Providing Industry Leaders With Advanced Learning and Sharing
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My name is Norm Cates, and I've been very blessed to be involved in our great industry for 47 years. While some of you youngsters may not want to hear it, I've been around long enough to know a "Real McCoy" organization when I see one. Eddie Tock and REX Roundtables are the "Real McCoy."
I'm Co-Authoring this very special Club Insider Cover Story with my son, Justin Cates, who also happens to be the Publisher of our 28-year running Club Insider. Our purpose here is pure and simple: It is to help club owners and operators do better in their clubs and to succeed tremendously in the field they've chosen to pursue in life.
Eddie Tock is a family man, and he's married to Jenny. Together, they have raised Joe, 19, who's a Sophomore in college, and Giuliana, 17, who's a Senior in high school. Folks, please read on and hold onto your hat for one of the most remarkable cover stories you'll ever read!
First, let me tell you a little bit about Eddie Tock, REX CEO
At this point, even though I know he will object, I want to first write about Eddie Tock. Ed is the REX CEO. To give you an idea of the kind of great guy Ed Tock actually is, when I told him I wanted to put him alone on our April Edition Cover Page, he immediately and vehemently objected and told me, "No, Norm, I don't want to be alone on the cover! This story is not about me; it's about the great REX Roundtable Members I serve and work with." So, I listened carefully and heard Ed out, then I suggested a compromise to him, to which he agreed, and you can now see on this month's cover.
Should you Google "Eddie Tock," you'll learn a lot, which I've significantly boiled down here because of space. But, this intro section is intended to provide an honest and fair description of one of the most influential and important people in our entire industry these days. Here are just some of the reasons I say that...
Ed Tock has more than 30 years of experience in the fitness club industry. He's described as "gifted." And, in my opinion, Ed gave that "Gift" to himself by working his rear-end off for many years. Since 1983, Ed has consulted with over 1,400 clubs in 41 states and six countries. For years, Ed has been acknowledged as one of the top speakers at IHRSA and Club Industry conventions. Ed was a partner with Ray Gordon and the late Lyle Schuler at Sales Makers, which was honored with the IHRSA Associate of the Year Award, the only consulting firm in 25 years to win that honor. Ed's early involvement with REX began when he joined Will Phillips of REX Roundtables to develop new Roundtables for club owners and CEOs. Ed now oversees REX Roundtables, which currently has 19 Roundtables with over 250 members worldwide (with the help of Justin Tamsett in Australia and Fausto Di Giulio in Europe).
Ed's many other industry achievements and honors during his career include:
- 1. Ed has been a featured speaker at over 90% of the IHRSA Conventions since 1990, and he's authored many articles for their CBI Magazine.
- 2. Ed has been a judge for IHRSA's Sales Team of the Year Award.
- 3. Ed has been a Club Insider Contributing Author, and he has authored articles for Club Industry.
- 4. As a partner with Ray Gordon and the late Lyle Schuler, Ed sponsored and authored the IHRSA Video on Sales.
With that folks, I invite you to read on as an in-depth interview with REX CEO, Eddie Tock, follows.
An Interview with Ed Tock, Club Business Veteran and CEO of REX Executive Roundtables
Club Insider (C.I.) - Ed, you've said that the REX Roundtables are more like a FAMILY, not just another 'networking group.' Please give us an example of how REX is a FAMILY?
Eddie Tock (ET) - We've had many times where REX Members have had challenges back home. And, when they shared them with their entire REX Roundtable, several of their Roundtable Members, myself included, have stepped up and offered to really make a difference. We had one person who didn't want to go in for an important surgery because he was concerned about leaving the club in the hands of his brother, who was his business partner and a good business guy, but he was more of an accountant personality. And, the staff hated him! This comment from him was shared with me at a discussion I was having with him over dinner, so I said to him, 'Okay, can you give me the dates you need to go in for surgery? Let me check my schedule, and I'll come down and run your club for two weeks.' When the person sitting next to me heard that, he said, 'What are you doing? Count me in for a week!' Before we left dinner, we had two months' worth of experienced management supervision coverage for him!
