The theme for last month's International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association Conference and Trade Show in San Francisco was “Success by Association,” but after attending the conference, I thought a better theme might have been “Success Through Risk.”

Almost every major speaker at the show talked about taking a risk and succeeding. Sugar Ray Leonard spoke of moving up a weight class in his boxing days and how that risk paid off for him with big wins over opponents who were bigger and stronger than him. Augie Nieto, crusader for a cure for ALS (the disease that he is battling), took a risk as a young man when he created the Life Cycle, a risk that eventually paid off for him as it helped him found the company now called Life Fitness. Vice Admiral Richard Carmona spoke of the risk he took after dropping out of high school by joining the military, getting his GED and eventually going to medical school. He took possibly a larger risk when he accepted the president's offer of the U.S. surgeon general job, a position in which his actions are scrutinized every day.

Not only had the speakers taken risks, but as I visited with attendees and manufacturers, I saw that many of them also had taken risks or were taking a risk at the show. In particular, I admired the people who were starting their first fitness facility and those who knew the risks of starting a facility but were plunging ahead to start a second, third or fourth facility. I also admired the inventors and business people who brought their new products or services to the trade show in hopes of gaining acceptance from the market and launching their businesses.

Risk has certainly paid off for plenty of people in our industry, from all the club owners who followed their dreams of owning a club and invested their last cents in a rundown building in a great location to the few large companies that have chosen to go public. More than likely, these risk takers include you.

And that's just it. This industry is full of risk takers. Risk takers often are early adopters who like to try out every new piece of equipment and new program out there. Unfortunately, the market you'd most like to attract into your facilities — the deconditioned — are the opposite. They are risk avoiders. Going to a fitness facility involves plenty of risks in their eyes: the risk of being ridiculed by all the fit people inside, looking silly on a piece of equipment that they don't know how to use, lagging behind in a group exercise class or just not knowing what appropriate attire is in the sauna. Little things to the risk takers in this industry are the big barriers to those driving past your doors every day. They don't see that taking a risk and walking into your club might turn into a huge personal reward for them.

So, it's time for you risk takers to take another risk. Talk to those not in your clubs. Find out what is stopping them from walking through your doors. Once you have that information, take one more risk. Develop programs that the deconditioned want and need. Invite them in with marketing that speaks to them rather than the fit market — show them that they belong. Once they join your club, the real work begins because you must stand beside them as they step on that scary equipment for the first time or venture into a yoga class for beginners. That takes time, which as we know is money. It's a risk, but the reward for you and them will be worth it.