earlier in the day, the welcome reception moved off-site and attendees had access to new technology to help them around the exhibit hall.

But all of that change was overshadowed by one man — Richard Simmons — who has been a staple in the fitness industry for years. Simmons offered a shot of excitement for the 550 attendees who packed the room to hear his first-day keynote. Simmons called people onto the stage to work out with him before he settled down to speak, vacillating between humor and tears in his presentation.

Before he opened his own club, Slimmons in Beverly Hills, CA, Simmons had been an overweight teenager in New Orleans and had tried to lose weight using unhealthy methods, he recounted.

“I hated being fat more than anything,” he said as he tried to hold back tears.

Simmons commended the club operators and trainers in the room for the work that they do. He even said a little prayer asking for guidance for the audience.

“I have one piece of advice to give my peers and fellow club owners,” Simmons said. “Know no strangers. Make everyone in your club feel like a million dollars. I hug people and tell them that they can do it. I tell them that I want them to come back at least three days a week, and they do.”

Prior to Simmons' keynote, Curt Beusman accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award. Beusman founded Saw Mill Club, Mount Kisco, NY, in 1970, and he mentored many club operators during his years in the business. He also was a popular speaker at industry conferences, best known for his “Ten Commandments” speech. He revived that speech at the Club Industry show, jumping into character as “Brother Beusman” to rant and rave about the industry.

The second-day keynoter, Bill Rancic, was a bit less theatrical in his presentation but just as entertaining and informative. Rancic, the first winner of NBC's “The Apprentice,” shared with attendees the story of his journey to become a businessman, including his childhood stint running a quasi-covert pancake business out of his grandmother's house, his cigar-of-the-month club, his experience as Donald Trump's apprentice and his many business ventures since then.

Rancic attributed his win on “The Apprentice” to practical execution, agility and risk taking. He also said that the successful people he's worked with and admired are creative, are good at making decisions and never quit or make excuses.

No excuses were necessary for the opening night reception. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the trade show, show organizers moved the welcome reception from its usual location at McCormick Place to the House of Blues Chicago. Approximately 400 people attended the reception.

“The House of Blues is a Chicago landmark, and locating our reception there really set the tone for a great evening of networking and fun,” Zari Stahl, group show director for Club Industry, says. “It was the first time I can remember that the Club Industry reception was held somewhere besides the convention center or show hotel. Judging from the turnout and the comments we heard, it was a big hit with the audience.”

Winners of the Best of the Best competition also had reason to celebrate. The winners picked up their awards at the Business Breakthrough Brunch, which was attended by about 65 people. Sandy Coffman, owner of Programming for Profit, and Eddie Tock, owner of Eddie Tock Consultants and a partner in REX Roundtables, had judged several of the categories and shared their thoughts on why these programs won. (Read the October story “Models of Success” for details about the winning programs.)

Staff from eight other club companies participated in the Group X Gallery competition, which was held in the Club Studio. Representatives from the clubs showed off one of their club's original group exercise programs. Each of the clubs in the competition received a plaque for participating.

Making participation in the show easier this year was a new mobile application that allowed attendees to access information about the show, schedule their seminars and locate exhibitors. Thanks to sponsors Retention Management, Precor and Paramount Acceptance, the mobile application was free. It will be rolled into an application for Club Industry magazine and for future Club Industry trade shows.

“The new show schedule was a ‘win-win’ for everyone, making it more convenient and cost-effective for fitness professionals and suppliers alike,” Stahl says. “By right-sizing the hours, we were able to provide as much — or even more — information in less time and still offer more than enough time on the exhibit floor as well.”

Plans are already under way for next year's show, Oct. 12-14 at McCormick Place in Chicago. The former Club Industry East show, now known as Club Industry Executive Summit, will be May 11-12, 2011, in New York.

Best of the Best 2010 Winners