Executive Editor Stuart Goldman looks back at the sights and sounds of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) Convention and Trade Show in San Diego.
It may seem a little late to recap a trade show that I attended two weeks ago, but as my Twitter feed can attest, people are still talking about the IHRSA show in San Diego, most notably, the folks who operate the @IHRSA Twitter page, who were retweeting reactions to the show as late as yesterday afternoon.
So it gives me some comfort in knowing that I haven't procrastinated, er, set this mega blog post aside for too long. Last week, we gave you our IHRSA 2014 photo gallery, the Bash for Augie's Quest recap and Pam Kufahl's blog post to tide you over until I could roll out this mega-post today.
Overall, I think our group came away from the IHRSA show thinking that this was one of the best IHRSA shows that we've attended. From conferences to keynote speakers to the exhibit hall to parties, this show covered all the bases. The main star, for me, was San Diego itself. With the convention center, the proximity to hotels and the airport, and of course, the weather, it's hard to top San Diego. I think I'm going to start a petition to have San Diego host every trade show for every industry every year. I'm sure the San Diego Chamber of Commerce would not mind that at all. The only other city that I would do that for is…Chicago! (Have I mentioned yet that the Club Industry Show is in Chicago, Oct. 22-24 at McCormick Place?)
Unfortunately, I had to say goodbye to a dear friend during the show: my suitcase. The zippers closed just enough to get me from Kansas City to San Diego, but too many trips and too many trade shows later, the suitcase just wouldn't open anymore. I am thankful that the Westfield Horton Plaza Mall was just a couple of blocks away from our hotel, so before the show kicked into high gear, I snuck out to get a new suitcase for the return home and for many years to come. (I hope.)
In other travel news, did anybody use Wi-Fi on their flight to the show? And could it have been any slower than mine? I almost felt like I was back in the dial-up Internet days. Don't get me wrong: Technology is amazing these days. But it still could go faster.
Pam touched on the receptions we attended in her post—we got to three on Wednesday night—so I'll add my thanks to the folks at the Gold's Gym Franchisee Association and the folks at World Gym for inviting me to their receptions on Thursday at barleymash (all lowercase) and the Hard Rock Hotel, respectively. Again, the great thing about San Diego is everything is just a few blocks away. (And did I mention the great weather?)
I met World Gym's Guy Cammilleri at this show last year in Las Vegas. This year, after finally completing my feature on Guy and his family, I met his mother, a sweet, sweet lady. I also said hello to World Gym advisor Mike Uretz, who had on an awesome Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign-for-governor jacket. That jacket rivaled the Nautilus jacket I saw Dean Sbragia wearing at the Med-Fit Systems reception that I checked out just downstairs at the Hard Rock.
Three more random notes: Congratulations to The Alaska Club's Robert Brewster for his selection as the next chairperson of the IHRSA Board of Directors. Also, our best to Steve Ayers of ABC Financial, who was scheduled to undergo foot surgery after the show. And we missed seeing our friend Karen Woodard-Chavez at the IHRSA show this year, so all the best to her and her family.
Before I get into the keynotes I attended, I just want to point out something I never saw or experienced at an IHRSA show before. IHRSA President and CEO Joe Moore got the audience to stand up and chant "We are IHRSA! We are IHRSA! We are IHRSA!" before Thursday's keynote. All of a sudden, I felt like I was in the middle of a campaign rally. I half expected Joe to go Howard Beale on us and encourage us to scream "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" It's probably for the best that he didn't go there.
I did not get to hear Sally Hogshead, who spoke on Wednesday, nor Luke Williams, who spoke on Saturday, but I did attend the keynotes of Dan Heath and Gary Vaynerchuk. Both were extremely impressive.
Heath, the brother of former IHRSA keynote speaker Chip Heath, discussed how to make better choices in life and in work (as the title of his keynote suggested). Mainly, Heath talked about broadening your options to make a decision. He said the four "villains" of decision-making are narrow framing, confirmation bias, short-term emotion and overconfidence.
Heath also said we need to widen our options within a "WRAP" framework: Widen options, Reality testing, Attain distance before deciding and Prepare to be wrong.
"No one in life is going to tell you your baby is ugly," Heath said.
