Goals + Incentives = Client Loyalty

by Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES on Jan 24, 2013

Retention, retention, retention. The fitness industry is continually seeking better ways to retain members. The problem is that many facilities simply bring new members in the door, provide a basic orientation and set them free—free to slowly lose interest in attaining their fitness goals and coming to the gym. This occurs frequently. In fact, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, the membership attrition rate is currently 34.5% a year (IHRSA 2012)!

However, your business does not have to follow this pattern. If you motivate members to remain active and you make them feel welcome, you are more likely to retain them as clients.

Setting Goals

The first step to jump-starting your clients’ motivation is to help them set realistic, specific fitness goals that include a deadline. Here are some sample goals:

  • Lose 15 pounds by March 1, 2013.
  • Drop two sizes by April 15, 2013.
  • Run in the local 5K in May 2013.

The deadline will push members to get the most out of their exercise program. To keep them moving forward, regularly remind them of their intended outcomes. When they reach their goals, help them set new goals that take them to the next level. Plus, praise them for the results they have already achieved! Having a healthier life and body can be incredibly motivating and empowering in and of itself.

An important tool in goal-setting is charting progress, so ask exercisers to keep a journal. First have them list all the reasons they are exercising. This list provides them with reinforcement to keep working out. Then ask them to track their progress, including exercises completed, weights used, and number of sets and repetitions. Seeing incremental improvement—whether it’s improved time, increased reps or more workouts—boosts exercise motivation. In fact, in a study at Columbia University, women who had a written plan exercised twice as much as those who did not (Rossi 2010).

Offering Incentives

Rewarding members with a variety of incentives goes a long way toward making them feel appreciated and like they’re in a supportive environment. The key is to offer programs that get people excited about participating in gym activities. Consider these creative ideas.

Play a game. Have members earn points for certain activities, such as attending a fitness class, taking a nutrition seminar, providing a referral or meeting with a personal trainer. At the end of each month, award prizes to the three members with the highest point totals. The prizes could be a T-shirt, a water bottle or a gym bag branded with your business logo. A fun challenge for members, this game can also provide free advertising for your fitness facility.

Run special competitions. Here’s an example: Sponsor a contest in which participants track how many miles they walk or run on the treadmill every time they come to the gym. At the end of the contest, award prizes to the three participants who walked/ran the most miles. Create themes that tie in with seasons, holidays or sporting events (for example, March Madness or the Olympics). Contests should last 4–6 weeks. If they last any longer than that, clients may lose interest. Use a big, bright visual, such as a colorful chalkboard or dry-erase board, to display each member’s progress.

Recognize enrollment anniversaries. Show your appreciation for continued membership by giving inexpensive gifts on clients’ enrollment anniversaries. Low-cost gifts include gift certificates to local restaurants, movie tickets or personalized gym towels. This practice demonstrates that you value your members’ dedication to their own fitness and to your facility.

For more ways to increase retention, please see “Operation: Motivation” in the online IDEA Library, in the January 2013 issue of IDEA Fitness Manager.

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 11, Issue 2

© 2013 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES IDEA Author/Presenter

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES, is a certified health education specialist with a master’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina. She currently resides in Connecticut, where sh...


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