Consider everything your facility offers in this increasingly competitive industry: cutting-edge equipment, a convenient location, a variety of classes and an inviting environment. Everything a member could ask for, right? Maybe not. All of these components are necessary in running a successful club, but as the competition for membership rises and the economy sputters, it’s time to make your facility stand out from the rest.

The retention process begins as soon as members join your club (Tock 2006). It is your responsibility to provide members reasons to stay. Success is not simply about growing your business but also about maintaining your current business. It costs up to six times more to gain a new member than it does to keep one (Coffman 2006). Good retention practices lead to increased sales; however, good sales practices do not necessarily lead to increased retention.

Eddie Tock, a partner at REX Roundtables for ExecutivesÔäó, says consumers are more careful about their buying choices these days. “This recession is different than all other recessions,” he says. “A long-term change in consumer behavior has occurred. [People] will pay for what they want, but they will look for value and benefits more carefully.” By concentrating on your facility’s core asset–members–you set members, and your business, up for lasting success. Achieve this by focusing on four key areas: enhancing overall well-being, offering incentives, providing exceptional customer service and creating opportunities for social connection.

Enhance Overall Well-Being

Losing or maintaining weight is a prime reason a lot of people work out. According to a study conducted by American Sports Data Inc., nearly 88% of Americans believe that regular exercise is essential to weight management. Furthermore, only 33% said they would choose dieting over exercise to lose or maintain weight (IHRSA 2003).

While weight management is a significant benefit, there are numerous other health advantages of which clients may not be aware. It’s your job to educate them. The more reasons members have to exercise, the more likely they are to continue.

First, offer workshops on subjects such as nutrition, disease prevention and bone density. The more people know regarding optimizing their health through exercise, the better. Second, bring in the experts. Work with physician offices and local hospitals to arrange on-site cholesterol and blood pressure screenings. Moreover, invite allied health professionals, such as physical therapists and massage therapists, to discuss their services. Another simple and inexpensive tactic is to check members’ body fat each month. They will see results, and this will provide the drive to help people stick to their regimens.

Facility managers must provide unique educational opportunities in order to create the perception that their facility offers more than the club down the street. “[The current tight economy] will force all club operators to look at retention proactively, starting with the day they join, instead of reactively, as most do now. The real sale begins as soon as they give you money. You must now ÔÇÿsell’ them on the idea of coming into the club regularly and eventually getting results,” explains Tock.

Tempt With Incentives

Occasionally, members need a little extra push to lose those last 15 pounds or try that new indoor cycling class. Incentives provide just the right motivation and should begin from day one. The more involved members are, the more they will adhere to their fitness routines over time.

Create a coupon booklet that includes one-time discounts on all club activities, such as massage and personal training. Coupons offer a taste of your programs and services and encourage members to continue the ones they enjoy. Don’t forget to reward members when they succeed. After their initial fitness assessments, help new members establish personalized fitness goals and update these goals quarterly, based on progress. Each time members reach a small milestone, recognize them with a token reward, such as movie tickets, a discount on personal training or a free smoothie. The idea is to celebrate small achievements on the way to attaining overall health goals. This practice demonstrates that you appreciate your members’ dedication.

Everyone loves to win a contest! Create monthly contests that keep members involved. Who checked in the most last month? Who made the most referrals? Who attended the most group exercise classes? At the end of every month, award prizes to the members who win in each of your predetermined categories. Prizes could include a T-shirt, water bottle or key chain with the club’s logo.

Provide Superior Customer Service

We’ve all heard this one before–customer service is key to long-term success. The more we’re in contact with members, the higher the retention level and the number of referrals. Service speaks for itself and is a message about the brand (Fischbach 2006).

Offering excellent customer service involves more than just employing a friendly and hard-working staff. Employees must consistently meet and exceed your clients’ needs. Survey members annually to ensure you are succeeding and to obtain feedback regarding the areas that members would like to see improved (and then make the improvements). To encourage member participation, hand out prizes—such as ear buds, tote bags or cozies—when members return the survey.

An important yet often overlooked aspect of customer service is taking the time to develop a rapport with each member. 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 fitness, training, or club-related 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.

Equally important is maintaining regular communication. Start a newsletter and send e-mail blasts to all your members weekly or monthly (Schmidt 2007). Include special announcements, helpful health tips, photos of new members and staff, and coupons for services.

Another creative strategy that is rarely employed is keeping sales and customer service teams separate. The service staff assists members after the sale; for example, calling new members after 2 weeks, 6 weeks and 12 weeks to track progress and address concerns. They are also available to answer questions on the gym floor. By maintaining distinct sales and service staff, you allow the salespeople to focus their efforts on recruitment, thereby increasing new business, while the service staff concentrates its efforts solely on maintaining membership.

Create Social Connections

A supportive family environment goes a long way toward promoting consistent attendance and loyalty. Quickly engage new members in club activities, and furnish opportunities for interaction with other members and with staff. Your facility should be a fun place where people come to exercise and interact with friends. Building relationships helps members feel that they are part of a close-knit community, and not just a number on your membership roster. There are many strategies you can employ to achieve this:

  • Coordinate Group Activities. Facilitate bonding by planning fitness outings. A full-day white-water rafting trip, a morning cycling tour or a boot camp at the local park initiates social interaction while providing a great workout.
  • Host Holiday Events. Throw a Labor Day cookout, a winter holiday party and a Valentine’s Day mixer. Invite nonmembers to attend as a way to introduce them to your club in a relaxed environment.
  • Throw a New-Member Appreciation Party. This demonstrates your appreciation for your clients’ business. By allowing members to bring a guest, you also have the opportunity to integrate potential members into your facility.
  • Organize Special Clubs. Individualized groups help like-minded members get together and get to know one another. Examples include clubs for beginning exercisers, women only, senior citizens, bikers, runners or new moms.

The bottom line is that in today’s fitness industry, more choices exist for consumers than ever before, even when you factor in the recession. Use this time to “punch up” your services. If you want your members to be loyal to you, you must first be loyal to them. Make them your priority and they’ll return the favor.

So, it comes down to the basics: educating members about overall well-being, offering enticing incentives, providing a knowledgeable staff that takes care of its members, and creating opportunities for social interaction. By implementing these four strategies, you will not only keep your members, but also your membership numbers healthy.