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Prepare to Excel: Getting Ready for IHRSA 2015


 That was good advice when it was offered more than 200 years ago by Benjamin Franklin, that prolific author of epigrams, and it remains equally wise counsel today. Particularly right now: one month before the dawn of IHRSA’s 34th Annual International Convention and Trade Show in Los Angeles.

The preeminent gathering for the global health and fitness industry, this annual event is a rich, four-day educational extravaganza, a wealth of exciting, instructive, and rewarding experiences. If you were to attend it totally unprepared—sans even a pen and pad of paper—you’d soak up an incredible amount of valuable information simply via osmosis ... But, ahh!—if you were to go prepared!

In the October issue of CBI, Robert Brewster, the chairperson of IHRSA’s board of directors and president of The Alaska Club (TAC), explained how a little advance planning would save his 16-facility chain $3,400 on show-related fees for the 17 people he’s sending (see “It’s Never Too Soon!,” pg. 89).

But for Brewster and other savvy convention-goers, that’s just the beginning.

Maximizing the results of four days, March 11–14, spent in and around the Los Angeles Convention Center demands the same thought, analysis, and strategizing required of any serious business venture. A host of questions have to be addressed and answered: Why are we attending IHRSA 2015? What are our goals? Who should we send? How can we take advantage of all the offerings? When we return, how can we make sure we put what we learned to good use in the club?

Due diligence

“We take the 4Ps approach to attending the convention,” says Bill McBride, the president and CEO of Active Sports Clubs, the multifaceted, San Francisco–based chain with 65 sites in 15 states. “We focus on: Preparation, People, Product, and Productivity.”

To begin, he suggests, “Meet with your leadership team, and discuss your objectives for the rest of the year. What about your club do you want to improve? What new systems do you want to implement? What equipment do you want to add or replace?”

TAC does much the same. “We think the show offers useful information for a wide range of our employees,” Brewster says, “and would love to be able to take our entire senior management team.” Since that’s not feasible—“I mean, who’d run the clubs?” he laughs—TAC targets three groups: (1) its executive team and select, senior-level managers, who are tasked with distributing the information they obtain to their respective teams; (2) individuals involved with new or special initiatives (“If, for instance, we’re thinking about buying equipment, we’ll send our equipment maintenance lead”); and (3) a star employee, as a reward for exceptional performance.

Both club companies also conduct in-depth convention research, beginning with the schedules, list of presenters, and bios of keynote speakers on IHRSA’s Website (ihrsa. org/convention) and the IHRSA App; and the featured Q&As with keynoters in CBI. And they apply the information efficiently.

“We meet with our teams—sales and marketing, operations, fitness, finance and accounting, etc.—and map out which seminars and presentations are most appropriate for each person,” explains Brewster. “Each individual then does a little background research on the keynote speakers to ensure they get the most out of those presentations. Last year, for example, some of us took author Sally Hogshead’s personality test before going to the convention, and some of us read social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.

“This made the VIP question-and-answer session we were able to attend especially meaningful.”

McBride makes use of a similar model. “Research the presenters to learn about their area of expertise, and reach out to those who excel at something of value to you or your company,” he suggests. “Follow them on Twitter and connect with them on LinkedIn. Star their presentations on the IHRSA App to accommodate as many as possible on your convention schedule.”

Before departing for L.A., attendees should have their calendars pretty well penciled in, he says. “And don’t just go to sessions reflecting your own area of proficiency— choose a well-balanced curriculum, one that will make you a bit more well-rounded,” he adds. “If you’re attend- ing with others from your club, coordinate the sessions they’ll be attending to obtain the broadest training experience for your team.”

Once on the ground, the TAC contingent performs like a well-drilled squad. “Some- times, there are very specific goals—for instance, find out how other clubs are dealing with a particular issue; or identify a supplier who can solve a problem we’re having,” says Brewster. Individuals may be dispatched to particular presentations or roundtables, but regroup at designated times and places, and keep in touch via smartphones. “We all find the IHRSA App very useful,” notes Brewster.

TAC also regards the convention as a valuable management-teambuilding event. “We organize group dinners with our team, as well as with our key partners; attend vendor parties that we’re invited to; and, every year, we send a group to Augie’s BASH to support that worth- while cause,” he points out. “Depending on the location, we may schedule outings to tourist attractions or take club tours.”

McBride raises an interesting question: “Who else at the convention would you like to meet and get to know?” Industry leaders? Your peers at similar organizations? Specific manufacturers and suppliers? Companies you might want to work with in the future? This is your chance to network face to face, so make the most of it!

Prepare a list of the individuals you’d like to meet, he encourages. Connect with them prior to the convention via LinkedIn and set up a meeting. Be specific about what you’d like to discuss. Pinpoint a time and place for a quick meeting or cup of coffee. And don’t forget to bring plenty of business cards.

Tradeshow tactics

“The trade show is an integral part of the convention for the senior members of our team,” observes Brewster. “Because of our remote location—we’re based in Anchorage—we seize the opportunity to meet with as many of the vendors we do business with as possible. Sometimes we set up formal presentations, and some- times we just drop by their booths, and say hello.

“We’re always looking for the next big thing—what’s new and exciting!”

Given the fact that there will be more than 350 exhibitors at IHRSA 2015—and that the Los Angeles Convention Center trade show floor encompasses 346,890 square feet—“failing to prepare” could prove fatal. One regular attendee makes productive use of roller skates. McBride recommends that attendees plan as thoroughly, and execute as efficiently, as they do with respect to the convention’s educational component.

“Based on your strategy, identify the account representatives for the suppliers and manufacturers that serve your area or business channel, and reach out to them before the convention to schedule a meeting,” he proposes. “Before embarking out onto the show floor, devise a system, and work your way through the exhibits aisle by aisle. It’s going to take more than one visit to see everything. This is an amazing display of the industry’s very best offerings!”

Other bits of advice from McBride: Get on the equipment and experience it. “Trying the equipment live, all in one place, is one of the biggest benefits of this extraordinary show.” And take notes, gather product information, and schedule follow-ups with respect to products/companies of interest. If, at the end of things, you find that you’ve collected a small mountain of product material, cull it carefully before checking out of the hotel; if the pile is still too high, box and mail it to yourself at the club.

 Ideas into action

Transforming fresh ideas into action, and introducing new products and services, at the club level is, of course, the defining goal of attending IHRSA’s annual convention and trade show, and forward-looking operators are as methodical post-show as they are before and during. TAC, for instance, holds a follow-up meeting at which its delegates share what they’ve learned, review group initiatives, and consider appropriate next steps. They also may do presentations to different club departments.

“Take notes and, at each session, identify at least one idea that you think is actionable,” counsels McBride. “When you return to your club, share what you’ve learned with your team, and, together, develop an action plan. Pick the top one, two, or three from the overall convention to implement. Using a 30/60/90-day action plan can be very helpful.

“You know ... ‘I will do X within the next 30 days,’ being specific. ‘I will do Y in the 31-to-60-day timeframe.’ ‘I will do Z in the 61-to-90-day timeframe.’”

Considering the IHRSA 2015 experience in toto, McBride concludes: “Your convention experience should be fun, productive, and memorable. If you do your part, it also will deliver one of the best returns on investment possible.

“Plan ahead. Show up. Be present. Take notes. Network. Talk to people who have ‘been there.’ Have fun, and, then, go home and implement some of the best practices and innovative ideas that you’ve discovered. I promise you won’t be disappointed!”







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