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Small Giants at IHRSA

I arrived in San Diego yesterday afternoon to a partly cloudy day and intermittent sprinkles. However, that didn't stop the IHRSA 2010 show, which was in full swing with seminars yesterday.

I headed over to the San Diego Convention Center to catch the last portion of the REX Roundtables. Unfortunately, a 90-minute rain delay prevented me from sitting in on any of the roundtables, but I did get to hear Bo Burlingham, editor-at-large for Inc., offer the keynote, which focused on small business giants. Burlingham is the author of the Inc. article about Joe Cirulli, founder of Gainesville Athletic Club, which he considers a small giant.

Burlingham focused on the common thread that makes companies great: mojo. He calls this the business equivalent of charisma.

“When a business has charisma, you want to work there, buy their product and be there,” Burlingham said.

He emphasized that getting bigger does not equate to becoming greater, but he also said that a company does not have to stay small in size to continue to be great.

Burlingham has a new book, “Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big,” that focuses on 14 small giants that he says have mojo. But what are the qualities these companies had? He offers five in the book and a sixth one that he determined after the book was published. Here are those qualities:

1. The businesses are owned and led by people who know who they are, what they want out of their business and why.

2. The companies are rooted in the communities in which they do business.

3. The companies enjoy close, personal ties with their customers and suppliers.

4. The customers come second. The employees come first. Burlingham did say that this was an over exaggeration, but that a business owner must take care of employees so that employees take care of the customers, especially when the business becomes so big that the employees are now the face of the business rather than the owner.

5. The owners and leaders are in love with what their companies do. They want everyone who comes into contact with the business to feel the same way.

6. The companies have a sound business model and protect their gross margins. They don't have to have big margins, but they have to be in control of them.

Burlingham emphasized that greatness is not a destination but a journey.

“Companies need to nurture and protect their mojo or it goes away,” he said, adding that it's dangerous for a company to sit around and think it's great.

The fitness industry is an industry that lends itself to having a lot of companies with mojo.

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