CHICAGO — It often seems like hyper-bole at times when every show reports good attendance and happy exhibitors, but this year's Club Industry show was a true hit with both attendees and exhibitors, according to many.

Whether it was networking at the opening reception or early morning workouts, shopping for products on the trade show floor or taking in one of the educational sessions, there was truly something for everyone at Club Industry 2004.

“The vitality of the special events showed the extreme interest of professionals in every phase of the commercial fitness market for learning about the latest trends and how they can benefit from them,” said Zari Stahl, group show director. “There was a genuine buzz at Club Industry 2004. We also had the largest number of new exhibitors in many years.”

In fact, Club Industry 2004 (which is owned by Fitness Business Pro parent company, Primedia Business Magazines and Media) featured nearly 900 exhibit booths, hosted by 245 suppliers of fitness equipment, services and programs. This represents the largest number of exhibitors in the show's two-decade history, show management said.

And those exhibitors saw plenty of people at those 900 booths as the three-day trade show attracted just under 5,500 fitness professionals from every state of the union and numerous foreign nations, show management said. Among those attendees was a diverse group made up of owners and operators of multipurpose clubs, gyms, corporate fitness facilities, hospital/rehab/wellness centers, hotels/resorts and spas, parks/recreation areas, tennis/racquetball clubs, military/government facilities, YM/YWCAs and Jewish Community Centers.

Additionally, approximately 1,100 attendees signed up for the four-day information program, which included 130 seminars conducted by leading industry figures.

The conference attendees saw a broad spectrum of topical special features, including a well-attended free keynote address by customer service authority Lisa Ford, creator of the best-selling How to Give Exceptional Customer Service videotapes/books, coupled with Fitness Business Pro's Lifetime Achievement award presented posthumously to the late Joe Gold.

The keynote address by Lisa Ford on customer service included entertaining anecdotes about Ford's own experiences with customer service — or the lack thereof — at her dry cleaners as well as lessons for club owners about what sort of service will make a member loyal to a club. Her presentation emphasized that members want an “experience,” and clubs that don't differentiate themselves enough from the competition will find members choosing clubs based on price.

Ford urged club owners to do five things: beg for complaints, respond to complaints on the spot or within 24 hours of the complaint, keep customers satisfied because dissatisfied customers tell twice as many people about their dissatisfaction as satisfied people do, pay attention to details, and exceed expectations.

After the keynote presentation, Joe Gold, founder of Gold's Gym and World Gym, was honored posthumously with the Fitness Business Pro Lifetime Achievement Award. Accepting the honor was Mike Uretz, a longtime friend and business partner of Gold. Gene LaMott and Derrick Barton of Gold's Gym joined Uretz on the stage to pay tribute to the man who founded their company. Uretz played a short video recalling Gold's life of achievements and honors, and he relayed a message from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger about the influence that Gold had on him as a young bodybuilder.

A standing room only crowd attended a Fitness Summit: Fattest to Fittest — How Communities are Becoming Proactive about Exercise and Nutrition, chaired by Melissa Johnson, executive director of the President's Council on Fitness & Sports. One of the panelists, Ken Germano of ACE and Operation FitKids, perhaps summed up the message of the session best when he said, “We fund disease; we don't fund physical activity programs. We (the industry) are sitting on the miracle cure.”

Club Industry also staged its first-ever Fitness Fashion Show in the Club Studio demonstration area, spotlighting cutting-edge fitness fashions from a number of manufacturers. Organizer Laura Mak of Mak Attack Fitness Wear said, “The Fitness Fashion Show provided added visibility for all of the active apparel suppliers on the exhibit floor and really spurred attendee interest in the category.”

Around the tradeshow floor, attendees were faced with a good amount of new equipment and services to try out from leading vendors such as Aphelion, Nautilus, Precor, Star Trac and others. In addition to these names, some newer and lesser-known names such as Diesel, Body Wedge, Critical Motion and Tuff Stuff were also making waves, perhaps indicating a pick-up in the industry.

“We're down here to evaluate the equipment and attend the sessions — strategies we think will help us make money,” said Alaine Johnson, general manager of American Muscle & Fitness Center of Ingleside, IL. “We come every year, and every year we buy equipment that helps us increase our membership.”

In addition to the show floor, several companies participated in the second annual new products press conference. Some of the highlights from the press conference were new products from True Fitness and Woodway.

True Fitness presented its new Z series True Elliptical, which includes three ellipticals. Its Z8m model uses Smart Start technology that changes the workout based on age, sex, body weight and exercise time.

Meanwhile, Woodway Treadmills showed the crowd of reporters its Woodway Desmo treadmill, which features a slat flex system (a track rather than a conveyor belt). Company representatives called it the first significant makeover of the product in 30 years.

Some of the trends seen and heard around this year's show were the amount of metabolic testing products and services becoming increasingly available to facilities as value-added services and profit centers. Additionally, many manufacturers commented on the extensive amount of equipment they are selling to the military. And, in fact, the military was looking for a few good men — and women — in the exhibit hall. The Navy had recruiters in the exhibit hall looking for personal trainers and recreation leaders to serve in a civilian capacity on aircraft carriers and other military ships for 18-month stints. The personal trainers would help set up fitness centers on the ship and keep the sailors in shape. Individuals who sign up for recreation duty would organize sporting activities for crewmembers.

So whether looking for new equipment, new trends or new ideas, Club Industry 2004 provided a smorgasbord to help fitness facilities from all segments of the industry do their business better.