Still Ticking: After 25 years, Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro has gone through many changes, but the magazine has kept its focus on one thing: serving fitness facility owners.
Todd Logan probably didn't realize the lasting impact that he was creating back in 1984 when he launched Club Industry magazine at the tender age of 30. However, over the next 25 years, that magazine has thrived and has become a fixture in the fitness industry for facility owners and operators.
Club Industry, now titled Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro magazine, is celebrating its 25th anniversary through the next year as a way to pay tribute to the industry and to the people who brought this magazine to that industry. When the magazine started in 1984 as a bi-monthly, the industry was still in its infancy. Many of the club operators were still new to owning businesses, and many of them had only recently converted from tennis and racquetball facilities to full-fledged health clubs. In fact, the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) was still called the International Racquet and Sportsclub Association. National publications existed covering the country club market, the corporate fitness market and for-profit clubs, but none covered all those markets under one cover until Club Industry.
“It was exciting to create something from nothing and be a part of this industry,” Logan says. “It was such an upbeat industry. To cover it from the early years, there was a lot of buzz and excitement. We got to meet a lot of people who were entrepreneurs like ourselves and watch the industry grow and be a part of it.”
Logan didn't create this legacy on his own. Early in the process, he hired Marc Onigman to serve as associate publisher and executive editor while Logan served as publisher and editor-in-chief. The two were entrepreneurs who originally had published a regional sports participation magazine, Sportscape, before seeing that fitness equipment manufacturers were hungry to reach the burgeoning health club market through a magazine serving the whole fitness facility market.
The two attended the IHRSA trade show in the spring of 1984 to sell their magazine concept to exhibitors. They found an immediate fan in Augie Nieto of Lifecycle (now Life Fitness), who quickly bought the back cover for a full year. That sort of buy-in from a major manufacturer helped Logan and Onigman make additional sales to other manufacturers.
Logan and Onigman went on the road to meet advertisers and sent their reporters and editors into the field to interview club owners. Their combined efforts led to the magazine running profiles of all the big names in the industry at that time, including Bob Dedman of Club Corp. of America (who was on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest people in America at the time), fitness advocate Jack LaLanne, Jacki Sorensen of Aerobic Dancing, Mike Talla and Nanette Pattee Francini of Sports Club/LA, Mark Mastrov and his new concept (at the time) of a club that's open 24 hours and Joe Cirulli of Gainesville (FL) Health & Fitness Center.
Other articles showed club owners in this young business how to sell, how to hire and how to make money.
“We didn't see ourselves as just being cheerleaders for the industry,” Logan says. “We profiled the leaders in the industry. We sold it on having both editorial quality and editorial integrity. That was the perception of the publication at the time — that we had high integrity.”
Time for a Show
In 1986, Logan decided to develop a trade show that reached out to more than IHRSA-member clubs. He hired Howard Ravis to develop the seminar program for the conference part of the trade show. Ravis had developed the seminar programs for Folio magazine's trade shows, and Folio, a magazine for magazine publishers, was the publication after which Logan had patterned Club Industry.
In November 1986, the stage was set for the first Club Industry conference and trade show at the Chicago Hilton and Towers in Chicago. Logan and Onigman had sold 180 booths, and Ravis had put together a schedule of 50 seminars. About 300 people had signed up to attend the seminars, but no one knew how many more people would come since many people traditionally sign up on-site for the exhibit hall.
Logan and Onigman arrived in Chicago three days before the show. They were so tense about whether the trade show would be a success that they stayed in their shared hotel suite playing gin rummy and scaring each other with doomsday scenarios about what would happen if no one came to the show, Logan says.
“Here we had all the major companies exhibiting, and we didn't know how many beyond the 300 people who had signed up for the seminars would show up. Trade shows are like Broadway shows. You're either a hit or a flop, and if you are a flop, you don't come back. We didn't leave the room, we didn't shave, we just holed up in the suite. I don't know if we even bathed.”
The show finally opened, and about 1,700 people poured in.
“We were a big hit,” Logan says.
Onigman immediately began to worry about the show for the next year.
“Anyone can put on a good first-year show,” Onigman says. “The tough one is the second — getting them to come back.”
