During the past year, certain events have occurred in the fitness industry that give me hope that we will see more growth next year. The dark cloud that has hung over the industry for the past two or three years seems to be lifting.
Not that turbulence has completely left the industry and not that some negative events did not occur this year, but why focus on that and bring ourselves down when we finally have a few things to be happy about?
So what did I find to be the most hopeful trend in 2011? Two contenders: the improved revenues of some of the largest public companies (health clubs and manufacturers) and the acquisition flurry we saw at the end of the year. Even though most of the club companies and manufacturers are not back to their pre-recession revenue levels, a movement upwards is cause for celebration. And the acquisitions in the last half of the year—LA Fitness bought 171 Bally Total Fitness clubs, Life Time Fitness bought four (and possibly more) Lifestyle Family Fitness clubs and Equinox bought the four Sports Club/LA clubs from the Sports Club Co.—show that some major money is available to some of the top club companies, and they are making use of it. (Although LA Fitness got a truly sweet deal at under $1 million per Bally club.)
Both of these trends offer hope for a turnaround as we enter 2012.
But another hopeful event occurred this year that did not get a lot of press because it was a quiet event for a specific audience. In October, we held our first annual CEO Summit at the Club Industry conference. Forty CEOs from some of the most profitable and best-known commercial, corporate and hospital-based fitness facilities around the country came to learn and share. Where else would you find CEOs such as Carl Liebert of 24 Hour Fitness, Mike Sheehan of Bally Total Fitness, Jim Snow of Gold’s Gym, Steven Schwartz of TCA Holdings, Peter Taunton of Snap Fitness and Matthew Stevens of Western Athletic Clubs along with other big names all in the same room sharing openly on a variety of subjects? Although initially hesitant, once the conversation started, the CEOs were surprisingly open. I even saw many of them taking notes. We received several gushing reviews afterwards about how much these CEOs, most of whom oversee multi-million-dollar companies, learned from the event and from the networking.
It showed me that no matter how much revenue your facility brings in, how much you brainstorm with your own people and how much you study business operations, nothing compares to looking beyond your little world and listening to your peers. No matter how far people come in their businesses, the smart ones know that they still have much to learn. They know that they cannot stand alone; they must reach out to peers—and, yes, even the CEOs of the largest companies have peers in the industry. These leaders can share with staff, but only other owners and CEOs understand the pressures faced at this level.
So as we enter 2012, that is what I will take with me from 2011. Never insulate yourself with the impression that you are only the teacher, never again to be the student. It can make for a lonely and faltering existence, even if the dark clouds are lifting.