Expand Your Focus to Impact Retention

by Richard Ekstrom,President

As we enter another new year, it is difficult not to notice the media frenzy regarding the growing fitness and obesity crisis facing America. Bestseller lists contain books on the latest diet fads and television infomercials are constantly hawking the newest exercise programs that people hope will be their magic bullet. As always, in January, we see our membership rosters grow with hopeful people looking for the help they need to win their battle for a healthier life.

As health club operators, we are in a great position to capitalize on our nation’s obsession with health and fitness. However, there is a large percentage of our membership base that continues to leave us year after year. Retention rates have not significantly improved. Why?

It is important that we stay focused on the quality of our clubs, including the latest equipment, comprehensive program offerings and wonderfully friendly and educated personnel. Our clubs have impacted a large number of people in extremely positive ways. However, is this dedicated focus truly serving the needs of all of our clients? Stagnant retention rates indicate that we are somehow not impacting a large number of our members (35-45 percent cancel every year).

We do not make major inroads with retention because people are constantly bombarded with messages of instant results -success in 30 days, 10 pounds in 10 days. This all leads to dissatisfaction with the long process of developing and leading a healthy lifestyle. Secondly, our customer communication is geared toward the masses. We must tailor our communications based on individual needs and desires.

There are some things that we can do to make sure we provide focused communication to our members from the very beginning so they are working with realistic expectations.

• Get new members integrated and comfortable with a comprehensive orientation. This is not merely showing them how to use equipment, but emphasizing that the first two months of their membership may not only be the hardest but it is the most critical to their long-term success.

• New member goal setting should focus more on regular usage than results. Educate them on the importance of creating a pattern of regular usage.

To make a significant improvement in retention we need to aggressively reach out to those members who are not visiting our clubs regularly -they are the ones who hold the key to improved retention. Identify and target low and non-users and keep them up to date on club activities and health trends. They don’t necessarily need more effort on your part, just a different type of effort than you are used to giving.

• Send your members information on everything available at your club, include details, policies and procedures on how to sign up and take part. New members and low and non-users are often passive and will not ask questions or seek out new activities.

• Keep them informed of special events, holiday hours or changes in class schedules. These members are not as active as your regular users, extra care should be taken to keep them informed and connected.

• Send them interesting fitness-related articles and health/nutrition tips. They will be receiving value and benefit from their membership even though they may not be visiting regularly.

Low and non-users are very fragile. It is imperative that they have a positive experience when they visit. A welcoming smile and hello is very powerful. Also, analyze your attendance data and target those individuals most likely to leave. Flag those who are not using the club regularly and respond quickly to changes in attendance patterns. Contact them to see how they are doing and if they need your help with any part of their routine. Knowing that someone noticed their absence and cared enough to reach out will have a positive reflection on your club. This individual attention may be just what they need to get rolling again, or at least postpone a cancellation.

We don’t need to change our focus but we do need to expand our focus to include low and non-users. These forgotten ones are your key to improved retention and long-term financial success.

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