However, the second-year show was considerably bigger than the first. Buoyed by their success with the national trade show, the duo developed two regional shows — Club Industry East in New York in 1989 and Club Industry West in Anaheim, CA, in 1990. The shows alternated for two years, but Club Industry West wasn't profitable enough, so Logan and Onigman ditched it and continued their regional efforts with the more profitable Club Industry East.
“My expertise in running the show and their expertise in knowing the industry — that's what made it successful,” Ravis says about the Club Industry shows.
As part of the trade show, Logan and Onigman honored people in the industry with a Hall of Fame award, starting in 1986. They also profiled the six winners in the magazine. The first winners were Dedman; LaLanne; Sorensen; Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, founder of the Cooper Aerobics Center; Dale Dibble, co-owner of Cedardale Health Club; and Vic Tanny, founder of Tanny Health Center.
Although Logan and Onigman kept their hands in the editorial side of the business, they were increasingly involved in the trade show and advertising side, so in 1986, they hired Craig Waters as editor while retaining their editor-in-chief and executive editor titles. Waters stayed for just more than a year before moving to IHRSA's publication. The two didn't replace Waters right away, waiting until 1989 to promote Dan Tobin from special contributor to editorial director. When he left in 1990, they promoted Margie Markarian, who had been Club Industry-plus editor, to editorial director.
Also in 1990, Logan and Onigman noticed a growing sports medicine market, which was part of the rehabilitation field. Always looking for an opportunity to grow, they created a magazine, Rehabilitation Today, for that market. Unfortunately, the magazine had a strong competitor in that field, and the publication only lasted until 1994.
A New Beginning
The end of Rehabilitation Today came just two years after Onigman left the publication in 1992 and a year after Logan received and accepted an offer from Cardinal Business Media to purchase the magazine and trade shows. Wanting to move from Boston back to his hometown of Chicago for family reasons, Logan said good-bye to the publication he founded.
After the sale, Tom Morgan came on board as publisher, Terry Moffat became editor-in-chief and Zari Stahl became trade show director. By this time, the magazine had grown its circulation from 15,000 to 30,000, encompassing all the areas of fitness, but mostly for-profit.
Morgan and Moffat focused on how to bring in other areas of the market, too. They began publishing fitness supplements, some of which focused on specific topics, such as cross training or the senior market. One focused on the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Exercise, which was released in the mid-1990s.
“We did a special supplement to inform and educate the industry about the report, its contents and possible implications,” says Donna Loyle, managing editor at the time.
As part of that supplement, the magazine published a two-page fold-over pamphlet about the report so club owners could offer them to their members. The pamphlet could be cut out and photocopied. Club owners could also request a bundle of 200 pamphlets.
“We moved about 60,000 of those things. The response was really significant,” Moffat says.
Other supplements focused on specific areas of the fitness business, including hotels, fire departments, corporate fitness centers and apartment complexes. The magazine partnered with trade associations and trade magazines within industries related to the supplement topic and sent overruns of the supplement to the members of that group.
“We realized that a lot of what was happening in the commercial fitness industry was in other industries that Club Industry magazine didn't reach,” Moffat says. “We were able to create nice sections, and we sold the advertising to our advertisers. The benefit was two-fold: the potential market and the customers were being told that building a fitness center and buying equipment was a good thing to do, and the people who did that were getting exposure to these markets.”
The magazine continued to cover industry news, but it carried more feature content on trends and how-to articles, Morgan says. Some of those trends included the rise of senior and medical fitness and the implications of that on the industry, for-profit vs. nonprofit clubs, and the push by some clubs to offer kids' fitness programs.
The how-to articles focused on sales, marketing, retention and operations.
“We were always trying to focus on a how-to approach as best we could,” Moffat says, noting that many of the operators in the business were small operators with one or two clubs. “We certainly wanted to identify trends and opportunities for people, but at the same time provide how-to information on how to take advantage of those trends.”
Consolidations during 1996 made it difficult to continue to grow the magazine's revenue and the supplements, even though the revenue on the event side was able to grow, Morgan says.
