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On the Move: IHRSA 2016

Moore explains, “People around the globe suggested Orlando as a site because of its size, climate, and the fact that, for many attendees, it represented a quicker, easier, and more affordable trip than one to the West Coast.”

Named No. 13 on Forbes’ list of fastest-growing cities for 2015, Orlando and the surrounding metropolitan area have a population of about 2.1 million, and welcome nearly 60 million tourists a year. In March, the city boasts nine hours of sunshine and an average high temperature of 79°–81° F every day.

Molly Kemmer, the chairperson of IHRSA’s board of directors, and the regional director of MediFit Community Services, based in Littleton, Colorado, is enthusiastic about Orlando. “I like to shake things up a bit, and I think this location is going to appeal to many, many people,” she says. “It’s going to keep the convention experience fresh.”

Convention highlights

Though much about IHRSA 2016 will be novel and new, with increased appeal for IHRSA club and associate members from the U.S. and abroad, the standard of the meeting’s educational and exhibitor offerings will remain comfortably, predictably high.

When CBI went to press, two of the four keynote speakers had been identified. Both seem destined to motivate listeners to step away from and reevaluate the way they conduct various aspects of their businesses.

Monday, March 21, will feature Jay Baer, the president of Convince and Convert Media, a digital education company based in Bloomington, Indiana, and the author of the New York Times best-selling book Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help, Not Hype. Baer will discuss how to rethink marketing to attract attention, increase sales, and cultivate customer loyalty and advocacy.

His presentation is generously sponsored by SPRI Products, Inc.

On Thursday, March 24, the spotlight belongs to Nir Eyal, a serial entrepreneur, and the author of the Wall Street Journal best-seller Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. Eyal will explicate the Hook Model, a four-step process that’s being utilized by many successful companies to subtly shape customer behavior.

His presentation is generously sponsored by MYZONE.

Attendees also can look forward to more than 150 educational sessions, panel discussions, receptions, and networking events. Among the special attractions are the 20th Annual IHRSA Financial Panel, the 7th Annual Women’s Leadership Summit, the Leadership Track, a “Fast Track” continental breakfast on best practices, and the popular IGNITE session of five-minute insights.

One of the social and charitable highlights of every IHRSA convention is the Bash for Augie’s Quest, which raises funds for research to find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This year’s event, the 11th annual Bash, will take place on Wednesday, March 23. The tentative theme: “Havana Nights.”

Local club market

Orlando seems a perfect venue for a gathering promoting an industry as energetic, vital, and productive as ours. “This is a growing, vibrant, and superinternational area, and one that understands and appreciates health clubs,” observes Joe Cirulli, the owner and CEO of Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers, in Gainesville, Florida. “It has both small independent clubs and the big chains that you’d find in any major American city.”

The well-known brands represented in the Orlando area include Anytime Fitness, Curves, Gold’s Gym, LA Fitness, Planet Fitness, and Youfit Health Clubs. And boutique franchises, such as CrossFit, Pure Barre, and Orangetheory Fitness, as well as independent studios, such as Allure Dance, True Pilates, and Yoga Studio, are gaining momentum and growing in number.

If the city has a single “celebrity” health and fitness facility, it’s the 365,000-square-foot RDV Sportsplex, created by Richard DeVos, whose family founded Amway and also owns the NBA’s Orlando Magic. (“See CBI Q&A,” pg. 39.) Among its infinite features, the complex offers a comprehensive menu of group exercise classes; an aquatic center; racquetball, squash, and tennis courts; nutrition programming; sports performance training; and kids’ camps.

While Orlando is synonymous with tourists, many of whom purchase gift passes at its many clubs, it’s the city’s young, stable year-round population that serves as the industry’s foundation.

“The club market is strong in Orlando, and I’m looking to expand,” reports Pleasant Lewis, the president of four local Gold’s Gyms. “So, yes, I’m planning to attend the IHRSA convention, and I’m inviting all of my managers to take advantage of the seminars and workshops it offers.”

Global appeal

Other club professionals, both from far away and relatively near, are following Lewis’ example. Many international IHRSA members—particularly from Latin America, South America, and Europe—will be attending in greater numbers because of the convenience and value that Orlando offers.

