For about two months each year, our annual Top 100 list tends to take over the life of one or more of our editors. This year, it took over mine. E-mailing, faxing, calling, interviewing, number checking, estimating, analyzing, consulting with advisory board member Rick Caro and the frustration of not being able to convince some club owners to return their forms gave me tunnel vision to the point where some days no other work seemed to exist on my desk.

Although my opening paragraph of complaint may lead you to believe otherwise, the effort is worth it. In the end, the hours of work result in a fairly complete list of the biggest players in our industry.

Why is that important? It gives the industry an idea of whether revenues are rising or falling for the big club companies and whether those companies are expanding (and if so, whether they are expanding through acquisitions or new builds). Investors often seek this report card on the health of the biggest revenue generators in our business. Every industry looking to mature and expand needs that investor interest to make growth possible. And investors often start with the quick snapshot that our Top 100 list provides.

Of course, the list can also be a source for bragging rights among club owners. I've seen more than one company note in its press releases that it's a Top 100 club according to Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro — although I wish they'd note that the list is based solely on revenue. Still, some club owners like to see where they stack against each other, who they surpassed this year and who they are gunning for next year.

My biggest regret about this year's list is our inability to get franchisors to respond to our requests for their 2005 revenue figures. We intended to include a top franchisor list, but for the most part, franchisors shied away from sharing corporate and franchisee revenue. Only three franchisors responded with numbers, not enough to attempt a list — this year. The two largest franchisors, Curves and Gold's Gym, did not respond with revenue numbers (Gold's Gym turned in a form with all the revenue questions left empty).

I have to wonder about so many franchisors' reluctance to share their figures. Is it a matter of privacy, lack of time to respond, concern about competitors or their own lack of knowledge about their franchisees' revenue numbers?

While we didn't include a franchisor list, we were able to include a separate list of the top single clubs by revenue. It's probably no surprise to many that East Bank Club in Chicago came in first in that category. We also included a “missing” list comprised of companies that should have been on the list but for whom we received no form and for whom we had no way of estimating their revenues. We are pleased that this list is relatively short.

Next year, we vow to start even earlier on this list, to dig even deeper, to analyze further and to make the list more interesting, usable and valuable to you.

Did I say next year? I guess despite my beginning lament about the work involved, the Top 100 list is one of the projects I look forward to each year. Here's hoping that after reading this year's story and viewing this year's list, you'll look forward to it next year, too.