“It was a good magazine,” Morgan says. “The problem that I had was that the industry itself wasn't big enough to handle or allow us to execute on all the ideas we had. You had to go to the consumer side to do that.”
Awarding Top Performers
In 1995, Moffat put together a Top 50 club list in which people nominated clubs that they thought were the biggest companies in the industry. However, the next year, Moffat changed the list to the Top 100 clubs, and rankings were determined by the revenue reported by club owners, which is still the way the Top 100 list is devised today.
“The Top 100 was an interesting way to enable our readers to benchmark their operations against the bigger clubs,” Moffat says. “We certainly started to see the disparities between the big clubs and the little guys.”
The first year that they had club operators submit their financials, Loyle and Moffat say they weren't sure they'd find enough clubs that earned $1 million or more in revenue, which was the cutoff for the list. They did find enough club operators, but finding the last 25 took a lot of digging, Moffat says.
In 1997, Moffat started the Distinguished Businesswoman's Awards.
“The club industry was evolving,” Moffat says. “We started to notice that there were more and more women who were really taking a leadership position in the business, and we decided to come up with the Businesswoman's Award.”
By recognizing and publicizing the accomplishments of these women, the magazine was able to break down the image of the industry as a male-dominated industry. The awards also showed that the industry was welcoming to women, which might move more women to enter the industry, he says.
“These were people who should have been recognized whether they were men or women. They were smart, talented business people,” Moffat says.
Having Some Fun
Just a year later, Cardinal Business Media sold the magazine and trade show to Intertec Publishing, which is now Penton Media, the current owner of the magazine. Morgan stayed with Cardinal, but Moffat moved with the magazine to Intertec and became publisher, hiring Vince Zinno as editor. Zinno left after one year, replaced by Jerry Janda.
Many trade magazines can be dry, so when Janda came on board as editor in 1998, he decided that the fitness industry was fun and exciting, so he could inject more personality in the magazine, he says.
“I tried to have some humor in there,” he says. “You don't generally find that in a trade magazine. I tried to do some playful things with the design, too.”
Janda and Moffat started including columns at the front of the magazine written by leaders in the industry.
“We got people to write things about marketing, sales and stuff like that,” Janda says. “It gave the magazine more of a voice that way.”
Janda and Moffat continued publishing the supplements that Morgan and Moffat had started. Janda also did a year-long series in 1999 on the war on obesity. While Janda was editor, the magazine also covered issues such as retention and customer service and trends such as Tai Bo, yoga, Pilates and Spinning, which was in its infancy. As Curves continued its explosion, the magazine also covered the emergence of express and women-only clubs and the nonprofit vs. for-profit issue.
In 1999, the magazine launched its Web site, although the content was limited at that time, Janda says.
Janda also restarted the editorial advisory board, which had existed previously but had not often been publicized. Janda enlisted Rick Caro of Management Vision; Julia Wheatley, who ran a women-only club and was one of the winners of the Distinguished Businesswoman's Awards; Steven Schwartz of TCA; Stephen Roma of WOW! Workout World; Casey Conrad of Communications Consultants; Jill Kinney of Club One; and Doug Ribley of Akron General.
In 2001, Moffat left the publication and was replaced by Barry LeCerf as publisher. Janda soon followed Moffat, and John Agoglia stepped into the editor-in-chief role in 2002. These two began perhaps the biggest transformation of the magazine at a time when competition between the trade publications was fierce, and advertising dollars were drying up.
“The mission and focus was always educating and helping smaller club operators do their business,” Agoglia says. “The articles were written more for mom-and-pops, not the big guys as much. It was geared toward how to do their business better for the smaller operators because they know the fitness side but struggle with the business side.”
Agoglia says that the how-to focus was a good one, but two other magazines followed the same model.
“While we felt we still did the best job, it was still a case of how many times can they read about how to budget from all of [the industry trade magazines]?” Agoglia says. What didn't exist in the industry was a publication that talked about what was influencing the daily business — the news.
With the growth of the Internet, the magazine staff could not only cover the news in all the fitness markets easier, but the staff also could use the Internet and online technology to bring the news to readers more often than monthly. Agoglia launched an e-newsletter to land in readers' in-boxes three times a month.
