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Entries in Brent Darden (32)


When Passion Meets Practicality: From Roadblocks to Fitness Success

Every fitness facility is born in the imagination—as someone’s vision of the perfect club. But reality often has a way of tweaking, or transforming, or even trouncing that dream.

You discover that local zoning laws don’t afford a suitable location. Or that the physical plant won’t accommodate the interior treatment you had in mind. Or that the space really isn’t appropriate for the type of programming you’d hoped to do.

The list of obvious obstacles—the ones that can be anticipated—is endless, and, sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know until the process is already under way.

The following case studies illustrate how two club operators who faced location and design roadblocks nonetheless managed to transform their virtual flights of fancy into real, brick-and-mortar fitness successes.

Continue reading "When Passion Meets Practicality: From Roadblocks to Fitness Success."

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This Week in the Fitness Industry: UM Holdings Acquires Majority Equity Position in Gym Source

UM Holdings Acquires Majority Equity Position in Gym Source
Gym Source announced today that UM Holdings Ltd has acquired a majority equity position in Gym Source, the nation’s oldest and largest distributor of high end fitness equipment. UM is owned by John Aglialoro, former chairman of Cybex International. Aglialoro will join Richard Miller, Gym Source’s founder and CEO, to leverage the company’s leadership position to grow, both organically and through acquisition. “John Aglialoro is well known in our industry as a dynamic and creative leader,” Miller said in a release. “We share the same position to expand the Gym Source footprint and to bring the company’s fitness expertise to homes, health clubs, multi-unit housing and other fitness facilities across the country.” Read Gym Source’s full press release on the UM Holdings Ltd acquisition.

IHRSA Represents at Club Industry Show 2016 

Several IHRSA staff, board members, and advocates are attending the Club Industry Show in Chicago this week. Annbeth Eschbach, our first woman board chair and founder and CEO of Exhale Enterprises, received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Allison Flatley, chief strategy officer of Corporate Fitness Works and IHRSA board member, spoke on a panel with Brent Darden, CEO of Brent Darden Consulting, and Bill McBride, president and CEO of Active Wellness and BMC3, covering a range of topics pertaining to leadership. If you’re attending, be sure to stop by the IHRSA booth (booth 110) at the trade show, which is open until 2 p.m. today. 

Only One Month Left to Apply for IHRSA 2017 Awards

Don't miss the November 11 deadline to apply for the following IHRSA awards, which will be presented during IHRSA 2017, March 8-11 in Los Angeles. The Woman Leader Award is in honor of Julie Main, whose tenacious drive and unbreakable spirit was an inspiration to all who knew her. IHRSA celebrates Julie's legacy by offering the Woman Leader Award—including a scholarship to attend the annual International Convention & Trade Show—to a woman who exemplifies Julie's qualities of leadership and drive. The Outstanding Community Service Award recognizes an IHRSA club that has made a longstanding commitment to making a difference in and beyond their community. Learn more and download the applications on the IHRSA awards page. The deadline to apply is November 11, 2016. 

Netpulse Announces Lead Sharing Integration with InTouch Technology
Netpulse, a health club mobile app provider, announced Wednesday that its mobile platform now integrates with InTouch Technology’s lead management solution. The integration enables health clubs to automatically track mobile referrals and guest passes by seamlessly creating and updating leads in the club’s sales management system. This initiates customized prospect follow-up and reminders for the club’s sales team, which decreases the chance of missed sales opportunities. “Netpulse is the clear industry leader for creating mobile apps for clubs, so we felt that it was important for our customers to continue expanding our integration and relationship with them,” said Dana Milkie, president and CEO of InTouch Technology. “Digital lead generation via mobile apps is a priority for sales departments in health clubs. Netpulse and InTouch Technology customers will immediately benefit from a stronger lead management solution.” Read the full Netpulse press release on its InTouch Technology integration.


The 2016 IHRSA Institute in Photos

On August 2-5, nearly 100 health club professionals descended on the picturesque University of North Carolina campus for the IHRSA Institute, Executive Education for Club Professionals, sponsored by Core Health & Fitness, MINDBODY, NASM, and SPRI.

Over the course of the week, attendees sat in on high-level sessions on topics from sales to finance, networked during meals and cocktail hours, and shared experiences and strategies during roundtable discussions. And some even got their sweat on during daily early-morning workouts.

If you haven't been, it's difficult to explain just how engaging an event the Institute is. So we figured—rather than tell you—we'll show you.

Opening Keynote Address on Visionary Leadership

Over time, organizations naturally focus on efficiency—delivering on objectives—and start driving out flexibility and, as a result, miss opportunities for innovation, Christopher Bingham, Ph.D., professor of strategy and entrepreneurship for the Kenan-Flagler Business School at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said during the opening keynote address.

