Leaving for Las Vegas: Club Industry Marks End of an Era at Chicago Show

Back in 1986, Club Industry founders Todd Logan and Marc Onigman spent three days holed up in a Chicago hotel suite nervously anticipating the first Club Industry conference and trade show. As it turned out, their worst fears were far from realized—the show was a success, and Chicago played host to Club Industry’s national show for the next 25 years.

Against the backdrop of new events and a new look for the exhibit hall, the buzz at Club Industry 2011 centered on the show’s move to Las Vegas next year. Last month’s show at McCormick Place laid the groundwork for what lies ahead at next year’s new venue.

One new event this year was the first annual CEO Summit, which brought together 40 owners and CEOs from some of the most profitable commercial clubs, medical fitness centers and fitness management companies. The morning panel session, moderated by Rick Caro, president of Management Vision, New York, consisted of Mike Sheehan, CEO of Bally Total Fitness, Chicago; Matthew Stevens, CEO of Western Athletic Clubs, San Francisco; Bill McBride of Club One, San Francisco; and Peter Taunton, CEO of Snap Fitness, Chanhassen, MN.

Some of the CEOs in attendance included Carl Liebert of 24 Hour Fitness, San Ramon, CA; Jim Snow of Gold’s Gym International, Irving, TX; Robert Brewster of the Alaska Clubs, Anchorage, AK; Steven Schwartz of TCA Holdings, Chicago; Doug Ribley of Akron General, Akron, OH; Tom Rhind of Power Wellness, Addison, IL; Simon Meredith of East Bank Club, Chicago; Jeff Skeen of Titan Fitness, McLean, VA; and Kirk Galiani of Onelife Fitness, McLean, VA.

During lunch, Harry Kraemer, professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and an executive partner of a private equity firm that owns part of LA Fitness, gave a keynote address titled “From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership.” The afternoon session included a financial panel that spoke about the state of the industry from the perspective of equity investors.

Another new event was the first annual Personal Trainer to Watch awards, presented by Life Fitness and the American Council on Exercise. The top prize went to Nicole Nichols of Cincinnati, who received the award from Chris Clawson, president of Life Fitness, Chicago.


Club Industry’s annual Lifetime Achievement Award went to Red Lerille of Red Lerille’s Health and Racquet Club, Lafayette, LA. In accepting the award, Lerille told stories of his more than 50 years in the industry and acknowledged all of the previous eight recipients of Club Industry’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He said he was especially touched that he is now on a list that includes Joe Weider, Joe Gold and Jack LaLanne, who, like Lerille, were bodybuilders.

Lerille’s presentation preceded the first keynote speaker of the show, John Moore, a former marketing executive with Starbucks and Whole Foods Market. Moore focused his presentation on touch point marketing, and more specifically, word-of-mouth marketing. He noted several companies that leave their thumbprint on consumers and said that club operators can do the same with locker rooms, membership forms, membership cards, towels and locker room keys.

The three drivers of word-of-mouth marketing are great advertising, great customer service and great customer experience, Moore said. He added that 27 percent of consumers would pay 15 percent or more to receive a superior customer experience, and that the best word-of-mouth marketing is doing good business every day.

Chris Powell, a personal trainer and the host of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition,” served as the second keynote speaker of the show. Powell, who followed the Personal Trainer to Watch awards presentation, outlined a credo that he works and lives by: B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L., which he said stands for believe, expectations, authenticity, unload emotion, triggers and tactics, integrity, finding an identity, ultimate responsibility and live with a purpose.

Powell often works with clients who plateau two months into their training regimen. He said he expects clients to fall or “binge” hundreds of times during training. The important thing for them to remember from either of those frustrations is to get back up and stay committed, Powell said.

Many of Powell’s clients also expect that when they lose the desired amount of weight, all of their problems will disappear. Not so, said Powell. They’ll still have the same financial and relationship issues that they had before, he added.


Club Industry also hosted its annual Best of the Best awards luncheon. The recipients were the Sparrow Michigan Athletic Club, East Lansing, MI (best children’s program and best community-based program); Lindenhurst Health & Wellness Center of Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, Lake Forest, IL (best behavior modification program); BodyPlex Fitness Adventure, Chestnut Mountain, GA (best new member integration program); and LifeStart Wellness Network, Chicago (best nonmember program).

Of the dozens of sessions held throughout the conference, few were as highly attended as the overflowing panel session that included Planet Fitness CEO Mike Grondahl, who made some pointed comments about his Newington, NH-based brand and the state of the health club industry.

The session, moderated by Michael Scott Scudder, managing partner of The Fitness Industry Group, El Prado, NM, included Bryan O’Rourke of Integerus, New Orleans; Bill Rodriguez of Snap Fitness, Chanhassen, MN; and Robert Dyer of Fitmarc, Fort Worth, TX. Grondahl disagreed with critics who say Planet Fitness is only about its $10-a-month model, adding his clubs are mostly atmosphere-driven, with an emphasis on cleanliness.

Another popular event was the show’s welcome reception at the Rockit Bar & Grill, which attracted attendees, speakers and vendors at the networking opportunity.

In conjunction with Club Industry 2011, Powerhouse Gym, Farmington Hills, MI, held its convention at McCormick Place. More than 80 Powerhouse Gyms were represented at the convention, which attracted more than 150 attendees. The convention included a roundtable discussion hosted by co-founder Will Dabish and David Bailey, who co-owns 12 Powerhouse Gyms in Jacksonville, FL.

Powerhouse Gym CEO Henry Dabish said that he was pleased with the convention and that he returned to his office to messages from owners and vendors who said they enjoyed the event.

Overall, Club Industry 2011 attracted 4,000 attendees and 136 exhibitors over 36,500 square feet of show floor space. An expanded Club Industry booth included an Ask the Experts section adjacent to Club Live, a stage area which held several Q and A sessions as well as workout and fashion demonstrations.

Next year’s Club Industry show will take place Oct. 10-12, 2012, at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Along with the new location, Club Industry 2012 will offer other changes that will be announced at a later time.

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