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Seven Ways to Turn Visitors Into Members

As the midyear lag sets in, many fitness managers and owners search for fresh ideas to attract new members. In fact, it’s a business imperative: According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA 2016), even though retention rates hover around 70%, the remaining 30% still represent significant potential.

One of the most effective—and traditional—ways to attract new members is to entice them with some type of trial. Since IHRSA reports that approximately 35% of all health club members are first-time members (IHRSA 2016), allowing them to sample can be critical. Here are seven effective ways to revitalize your recruiting efforts.

1. Develop an Ambassador Program

We all know the power of social media and its “influencers.” A great way to encourage buzz is to put influencer power to work! Invite local fitness “ambassadors” to train at your facility in exchange for a favorable plug on their social media channels. This tactic has worked for Angelique Millis, a Los Angeles–based fitness and marketing professional who currently works as both a trainer and a marketing consultant for The Art of Body Shape in Beverly Hills and has worked with other clubs and boutique studios over the years.

Millis recommends enlisting key influencers who are hyperlocal to you. Send them a link to your studio, and invite them to come in and check it out. To help smooth the introduction, see if a current facility member or someone else in your network can pave the way; however, a simple email request is often well-received.

Many bloggers are unlikely to mention your business organically, so sweeten the deal with an offer. For example, in exchange for promoting your location, offer them a free membership—or a class pass plus a bonus, such as a 10% commission, on any sales resulting from their advocacy.

Millis’s studio hosted a blogger who snapped selfies while using the equipment and while taking a trial class; then the blogger posted those photos to her social media accounts, along with a code and an offer for followers to receive a free trial session and a 20% discount off packages. The promotion brought in 10 new clients, three of whom bought a package.

You don’t need a Kardashian-level influencer to make this strategy work. A recent survey found that 30% of U.S. adults were more likely to purchase a product endorsed by a noncelebrity blogger than one backed by a celebrity influencer (Sass 2016).

2. Team Up

Whether you’re a new facility or an established one, being neighborly can be lucrative. Reach out to corporations or neighboring businesses, and offer them complimentary visits plus a discount on memberships or packages. Proximity can be a huge factor in a person’s decision to join.

Another option is to promote with a complementary service, as Millis did with a local beauty salon. Anyone who spent $100 on services at the salon received a free pass to the studio, and anyone who bought a package at the studio received a 20% discount at the salon. Millis converted 10 new clients during the monthlong promotion.

3. Hold a Member Appreciation Week

Members might be more likely to invite guests if you dedicate a week specifically to this. Bring in special services, from chair massages to healthy food, and offer master classes to create an event vibe. You may also want to add a reward component. Millis has worked with gyms that offered a substantial discount or a free service to any current member or client who brought in a visitor. “Rewards can be an awesome motivator to encourage [members] to spread the word to their friends and colleagues,” she suggests. “Everyone loves a freebie.”

4. Make Guest Passes Do Double Duty

Whether you’re targeting the employees of neighboring businesses or including guest passes in a welcoming packet for new area residents, make sure the passes are for the holder and a friend (or two!). People sometimes prefer to check out a new spot with a friend, Millis notes, and it allows you to double your prospects.

5. Offer a Bigger Taste

Don’t just bring them in and let them sink or swim, advises Matt Letten, who has owned and operated three successful fitness facilities in the Midwest. He advocates offering a low-cost package of fitness coaching, which he says gives the potential member a chance to know, like and trust you, as well as to become a part of the fitness community. While embedded in the community, the visitor meets other clients and learns about their progress. Letten finds that by the end of the trial sessions, visitors are primed to sign up not just for a membership, but also for more-lucrative long-term fitness coaching.

“Without question,” he declares, “the single best way to convert a potential member long term and maximize revenue is to make sure you . . . find out the real reason that person decided to walk through the doors.” In his experience, a well-trained fitness coach can dig into each person’s “why” to find out what people want and to outline a plan to help them achieve their goals.

“This revolutionized my clubs, as I was no longer competing with other gyms on price. People began coming to me because we got people where they wanted to go,” Letten confides. “Results are priceless.”

6. Be Flexible

While you don’t want to undercut your services, you may need to be flexible. For example, let’s say guests participate in a free trial at your gym and want to join, but they are surprised by the high rates. Should you refuse to budge on price, or can you find a solution? One scenario might be to limit guests’ usage to certain parts of the club, or give them a class-only membership. They may not want or need amenities that other people prefer. You convert these guests and open the door to possible future transactions, such as selling them on a personal training package.

7. Impart Value—Charge for the Trial

It might sound counterintuitive, but Christian Elliot, founder and CEO of TRUE Health and Wholeness in Arlington, Virginia, finds that offering guests a 1-week, all-access pass for $25 incentivizes them to actually use it and maximize their trial, since they see it as something of value. “The magic of having them visit steadily for a week is that they can absorb the culture of our gym, realize that people are having fun while they get fit, and leave with a smile,” he shares. “Instead of just the awkward first-time visit, they get a chance to become comfortable.” Elliot launched the program early this year, and he has already had more than 20 people use it—75% of whom converted.

Customize Your Outreach

The conversion methods outlined in this article offer a clear path to boosting your bottom line and inspiring more people to become fit and healthy. Different outreach methods will work for different facilities, depending on clientele, location, offerings and more. Try different approaches until you find the one that works best for your facility, and then start attracting a steady stream of new members and clients.

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