Scholarship Recipients Recognized

This year’s IHRSA Institute scholarship recipients, Azeza Tessereau, general manager at Wellbridge Athletic Club and Spa located in Town and Country, MO, and Brent Gallagher, owner of Avenu Fitness & Lifestyle located in Houston, TX, were recognized on the first night.

Attendees Got Hands-on During a Keynote Activity

Christopher Bingham asked keynote attendees to team up to try to build note card towers for an exercise that demonstrated the power of experimentation.


Networking Galore!

Between networking events, roundtable discussions, and group meals, attendees had countless opportunities to make professional contacts (and some new friends, too).

Learning at High-level Sessions

More than a dozen sessions were offered, on topics like strategic planning, marketing and sales, finance, legal issues, revenue, and more.


Dining at DuBose Hall

Meals, which were included in the event package, were held at UNC's historic DuBose Hall.


The #IHRSAInstitute logo swap is underway!

A photo posted by IHRSA (@ihrsa) on Aug 4, 2016 at 3:48pm PDT

The Famous IHRSA Institute Logo Swap

Each year, attendees bring their company's swag to exchange with others. This year's logo swap was one of the best yet!


The Traditional Group Photo

Not a bad-looking group, if we do say so ourselves. 


Congratulations to the Class of 2016!

Because the IHRSA Institute wouldn't be complete without a graduation ceremony.

And Before You Go...

Just a few more of our favorite photos from this year. Thanks to all those who attended! We hope to see you—and some new faces—at the 2017 IHRSA Institute. 


4 Steps to Deliver a Service Culture in Your Health Club

Over the last decade, the number of health club member experience survey tools have proliferated. But, no matter which results you choose to examine, the same five terms keep popping up among respondents who are loyal to a club: 

  • Friendly staff
  • Plenty of equipment
  • Variety of classes/programs
  • Clean facility
  • Good customer service  

“Particularly in the health and fitness industry, we can find individuals to perform most of the specific job duties required—that talent is out there,” says Brent Darden, CEO of Brent Darden Consulting. “We all know how important it is to hire positive people who enjoy customer service and embrace that challenge, and the greatest reason people don’t do that is they don’t have a system in place to make sure it’s happening.” 

Darden will explain how health club owners and operators can such a system in his Thursday, August 4 IHRSA Institute session, “Member Retention, Experience & Engagement.”

Here some of are Darden’s steps to delivering a service culture:

  1. Make customer service a central part of your club’s core value system
  2. Recruit talent based on their ability to deliver service. (This is much more important than any technology training they might have.)
  3. Provide onboarding education and continuing education for employees so they understand and are constantly reminded about the importance of the member experience and how to make it happen.
  4. Set up a reward and recognition system that is specifically tailored to recognizing people that are delivering on those customer experience values. 

In his session, Darden will also help attendees learn how your organization can become more customer-centric and succeed at building member loyalty; discover the importance of utilizing Net Promoter Scores® and member feedback to deliver great customer experiences and gain the competitive advantage; and develop strategies to help your staff engage and retain members and explore practical approaches to deliver a service culture.

Learn more about the IHRSA Institute, August 2-5 in Chapel Hill, NC.


9 Takeaways from the California Clubs of Distinction Spring Symposium

From member engagement to pricing strategy, there were many takeaways to be found at the California Clubs of Distinction (CCD) Spring Symposium in Palms Springs, CA, held April 19-21. 

IHRSA staff was there, attending sessions and gleaning insights for health club owners and operators who weren’t able to attend. Here are our top nine takeaways from the three-day conference. 

1. Focus on customer experience, not customer service. Building a great team is critical to any health club’s success, said Chris Stevenson, owner and founder of Stevenson Fitness, during his session. By hiring the right staff—and keeping morale high—club operators can deliver a member experience where “everyone leaves feeling better than when they arrived.” 

2. Build membership through community engagement. Karen Woodard of Premium Performance Training explained the many benefits health clubs can gain by getting involved in their communities. Doing so promotes member engagement, builds brand familiarity, and may ultimately increase memberships.  

Karen Woodard leading a team building activity.

3. Perseverance is the key to success. Shaun Quincey of DebitSuccess became the second person to row across the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia at age 25, but the feat didn’t come easy. In his keynote address, he detailed the preparation and training that went into the 1,200-nautical-mile journey, including the 390 sponsors that turned him down. 

4. Strategy and execution go hand-in-hand. Bill McBride of BMC3/Active Wellness and Brent Darden of Brent Darden Consulting stressed the importance of creating a goal-oriented strategic plan, and also assigning the right people to execute that plan with the needs of members in mind. 

