Like the prodigal son, the Club Industry Conference and Exposition returned to McCormick Place in Chicago last month to a warm welcome from 4,000 attendees. Those attendees had opportunities to network at two receptions, honor an industry veteran and a trainer of the year, learn about how to capture the purchasing power of women, try out equipment and technology, attend educational sessions and earn continuing education units.
The opening reception on the first night of the show took attendees away from McCormick Place to the Public House for drinks and appetizers plus networking after a day of educational sessions for fitness professionals and booth setup for exhibitors. Many in the full house stayed past the scheduled end of the reception, which was sponsored the Abs Co., Chester, NJ.
The second day began with a boot camp workout followed by more sessions and the opening of the exhibit hall, which featured 285 exhibits from 130 companies, a 10 percent increase over 2012.
Fifty-eight CEOs from some of the largest revenue-generating fitness facilities in the country attended the third annual CEO Summit, which was sponsored by Motionsoft, Silver Spring, MD. The CEO Summit included a morning panel session with Harvey Spevak, CEO of Equinox, New York; Joe Cirulli, CEO of Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers, Gainesville, FL; Annbeth Eschbach, CEO of Exhale, New York; Brent Leffel, president of New Evolution Ventures, Lafayette, CA; and Eric Affeldt, president and CEO of ClubCorp, Dallas. The CEOs enjoyed lunch while listening to a presentation on social media by George Assimakopoulos, vice president of Penton Marketing Services, New York. In the afternoon, the CEOs participated in small group discussions.
That evening, the health clubs that made Club Industry’s Top 100 Clubs list this year were honored during a reception. Also at the reception, which was sponsored by ABC Financial, Sherwood, AR, former Chicago Bears wide receiver Dennis McKinnon spoke on behalf of the Scott Dennis 44 Fund, an organization created after the death of Scott Dennis, who was a distributor in the industry. The organization was created to help prevent suicide.
Awards and Keynote Address
Also on the second day, PFP magazine, in partnership with Club Industry, presented its Trainer of the Year Award to Dan Ritchie, founder and owner of Miracles Fitness in West Lafayette, IN. Ritchie’s primary areas of expertise are in personal training for special populations, including athletes, pregnant women, blind people and people with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s disease. He has worked on state-funded research on the effects of exercise on patients with severe dementia. He also has worked with NCAA Division I athletes. As the winner, Ritchie receives several prizes from the sponsors of the event, including the cover of the December issue of PFP magazine.
The other two finalists for the award were Jacqueline Larsen, founder and owner of Fitnessology Inc., Green Bay, WI, and Grant Roberts, who owns three fitness centers in Canada and California.
On the final day of the conference, Club Industry honored Daniel Levin, founder and CEO of East Bank Club, Chicago, with its Lifetime Achievement Award for his ability to create a world-renowned fitness facility in what had been a depressed area of Chicago. A large contingent of East Bank Club employees, as well as Fay Hartog-Levin, Daniel’s wife, attended the event.
After Levin received his award, Bridget Brennan offered a keynote address full of details about how fitness facilities can capitalize on women’s purchasing power. Brennan, the author of “Why She Buys” and CEO of Chicago-based marketing consulting company The Female Factor, said that when women find a great deal or product, they feel it is their duty to share that information with their friends. This trait makes women great vehicles for word-of-mouth marketing if fitness clubs can ensure that word of mouth is positive.
Women expect better customer service than men do, Brennan says, so excellent customer service is paramount to getting women to buy and stay. Good customer service means making eye contact with women, giving them a warm welcome, knowing their name or at least recognizing them when they come in, she says.
Women also evaluate the salesperson as well as the product, says Brennan, who adds that a soft sell is better.
“They want to give their money to people they feel deserve it,” she says. “It's how you make a woman feel that makes them want to buy from you.”
The day ended with the exhibit hall again offering time to check out new programs in Club LIVE, strength programs in Club Resistance, and products and technology at exhibitors’ booths.
Next year’s Club Industry Conference and Exhibition will return to McCormick Place in Chicago on Oct. 22-24.