Member Motivation = Member Retention

By Richard Ekstrom, President

Retention. Retention. Retention. We hear about it. We read about it. We know it is a key element to improving profitably. But where do we start?

It’s important for all club owners and managers to study successful retention methods and employ them to our own environment. IHRSA’s 2004 Guide to Membership Retention provides us with good lessons on what -and what not -to do. In an article in the October issue of Club Insider News, I outlined the key elements of good membership retention -all of which are good for indivdual clubs as well as individual club members.

Let’s focus our attention now on one of these important elements: member motivation.

According to this report, motivation is the trigger that ignites club membership.
The key to member motivation lies in the extent you give your members what they are looking for. But what are they looking for? There is no single answer to this question. Your members may have joined your club because they were motivated to lose weight, to look better or to simply experience the health benefits of regular exercise. Others may have joined to meet people and make new friends. While still others may have joined to have a place where they feel they belong. In most cases, the motivation is emotional rather than intellectual.

Whatever the reason, it is vital that we take advantage of the member’s motivation right from the start and reinforce his own motivation along the way.

Define Your Members
Understanding and leveraging the member’s motivation affects retention. Take time to get to know your new members. Find out what motivated them to join your club. As part of the joining process, ask every new member to be specific in defining his or her fitness goals and objectives. Implicit in the motivation that inspires a person to join a club is an expectation that your club will sustain and support that motivation. And you can’t meet that expectation unless you know what it is.

Orient Your Members
The process by which a new member is oriented into the life of your club is a key factor in membership retention. According to IHRSA, every year our industry sells memberships to men and women who are not familiar with a fitness club and have not yet developed the habit of regular exercise.

Take nothing for granted. Make sure each member feels comfortable with every aspect of your club from locating the locker rooms and towels to signing up for a yoga class and scheduling a personal training session.

Provide every new member with a personalized introduction to your facility. The best orientation program is the one that is custom-made to a member’s needs not just a generic one.

Communicate To Your Members
An important element of retention that is often lacking is communication. The importance of on-going communication cannot be stressed enough. Communication that supports your members’ motivation supports member retention. It is recommended to periodically remind your members of their objectives, inquire into their progress as well as measure their progress.

One easy way of communicating with your members is through email. Obtain the email addresses of all of your members and send them messages regularly to reinforce their motivation. In addition to helpful health tips and information about what’s going on in your club, notes of congratulations or appreciation are always well received.

Another way to communicate with your members is simply saying “hello” and “good-bye” to them as they enter and leave your facility. I know you are probably thinking: “Come on, that’s a no-brainer statement, I teach that to my team all the time!” However, how often do you verify that it’s happening all the time? Hang out in the various areas of your club and observe your team interacting. You may be surprised at how many members come and go without that powerful “hello” or “good-bye.” If it doesn’t happen then it’s not only a relationship opportunity lost it may be a membership lost.

Recognize Your Members
Recognition and reward programs are a crucial part of successful retention strategies. The IHRSA Guide advises us to take advantage of every possible opportunity to recognize and reward our members. Recognition and reward systems that benefit a club’s long term members, frequent users and high spenders can be a potent tool in making members feel valued and appreciated. Members who refer other members should also receive recognition and reward.

Motivate and Reward Your Members
Based on research cited in the IHRSA report, clubs are well advised to reward frequent club usage, particularly in the first 90 days of membership. No matter what the cost of membership is, members perceive that high usage equates to high value. There is a definite correlation between frequency of usage and perception of value.

Incentives are also helpful in circumventing termination. As stated in the report, many people leave a club simply because they have drifted away. Often, increased retention can be accomplished if the member is invited to rekindle his motivation and rewarded to retain his membership.

Complimentary guest passes, a club t-shirt or even a free re-evaluation are good incentives to motivate your members.

Celebrate Your Members
Whether you celebrate a member milestone, the day-to-day benefits of regular exercise, a new finding in health research (?) or even a holiday, celebrations of any kind are always welcomed and enjoyed. Celebrations present you with yet another great opportunity for your staff to connect with your members and for members to connect with other members.

Recognize that your members are motivated by their own individual goals, values and desires. Understanding member motivation and effectively leveraging it will positively affect your retention. Improvements in member retention, no matter how small, will enhance your club’s revenue and profitability.

Richard Ekstrom, President of Retention Management, can be reached at 800-951-8048 ext. 2 or Comments and questions are welcome and appreciated. Retention Management is a privately held company that manages the complexities and time demands of running a comprehensive retention improvement service for health clubs. It focuses on new member orientation, member attendance, health/fitness education and the automation of attrition defense systems. Retention Management’s mission is to create a positive impact on a club’s bottom line through improved member retention.


Chris W