5. Pricing is a mix of art and science. McBride and Darden also spoke to the art of finding the pricing sweet spot. They recommended starting by by determining a product's or program’s usefulness, usability, and desirability. 

Brent Darden

6. Make time for team-building activities. Different team-building and team-bonding activities can help to improve relationships between co-workers, said Karen Woodward. Club operators should consider incorporating team-building exercises into existing meetings or holding team-centric events outside of work.

7. Think like a customer. Club operators should wire customers’ mindsets into their decision making process at every level, said Blair McHaney of ClubWorks. This will help operators better understand how to develop an emotional connection with customers, and thus increase loyalty.

8. Health club medical wellness programs can curb obesity. Successful medical wellness programs facilitate the relationship between fitness and healthcare professionals, said Mark Kelly of Principle Centered Health. Doing so may slow the rise of obesity, which is related to more than 50 preventable diseases. 

9. Differentiate your club by doing meaningful, purposeful work. Mike Alpert, president and CEO of The Claremont Club, which received the Outstanding Community Service Award at IHRSA 2016, shared his experience with partnering with the medical community to help people live healthier lives. In addition to serving as a differentiator, this practice will improve the overall member experience, which will lead to higher retention.


Best Practices: Convincing Consumers to Choose Value Over Price

The following post was written by Brent Darden for our Best Practices series.

Question: How can we convince consumers to choose value (our club) over low price (the competition)?

Brent Darden: Creating a successful value proposition depends on a diverse set of factors. Unfortunately, there’s no single formula for differentiating your club from the competition on the basis of perceived value. I’ve consulted with clubs of every type throughout the world, and doing so has reinforced my conviction that every situation is unique.

A club that consumers view as having a very high value in one setting may be regarded quite differently in another environment.

The clubs that have succeeded in establishing a consistent value proposition have one thing in common: they’ve identified and clearly defined their place in the market, and everything they do conforms with that definition. Even “budget” or “low-priced” clubs have to validate their value-price equation.

In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, the clubs that charge higher prices must justify this positioning with a more prestigious location, a nicer facility, better equipment, higher-quality programs, extensive class offerings, staff expertise, a better overall customer experience, or all of these.

Think about what makes your club special and distinct, and consciously build value on this premise; a good book on this strategy is Differentiate or Die by Jack Trout. The proliferation of different price points is presenting new challenges to club operators worldwide, which makes the issue of value more important than ever.



Martin Seibold Joins Congress CEO Panel

Martin Seibold, Managing Director of Fitness First, United Kingdom, will join three other distinguished leaders for the IHRSA European Congress panel discussion on “The Future of the Industry: Embracing & Understanding the Changing Consumer Marketplace”.

Register by 25 September and Save! 

Rounding out the panel will be:

Franck Hedin
Chairman & CEO, CMG Sports Club, France
Andy Caddy
Group CIO, Virgin Active, United Kingdom
Sponsored by Exerp
Brent Darden (panel moderator)
CEO, Brent Darden Consulting, USA

More than 500 industry professionals will be attending the event, which will feature 17 additional seminars* on a range of topics aimed at helping you grow your business, a Sponsor Showcase, tours of some of the area’s premier clubs, the launch of the UFit Conference, and one of the best networking opportunities in Europe.

The Congress will be held at the Palais du Pharo, located in the heart of Marseille – at the entrance to the Vieux Port (Old Port) – with several hotels, restaurants, museums and attractions nearby.

Visit for full programme details.

Download the Brochure 



IHRSA One Million Strong

An In-Depth Study of Health Club Member Retention in North America identifies the factors that spell the difference between winning and losing.

IHRSA One Million Strong: An In-Depth Study of Health Club Member Retention in North America is, perhaps, the most comprehensive, detailed, and revealing study of member retention ever conducted.

This new IHRSA research report is the culmination of an in-depth, 36-month study of the North American fitness industry that reflects the membership experiences of approximately 1.5 million club members. The painstaking research was conducted and analyzed by retention authority Dr. Paul Bedford, the founder of Retention Guru, an industry consultancy based in Croydon, Surrey, England, with the invaluable assistance of Microsoft, Inc.

The project was generously sponsored by Life Fitness.

As Jay Ablondi, IHRSA’s executive vice president of global products, points out: “This groundbreaking report analyzes retention and its associated factors on the basis of the review and analysis of more than one million membership records. It provides club operators with essential insights to help them drive revenue and improve member retention … or, to put it another way: You can learn a lot from a million members!”

