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Mexico City getting ready for first IHRSA/Mercado Fitness event

Guillermo Velez of Mercado Fitness is interviewed“For years, club operators and industry suppliers have been asking us to do an event in Mexico,” notes Jacqueline Antunes, IHRSA’s senior manager for Latin America. “Mexico is the fourth largest market in the world, with 7,826 clubs and 2.7 million members, but only 2.2% of the population belongs to a club; there’s still a lot of room to grow.

“This event will facilitate, serve as a catalyst, for future growth.”

The event that Antunes is referring to is the first-ever IHRSA/Mercado Fitness Mexico City Conference and Trade Show, which will take place this month, Oct. 21–23, at the Expo Bancomer Santa Fe Convention Center, in Mexico City.

The meeting, co-hosted by Mercado Fitness, an industry publishing and events firm with offices in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Mexico City, is expected to attract more than 5,000 participants, and will feature the wares of more than 60 industry suppliers.

“Mercado Fitness has been organizing conferences and trade shows in South America for more than 10 years, and, for the last three to four years, we’ve been planning to expand into Mexico,” explains editor and director Guillermo Vélez. “We know, for a fact, that the market wants this to happen—they’re all very excited about it, and so are we.”

Table of contents

Though it has an intense national focus, the IHRSA/Mercado event has a distinct international air, and flair, about it. The 15 featured speakers hail from Mexico, Brazil, and the U.S., and include two familiar to the IHRSA family: ex-officio Brent Darden, the principal of Brent Darden Consulting; and board member Molly Kemmer, the GM of the fitness center at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, in Aurora, Colo.


Annual revenues: $1.5 billion
Number of clubs: 7,826
Number of members: 2.7 million 
Total population: 123.3 million 
Club penetration rate: 2.2%

Source: The IHRSA Global Report 2014

Darden will discuss “Leadership, Commitment, and the Customer Experience,” and Kemmer will treat the topic of “Retention, Relationships, and Revenue.”

“The customer experiences your club during every visit, and their impression of your brand is based on these cumulative interactions,” explains Darden, providing a preview of his presentation. “Mapping the member journey within your club can identify keys to delivering a consistent, positive, and memorable experience, enhancing your club’s value proposition.”

The offering of other subjects and speakers is equally compelling. Among them: “Healthy Competition” (Héctor Troncoso, chairman, Sports World); “Selling the Benefits of an Active Lifestyle to Your Customers” (Ricardo Cruz, director, B2F Consulting); “The Importance of Generating Results for Our Clients” (Paul Smith, CEO, Grupo Martí SA); and “Low- Cost vs. Multipurpose Gyms: Concept, Challenges, and Financial Strategies” (Luis Amoroso, director, Monday Academia).

A highlight will be a special visit by Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, the corporate parent of more than 400 businesses, including Virgin Active, the U.K.-based club chain. Branson is speaking at a World of Business Ideas (WOBI) Forum, taking place Oct. 22–23, also at Expo Bancomer, and will be putting in an appearance at the conference.

“We’re really excited to have Branson participating in the event,” enthuses José Antonio Mársico, CEO of Mercado Fitness Mexico. “He’ll be giving a 30-minute talk on entrepreneurship, and then staying with us for a small, exclusive meet-and-greet.”

The trade show side of the meeting also puts a global spin on things. The 32,292-square-foot trade show will showcase the newest products and services offered by Mexican and other Latin American companies, and by leading international suppliers, such as Star Trac; Precor, Inc.; Life Fitness; Technogym; ZUMBA Fitness, LLC; and Cybex International, Inc.

In addition, IHRSA/Mercado attendees will be able to participate in workshops, master fitness classes, and a debate forum featuring leaders of the Latin American industry. They’ll enjoy a tour of some of the finest clubs in Mexico City, and, of course, the city’s - and the culture’s - vibrant and rewarding attractions.

“I look forward to this experience, in a city that’s known for ‘the spirit of its people,’ in an environment where culture and la familia are the most important things, and relationships are treasured above all else,” says Kemmer. “This conference setting will be a great reminder as to why we all do what we do: to connect with, inspire, and help others live their best lives.”

Mission and objectives

As Vélez indicates, the market definitely seems to “want” this conference and trade show. In a “Letter to the Editor” in the June issue of CBI, Carmen Gómez Alcalá, the co-founder and CEO of Club C+ in Mexico City, spelled out the potential benefits clearly and in detail.

Expo Bancomer Santa Fe - site of IHRSA/Mercado Fitness Mexico City Conference & Trade Show.“I’m sure that IHRSA/Mercado Fitness Mexico will enable attendees to ascertain their market potential, conduct research and evaluate their competition, develop commercial structures, identify new agents and distributors, and initiate joint ventures and project partnerships,” she wrote.

“It also will help them with marketing, promotions, publicity, and sales; administrative and operating practices; training and professional development; legal matters; and creating an IT infrastructure. It may also bring investors to our country.”

And when CBI asked Marcos Alcocer, the president of Organización Britania, the dynamic club development company based in Mexico City, whether he’d be attending IHRSA/Mercado, his response, loosely translated, was, “What - are you kidding? Absolutely!”

“Club operators are hungry for information in order to become more professional and grow the Mexican club industry in a sustainable way,” suggests Antunes. “And this strong, three-day program will provide a high level of expertise about every aspect of club operation: finance, marketing, sales, management, retention, and much more.”

“This event has the potential to be a global industry connecting point for years to come,” observes Kemmer. “Opportunities abound in Mexico. Consumer club participation is low, and demand is high. Through the relationship with IHRSA, club operators could benefit from the experience of more mature industry markets.” At the same time, she points out, “The Mexican/Central American market also can make its own indelible impression on our industry, influencing our global thinking about ‘what works’ with respect to attracting and retaining members. For, at its core, the culture of this market is all about connecting and relationships.”

The “cross-pollinating” potential of IHRSA/Mercado isn’t lost on Darden. “This conference offers an opportunity for current and prospective club operators to network, share ideas, learn about best practices, and build momentum around the global effort to increase physical activity everywhere,” he says. Darden, who’s also the principal in Brent Darden Consulting, notes that he hasn’t yet done any work in Mexico. “Hopefully, soon,” he quickly adds.

“For the last three years, fitness has been one of the fastest-growing industries in Mexico and Central and South America - that’s why now is the perfect moment for IHRSA and Mercado to bring its leaders together,” stresses Mársico. “Our goal is to make this event the ultimate networking platform in this area of the world. It’s going to be the meeting point for the industry’s leaders for years to come.”

Concludes Kemmer: “This will be a humbling, inspiring, and incredibly educational experience for me, as I’ll be both sharing and teaching, as well as learning from others,” she says. “What a great honor to be a part of this inaugural event.” 

Craig R. Waters can be reached at




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