Club Insider

Celebrating 25 Years of TRUST!

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  • Justin Cates and Norm Cates Celebrating 25 Years of Trust at Club Industry 2017
  • (L to R) - Industry Veterans Rick Caro, Joe Moore and Norm Cates
  • The Cates Family - Ilena, Justin and Norm

This author has reached the age of 71, and it's my great joy and pleasure to have my son, Justin, as a partner in our health and fitness club industry trade publication that we call Club Insider. This Special 25th Anniversary Cover Story is about Club Insider and the celebration of our 25th anniversary of publishing. The story of Club Insider is an amazing one, we believe, because it involves all of you who're reading this. YOU, our readers, are the REASON Club Insider exists, and we hope you will NEVER forget that. This cover story includes the who, what, when, where, why and how that our industry came to need a publication that is "irreverent, outspoken and 'Tells-it-like-it is,'" a publication called Club Insider.

The year was 1993, and Justin Cates was eight years old. By that time, I was a former airline pilot, and I'd been in the business of building, owning and operating health and fitness clubs for 19 years. Having started my involvement in the industry with a fellow named Ray Irwin after we met while waiting our turn to play on a racquetball court at Atlanta's famous Riverbend Condos and Apartments where we lived, I learned from Ray that he was working on the development of a racquetball club. I was immediately drawn to the idea, and we partnered up and worked together for two years in an effort to raise the necessary capital to build a racquetball club. It was a struggle, but some good luck finally came our way. We were introduced to Rich Boggs, and then later, Fred Streck, with whom we found the necessary capital and construction expertise to build and open our first CourtSouth Racquetball Club, which we opened in Marietta, Georgia on May 1st, 1977. We went on together to build nine clubs, with four in Atlanta and five across the Southeast.

After spending my first 19 years as a self-employed person and in the world of developing, building and operating health and fitness clubs, in 1993, I chose to take a different route and that was to become a "Mr. Mom" for my then 8-year-old son, Justin. We had built an antique store for my wife, Ilena, in Roswell, Georgia (a suburb of Atlanta), and with me still at my clubs, that meant Justin would be arriving at an empty home after school each day. That was not the best I could do for my son, and I made up my mind to be "Mr. Mom" for him. So, I reached out for help to my great friends in our industry.

In January 1993, The Faust Roundtable #1, created by my good friend, Rick Caro, and produced by Dr. Gerry Faust, helped me dream up the idea of Club Insider. In November 1993, I published the first edition of Club Insider, and this month, we're very happy to be celebrating our 25th Anniversary! And, somehow, along the way, I earned enough trust in our industry that the folks at Club Industry decided to honor me with their Lifetime Achievement Award.

Justin will now weigh in with a few questions for me, and after I respond to those, we'll wrap up this Special 25th Anniversary Cover Story with Justin's responses to my questions, and with the reprint of a terrific article written by Anthony Dominic and published by our friends at Club Industry, entitled: "A Man of Many Hats." So, I invite and thank you for reading on.

An Interview With Norm Cates, Publisher of Club Insider and Tribal Leader Since 1993

Justin Cates (JC) - Several times over the years, we've shared the story of how the idea for Club Insider came about. So, on a different track, please describe the trust you had in your colleagues of Faust Roundtable #1 to essentially put your future in their hands by requesting their input for business ideas that would enable you to succeed in the mission of being a 'Mr. Mom' and staying involved with the industry.
Norm Cates (NC) - The Faust Roundtable #1 was an Executive Roundtable assembled by our good friend, Rick Caro, in 1988. Dr. Gerry Faust would facilitate and lead the meetings of the Roundtable #1 Membership, which was a very exclusive group including such industry giants and luminaries as Rick Caro, the late Curt and Jane Beusman, Todd Pulis, Cecil Spearman, Dick Trant, Mitch Wald, Red Lerille and Tom Lyneis, just to name a few of our Roundtable members.

The reason I trusted them to advise me was because this was a group of some of the best club owners/operators in our industry, and I had gotten to know many of them when Rick and I were involved in starting IRSA back in 1981. So, because of my relationship with them in creating and founding IRSA/IHRSA, and because of the information sharing relationship we had all developed over several years as members of the Roundtable, I felt comfortable presenting them with this life challenge that I was facing.

