We have all heard about the economic rebound in America, but perhaps we are starting to see tangible evidence to support those theories. That is if you can count energy and excitement from within the industry and on the floor of the McCormick Center during Club Industry 2003 last month as tangible evidence.

“The Club Industry team is always working to find new ideas and innovations to make the event more appealing and relevant to the commercial fitness community. Focusing on new products in the marketplace and providing added exposure for companies introducing them helped to facilitate increased activity on the exhibit floor,” says Herb Greenebaum marketing manager for the Club Industry show. “We are also pleased at the highly positive reaction to the topical keynote address on the obesity crisis and the warm reception of the audience to the recognition given to Joe Weider by Club Industry magazine. As always, Club Industry successfully united every segment of the business.”

With an estimated 7,500 attendees and exhibitors heading to Chicago for Club Industry 2003, according to show officials, there was a real buzz on the floor of the McCormick Center.

“My facility is on the West Coast, so I usually attend events in that region. This year, I decided to check out Club Industry,” says Robert McLennan, owner of What A Racquet! headquartered in Daly City, CA. “I am extremely impressed at the depth and breadth of the information program, which along with the new products here are creating a genuine sense of excitement in the exhibit hall.”

The excitement could be felt from the standing-room-only crowd that attended the opening keynote address to the show floor packed with new products.

Kicking off the show was the keynote address delivered by Kelley Brownell, Ph. D. highlighting the incredible — as gasps from the audience attested — state of obesity in this country. Immediately following the keynote session, Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Joe Weider, was met with a well-deserved standing ovation from the 200-plus people in attendance.

Beyond the keynote address, the more than 75 seminars were heavily attended. Several seminars focused on various staff issues. In the seminar, Hiring, Motivating and Evaluating Group Exercise Instructors, Angela Broderick, president of Fit Careers, talked about ways to keep good instructors around by positioning the club as a fair employer and a fun place to teach. In Innovative Strategies to Compensate and Motivate Your Staff, Tony deLeede, managing director of First Fitness Australia, talked about handing more control to the staff in each department so that they feel ownership of their department.

Taking care of staff is extremely important to another area of concern to clubs: member retention.

“The higher the turnover of employees, the higher the turnover of members,” Michael Scott Scudder, partner at Southwest Club Services, said in the Realities of Retention panel discussion. Along with Scudder, the panel included Sandy Coffman, president of Programming for Profit; and Mike Combes, general manager of the Michigan Athletic Club and Genesys Athletic Club.

“Everyone should be embarrassed about the retention numbers in our industry,” says Coffman. She adds that retention numbers are the worst in the history of the industry.

Scudder says that too many clubs are focusing on sales rather than retention. They are concentrating on selling enough new members to replace the ones going out the back door, he says.

“As long as that goes on, you can forget about retention,” Scudder says. “If all you pay a salesperson for is to bring in new members, then [the salesperson] doesn't care about current members.”

Also popular at this year's show were the hands-on worksops covering topics such as redesigning a club, maximizing member income, customer service and more, according to Howard Ravis, program director.

On the trade show floor attendees could view new products from companies both big and small.

Perhaps the hottest item at the show was The Trixter X-Bike from Matrix. The Trixter X-Bike caused quite a stir at the show being touted as taking group cycling to a whole new level. The sleek, copper-colored X-Bike provides a total body cardiovascular and muscular workout for the lower and the upper body, according to the company. The unique design offers patent-pending side-to-side X-Bars to give users that mountain bike experience with a mountain bike indoor class to go along for the ride.

Nautilus introduced a StairMaster-branded club elliptical and StairMaster ClubTrack treadmills. The ellipticals reportedly have a movement that mimics the natural movement when walking or jogging.

SciFit, meanwhile, introduced the RST7000 Total Body Recumbent Stepper. The company says its ISO-strength programming on the RST7000 allows users to get a total body cardio and strength workout on one piece of equipment.

All work and no fun can make cardio very, very dull indeed. To help alleviate that problem, Life Fitness is the latest company to take entertainment internal with the launch of an integrated LCD console for its Life Fitness' treadmills, Lifecycles and stair climbers and add-on LCD entertainment consoles that can be retrofitted to the same equipment and ellipticals.

Meanwhile, traditional entertainment companies aren't resting on their laurels as BroadcastVision demonstrated its Orbit controller and receiver while CardioVision demonstrated its Personal Viewing Screens

Not to be outdone by mere sight, Technogym decided to entertain users with a full sensory experience. With its new Excite cardiovascular line developed with the innovative Multisensorial design, the treadmill combats the boredom of working out through emotions by stimulating the five senses.

There were plenty of happenings going on as well on the strength side of things.

FreeMotion Fitness was among those creating a buzz with the latest additions to the EPIC Strength selectorized line of strength equipment featuring ergonomic design and exclusive patent-pending technologies: LMT (lateral movement technology) and CAM2.

Meanwhile, Life Fitness and Nautilus also added and updated their strength lines — the Signature and Pro2 Series and Steel, respectively.

Life Fitness added four new units to its Signature Series, bringing the line's total number of units to 17. As for the Pro2 series, the company added five new pieces to the line, including a seated leg curl and assisted dip/chin.

Clubs with limited space and smaller budgets can look to Nautilus for its Steel line of selectorized strength equipment. The machines are compact and offer user-friendly features like a water bottle holder, contoured pads and instructional placards that define the exercises and muscle groups that are worked.

“We have specific needs for cardio and strength equipment,” says Kevin McCauley, co-owner of the St. Louis, MO-based The Workout Co. “Visiting Club Industry and seeing the latest advances helps me to determine the right products, services and programs for my facility and for my clientele.”

Regardless of the needs of the attendees — be it equipment, education or both — Club Industry 2003 turned out to perhaps be the turning point in the fitness industry as it makes its way out of the recession.