C.I. - WOW! I bet in a situation like that, he was very appreciative!
ET - Yes. That's one example. In another case, a REX Member's son was hanging around with a bunch of kids and got hurt badly with burns on 30% of his body. We didn't know if his ex-wife's medical coverage was going to be sufficient, and within one week, we raised $50,000 to help out... just from his REX Roundtable. Those are just two of dozens of stories that I can think of that are similar.
C.I. - Man oh man, Ed! Those are fabulous stories! God bless the whole REX Team there, because it IS both a FAMILY and a TEAM! Ed, is there any other comment you want to add to your response to this first question?
ET - I think that, when someone joins a Roundtable, the REX Roundtables have actually become a family. In reality, the REX Roundtables become a second family... and a second home. We are a safe place where safe talk can happen. DAVID PATCHEL-EVANS, a/k/a PATCH, who owns Good Life Clubs in Canada, shared this with all REX Members: 'Professionally, when I started as a REX Roundtable Member, I had ten Clubs... Now, I have 400+. It has meant sharing with people that aren't from home, don't talk and aren't paid to give you advice, so it's from the heart. Personally, it has meant having people to share life challenges without fear of being stabbed in the back... without judgement.'
Norm, sometimes, a business owner cannot have that type of conversation back home with his business partner or his other staff. And, sometimes, with his own families. We've become a real safe space. And, not just during the three meetings we do every year. Our members are really well connected. I have one REX Member who's been in the Roundtable about three years. His first Summer, he got in his car and drove to visit eight of his REX Roundtable Members at their clubs. He saw their business operations firsthand.
C.I. - Can you give three examples of the biggest win a REX Member had as a result of being in REX?
ET - Sure, as before, what I'm going to do is give examples but not the names of REX Members or their clubs. We had one REX Member whose club was struggling when he attended his first meeting. He was near bankruptcy. He couldn't get credit to buy equipment, and he needed to refresh his club by buying new equipment. As a result of working with us, and being part of REX, fast forward to today, he now has seven clubs and is the market leader in his area. He's really a shining example of how to build a company and to do it well. He has an amazing culture with his teams. He's done a wonderful job for his community. He's done everything you could ever ask of an owner to do in giving back to the community. When this fellow had his first club, for a while, he was living in his van! It's a Joe Cirulli-type story, you know. I mean Joe has shared with our industry that, when he was just getting started, he was actually sleeping in his van. Well, this REX Member was actually living in his van just like Joe Cirulli did when he started!
Another REX Roundtable Member saw the changing environment in the industry, and as a result of asking his REX Roundtable for help, he came up with an entirely new business model. He took a huge risk, and he went from one of the higher-priced clubs in his market to tiered memberships. After the second month of restructuring both his pricing and his offerings, as a result, his memberships went up. His profits went up. And, his business really took off!
The third example I have for you is the story about a REX Roundtable Member who was a top executive, and his company was sold. For two years, we kept him in the Roundtable for free while he was trying to figure out his next career move, as he started doing consulting. He eventually got back into the club ownership business, and he grew his company from one location to multiple locations. Then, he brought private equity in as partners in multiple states.
C.I. - After all your years of running REX Roundtables, what are the five characteristics of those who get the most from their involvement in REX?
ET - That's easy!
- 1. You have to be willing to learn. You've got to be open to learning. Most great entrepreneurs in any industry have that characteristic. As smart and as successful as they are, they are always willing to listen and to learn.
- 2. Execution and implementation. Joe Cirulli is always one of the best examples of that with his 'Getting Better Team.' After every Roundtable, Joe takes his executives who are on the 'Getting Better Team' off site for half a day, and they review all the great ideas they got from his REX Roundtable and come up with an implementation and execution plan. We've recommended that strategy to every Roundtable Member, and those who have implemented Joe's plan have gotten a lot more out of REX.
- 3. You have to be willing to show support of others in the group. And, be willing to help others, because when you do, they want to help you back even more.
- 4. SHOW UP! This is pretty easy, but it's not always so easy. Show up three times a year for the meetings. Because of the pandemic, we've been doing weekly and bi-weekly Zoom calls since March of 2020. Be present and stay there. We have REX Members who have not missed a meeting in 20 years!