I will never forget how it happened. In January, 1993, we were in a Roundtable meeting in Chicago. As always, Dr. Gerry Faust was leading the meeting, and he would provide any member of the Roundtable with the opportunity to present issues or challenges they were facing to the group so the group could then provide input, and possibly, even solutions. When it was my turn, I had a flip chart and a magic marker in hand. I explained to the Roundtable members that, because my wife, Ilena, had opened an antique store and she would be working many afternoon and early evening hours there, my son, Justin, age 8, was going to be coming home to an empty home after school each day because I would be at my clubs. I was not happy with that situation at all, and I had decided that I would figure out a way to keep that from happening. I explained to the Roundtable that my purpose and mission while appearing in front of them that day was to identify a new business in our industry that I could create and operate out of my home so I would be able to become a 'Mr. Mom' for my son, Justin. My goal was to be there for Justin when he would leave for school in the morning and when he'd come home after school.

The Roundtable group came up with a list of about ten new business ideas, and one of them was a newspaper for the owners of health and fitness clubs. The late Jane Beusman said it best when she said this, and I quote her, 'I think our industry needs a new publication that is irreverent, outspoken and that Tells-it-like-it-is.' I immediately told the group that's something that I could do, and that's how the idea of Club Insider was born. Three months later, at another Faust Roundtable #1 Meeting in DelMar, California, we proceeded with the task of creating a great name for this new publication. This was also amazing to be a part of. At one point, nine out of the 14 Roundtable members who were there were throwing out name ideas rapidly when suddenly, the now late Curt Beusman, said 'Insider. No... Club Insider. NO... Club Insider News!' I heard that and said, 'That's it!' Club Insider News was born and has been a labor of love for 25 years now!

JC - What were some of the biggest challenges early on, and how did you combat them? Compared to those early, difficult days, what is it now like to be at the helm of Club Insider?
NC - One of the first mistakes I made was to try to launch Club Insider as a newsletter with only subscription income and no advertising. That lasted about two months. Then, I launched advertising in Club Insider, and we've had a great Advertising Team ever since. Amazingly, I have one advertiser, Jon Webster's National Gym Supply, who has advertised in every edition of Club Insider since the first issue we ever published with his advertising back in early 1994. Other long-time advertisers who keep fueling Club Insider, and who have ten or more years advertising with the publication, include: Planet Fitness, The Step Company, MOSSA (formerly Body Training Systems), Crunch Fitness, Iron Grip Barbell Company, Visual Fitness Planner, Donna Krech's Thin & Healthy, Sports and Fitness Insurance, Susan K. Bailey Marketing & Design and JLR Associates. And, we thank all of our advertisers shown on our Ad Directory on Page #30 from the bottom of our hearts for being on our Club Insider Advertising Team all these years. THANK YOU ALL!

During the first few years, I was working on a Macintosh computer that I bought for $100 from a friend, and this was long before the Internet arrived. This meant that, for about ten years, every single word that was published in Club Insider had to be typed by me, transferred via a floppy disk and then laid out on a page-by-page pasteboard by my good friend, Miss Cathy Brown, Partner of my friend, Ron Hudspeth, the owner of Atlanta's Hudspeth Report and then delivered to our great printer since day one, Walton Press in Monroe, Georgia.

Comparing those early days of my publishing career to this day and time makes me laugh. I do remember, however, when one deadline week I worked the following hours: two days I worked 22 hours each day. And, the five other days that week, I worked 19 hours a day. This meant I survived with, on average, only four hours of sleep per day! Now, my publishing world is totally different, and because of the high-tech skills of my son, and partner, Justin Cates, my publishing life is truly set for the long haul, and I intend to work a little bit every day for the rest of my life. Justin has gotten things so well organized it is amazing, and I THANK JUSTIN for all he does.

I take a little vacation, but not much. Over our first 24 years of publishing, I've probably taken less than 30 days of vacation! In case you've not picked up on it, I'm pretty much of a workin' nut, and I'm always on the job, except when I'm sleeping, and no matter what day or time it is, including weekends, please always feel free to call me anytime (770) 635 - 7578.

JC - From the beginning, Club Insider was on the frontlines of helping shape several important events that happened in the health and fitness club industry that we know today. Can you please take us through some of those?
NC - IHRSA - First, let's talk about IHRSA. In the beginning the H in IHRSA was not there, and IRSA was the acronym for the International Racquet Sports Association when our Founders, Rick Caro and I, and five others including Jennifer Wayt, Curt Beusman, Dale Dibble, Todd Pulis and Peter Donahue made it happen. In 1993, the then IRSA Board of Directors decided they wanted to change the name of the then 12-year old Association. The problem was that they made that decision and voted 9 - 0 to do it without consulting any of the IRSA Members. That was a BAD mistake! They had hired a consultant to help pick a new name, and that name was: 'Exercere,' which is Latin for 'To exercise.'