Heath told the story about the poor decision Quaker made in acquiring Snapple for $1.7 billion in the mid-1990s, only to sell it for $300 million two years later. Heath also gave a nice shout-out to our friend Christine Thalwitz and the folks at ACAC Fitness and Wellness Center for their ability to attract and convert doctor referrals into members, an example of breaking out from the narrow frame of decision-making.
"We need a process that we can trust," Heath said. "We will never be perfect. But we can be better."
I got a tip about the Vaynerchuk keynote from a former colleague who heard him speak in a sales meeting not long ago. Vaynerchuk is pretty unabashed in using bad language, I was told. I had to see how that would fly with the IHRSA crowd.
As it turns out, Vaynerchuk, by my count, uttered only a couple of s-bombs, one of which came out as "sh…crap."
"I was told not to cuss," Vaynerchuk said toward the end of his address, right after he warned attendees "the s---'s about to hit the fan" in terms of social media and communication.
Vaynerchuk was all about one-liners, but this was no comedy routine. It's almost as if his speech was made for Twitter, where he has more than one million followers. Sarah Kooperman and I (yes, we reprised our role of attending an IHRSA keynote session together) were busily typing down his best lines.
I also tried to post as many great quotes from Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) on Twitter as I could during the address. Referring to how much money he made as a 14-year-old entrepreneur in the baseball card business, he said, "If you've got $30,000 under your bed at 14 years old and you're not selling weed, you're doing a good job."
Other quotes from Gary Vee:
"This room (meaning health club operators) is marketing like it's 2005, not like it's 2014."
"Every single club is a media company first."
"Instagram is the new Facebook."
"We're living through the second industrial revolution."
When referring to the different ways we communicate with each other through social media, he said, "Communication in our society has been fundamentally disrupted." He later added, "We're living in the explosion of word-of-mouth." And one more good quote: "Innovation doesn't give a crap about you and me."
As I mentioned on Twitter, this keynote may have been the most important address at IHRSA that I've heard in my years coming to the show. Vaynerchuk ended his address by hoping club operators would go back to their clubs and start a new social media channel that would improve their business. And he hoped to hear from them when they did.
"I'm looking forward to that email," he said.
I saw that our good friend Bryan O'Rourke posted a column on his blog about the Gary Vaynerchuk keynote, and I purposefully did not read it before writing this post. (I will read it soon…I promise!) I know O'Rourke picked up on some of the key social media themes that Gary Vee stressed in his address.
O'Rourke hosted another great technology roundtable at the show that included Bill McBride of Active Sports Clubs, Rasmus Ingerslev of Fresh Fitness and Steve Groves of GoodLife Fitness. (I got it right this time, Steve!) Speaking of O'Rourke, he was recently named one of the top 100 experts on Twitter by PhDInManagement.org. Way to go, Bryan!
And I always enjoy attending Rick Caro's annual financial panel. This year's panel consisted of Pierre LeComte, managing director of TSG Consumer Partners (which now has a private equity stake in Planet Fitness); Sean Naughton, a senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray; Ben Chapin, vice president of GE Antares Capital; and Nathan Chandrasekaran, principal at TZP Group LLC, which now has a stake in Lift Brands, which includes Snap Fitness.
Caro gave us the rundown of the 2013 headlines, and overall, not much has changed in the industry over the past three years, he said. The industry is still improving, Caro said, but not to the pre-recession levels of 2007. Caro expects a better year this year, but until unemployment levels continue to improve and we have a better idea of how the Affordable Care Act will affect the industry, 2014 may not be a home run year, Caro said.
Compared to financial panel sessions at IHRSA in years past, it dawned on me that I am now as old or older than the panelists. When did that happen? I did enjoy meeting three of the four panelists after the session, including LeComte, who literally took the words right out of my mouth. I was about to tell him how much I missed founder Mike Grondahl at Planet Fitness, and before I could say that, LeComte said he read my work and knew that the company is less off-the-cuff than when Grondahl was around.
One quick note about Caro: Before we almost had a knockdown-drag out at the IHRSA reception over the difference between his rich Yankees vs. my cash-strapped Royals, Caro told us that he planned to attend next month's Masters golf tournament, the final rung on his bucket list of attending great sporting events throughout the years. (I think he said he has attended 40 events in 28 years.) Those events include the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the Indianapolis 500 and Wimbledon, which is on my to-do list one of these years.
