Your favorite restaurant doesn't require a contract, but people keep going back to them, so why do health club operators require contracts?
Gym membership contracts can make people feel locked in when they don't want to be, which is one of the worst forms of marketing for your fitness facility. (Photo by Thinkstock.)
Let's define the playing field:
- Does your favorite restaurant have you sign a contract?
- Does your favorite coffee shop have you on a monthly draft?
- Does your favorite clothing brand force you to keep purchasing their product even though you don't like it anymore?
None of these businesses requires a contract, so what keeps you going back to them? It's probably the unique experience, high-quality service and consistent outcome that you enjoy. It's comfort in knowing that you're taken care of each time you go in and that you're friends will have the same experience as well. It's the unspoken brand promises that each employee carries with them when they greet you at the door, show you around or assist you in any way.
Now, who does make you sign contracts:
- The cable company
- The electric company
- The cell phone company
- …and gyms
Gyms want to 'lock' them into the best deal for the year. We want to assure we get our first and last months' membership dues because we know after a few months, we probably will not see them that often. We want to get more money to keep adding new equipment and space for members who eventually stop showing up.
We want to lock members into these contracts because we know, deep down inside, that we don't deliver the best and most consistent brand experience. We fall short of being able to entice members to continue to invest in their own health and invite friends to join them on the journey because too often many of us don't care about every person who walks through the door like they are our grandmother.
There's an industry-wide fear of the boutique facility experience and how members are seeking out their services more. It's not that the boutique facility necessarily delivers a better service; it's that the boutique studio operators run a business so that clients feel taken care of by having a freedom of choice.
Boutique studio clients can choose to walk away at any moment if the brand experience isn't meeting their expectations. They can choose to pay for only one session or three, seven, 13 or 19 without having to lock themselves into a contract. They have the ability to mix and match every session, every week, every month without the fear of paying for what they don't want.
Operators of boutiques know that the worst form of marketing is clients who are upset about being locked into a contract and are telling all of their friends daily about how they are locked in.
If you fear taking away contracts, ask yourself why you are afraid to allow a member to walk away at any moment. When you peel back the layers, you likely will see a few cracks in your brand experience. Those cracks allow members to become frustrated, and it causes them to seek out boutiques and a contract-free system.
Throw out the contracts. Deliver a 'wow' experience every day, every session for every member. When you do, your members will continuously invest in your facility and invite their friends to join them.
Let me know what you think about the idea of going contract-free. Add a comment to the comment section below.
Brent Gallagher, MSS, CSCS, ACSM, is co-owner of Avenu Fitness, a 4,500-square-foot personal training studio in Houston. He has built a brand measuring the quality of life one can live, not just measuring biceps and waistlines. Gallagher invests time coaching high-performing leaders and challenging fitness business operators to come to blows with the status quo by redefining what’s possible for the communities they serve. Avenu Fitness offers 30-minute training programs and a teaching kitchen for nutrition health.