More than 5,000 owners, operators and staff members from all types of fitness facilities attended the annual Club Industry Conference and Exposition last month to explore the latest trends in training, discuss industry issues and evaluate equipment, technology, products and services offered by more than 200 exhibiting companies. The event included demonstrations by trainers, special events, and educational and networking seminars.

One of the show's most notable and well attended events was the presentation of Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro's Lifetime Achievement Award to Rick Caro and the keynote address by Gale Sayers. Pamela Kufahl, editor of Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro, presented the award to Caro, president of Management Vision Inc. While accepting the award, Caro spoke briefly about the history of the industry and his role in the formation of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). At the end of his acceptance speech, he delighted the crowd by donning the cowboy hat that the IHRSA board gave him years ago and that many in the industry remember him wearing to industry trade shows in years past.

“If you can find an industry for which you have a passion for, that's a win,” Caro says. “If you can find an industry for which you can make a living at and have a passion for, then that's a double win. If you find an industry in which you've made life-long friends, have a passion for and can make a living at, then that's a triple win. Thank you for giving me a triple win.”

Sayers, a former running back for the Chicago Bears and the owner of Sayers' Computer Source, drew 300 attendees for his keynote address. When he was introduced, he received a standing ovation as he walked to the podium prompting him to say, “I've been out of football for 30 years, and I thought all my fans were dead.”

During his keynote address, he used the analogy of running down an open field as a way to tell the attendees to follow their dreams.

“There's no question you will succeed if you have the skill and desire to go all the way,” he says.

At the end of his presentation, Sayers took questions from the crowd and then signed autographs for many Chicago Bears fans.

Other memorable events included the free panel discussion titled, “Identifying the Issues: The Biggest Challenges Facing the Club Industry Today and Tomorrow.” Caro moderated the panel of industry leaders, who included Scott Chovanec, president of Scott Chovanec and Associates; Gale Landers, founder and CEO of Fitness Formula; Ray O'Connor, owner of Wisconsin Athletic Club; and Paul Upchurch, chief operating officer of the Tennis Corporation of America. The discussion focused on key issues facing fitness facilities today and offered insights about the direction of the industry.

The panel members agreed that the industry can survive by remaining the same, but clubs should focus more of their time and energy on retention to keep the industry robust. The panelists discussed the obesity epidemic and clubs' roles in helping to combat it. All agreed that clubs needed to be more inviting and less intimidating to encourage deconditioned people into facilities, and they said clubs should take a more proactive role in getting kids fit whether it's through creating new, fun programs at their facilities or working with school districts.

To educate fitness professionals about the latest fitness equipment for children, the show organizers presented the new Kids' Fitness Pavilion. Attendees could also sign up for conference sessions on children's fitness. Fitness professionals packed the room to hear a presentation by Vernard Alsberry, owner of Kids Health Club, about combating childhood obesity. While preschool programs have been around for quite some time, stand-alone centers for children and adolescents are just beginning, Alsberry says.

“When children aren't 13 and can't go into the gym with their parents, they're not going to go into the toddler room, so they'll stay at home,” he says, noting that it's up to fitness professionals to make a difference. “There has to be a big push (to prevent childhood obesity). The kids need it.”

This year the show's welcome reception took place on the exhibit hall floor and allowed attendees to network and mingle while trying “A Taste of Chicago,” which featured foods from Little Italy, Taylor Street, Pilsen, Wrigleyville/World Champion Sox Park, Chinatown, Greektown and the Chicago Stockyards.

Also new to the show was the first Club Industry T-shirt exchange. About 30 attendees and companies brought unused shirts and traded them with others. Participants could also choose from several vintage Club Industry tees, saved from year's past.

Early morning workouts were another fun-filled event. Besides checking out the latest equipment, attendees tried out Zumba and other group exercise programs at the new Club Studio zone.

If you missed this year's show or are looking to attend another one, Club Industry East will be June 6-9 at Disney's Coronado Resort in Orlando, and Club Industry 2007 will be Oct. 10-13 in Chicago. For more information, visit www.clubindustryshow.com.

To read more about the show, go to www.clubindustryblog.blogspot.com for impressions of the event from the Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro staff. To see new products that debuted at the show, visit www.clubindustryshow.com.

Session Snapshot
Casey Conrad, founder of Healthy Inspirations, shared ideas about how to create a profitable weight loss program during her session at the Club Industry show. Here are some of the tips that Conrad offered.

1.Give the weight loss program a different name and advertise it separately from the club.

2. Determine if you want to target new members or existing members.

3. Since the majority of weight loss clients are women and some women are uncomfortable exercising in front of men, consider sectioning off a space specifically for the weight loss program by using plants and dividers. This could help clients feel more comfortable attending the weight loss program and working out at your club.

4. Give your weight loss clients personalized attention when they're working out on the equipment so they don't feel intimidated.

5. Hire people who have had difficulty losing weight so they will have empathy and understanding for your clients.

6. Create a program that can be duplicated easily and with consistency.

7. Weigh your clients three times a week rather than once a week so they will be held accountable for their weight loss or gain.

8. Set attendance requirements and follow up with the customers. If a client doesn't show up for a session, call him or her to remind him or her to come into the center.

9. Ask the clients to sign a success agreement that states that your club has the right to contact them if they don't show up for weigh-ins or consultations. Then if they tell you they don't want to come in anymore, mail them a copy of the success agreement.

10. Plan convenient, family-friendly meals.

11. Ensure clients stay properly hydrated by giving them a water bottle with your club's brand name on it at the beginning of their session.

Top 10 Attended Seminars At the Show

1. (tie) What It Takes to Be an Effective Fitness Manager, by Bob Esquerre; Women, Weights and Results, by Scott Josephson

3. Dramatically Increase Sales, Retention and Referrals in Just 28 Minutes a Day, by Roy Gordon

4. Simply Business: Seven Basic Business Skills Every Fitness Professional Should Know, by Lisa Coors

5. Fitness for Kids: Fighting Obesity, by Vernard Alsberry Jr. and J. Diane-Adams Alsberry

6. The Secret Lies in the Stars: Hiring the Best Staff, by Sandy Coffman

7 (tie) Improving Your Club: Moving in the Right Direction, by Rick Caro; Working Smart: 101 Tips for Selling Success, by Ed Tock

9. Challenging Standard Nutritional Practices: It's More Than Just Diet and Exercise, by Gail Fast

10. Plyometrics, Agilities and Metabolic Conditioning for Athletes and Wannabes, by Jason Hadeed