As I visit clubs around the country, whether as a guest or as a consultant, I evaluate how clubs use programming to add value to their brand. Some clubs are good in this area while others need work. I have noticed that not enough clubs use programming to add value to their brand. Clubs that are weak in this area cannot answer the following questions: Why would a non-member join their club? Why would club members stay? And, why would club members refer non-members to their club? They also have trouble describing the type of experience their members currently expect to receive and the type of experience their club currently delivers.

Successful clubs are successful because they have three words in their formulas for success — programming, programming and programming. Programming is not developed or created in a vacuum. It is based on the value of the club organization — on the value of the club's brand. It is based on what the club stands for; it is based on the type of experience the club wants its members to have. In short, great programming adds value to club membership.

Jennifer Mayer, regional programming director of Mercy Healthplex in Cincinnati, OH, developed a programming score card for clubs. How would you answer the following six questions from her scorecard?

  1. Does your club have a membership retention program?

  2. Is your club's fitness team proactively involved in your club's membership retention program?

  3. Does a synergy exist between your club's personal training program and its group exercise program?

  4. Is your club's attrition rate less than 34.5 percent?

  5. Does your club have a competitive point of difference in its marketplace?

  6. Does your club have a member incentive program that rewards participation in club programs?

If you have more than three “no” answers, your club is suffering from one or more of the following:

  • Poor programming depth.

  • An inconsistent product/service.

  • A brand that is shallow with no substance.

  • The inability to have a strong/viable club brand that can drive/support financial performance objectives including increased revenue per member, increased member revenue per square foot, increased non-membership dues revenue, increased membership referrals, increased use rate of group exercise studios and others.

Adding Value to Membership

I'd like to share with you successful programming options that have not only established a competitive point-of-difference for the clubs that use these options but also have reinforced the value of their brand — and they have made money.

As a programming specialist with an extensive background in group exercise and personal training, Kim Pace, ACSM-HFI, ACE-GX, AFAA-CPT, created an interactive synergy between the dynamics of group exercise and the dynamics of personal-training programming.

As we all know, support-group camaraderie brings club members together at a certain time to a certain place with a certain professional instructor to achieve a specific goal. What kind of dynamics do you think would happen in this group exercise environment if it was enmeshed with the individual attention, professional coaching and guidance that is normally associated with a personal training program? Kim's Six-Week Body Transformation Program is such a dynamic, interactive weight- management program. Because of the number of club members that have had their lives changed at the Athletic Club Boca Raton in Florida, she received The Excellence in Programming Award for this fee-based programming option.

According to Pace, “everyone wins” in her program. Club members win by gaining confidence in their newfound abilities, by building supportive relationships with other club members, and by getting results when they have access to the experience of and guidance from personal trainers. The club's trainers win because they can empower more members, expand their business platform and increase their income potential. Clubs win because member satisfaction levels increase and membership attrition is controlled/reduced because the members are getting results.

So I leave you with the following questions: Do your fitness professionals have an appreciation of the role programming plays in reinforcing the value of your club brand? Are they actively involved in reinforcing the value of your brand? Do your current programming options support the value of your brand and the value of your club membership? These are important questions to consider if you want to make your programming the best that it can be.


Bob Esquerre, MA, MES, NSCA-CPT, is a fitness consultant and owner of the Esquerre Fitness Group. He is a Reebok Master Trainer with certifications as a medical exercise specialist from AAHP and personal training from NSCA.