Speaking of the Final Four, wasn't it a little weird to be at an IHRSA show and not check in on March Madness? This year is the first in a long while when I actually watched as many games as I did last week. Even at the IHRSA show, I had a good time ribbing Joe Cirulli that my Missouri Tigers were going to play his Florida Gators in the SEC Tournament. Joe might have to look into scoring some Final Four tickets next week. The Gators are on a roll.
I probably did my best work walking aimlessly down the middle of the show floor, running into people in the industry. The quarter-mile-long exhibit hall certainly offered plenty of space to run into folks.
Right off the bat, while walking past the Star Trac booth, I saw Jim Brown, the NFL legendary running back of the Cleveland Browns. I couldn't believe it was him, and I had to get a photo. I was lucky to get that photo because after I posted it to Twitter, Brown was gone.
I was told that Brown is a friend of Star Trac owner Michael Bruno (an Ohio native) and that Brown gave a talk to the Star Trac team before the show opened. If I get my hands on that video, I hope to pass it along here. (UPDATE: You can watch the video here or up above. It's 10 minutes long and worth your time.)
As we mentioned in our photo gallery, other famous people also were at the show, albeit in cutout form, from Jillian Michaels to Chuck Norris to Michael Phelps. I walked by the Phelps swim spa booth display with colleague Laurie Kerr and told her how much great athletes just can't quit, that they always find a way to come back and compete. Sure enough, just the other day, news broke that Phelps may be planning a comeback to swim in his fifth Olympics in 2016.
(By the way, did you know you could bring your dog to the show floor? I saw one on a leash with its master perusing the exhibits.)
I got a message from Larry Gurney of The Rush Fitness Complex wanting to know if we could meet somewhere on the show floor. Once we met near the Fluidity booth, Gurney told me about this new reality TV show he is working on called "Save My Gym." Gurney, who has more than 30 years of experience running clubs in the industry, is hosting the show and is a co-producer. We'll definitely pass along more information as it becomes available, including when and where we can watch the show. If anything, this may finally provide me the reason to write that feature about him I'd been wanting to write after we had a great phone call one day while he was driving through North Carolina.
I didn't have too many scheduled booth visits (one company, Sproing Fitness, even paged me on Twitter!), but I do want to make a mention of a couple. Life Fitness showed me its new outdoor group training equipment as well as the latest technology on its cardio equipment. There's even a photo of me on one of the machines that's floating around somewhere in social media land. The neatest thing is that, just like when you can share photos simply by touching smartphones, you can touch your phone to a machine to download a workout or your personal data. Pretty nifty stuff.
One of my other booth visits was to Pivotal 5, where I had a good chat with President and CEO Adam Schumacher. Pivotal 5 now has five brands in its steed (and that's by coincidence—the company would like to add more in the future.) In addition to KettleWorX, Pivotal 5 acquired Lifeline USA last year, giving it a toehold in the suspension training sector. Schumacher told me one of his company's investors is Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television and the former owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.
Finally, I want to tell a quick story that I hope will give you an idea of why I do what I do. At last year's show, as I walked by the Zumba booth several times, I kept noticing this older guy Zumba-ing his heart out in the booth. He seemed to stand out from the younger crowd, most of which were female and had long, flowing hair.
On Wednesday before the show floor opened, I saw this same guy helping set up the Zumba booth. That night at the IHRSA welcome reception, there he was again, so I had to walk up to him and say hello. It turns out the man's name is Ron Knapp, and he's an engineer who lives in San Francisco who also happens to be a certified Zumba instructor. Looking up his profile online, he's also a licensed pilot who has a certification in sailing.
We talked for a few minutes, and he kept asking me about Zumba and why I had never taken a class before. He was so enthusiastic and passionate about Zumba that if we had met in a Zumba studio, I might have hopped into a class with him.
When others see the bells and whistles of a gigantic trade show with thousands of people, I see the gray-haired man in the middle of a Zumba class and think, "Who is that guy? What's his story?" He'll definitely make for a great story for someone someday. That someone may even be me.