Peter and Kathie Davis
Mobilizing an Army of
If you've ever spoken with a Personal Trainer, you've already been touched by Peter and Kathie Davis, founders of IDEA and ACE, who built an army of 20,000 fitness professionals and brought professionalism, standards, and education to the fitness industry. Their story is an inspiration to every wellness entrepreneur for every aspect of the emerging $1 trillion wellness industry.
Peter and Kathie Davis met at age 13 when they both attended the same tennis camp. Their meeting turned into an eventual courtship, marriage and had a profound impact on the health and wellness of the world.
"Fitness and sports have been a part of our lives ever since we were kids," says Peter. "We both competed in basketball and tennis throughout our teen years. We attended San Diego State University (SDSU) to play on the women's and men's tennis teams." After graduating college in 1979 and 1980, Kathie started teaching aerobic dance and training other instructors, and Peter coached the men's tennis team at UCSD.
Kathie immediately recognized the need for aerobics instructors to exchange information. And Peter, a business graduate from SDSU, often talked about starting a fitness-oriented business. But it took them a few years to turn their talking into reality. Their membership organization, IDEA Health and Fitness Association, was born modestly in 1982.
"We were just out of college," Peter recalls. "IDEA was our first real job. The whole thing was operated out of our spare bedroom. It took us quite a while to have enough revenue to move into an office space. We did everything ourselves—opened the mail, answered the telephone, did the marketing."
While most people today recognize the importance of fitness, in 1982 things were different. Consumers were much less aware of how to safely and effectively exercise, and fitness professionals had few, if any, professional tools and resources. For example, to provide music for a class, instructors frequently played a stack of 45 rpm records on a turntable. Classes were often taught in stocking feet, since the importance of proper footwear was not yet understood and shoes for high-impact aerobics did not exist. Personal training was mostly reserved for celebrities and competitive athletes; it had not yet arrived for the general consumer.
The goal of IDEA then was to help fitness instructors gain access to reliable professional information. "We started by sending the first IDEA newsletter to a membership of 300, and later we created the not-for-profit IDEA Foundation [now the American Council on Exercise, or ACE] to offer the industry's first certification," says Kathie. "In addition, IDEA introduced the industry's first Code of Ethics and the first awards to recognize professional excellence in the fitness field." In 1989 the organization hosted the first conference for personal trainers and the following year a newsletter was created for trainers which later turned into a magazine. Now personal training has become IDEA's largest membership category, with 11,000 members.
Since 1982, IDEA has provided health and fitness professionals with unbiased data, pertinent information, educational resources, career development, and industry leadership. IDEA's membership includes personal trainers, mind-body professionals, program and fitness directors, business owners and managers, and group fitness instructors. It is focused on providing practical resources that are based on science.
The company today has more than 20,000 members in over 80 countries. The original newsletter has grown into IDEA Fitness Journal, the most respected publication for fitness professionals. Attendance at IDEA's annual World Fitness Convention has grown to over 5,000, making it the world's largest educational event for health and fitness professionals. Another 2,500 professionals attend the IDEA Fitness Fusion, and IDEA Personal Trainer education conferences. IDEA's purpose is to "Inspire the World to Fitness" and motivate its members to reach sedentary populations. Training and certification programs are constantly being added for new areas such as mind-body fitness, wellness, yoga, Pilates, and Gyrotonic integrated fitness.
The skyrocketing growth of IDEA did not come without tireless work and dedication, and the couple's mutual respect for each other's areas of expertise. As executive director, Kathie is responsible for content, industry, and educational issues, and overseeing information presented at conventions and in IDEA publications. She also works with public relations and the media. As chief executive officer, Peter handles business and the strategic-planning aspects, sales and marketing, financing, and relationships with manufacturers.
While today they are respected, competent business leaders, they struggled to learn in the early days. "The biggest obstacle was starting a company (2 years out of college) with no experience in publishing or event planning," says Peter. "We made mistakes and learned as we went but whatever was in front of us was no match for our unbridled enthusiasm and passion."
Peter and Kathie always followed an important business tenet: listen to your customers. For almost 25 years they have continually reached out to IDEA members and industry leaders to keep their fingers on the pulse of the fitness industry. They have also listened to the needs of the customers of their customers—consumers who are increasingly inactive, overweight, and overwhelmed by misinformation about fitness and wellness.
The Davises are very excited about the organization's next evolutionary path: exploring the inner connection between mind, body, and spirit in a quest toward optimal wellness. They have created resources such as the Inner IDEA conference to help professionals explore the exciting new science and benefits of holistic mind-body-spirit practices.
Peter and Kathie feel so strongly about the importance of body-mind-spirit that they are starting a wellness program for their staff. "We have always encouraged our staff to walk or run during the day by having showers available," says Kathie. "However, now we will also be having a wellness room for meditation, yoga or other quiet activities as well as wellness lectures, inspirational films and outside activities including social and volunteer opportunities."
"We now know that if someone is deconditioned and sedentary, it is important to focus on what is happening inside the person as well as on the outside," says Peter. "To get the greatest results, health professionals should use a holistic approach to help people achieve wellness."
What's the future of IDEA and wellness? "We believe that there will be some form of mindfulness in all forms of exercise in the next five years," Peter forecasts. "We look forward to sharing more of our enthusiasm and passion for holistic wellness with our members, and the world."
The Davises really light up when they talk about the recent involvement of their children (Jason, 22, and Kelli, 18) in their business. "Jason and Kelli have caught the passion to make fitness happen because they see a tremendous need to help unhealthy people," says Kathie. As the world becomes connected through the Internet, the kids have the vision to take IDEA and Inner IDEA to a younger generation.
Peter and Kathie cofounded IDEA in 1982 on one basic premise: to help millions of people lead healthier, happier lives by fostering professionalism in the health and fitness industry. They are extremely grateful for what they, their 35 staff members, and their 20,000 professional members—who touch millions of lives every day—have accomplished. But, sadly, they recognize that despite their collective accomplishments, much more remains to be done today to bring wellness to the world than when they started out back in 1982.
Each specialty and subspecialty within the wellness industry will eventually require the same professionalism, standards, and continuing education that Peter and Kathie Davis have brought to personal fitness.