- 5. Take 'Rifle Shots.' This comes from Jim Collins' book Good to Great, which we focused on in 2019. 'Rifle Shots' means before making big decisions, you have to do things that are low risk, low disruption and low cost. Then, if it works, you fire a cannonball. Jim's analogy has to do with the English and French ship captains fighting battles in the 1700s. You can only carry so many cannonballs. If I took a shot at you, and I missed you, then you move closer and kill me. So, the smart captains on those English and French ships were taking rifles shots first. Then, they were making judgments based on the results of the rifle shots to decide IF and WHEN to fire the cannonballs. In business, you need to do that, too. So, we encourage one rifle shot in between each meeting, if not more. To further clarify, Collin's rifle shot ideas means to test new products, technologies, services and processes first to see what works and what doesn't. Then, only after new ideas have been tested and proven should the organization go all in and fire a cannonball. Bullets don't sink the ship, but a cannonball can. Organizations should fire cannonballs (put large amounts of organizational resources and energy into ideas) ONLY AFTER they've fired lots of small rifle shots which test those new ideas to prove whether or not they will work. An example of a rifle shot in our industry could be changing your pricing model. First, before you make a big overall systemwide change move, take the time to experiment with a small group of targeted ads or prospects, using A-B testing (two different offers to see what works better), then you can determine your new pricing. For example, offering one month free when they join, or 50% off the first two months. Surprisingly, the second offer works much better!
Outside Learning and Reading
C.I. - I understand that you have taken many REX Roundtables outside our industry to learn more about improving their business. Can you
share some of those ventures with us?
ET - The concept and plan is every REX Roundtable goes outside the industry every third to fifth meeting. So, that works out to our REX Roundtables going outside the industry to learn once a year to every year and a half. Here are a few examples:
- Battlefield Leadership - We've taken almost every REX Roundtable to Gettysburg or Little Big Horn for leadership development (See Photo on This Page). We hire an outside company called Battlefield Leadership. We talk about the lessons you can learn from not just military leadership lessons but how you apply those lessons to clubs.
- Nick's Pizza to learn about culture and systems. There was a cover story in INC. Magazine about Nick's Pizza. We go there to learn about how to develop a culture and systems, and he has the same challenges we do: a lot of his front-line staff are 18- to 25-year-olds and they are running up against that challenge every day.
- ITR Economic Forecast, also used by Vistage, is a company that has accurately forecasted the economy 94% over the last 20 years. Vistage has mastermind groups worldwide. Both Joe Cirulli and Steve Wild, as well as a few others are part of that. So, they brought the idea to me. REX supports Steve Wild's membership into ITR, and in turn, Steve does a monthly video interpreting the monthly data for us. Here's some good news from Vistage... the forecast is that most of the economic indicators are up and positive with slow growth for this year, and good strong growth for next year. That's what they are predicting, and by the way, they have nothing to do with politics.
- Pandemic Times - We had a bunch scheduled in the past year that we had to cancel because of the pandemic, including the Ford/Edison Museum, in Dearborn, Michigan. We brought 3 REX Roundtables to the Ford/Edison Museum in 2019 and hired a former Museum Director to spend the day with us to teach us about innovation and what Thomas Edison and Henry Ford did. I'm even more impressed with the culture Thomas Edison created because the culture he developed back then was a culture where everybody went to work because they WANTED TO, not because they HAD TO!
Norm, another thing I want to mention is that, in 2021, we decided to start a monthly speaker series for all the REX Members. Here's the schedule of our REX Roundtable Monthly Speaker Series:
- In February, we started with Robbie Baxter, Author of Membership Economy & the Forever Transaction;
- In March, we featured Mark Schaefer, The Marketing Rebellion;
- In April, we'll present Annette Franz, CX Journey (customer journey);
- And, we just finalized a contract with Michelle Segar, Author of No Sweat.
I can tell you, for sure, the comments and feedback we got from Robbie Baxter's presentation in February and Mark's talk in March about marketing have been terrific and amazing!