Ironically, and I often believe due to divine guidance, IRSA made their name change to Exercere announcement within days of when I launched Club Insider. Our 12-page inaugural edition announced the news in an article entitled 'New Name Proposed to Replace IRSA,' in which I wrote these words: 'How do I like the name? When I first heard the new name, I had to think about it for a while. It sort of grows on you. I had to think about why the new name was important to the future of IRSA. And, while I was doing that thinking, I came to remember that a few hundred years ago, there was another Latin name which was virtually unknown. The name was beautiful, and it was used to describe a place that was blessed and full of opportunity for everyone who came there. Close your eyes and say the name: AMERICA. Now, say EXERCERE.  America was an unknown and strange place. But, the people wanted America to work, and it has. I believe that the name Exercere will work too, if the members of IRSA want it to. But, the members must have the final say."

Then, after IRSA Members and others began to receive the first-ever edition of Club Insider, they began a big-time revolution. The IRSA Members did not want it to work! We received fax after fax after fax with protest letters, and I can't count how many phone calls I got from irate IRSA Members. Over the course of the next three months, we published many of their protest letters, and ultimately, the IRSA Board of Directors voted 9 - 0 to cancel the name change to Exercera! Then, three months later, the IRSA Board wisely decided to insert the word 'Health' into the name, making the new acronym we all know today: IHRSA. Without question, I will argue forever that Club Insider helped save IRSA from possible destruction because I can't count how many IRSA Members told me they were going to resign from the Association over this name change because they weren't consulted first. Thinking back, as I said before, I believe this was all divinely-guided.

BALLY - The Bally Health Club chain had developed a really bad reputation with consumers nationwide because of their use of high pressure membership sales, bait and switch advertising, and in general, having a reputation of being sleezy operators who'd do anything for a buck. In 1983 or '84, not long after IRSA was born, Bally had attempted to join IRSA but was met with huge opposition from the membership. The opposition manifested itself with the arrangement of a huge protest meeting of the members at the 1984 IHRSA Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. I will never forget that meeting. 29 people stood up to protest the acceptance of Bally into IRSA. Only one person stood and spoke in favor of admitting Bally into IRSA. That was the end of that for Bally. In subsequent years, Club Insider continued to report on Bally's antics, but all of us who've followed Bally now know that all of their clubs have either closed or were acquired by other operators. The Bally name is no longer part of our industry. Good riddance.

Ohio Peace Talks - In the early 2000s, in Ohio and the Midwest, an operator whom I will no longer mention their name in this publication was conducting itself in a deplorable manner. The Ohio and Midwest operators were up in arms about this crooked operator's methods. In particular, one of this operator's favorite tricks was to train their sales staff to tell new member prospects sitting in front of them to ask the prospective member what clubs they had looked at prior to visiting theirs. Then invariably, (and I know this because I personally shopped a few of those clubs, and I also hired an independent shopper to shop others), the salesperson would say, and I'm close to quoting here, "Well, you had better not join THAT club because they are going out of business," referring to the competitor's club, which was NOT going out of business at all. It was just a BIG LIE all of them were telling just to get more membership sales! Joe Moore, who owned ten Moore's Fitness Centers in the Dayton area, and I, arranged a meeting of club owners in Ohio. I drove up to Ohio to be there, and at that meeting, the 20 or so club owners who attended all agreed that something needed to be done about this operator. And, Club Insider DID do something, and that was to disclose this operator in print for the crook that he was. At this stage, I will not disclose who that crook was or is, but I know those of you who were at that meeting know who it was. And is. The end.

JC - Years after accomplishing your goal of being a Mr. Mom to me during the important formative years of my life, what is it now like to work with me, side by side with truly mutual respect and admiration of each other?
NC - This response is short and sweet and true. It's an absolute JOY for me that I feel blessed to have received.

JC - This year, Club Industry was kind enough to bestow its Lifetime Achievement Award on you, and by no coincidence, we began Celebrating 25 Years of Trust at this year's Club Industry Show. How did that make you feel?
NC - This is another short and sweet answer to your question. It made me feel THANKFUL to the kind folks at Club Industry, and it made me feel PROUD... GREAT and very HAPPY!

