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15th Annual IHRSA European Congress

As the IHRSA European Congress marks its 15th year on October19-22, it remains firmly established as Europe’s premier educational and networking event for health club

 According to the planners, the Congress’ educational sessions will be more thought-provoking, the networking opportunities more numerous, and the venue more magnificent than ever before.

Attendees will meet at the majestic Palais du Pharo, originally a royal palace built for Emperor Napoleon III (Napoleon I’s nephew), who wanted “a home with its feet in the water.” The three-story, former imperial residence sits on the waterfront, offering breathtaking views of the city’s Old Port area.

Marseille, itself, is equally enchanting and teems with opportunities and activities to engage any visitor. The largest port city on the Mediterranean Sea, it was designated the European Capital of Culture in 2013. Congress attendees will be able to go for a cruise, take a cooking class in the vibrant local fish market, or savor a croissant at one of the many charming sidewalk cafés.

Core keynoters

Between the bouillabaisse and the pastries, Congress attendees can sample industry-specific intellectual fare that’s equally nourishing. A full menu of appealing seminars will explore creative strategies for obtaining new members, developing and managing a productive staff and in As the IHRSA European Congress marks its 15th creasing member retention.

Sourcing expertise from outside the industry, the Congress will present two keynote speakers who’ll share valuable insights about what makes consumers, and clients, tick.

Ken Hughes, a “consumer and shopper behaviorist,” and the CEO of Glacier Consulting, based in Dublin, will discuss the dramatic impact that technology is having on purchasing patterns. His firm works with many major multinational corporations, including IKEA, Walmart, Coca-Cola, and Heineken. His presentation, “The Digital Native Advance: A New DNA for Shoppers,” is generously sponsored by Technogym.

Bryan Williams, the second keynote speaker, is an acknowledged expert on customer service excellence. An author, trainer, and consultant, he so inspired attendees at IHRSA’s 34th Annual International Convention and Trade Show in Los Angeles that he was immediately asked to appear in Marseille as well. Williams stresses the critical role that a company’s executive staff plays in cultivating a topnotch customer service culture, focusing on the difference between merely managing and truly leading a service team.

His presentation, “Creating a Culture of Ownership and Empowerment,” is certain to be a show-stopper.

 ‘Think tank’ traction

The Congress’ numerous educational seminars will be led by successful executives from both within and outside the fitness industry, and will be translated simultaneously into French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Russian. The CEO Panel, in particular, promises to be of special interest. Language-specific discussion groups will also be offered.

“The Congress in Marseille is certain to be the high- light of the year for leading European operators,” observes Hans Muench, IHRSA’s director of Europe. “This ‘think tank’ has become the defining event for commercial clubs in Europe. It helps operators identify and maximize opportunities to grow and sustain flourishing businesses.”

Alison O’Kane Giannaras, IHRSA’s associate vice president of international development, concurs, suggesting that last year’s Congress offers a preview of what’s to come. “The 2014 Congress in Amsterdam was a huge success, attracting more than 550 industry professionals from 36 countries and five continents. A key factor in the event’s success was the fact that we had a great host partner, and, this year, we’re delighted to be in Marseille because, once again, we have a strong local partner—IHRSA Europe Council Member Christophe Andanson, the president of the French Health and Racquet Sportsclub Association (FHRSA), along with “We’re proud and honored to have this year’s Congress in Marseille,” Andanson told CBI recently (see “First Person,” June, pg. 29). He also touched upon a topic that he suspects will be discussed enthusiastically during the Congress. “Technology is changing rapidly and disrupting the market. And now, Apple, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft are all investing in health and fitness,” he said. “It’s a bit scary. We can embrace technology, or risk losing members to health club alternatives.”

Precious peer input

Keynote clout, seminar best practices, and a turnout that’s expected to surpass last year’s are guaranteed to generate a lot of energy and excitement, but the event also will maintain its familiar, intimate, one-on-one feel, an ambiance reflecting that of the European health club market. “The IHRSA European Congress provides a very rare opportunity for networking,” observes Franck Hedin, the CEO and chairman of CMG Sports Club, in Paris, who’s attended every Congress since 2012. “The attendance by European operators is highly concentrated, and the program is well-organized and defined, giving operators time to meet and share ideas with one another. This event has a wonderfully human scale.”

The atmosphere encourages attendees not only to chat with one another, but also to drill down deeply in terms of club operations. “The fitness industry is changing rapidly in Europe, and even more quickly in France,” Hedin points out. “And it’s sometimes difficult to cope with all of the daily business and operational issues. What I like most about the Congress is that you can meet with people who are facing the same sorts of challenges. It provides a window into their world. It’s also inspiring to witness their courage and determination.”

Julien Corbiere, the owner and manager of Forest Hill Aquaboulevard, a multipurpose fitness and aquatic complex in Paris, echoes Hedin’s sentiments. He attended the 2010 Congress in Barcelona, Spain, and will be attending this year’s gathering in Marseille. A benefit he particularly values is the chance it offers to identify new opportunities for growth, the result, in many cases, of being able to view his business in a new light.

“When you’re busy running a company, you only look at things from one perspective. You have your problems, and, eventually, you fix them in your own way,” he explains. “But the Congress gives me the ability to step back and develop a better understanding of my business. ... I expect that this year’s mix of experts will share their notions of the market—where it’s heading and how fast— and I look forward to hearing about what other operators are doing.”

Added attractions

Among the Congress’ many other attractions are a robust Sponsor Showcase, which allows attendees to mix and mingle with 25 of the industry’s leading suppliers, learning about the latest fitness equipment and services; a tour of several leading clubs in Marseille; and the announcement of the winner of the 2015 European Club Leadership Award.

“Having a club tour is great,” reflects Corbiere, “and, if you do it with a bunch of industry experts, it’s an entirely different experience.” It’s not often that club operators open their doors to and warmly welcome in competitors, but that’s the beauty of the Congress: “Of course we’re competitors, but, as IHRSA suggests, ‘success,’ in many cases, is the result of ‘association.’ I really believe that.”

Periodically setting aside competitive issues, and communicating with one another openly, is the best way for clubs to ensure their own, as well the industry’s, future success, he argues. “If you want to surf a huge wave, you’d better be willing to open your eyes and view it from afar. You have to step aside from the day-to-day operations, get ready, paddle, and surf it when you’re ready,” he offers by way of analogy. “In other words, I believe that IHRSA can help us to anticipate our future so we’re ready for those ‘waves’—the eventual, inevitable, dramatic changes in our business that we know are going to happen.”

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