C.I. - Ed, how do you get the connections with these speakers?
ET - (laughing) Norm, I have my OWN Justin! Justin Tamsett (of Australia) also owns the Fitness Business Podcast, so they've interviewed many amazing speakers. Interestingly, more than 60% of their podcast downloads are in the U.S. Of course, these folks are happy to share their stories with the hope of selling their books.
C.I. - I know of Justin, but I don't think I've met him. I hope Justin Cates and I can meet him in Los Angeles at IHRSA in September. But, Tamsett and I already have something in common. That was my Dad served in the U.S. Air Force as a gunner on bombers during World War II, and his bomber squadron was based on New Guinea, an island off the coast of Australia, a great country and American ally during WWII.
C.I. - Ed, I understand that REX Roundtables focuses on at least one book per year.
ET - We do this to help all the entrepreneurs get better. We go in depth each year using a business book from outside our industry that we feel will have a strong impact on all REX Members. In 2020, we started with John Maxwell's Leadershift. Maxwell begins his book with the analogy of the cheetah. The fastest animal on the planet does not simply catch its prey through speed but through its agility and its ability to change directions at high speed. This became very apparent and important to every REX Member in 2020. We all had to quickly pivot to survive.
In 2019, we read Great at Work by Jim Collins and learned how to become a 10X company and learned about Rifle Shots. Other great books we have used are Start With Why by Simon Sinek and Scaling Up and Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish. For many years, we have showed REX Members how to use many of Patrick Lencioni's great books, such as The 5 Dysfunctions, The Ideal Team Player, Meeting by Death and others. In 2020, we hired his company, The Table Group, to do two workshops, free to all REX Members on The Advantage and The Ideal Team Player. The REX Members gave them rave reviews and learned a lot of things they could easily and quickly apply to their organizations!
The Three Agendas
C.I. - I've heard you speak about the Three Agendas, can you tell me more about them and why you think they are so important for everyone in our industry?
ET - The Three Agendas is something that applies in any industry. Actually, the origins are with management guru Ichak Adizes, who was the mentor to both the late Dr. Gerry Faust and still present Will Phillips. The easy way to remember this is the First Agenda is everything operational. It is 99% of what any business deals with every day in their business. It's marketing, sales, accounting, finance, personnel, technology, operations, facilities, customer care, retention... everything that's literally right in front of you every day. If you only compete on that, you're just not going to be as successful as you could be. For example, if you have the biggest club in your market, that's great... until someone else comes in and builds a bigger one. If you have 20 treadmills, that's great... until someone puts in 40. So, those are First Agendas. And, it's easy to be knocked out of a competitive market advantage if you only stay in the First Agenda.
Now, when you move on to the Second and Third Agendas, that's where the real opportunities come in for your business. The Second Agenda has to deal with developing a strong culture and having the culture to drive the First Agenda. It also has to do with strategy, structure, staffing and systems, but the heart of it is the culture. And, when you have a really strong culture, like many of our REX Members have, and many have developed over the years as a result of their focus, it drives the First Agenda to be much more effective. So, you're much more effective at executing and implementing everything you need operationally.
Finally, the Third Agenda is leadership development. It is the development of the leader themselves and looking for blind spots. At REX, what we do is help develop the leaders to be stronger and more effective, and we give them tools to take back home to develop more leaders within their organization so they don't have to micromanage everything. When you focus on the Second and Third Agendas, as well as the First Agenda (you can't ignore the operational part of your business), that's when your business changes and develops much more effectively.
As mentioned before, the pandemic has caused us to switch and immediately pivot to doing weekly 90-minute Zoom calls with all nineteen of our REX Roundtables. I'd bet I've got more Zoom calls than anybody, but I'm happy to be on every one of them as this was really effective to help everyone stay connected. As they started reopening in September, we moved Zoom calls to every two weeks, and we're continuing that until the next time we meet in person.