JC - The importance of TRUST and MAKING IT FUN have been hallmarks of Club Insider since the beginning, Edition #1. For those who don't know, please tell us why that is.
NC - Let me say this to everybody in our truly wonderful industry. What I'm going to say applies to every single owner and operator across this great land, and frankly, most likely around the world. TRUST is the single most important trait that you can achieve in this competitive industry. Just like the crook in Ohio I mentioned before who was DESTROYING TRUST in our industry right and left... and just like the Bally was DESTROYING TRUST, any club owner/operator who destroys TRUST in our industry is stealing business from all of you! If a customer of yours cannot trust you because of something you have done in your club operations, you are NOT going to get their business. Nor are you going to get the REFERRALS from their business that you WOULD GET had your club not violated the TRUST of a customer. It's really that simple. And, one last thing... IF you have a crooked club owner/operator in your community giving both his and your club(s) a bad reputation and damaging the TRUST of the health club industry in your market by ending up on local TV or newspapers, then you really need to inform me and let me have a go at him. Trust me... when I get through with him, they're going to become TRUSTWORTHY, OR they're going to be OUT OF BUSINESS!

And, let me mention my favorite phrase: 'Make it FUN!' One thing I learned and applied to my club operations during my nearly 20 years as an owner and operator was that I taught my staff members to be friendly and make it fun for our members when they arrive by greeting them warmly with a big 'Hello' or 'Welcome.' And, another thing I routinely did in all my clubs was that, each month, in each club, I would produce a 'Member Appreciation Party,' typically held on a Thursday night. Now, over the course of 25 years of publishing Club Insider, we have published small ads that read: 'Make it FUN!' We have published these words with the intention of swaying the thinking of all of you who read Club Insider to the side of being sure that your club IS FUN and that working out is recreation and is NOT just hard work! Now, through the efforts of Mike Alpert, we have also now adopted 'Exercise is Medicine' to our short list of slogans.

JC - What can this industry expect from Norm Cates, Jr., the man of many hats, in the future?
NC - You can take this to the bank:

  1. 1. YOU ALL are always going to be able to TRUST me and Justin to look out for YOU and your club businesses as well as we possibly can.
  2. 2. You can expect to continue to receive Club Insider every month in print and online, and each edition will provide great educational Cover Stories and extremely helpful articles written and contributed by our excellent Contributing Author Team... articles that address the disciplines in our industry in a manner that is understandable and immediately applicable to your operation. And, you can expect us to continue selling advertising to new buyers, but with this pledge to you all that we WILL NOT accept any advertising money from anybody who's selling a product or products that are not good for you and your club. Sure, we want to make new advertising sales, but we DO NOT intend to risk your future in any way by promoting a company that does not deserve your business and that could potentially harm you and your business.
  3. 3. You can expect me to be ready for the day when yours truly finally bites the dust and goes to the Happy Hunting Ground, by year-in and year-out working with and mentoring my super son, JUSTIN CATES.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

An Interview With Justin Cates, Assistant Publisher of Club Insider

Norm Cates (NC) - Justin, you have been a very integral and important part of the success of Club Insider in our first 24 years. So far, what's been the highlight for you with this special work on Club Insider?
Justin Cates (JC) - With the exception of this moment, Celebrating 25 Years of Trust, I would say my highlight is not an event but a thing, the key ingredient that makes this whole deal work, and that is the people. When I made the decision to pursue this business full-time out of college, I started fresh. Except for you, Dad, I had no real contacts, only a handshake and a smile. At the first few conventions and trade shows I attended, I was a bit of a deer in the headlights. There was so much to see and so many people to meet. Now, with 25+ conventions, trade shows, workshops under my belt, I can honestly say I haven't just made business relationships with my colleagues, but I have created friendships. Whether it is talking about our golden retrievers with Jennifer Urmston, hearing Warren Webb's latest joke (which are hilarious by the way) or hearing about Ed Tock's son's baseball season (because I used to play ball as a catcher), getting out of the home office is a true joy of mine. It is a reunion every time. The people are the key ingredient of this incredible industry, and I am so honored to be among them and serve with them, so to speak.

NC - Tell us about your thoughts, as you've evolved in this business with me, and as your importance to our Team has grown and grown and grown?
JC - As a child, you always hope you live up to your parents' expectations. And, though I am not a parent, yet, I can imagine the hope is that your child will always see you as a trusted guide in life, whether he is three years old or 30+, while also having the humility to learn from them as they mature, become wiser and prove themselves as adults. When you add business to this equation, it simply extends those two paradigms across a broader scope. Before, you have taught your child the basics of going to the bathroom, riding a bike, respecting others, etc. Now, in business, you are showing them the ropes of how the business and the greater industry operates, and in turn, if your child, now business partner, has earned your respect and trust, you might learn some things from them to make the business and the industry better. Maybe it's a better, more efficient way of doing things, a product category you had not thought about or an introduction to someone you never thought about talking to.