Perhaps the most telling statistics come from the report’s baseline: Between January 1, 2012, and February 3, 2015, a total of 722,246 members cancelled their memberships, at a rate of 33.6 cancellations per 1,000 members, per month. The total loss represented 47.5% of all members. The average length of membership was 20.2 months.

More importantly, though, IHRSA One Million Strong identifies and quantifies the factors that led to those numbers, documents the impact that retention has on club revenues, and underscores the critical need to keep members engaged as long as possible.

Click to read more ...


Back Office Tour

It’s a mistake that Brent Darden sees all of the time.
Darden, the principal of Brent Darden Consulting, Inc., a Dallas, Texas–based industry consultancy, says he often encounters clubs that, while they “put a premium on hiring friendly, upbeat, outgoing front- desk personnel,” are “less diligent when hiring for the back office.”

That, he insists, is a mistake—a conclusion based on years of experience and observation as the vice president of Cooper Aerobics Enterprises, cofounder of the Telos Fitness Center, and former chairperson of IHRSA’s board of directors.

“Back office,” of course, refers to that area of a club where administrative and operational functions unfold daily, generally behind the scenes. Conversely, sales, member-service, and other customer-focused activities tend to take place “out front.”

A club’s back office may be out of sight, acknowledges Darden, but it should never be out of mind.

In many ways, it’s the brain, heart, and lungs that keep the member experience alive. It’s responsible for, among other things, accounting, accounts payable, accounts receivable, financial support, record maintenance, data administration, human resources, regulatory compliance, and the management of member accounts. And it contends with all of the challenges these raise.

Darden makes the point that, because back-office employees often interact with members on an important topic—i.e., the member’s money—it’s imperative that they be great ambassadors of the brand, inspiring trust and confidence in the business. “The single best bit of advice I can give is that you need to appreciate and recognize your back-office team because they’re crucial to your overall success,” he offers. “There’s a saying that applies here: It’s not what’s sold that’s important, but, rather, what’s collected.”

Read more

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What Are the Best Ways to Maximize IHRSA 2015?

Attending keynote speaker, like Gary Vaynerchuk in 2014, can result in numerous take-aways.Ask an Industry Leader, IHRSA’s very popular feature found both in the online blog and in CBI magazine, has rebranded as Best Practices. The questions will be along the same lines and those answering will still be health and fitness industry leaders.

For the inaugural Best Practices a timely subject is discussed: IHRSA 2015, 34th Annual International Convention & Trade. Brent Darden and Christine Thalwitz answer the question, how to maximize the the four-day event.

Q: I’m attending IHRSA’s Annual International Convention & Trade Show for the very first time. Any tips on how to maximize the experience?

Plan ahead! Review the entire convention brochure in advance to decide how best to use your time each day. Check the free IHRSA mobile app for up-to-the minute additions, for changes to the agenda, and to plan your schedule. Choose the educational sessions, tutorials, and roundtable discussions you believe will be most beneficial, and be sure to attend all four of the general sessions.

Start early and stay late each day. Participate in the early-morning workout sessions—especially those held on the trade show floor—and go to all of the networking events/receptions/parties in the evenings.

Listen to learn. That is, be prepared to take notes and gather as much information and as many ideas and insights as possible, including at the two-day trade show. At the show, walk the entire floor on the first day to see everything, and then go back on the second day to visit and do business with the vendors whose products interest you the most.

Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! Relish the opportunity to spend a few days in Los Angeles with like-minded people who are as passionate as you are about health, fitness, and changing people’s lives for the better.
Prioritize and execute. On the flight home, or immediately thereafter, review your notes and create a list of the best ideas you’ve gleaned from your experience. Then, prioritize that list and put plans in place to implement the top 10.



The annual IHRSA International Convention and Trade Show offers a great opportunity to learn about new products, best practices, and future trends! To get the most from your 2015 convention experience, think well ahead of time about what your goals are for attending the event, and plan your daily itinerary accordingly.

If you’re attending with a group of people, strategize by planning your session selections with them. You want to avoid overlapping whenever you can, so you can bring as much information as possible back to the club.

Keep in mind that you can also order audio or video educational session recordings onsite from the IHRSA Store, or from, to hear any talks that you may miss. You can also share them with other staff members at your company.

Also, save plenty of time for the two-day trade show! If you’re responsible for making large purchases for your club, you may want to touch base with some vendor representatives ahead of time to schedule a meeting.

In my personal experience, one of the best things about attending the IHRSA convention is meeting other health club industry professionals from around the world, so bring lots of business cards to exchange with them during the week. Once you’ve returned home, quickly schedule a “download day” to share what you’ve learned, and to brainstorm with your colleagues about how to implement the best ideas from IHRSA 2015.




For more information on IHRSA 2015, visit