Let me close my comments on this question by saying that, 'Best practices are what worked yesterday, so that's why we do a lot more than just that.' We get club owners and executives to challenge themselves and each other and constantly strive to improve and take monthly rifle shots! And, I will add that we've all got to remember the old saying: 'The only thing guaranteed in life is: CHANGE.' Guaranteed! Norm, you made that comment the other day about how you used to fax stuff, right!? (laughing)
C.I. - (laughing, also.) Heck, I don't even have a fax machine anymore!
The Origins of REX
C.I. - How, when and by whom were the REX Roundtables originally created and founded?
ET - REX was created in 1989 by Will Phillips, who was working with the now late Dr. Gerry Faust. REX Roundtable #2 with Joe Cirulli, Steve Wild and Bobby McLennan are still in there, and Patch, Geoff Dyer, Victor and Lynne Brick and Philip Mills and others split to create the REX Leading Edge Roundtable.
C.I. - How, when and where did you first personally become involved in REX Roundtables?
ET - In 2008, after we closed Sales Makers after 21 years, Will asked me if I wanted to help change the industry. When I met with Will, he had three Roundtables, including The Leading Edge, plus two REX Roundtables. After that, I started at least one new REX Roundtable every year. We now have thirteen REX Roundtables in the U.S., three in Australia and three in Europe, for a total of 19.
C.I. - Across 19 Roundtables, how many total REX Roundtable Members are there now?
ET - We've got over 250 Roundtable Members worldwide! That covers about 2,700 clubs.
C.I. - Please tell our readers about your own concept of Roundtables.
ET - To me, a Roundtable is a place where you have an unofficial Board of Directors that care almost as much about your business as you do. It's a deep level of thinking. It's also a deep level of caring. They hold you accountable. They help you implement. They go above and beyond without being asked to help make a difference in your business. They respond quickly, and they are brutally honest... to really help make a difference. They genuinely care deep down about you, personally, not just about your business. That's what makes the difference, and that's the difference between the REX Roundtables. They are a lot more than a networking group or just sharing a few ideas you think will work. While we all want best practices, remember they are what worked yesterday! REX is about rifle shots and exploring what else can work and truly thinking out of the box! We're not sitting around a table or on a zoom call only talking about First Agenda items.
I should add this to give a proper perspective: For about seven years, I was on a Mastermind Roundtable myself of 11 other industries that do what we do... organizing and delivering Roundtables to our industry. This included the Auto 20 groups that started in 1947, Masterminds for big accounting firms, computer firms, home remodelers and many more industries. Most of them were much bigger companies than REX. But, of all of them, we had the best retention, and we still do. We have over 90% retention! The average Roundtable company in other industries was at 50% retention. That's because we're not just a networking group where you think you're going to get some operational answers, and that's enough to run your business... It goes a lot deeper than that. Many REX Members have told me that, after they joined and had been in a Roundtable for a couple of months to a year, they didn't realize what they were missing until they got involved. They told me they originally thought it was like going to another conference or webinar.
C.I. - How frequently and where do your REX Roundtables meet?
ET - During normal times, usually three times per year in person for three days plus a Pre-IHRSA REX event every year. And, we stay in contact monthly in between via telephone calls or on Zoom calls. In 2018 and in 2019, we rented the San Diego Zoo (See Photo on This Page) and gave all of our REX Members free admission for the day and brought in amazing outside-the-industry speakers for an hour talk and three-hour networking event. Some of the speakers we've engaged include:
- 2018 - Tom Edwards - A Top Speaker from South by Southwest Conference;
- 2019 - Craig Weber - Vistage Speaker of the Year;
- 2020 - Leo Bottary - Vice President, Peer Influence at Vistage International. It was cancelled, but we had rented out Petco Park where the San Diego Padres play!
C.I. - What are the benefits realized by participants in Executive Roundtables?
ET - Your readers can go to our website, www.rexroundtables.com where we have about 60 testimonial videos. I hired a videographer in Miami to do these video testimonials while we were down there for some of our Roundtables. Most of them are about a minute and a half long, and if you look at just a few of them, you'll get a lot.
C.I. - Well, Ed, our very beloved and now late Professor Gerry Faust has got to be up there in Heaven looking down on us now and smiling at your success and at the great benefits and help you give an industry he and all of us love. God Almighty don't we ALL miss him!