So, to answer your question, after those 18 years or so of being a child, then college to test those adulting skills (except during fraternity parties and football game days, haha!), and now, going on ten years as a business partner, we have built a respect and trust for each other that I will always cherish. That, in turn, has allowed us to function as a true TEAM, learning from and bouncing ideas off each other. Writing is an intricate task, so we are always double-checking each other, not leaving one comma or period out of place. And, most importantly, we know we have each other's back no matter what, which is something truly special.

NC - What are your thoughts about the future for Club Insider?
JC - One word: EXCITING! As I look back on my first ten years, I spent a tremendous amount of time learning, as well as working to evolve this publication into what I felt it needed to be in this day and age. I don't ever plan to stop learning or evolving Club Insider, but I'm excited for us to be in a position where I feel we can better grow the various products we now offer. In addition to our monthly printed edition, which is all we had when I started, these include the online versions of our publication, our website-based news feed, Club Insider Weekly and Monthly eblasts, eBooks featuring curated content and additional rich media from our incredible Contributing Author Team. For us, these vehicles offer much more value for both our subscribers and advertisers, so the future is bright as we continue to chronicle the history of this great industry as it happens.

NC - Speaking of the history of the industry, please tell our readers about our truly amazing Club Insider Archive Library that you've so very successfully created using our first 287 monthly editions. Be sure to tell them how you got our first 4,000 pages (out of 9,500 pages we now have online.) into an online format.
JC - This was a pet project of mine that I felt had importance, maybe the scope of which we haven't seen yet. Literally growing up with the publication all around me because it was a home-based business, I always soaked it up subconsciously, albeit not understanding it because I was too young. But, that drive to learn about my father's project in life was always there. As I got older and learned about this incredible industry, something in me insisted that this cataloged history needed to be preserved for all time.

For editions that were printed from 2002 to present day, this was easy because everything was delivered to our printer in PDF format (instead of old school printed materials that had to be shot by a mounted high-resolution camera), so I started with those editions. But, what about the first nine years or so? Well, thank goodness they make oversize 11" x 17" scanners. I purchased one and began physically scanning one edition a day, page after page, for as long as it took me. Then, all of those scans were properly placed and sized inside our layout software to create PDFs like those you would see for our more modern editions. Finally, everything was then placed on our website and accessible with our paid subscription options. For paid subscribers, overnight, they went from having access to the 12 editions of their paid subscription to every edition (287 so far) we've ever published. That's a pretty good deal!

To close this comment, I view Club Insider as a keeper of this industry's incredible history. It goes without saying this industry's history will only grow as time passes, but what is important is to learn and respect that history, use it as a guide for the future and pass it on to the generations that are coming (We invite you to visit www.clubinsideronline.com/archives).

NC - I want to address the future of Club Insider. I want you to tell our readers how you and I've discussed what's going to happen when I kick the bucket... and how you're then going to proceed with Club Insider... with THEIR continued involvement and help!
JC - As our readers are about to see in Club Industry's Anthony Dominic's profile on you that follows, he coined the nickname for you, 'A Man of Many Hats.' Well, I happily self-coin the nickname for me, 'A Man of Many Tasks.' All of my life, I have been very task-oriented. The purpose of a task is to be completed, and once it is, I move on to the next task. As a monthly publication, in essence, Club Insider is an endless circle of repeated tasks that we strive to go on into perpetuity. Almost every day of the month has a primary task (as well as secondary daily tasks) for me to accomplish, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

So, to answer your question, as the respect and trust for each other I spoke about earlier has grown, I have requested and you have been confident enough in my abilities to shift additional responsibilities and tasks to me over the course of the decade. So much so that we joke that you don't really have anything to do but collect the money and write Norm's Notes, plus write 4 Cover Stories per year. As you have already passed retirement age and have made it adamantly clear you won't be retiring until the natural course of life intervenes, that is a great recipe for longevity!

However, when that day does come, Club Insider will continue on, and as Forrest Gump says, 'That's all I have to say about that.'

• • •

Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes the interview portion of Club Insider's 25th Anniversary Cover Story. We're now going to move on to a reprint of Club Industry's fine article about yours truly, written by Anthony Dominic and entitled: "A Man of Many Hats."

Click here to read "A Man of Many Hats."

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