Retaining Members, Creating Community

Feb 13, 2008

Many studio and small facility owners focus predominantly on recruitment. While this is important, retaining current members is equally essential. Profits from a single customer can increase dramatically over time. A 5-year member can be up to 377% more profitable than a new one (Reichheld & Sasser 1990). Armed with the following strategies, you can create a motivating, cohesive environment that will prevent your members from being lured away by other studios.

Provide Superior Customer Service
Exceptional customer service involves more than just employing a friendly staff. You must consistently meet and exceed your clients’ needs. Survey your members periodically to make sure you are succeeding, and then develop a customer satisfaction package based on their feedback.

Address Individual Needs. Provide an initial wellness assessment and an extensive orientation to each member. The latter shouldn’t be just a walk around the gym and locker room, but rather a comprehensive equipment demonstration, especially if you have a lot of specialized Pilates equipment.

Hire Service-Oriented People. A responsive and experienced staff plays a crucial role in developing a supportive environment. Employees should be available to answer questions both in person and by phone, during operating hours. Encourage staff to congratulate members on their successes. “You must hire a staff willing to go out of its way to engage members in conversation and activities,” says Scott Lewandowski, fitness director at Union Station Multiplex, Chicago.

Develop a Rapport. Put pictures and bios of all staff members on the main bulletin board. Members will learn each employee’s name and know whom to approach with questions. Similarly, encourage employees to learn every member’s name. This is difficult but worth the effort, as it promotes loyalty and develops a comfort level. Further this rapport by sending “thank-you” cards to members who refer friends.

Offer Incentives
Sometimes, members need a little extra push to lose those last 10 pounds or try a new cycling class. Incentives provide just the right motivation and should begin from day one.

Offer a Coupon Booklet. This incentive is good for one-time discounts on all activities, such as massage and private sessions. Coupons offer a taste of your programs and services and encourage members to continue the ones they enjoy.

Establish Individual Goals. After their initial assessments, help new members establish goals. Update existing members’ fitness goals at the beginning of the year. “It’s important that [members] review goals weekly, if not daily, to stoke that fire,” says Todd M. Brown, director of personal training and nutrition for WOW! Work Out World facilities throughout New Jersey.

Each time members reach small milestones on their way to attaining overall goals, recognize them with token rewards, such as movie tickets or nutrition bars. The idea is to celebrate small achievements. Brown adds, “Let’s focus on rewarding our members for the activities that lead to success, not just the actual success. This way they get to experience success a lot faster.”

Don’t forget your long-term members. On their enrollment anniversaries, give them yearly rewards such as gift certificates to local restaurants, gift cards for a sporting goods store, gym bags or personalized gym towels. This practice demonstrates that you appreciate your members’ dedication.

Create a Sense of Community
A supportive, close-knit environment goes a long way toward promoting habitual attendance. Your facility should be a fun place where people come to enjoy themselves, work toward their fitness goals and socialize.

Organize Special Clubs. Plan activities designed for members to get to know one another. Forming relationships helps clients feel they are part of a team and not just numbers. Individualized clubs help achieve this objective.

Plan Social Activities. A fun way to facilitate bonds between staff and members is to organize social fitness outings. A full-day white-water rafting trip, a half-day biking trip or a new-member 5K walk initiates social interaction while providing a great workout.

Publicly Recognize Achievements. Acknowledging the triumphs of your members increases their feeling of belonging, inspiring them to continue their efforts. Post a bulletin board that boasts members’ accomplishments. Why not take it a step further and display a “member of the month”? Establish criteria and allow members to compete for this monthly position of pride.

Educate Members
Offer Seminars and Workshops. Communicate vital information about health and wellness. Subjects like nutrition and disease prevention are good places to start. A club-specific class highlighting various programs and available events helps clients find activities they enjoy.

Publish a Monthly Newsletter. Feature articles on health topics that reflect your membership demographics. For example, if most of your members are women, run columns on pre/postnatal exercise, juggling career and family, and other pertinent subjects. Provide practical tips on how to stay motivated, and list useful resources and community contacts. And remember that a newsletter is a good marketing tool. Use this prime space to announce upcoming events, new class schedules and contests.

An inspirational and supportive environment encourages members to adhere to their wellness goals and maintain their membership. Employing the strategies outlined in this article will set your club apart and continually motivate your members at little extra expense. The key to retaining your members is making your club a second home where they feel encouraged, inspired and surrounded by friends.

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