ET - Norm, I'll tell you honestly that, for many years (and I still get requests), people would try to hire me as a consultant for them. They'd say they didn't want to join a Roundtable; they just wanted me to come and help them for a couple of days. My answer was always, 'No.' I tell them you'll get more out of a Roundtable than you'll ever get out of me. I tell them No because I firmly believe that peer learning is definitely better than any consultant in any industry. And, I tell them that, if they join a REX Roundtable, I'm going to help you anyway.
C.I. - Ed, one word comes to my mind after engaging in this truly amazing and informative interview with you, and that word is: PASSION! I think the passion of what you're doing at REX Roundtables, carrying on what you inherited from Gerry and Will, you've not just grabbed the baton and are running at a fast pace with that baton, you're sprinting with the baton! And, when I hear everything you've said, I must compliment you on how you've conquered and are performing at such a high level in a very important and totally unique trade in the world of professional education! The passion which you've shared with us during this interview has been, and will continue to be, the overriding factor of and for what I believe will be continued and ongoing success you all are experiencing with your 250 REX Members and 2,700 clubs. Good on you and all of your great REX Roundtable Teammates, Eddie!
ET - Thank you, Norm.
The IHRSA/REX Alliance
C.I. - Recently, IHRSA and REX Roundtables created an alliance. Please tell us about how that happened and what it entails.
ET - In December, 2020, the IHRSA Team's Jay Ablondi reached out to me about forming an Alliance with IHRSA to help more club owners become more effective. So that you and all who may be concerned or interested to know, I did not deal with Brent Darden on this. Brent has been a REX Roundtable Member and Chairperson for seven years, so to avoid any perceived conflict of interests, he did not negotiate this arrangement. Instead, I dealt with the four IHRSA Vice Presidents, Helen Durkin, Jay Ablondi, Pam O'Donnell and Regina Satagaj, when putting this together. More specifically, it was Jay and me. We decided to work together to provide more REX Roundtables to help provide more education content to the entire industry from REX and to help IHRSA financially.
To Brent's credit, the moves he's made in his leadership of IHRSA have been more than phenomenal... that word doesn't do them justice. What the staff has done just financially has been amazing. IHRSA had to furlough and lay off 50% of their staff, and at the same time, launch a litany of bold new initiatives! They successfully renegotiated the IHRSA office lease, from a recently signed 10-year, 18,000 square feet down to 3,500 square feet, saving the Association $1 million a year! It is amazing what Brent, the IHRSA team and the Board have gotten done with that space and the entire situation at IHRSA.
C.I. - What other items of information about the REX Roundtables and your new IHRSA alliance can you share with us today, Eddie?
ET - In 2021, we are forming at least two new REX Roundtables for Industry Partners, formerly known at IHRSA as Associate Members, another one for General Managers and another one for Owners. We will also share more best practices at the convention and the IHRSA Institute, as well as contributing to CBI, IHRSA monthly magazine. IHRSA has always been our industry's best resource for content. We are happy to help them with this and will help provide innovative ideas to help all clubs.
Our current Team of REX Chairs includes: Brent Darden, Mark Miller, Justin Tamsett and Mary Laudati. And, to help us with this expansion, we've added Frank Ancharski, Chris Stevenson and Bill McBride. (Be sure to read the comments from Frank, Mark, Mary and Bill in the sidebars throughout this cover story.)
How to Join REX
C.I. - What member qualifications, if any, does REX Roundtables have for prospective new members?
ET - Be open to learning and willing to support and help other REX members. There must also be brutal honesty. And, they must be willing to take 'Rifle Shots,' as I described earlier.
C.I. - How does an interested party become a member of a REX Roundtable? Who should they contact, and what is their contact information?
ET - They can call me on my cell (914) 643 - 3207 or email me at email@example.com. They can also email Mary Laudati at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, of course, more information and testimonials can be found at www.rexroundtables.com.
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Justin and I want to express our sincere Thanks and Appreciation to Eddie Tock and the REX Roundtable Chairs and Members who've taken their very valuable time to contribute to this special cover story! THANK YOU ALL!