“With the Internet, we could be more timely,” Agoglia says, adding that readers could get their news on the Web site immediately and then get follow-up and analysis on that story later in the magazine.
For those reasons, LeCerf and Agoglia refocused the magazine in 2004 to a news and analysis publication. With the change in the focus of the magazine also came a broadening of the readership to encompass government/military facilities and university rec centers in addition to for-profits, nonprofits, hotel facilities, corporate centers and medical wellness centers. LeCerf and Agoglia changed the name of the magazine to reflect that broader market.
Prior to this big change, LeCerf and Agoglia had made a few other changes. In 2003, the two created two awards for the industry: the Lifetime Achievement Award (which replaced the Distinguished Businesswoman's Awards) and the Best of the Best Awards.
“The industry was starting to mature,” Agoglia says. “There are a lot of great people who did a lot of great stuff in the industry and weren't getting recognition. We thought it'd be a great way to acknowledge them.”
The two chose Joe Weider of Weider Publishing as the first Lifetime Achievement recipient because he was an industry icon and he had done a lot to promote fitness and the industry, Agoglia says.
“He took fitness out of the strong man world. It was him and Joe Gold who were the beginning guys,” Agoglia says. “He had built an empire off of promoting people being fit. The hope was that not only were we honoring someone who deserved it, but someone who would add honor and legitimacy to [the award].”
The Best of the Best Award was a way to acknowledge others in the industry for ideas and innovations in programming that set their clubs apart from others.
“I don't know that there is enough recognition of the good things that people are doing in the industry,” Agoglia says.
That's one reason Agoglia did a Fitness Across America series in which the editors traveled to clubs around the country for a week and reported on what was happening at these clubs.
“It was about those little stories that no one knows about that are going on every day,” Agoglia says. “Who is this little club in Texas or New Orleans that no one really knows about? What's it like there that day?”
Agoglia says that LeCerf and he cared about producing a good product.
“If we hadn't branched out and done cool stuff like that, I don't know if the magazine would still be here,” he says. “We had to do some things outside the box that other magazines weren't doing.”
Here and Now
The magazine is still reaching outside the box to remain relevant to readers. Both Agoglia and LeCerf left the magazine in 2004 after the transition to Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro. Gregg Herring, the current publisher, then picked up the transition of the magazine along with Associate Publisher Marty McCallen and Editor Pamela Kufahl.
During the past four years, the editorial focus has continued to be getting the news to the reader accurately and quickly, which is why the magazine has a Web-first orientation today. As the editors gather the news, they develop the stories and post those online, then repackage those articles with more analysis for the print edition. The magazine has also added a blog and commenting to its Web site to allow for more reader interaction. Within the past year, the magazine also launched a digital edition, which offers an interactive version of the magazine that is e-mailed to readers.
The publication has also gone back to interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, through its Executive Insights column, which has featured people like Carl Liebert, CEO of 24 Hour Fitness; Howard Brodsky, CEO of New York Health & Racquet Club; Jim Gerber, chairman of Western Athletic Clubs; Tim Miller, CEO of Crunch; and many others.
Still, the need for how-to content is prevalent, so three years ago, the magazine launched the Step by Step online columns focusing on retention, marketing, personal training, design, nutrition and sales.
In the future, the editors plan to allow for more interaction with readers online and with the digital edition, but without sacrificing the quality of editorial that the magazine has built and maintained during its 25 years.
Just as the magazine has changed during that time, so has the fitness industry, and the most important thing is for the magazine and trade show staffs to be aware of those changes and adapt to them in every area of the Club Industry franchise so that the magazine, Web site and trade shows maintain their relevance and their importance to the club operators in this industry. By doing so, the magazine looks forward to its next 25 years.
The War Room
The first two Club Industry trade shows in 1986 and 1987 were successes, but before Todd Logan and Marc Onigman could sit back and relax, an unexpected situation occurred. In 1987, the International Racquet and Sportsclub Association (now the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association — IHRSA) announced that it would move its 1988 trade show from spring to fall and the location would be Chicago rather than Dallas, New Orleans or Nashville, where the IHRSA trade shows had been in the past. That put the IHRSA show just three weeks prior to the Club Industry show in Chicago. In addition, IHRSA cut a deal with Nike in which the shoe company would give a free $99 pair of Nikes to everyone who came to the IHRSA show.