“Following IHRSA Fitness Brasil in Saõ Paulo in September, and IHRSA Mercado Fitness in Mexico City last month, the response to Orlando on the part of Latin American leaders was overwhelmingly enthusiastic,” reports Jay Ablondi, IHRSA’s executive vice president of global products.

In fact, Richard Bilton, the president of Companhia Athletica, which has 18 facilities in 13 cities in Brazil, was so excited that, back in April, he was among the first operators to register for the 2016 convention. “I’ve attended all of the IHRSA shows since 1989, and, this year, our company is bringing at least seven people,” Bilton explains. “The competition in our sector is very strong, and this event provides all of the information we need in one place.”

Kilian Fisher, the managing director of KF Innovative Business, Ltd., in Robertstown, Ireland, and a member of IHRSA’s Europe Council, concurs. “The networking and keynote presentations always inspire and motivate me,” he says. “This is an absolute must attend for everyone in the industry who wants to grow and develop their business.”

But, particularly in the case of Orlando, the convention isn’t all business, he points out. “A lot of the delegates are considering combining family holidays, since IHRSA 2016 concludes the day before Good Friday,” he notes. “Easter Monday is a public holiday in Europe, which makes the timing for leisure even more attractive.”

This year’s site is sparking equal interest and touristy speculation on the part of U.S. attendees.

Jim Worthington, the owner and president of the Newtown Athletic Club (NAC), in Newtown, Pennsylvania, who’s attended the convention since 1983, will keep his record growing. “Orlando is one of the top travel destinations in the world, and this represents a great opportunity for IHRSA members from the East to bring more attendees from their clubs,” Worthington says. “We’re budgeting at least 12 staff for the convention, and another 25 for the trade show and the Bash for Augie’s Quest––more than in previous years.”

Thanks to the 972-mile trip from Briarcliff, New York, to Orlando (vs. 2,457 miles to Los Angeles), Bill Beck, the president of two Club Fit facilities, is sending seven staff members. A 25-year convention veteran, Beck is convinced of the event’s value. “Club Fit has learned how to run a great club from these conventions,” he attests, “and we wouldn’t be where we are today without IHRSA.”

Kemmer, who’s traveling a bit further, is bringing her family. “For the first time in years, the convention coincides with my kids’ spring break from school,” she says, “and we’re planning a trip to Disney and a visit with family.”

Trade show highlights

Like the convention’s educational component, the trade show, which will take place on Tuesday, March 22, and Wednesday, March 23, promises to be bigger and better than ever. The Orange County Convention Center, the second-largest facility of its kind in the U.S., with 2.1 million square feet of exhibition space, will give IHRSA associates plenty of room to showcase their products and services.

“In the Southeast, we see a unique opportunity to connect with the vertical hospitality, entertainment, and active-aging markets that are concentrated in this region,” observes Chris Clawson, the president of Life Fitness, which has exhibited at the show since its inception 35 years ago. “IHRSA always serves as our launch platform for new products, so we’re also looking forward to that excitement.”

Technogym, an exhibitor for the past 20 years, will also be showcasing its new products, and is anticipating increased attendance by Latin American and European attendees.

Sean Kirby, the vice president of client relations for ASF Payment Solutions, notes that the new location will allow the firm to introduce its new app and data warehouse to more East Coast customers. “The show is an incredible venue for meeting clients, prospects, and fellow vendors,” he says.

Zumba Fitness, LLC, based in Hallandale, Florida, which attracted 7,000 people from 100 countries to its annual instructor convention at the Orange County Convention Center in August, is returning with at least 20 staffers for the IHRSA gathering. It will also be conducting a Zumbathon fundraising event to benefit Augie’s Quest.

“IHRSA has been instrumental in assisting us to develop relationships with some of the leading health clubs and associations in the world,” says Petra Robinson, a Zumba fitness industry adviser. “It’s helped us to take our business to the level that it is today.”

Many attendees, past and present, have said much the same thing—which is why they keep coming back — again, and again, and again…..

For full information or to register for IHRSA’s 35th Annual International Convention & Trade Show, log on to

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