New York — For the first time in three years, Club Industry East returned to the Big Apple, drawing a crowd of nearly 4,500 registered industry professionals and 104 exhibiting companies. The regional show, held April 16-19 at the Javits Center, drew a mixed crowd of new attendees and seasoned fitness professionals.

Two of the most notable events at the show were the keynote addresses. Gunnar Peterson, Beverly Hills, CA-based trainer to the stars, talked about his experiences working with celebrities and athletes such as Pete Sampras, Alyssa Milano and Leah Remini. When it comes to motivating clients — whether or not they're a star — Peterson says it's about finding out what people want.

“I've never advertised a day in my life,” Peterson told the standing-room-only crowd. “You have to figure out what it takes to make them continue. Figure it out, re-create it, identify that need and then fill it. You can do the same with your brand, and you can do the same with your corporate relationships.”

The second keynoter, Dr. Michael Phillips, hospital epidemiologist at NYU Medical Center, addressed concerns about the cleanliness of facilities and the possibility of a Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) outbreak.

MRSA is transmitted from person to person through an open cut or scratch, Phillips told the crowd, and he recommended that clubs offer sanitizing hand gel to clients and staff and provide wipes for members to clean the equipment. Wipes may not eliminate risks entirely, but they help, he said. Also, clubs should clean regularly, focusing on key contact areas, such as doorknobs and lockers. Overall, the risk of transmitting MRSA in a health club is low, he said.

“You have to keep things in perspective,” Phillips said. “It's all about having good basics in check. Outbreaks are unusual.”

Other notable events included the special day-long track for JCCs, which featured well-known speakers Rick Caro, president of Management Vision, and Sandy Coffman, president of Programming for Profit. Both addressed the group of JCC fitness professionals and directors about how to improve customer service, retention and programming, and how to find and cater to a niche. Caro suggested that the group implement loyalty rewards programs in their JCCs to increase the rate of retention, and Coffman emphasized the importance of good customer-service skills in keeping attrition low.

Other notable seminars that were open to all attendees included “Getting Your Personal Training Business to Become an Integral Revenue Generator” by Kelli Calabrese of Calabrese Consulting. Calabrese emphasized that personal training service is just as valuable as a visit to a doctor, hairdresser or auto mechanic and should be treated as such. That means not devaluing a personal training session by offering the first session for free, she said.

In the session “Dramatically Increase Retention and Referrals,” Jeff Masten of Sales Makers recommended that clubs hire a retention manager, someone whose job is to focus solely on retaining members. In an uncertain economy where some club owners are already cutting expenses, hiring a retention manager might sound like an unnecessary expense, Masten said, but it's worth it because it costs less to retain a member than to get a new one.

Caro gave a seminar on how to confront new competition, something many clubs are facing. Instead of blaming any slow growth or decline on a competitor, owners must truly look at what they are doing at their own clubs first, and they must ensure that they have differentiated themselves enough before a new competitor comes in, he said.

In case some clubs were looking to differentiate themselves with new equipment or services, this year's welcome reception was held on the trade show floor. Attendees networked and enjoyed a drink and a few hors d'oeuvres while perusing the 257 booths that featured the latest fitness equipment and services.

For more information on this year's Club Industry East show, go to http://blog.fitnessbusinesspro.com/fitnessbusinessproblog/category/club-industry-east-2008/.