Needless to say, Logan and Onigman saw this as a declaration of war by IHRSA.
“Here you are in this little industry, and suddenly, there are these two shows in Chicago,” Logan says. “The suppliers and manufacturers really felt that they had to be at both. We were scared. It was one of those moments that if the IHRSA show was bigger than ours, we'd be out of business.”
However, Logan and Onigman were not ready to go down for the count. They gathered their seven staff members and told them that if IHRSA wanted a war, then they were going to give them a war, Onigman says. The staff turned a conference room into a “war room,” complete with mosquito netting on the ceiling, mess kits and a map of the United States on the wall with pins marking where all the major clubs were. For a year leading up to the show, the staff wore camouflage caps and carried the Swiss Army knives that Logan and Onigman bought them. They called themselves “The Niners” because there were nine of them. They developed a marketing plan for taking on IHRSA.
“We were energized,” Onigman says. “I never experienced anything like that in business.”
As the two trade shows neared, the tension was heavy.
“The whole industry was looking at that moment in time when those two shows were going to happen,” Logan says.
According to both Logan and Onigman, the IHRSA attendance was light, but the Club Industry attendance exploded. Also, they say that IHRSA's booth sales were half those of Club Industry.
“We had people cheering at the end of the show,” Onigman says. “It was the best show anyone had had in the industry.”
IHRSA never held a show in Chicago again.
A Look Back in Time
1984 - Magazine starts as a bi-monthly, published in Boston by Sportscape, which is owned by Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Todd Logan. Associate publisher and executive editor is Marc Onigman.
1986 - Craig Waters becomes editor.
1986 - First Club Industry trade show and conference is held in Chicago at the Chicago Hilton.
1986 - Magazine establishes the Hall of Fame Award.
1987 - Craig Waters leaves the publication for the International Racquet and Sportsclub Association (later called the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association).
1989 - First Club Industry East trade show and conference is held in New York at the Hilton.
1989 - Dan Tobin becomes editorial director.
1990 - First Club Industry West trade show and conference is held in Anaheim, CA.
1990 - Dan Tobin leaves and Margie Markarian moves from her role as Club Industry-plus editor to editorial director.
1990 - The logo and magazine are redesigned.
1990 - Magazine publishes a supplement, Rehabilitation Today, that becomes a bi-monthly magazine.
1992 - Marc Onigman leaves the publication.
1993 - Todd Logan sells the publication to Cardinal Business Media.
1993 - Tom Morgan becomes group publisher, and Terry Moffat becomes editor-in-chief.
1994 - Cardinal Business Media stops publishing Rehabilitation Today.
1995 - First Top 100 clubs list appears in the magazine.
1997 - First Distinguished Businesswoman's Awards are given out.
1997 - Tom Morgan leaves as publisher. Terry Moffat is promoted to publisher. Vince Zinno is hired as editor-in-chief.
1998 - Cardinal Business Media sells Club Industry to Intertec Publishing (now named Penton Media).
1998 - Vince Zinno leaves, and Jerry Janda becomes editor-in-chief.
1999 - Magazine starts its Web site.
2001 - Terry Moffat leaves the magazine, and Barry LeCerf becomes publisher.
2002 - Jerry Janda leaves the magazine, and John Agoglia becomes editor-in-chief.
2002 - The magazine and logo are redesigned.
2003 - Magazine switches from giving the Distinguished Businesswoman's Awards to giving a Lifetime Achievement Award.
2003 - Magazine starts the Best of the Best awards.
2004 - Refocus, redesign and renaming of the magazine from Club Industry to Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro occurs.
2004 - Magazine's e-newsletter is launched.
2004 - Barry LeCerf and John Agoglia leave the magazine. Gregg Herring becomes publisher, and Pamela Kufahl becomes editor.
2005 - Magazine's Web site is redesigned to focus more on news.
2007 - The magazine starts a blog on the Web site.
2008 - Digital edition of the magazine launches, and commenting is offered on the Web site.