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Behind the Scenes
Luke Carlson, Club Industry Brand Ambassador Photo courtesy Luke Carlson.
Luke Carlson is the CEO of Minneapolis-based Discover Strength, whose four Twin Cities-area facilities specialize in methodical strength-training workouts.

Grow Your Fitness Business Smarter, Not Harder: Q&A with Club Industry Brand Ambassador Luke Carlson

Luke Carlson, CEO of Discover Strength, has devoted his career to helping people exercise smarter, not harder, and he applies that to the way he has built his business, too. We caught up with Carlson about why he's eager to present on the financial side of successful leadership at this year's Club Industry Show, Oct. 24-26 in Chicago.

Luke Carlson's lifelong passion for helping people exercise more efficiently and effectively earned him a place among Club Industry's inaugural class of brand ambassadors. He applies that knowledge to growing his fitness business, too. 

Carlson is the CEO of Minneapolis-based Discover Strength, whose four Twin Cities-area facilities specialize in methodical strength-training workouts. Carlson has a master's degree in kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, an exercise physiologist certification from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is the co-author of two books and multiple scientific journal articles on resistance exercise. 

Carlson is bringing his expertise to this year's Club Industry Show (Oct. 24-26, Hilton Chicago) by way of his Oct. 26 session, "Financial Management: How Great Leaders Win By Understanding the Numbers" (8:15 a.m., Salon A3).

Below, Carlson shares his thoughts about being named a Club Industry Ambassador, his favorite anecdotes from past Club Industry events and why he's excited to speak on the financial side of successful leadership in his Leadership & Management track session.

Q: How were you first introduced to Club Industry?

LC: My first Club Industry show was 2004. I was 24 years old and working as a strength and conditioning coach and attending graduate school. While I knew I wanted to start some kind of health club business, I had no idea what that would look like, and I was very excited to learn and be inspired. I live in Minneapolis and remember taking an Amtrak train from Minneapolis to Chicago with one of my best friends who was going to school at Loyola University Chicago. I’m certain I filled up an entire notebook worth of notes. I remember hearing Eddie Tock speak, Karen Woodward and Rudy Fabiano, among others. After hearing Rudy speak, I promised myself that someday I would have a facility designed by his team. (The location my business opened this past May was designed by Rudy). Beyond learning, that first Club Industry Show, to me, represented possibility. The conference was three to four days of learning and dreaming about what could be. I was two years away from actually opening my business, but I remember typing out employee training manuals on my train ride home. I was very much inspired by so many of the industry veterans that I heard speak.

Q: Since then, how has the Club Industry Show personally helped you and your business positively evolve?

LC: I’ve been to Club Industry every year since 2004. The show has provided tremendous learning around exercise from legendary speakers like Dr. Wayne Westcott and leadership from presenters such as Brent Darden. Each year, my staff and I go with specific areas that we are interested in strengthening. I’ve found it’s imperative to bring along as many of my employees as possible. Attending the conference has grown their passion and knowledge for the industry and, in turn, has contributed to our businesses growth. Ultimately, we all need to take time away from working "in" the business to go to work "on" the business. Club Industry has provided a great opportunity for my team and I to think about and work on our business.

Q: Why should health and wellness professionals attend Club Industry? What sets Club apart from other trade shows and conferences?

LC: For me, Club Industry is a perfect combination of quality speakers, networking with colleagues and an incredible venue and city—everything a leader would want in a conference. The primary reason a health and wellness professional should attend is to grow their passion and grow the bottom line of their business or their department.

Q: You are part of the inaugural class of Club Industry brand ambassadors. What makes you most excited about this opportunity?

LC: I’m most excited about this because I have authentic passion for Club Industry. It has helped me grow from a tiny startup training studio to a “Gazelle firm” growing at more than 20 percent year over year. As an ambassador, I hope to be a model and share the story of how Club Industry has had a profound impact in my leadership capabilities, my staff and the growth of the business. Club Industry and the learning opportunity that it presents aligns with my core value of learning and creating our own future. I very much look forward to being a part of growing Club Industry.

Q: Can you talk about your role at this year’s show? How did you decide on your session topic, and why do you believe it is relevant to attendees?

LC: As part of the leadership track, I’ll be giving a presentation at 8:15 a.m., October 26, in Salon A3 on “Financial Management: How Great Leaders Win By Understanding the Numbers." I’m thrilled to be presenting around this topic because I think so many fitness leaders are drawn to the more glamorous leadership and management disciplines and perhaps are under-skilled in the financial aspect of the business. I’ll introduce theory and practical tools that allow leaders to drive the profitable growth of the club, regardless of what kind of club.

Q: Finally, summarize Club Industry in one sentence.

LC: Club Industry, to me, is an annual mecca in Chicago to learn, reconnect with colleagues and fuel passion—all with the objective to fuel business growth.

Don't miss Luke Carlson's session at the 2018 Club Industry Show: "Financial Management: How Great Leaders Win By Understanding the Numbers" (8:15 a.m., Oct. 26, 2018, Salon A3, Hilton Chicago).

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