Low-cost ways to let members know that they matter In my new club, there are fresh flowers in the locker room every day.

It's a small gesture, but each time I enter the locker area, I smile. The flowers make me feel special.

In health clubs, as in life, it is often the little things that have meaning. Sure, the big touches are impressive and appreciated. But in the case of a small club, they can be costly. That's why it's important to take stock of what you can and can't do, and to strike a balance between the simple niceties and the grand gestures. The payoff: a boost in member morale, loyalty and retention.

"Members yearn for personal acknowledgment," says Brenda Abdilla, professional speaker, club consultant and president of Club Profit Systems. "A health club is a very personal purchase for members and after they've been at a club a year or longer, they want to be recognized for their loyalty."

So what can you do to be certain they feel this way? Here is what experts say:

-Make sure the gesture is pleasing to your market. "Have the personality of your member in mind when you choose what you do," Abdilla says. Hardcore bodybuilders, for instance, are not going to want cake. "That's going to annoy them," Abdilla notes. "They're trying not to eat carbs."

-Be creative. Even something simple, such as placing a bowl of orange slices at the front desk, shows members you care. Or you can do something more formal, such as offering monthly free blood-pressure readings and skinfold screenings.

-Make it a regular thing. "If you can do something special once a month, that would be perfect," Abdilla says. "But once a quarter would be plenty."

At the Alaska Club, in Anchorage, members receive passes for their friends four times a year. "I offer member referral prizes just for giving a pass to a friend who then joins," says Michelle Eastman, director of marketing and public relations. Prizes include coupons for gasoline or a gift basket.

-Hold annual events. The Alaska Club hosts a summer barbecue where members and their families enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet and are eligible for prizes. There are games for kids and a band, plus members get to meet other members. The cost for members: $6, which covers part of the cost of the food. The rest is on the house.

-Declare a member appreciation day. The Alaska Club has one each year on the club's anniversary. Members receive goodies as they enter the club and have the chance to win prizes, which run the gamut from items emblazoned with the club logo to trips.

-Form alliances with local retailers or manufacturers. One of Abdilla's clients holds a member barbecue on Memorial Day and the 4th of July. The client also teamed with a local restaurant that wanted to publicize its business. The restaurant brought chefs and provided the food. "Members loved it, and the restaurant loved it," Abdilla explains.

Abdilla is all for getting on the phone and lining up free things. The game plan: Just say, "We'll promote your business if you'll give us something for our members." For instance, networking with a local florist could provide you with free roses to hand out to female members on Mother's Day. One high-end club networked with a country club, Abdilla reports, and ended up with a free golf day for its members. "The country club did this because it wanted our members to join their club, too," she says.

-Don't overlook the human touch. Wishing a member a happy birthday when he checks in at the front desk or learning the names of people in your class can go a long way towards making members feel special.

-Let members know you're doing something special for them. "It's important not to just throw it out there but to put a sign up that says, "'To show you our appreciation,'" advises Abdilla. "Get the PR mileage out of it without being obnoxious."

-Evaluate the gesture. After every promotions she does, Eastman seeks feedback. "That way if something bombs one year, I can do something different the next year," she says. "If it was very popular, I know to repeat it."


5 Things Every Club Should Do

Obviously, the kinds of things you can do for members will be dictated by your budget. But the fees you charge members should also be considered. "If members are paying $99, it better be gourmet coffee and bagels," points out Brenda Abdilla, professional speaker, club consultant and president of Club Profit Systems. "If you cost $19, store-bought cookies and orange slices."

It's great when you can pull out the stops and run special events or give members freebies. But regardless of whether your budget is tight or the sky's the limit, there are five things every club should be doing to make members feel special on a daily basis.

1. Offer complimentary coffee in the morning. "People who work out before 8 a.m. should absolutely be given free coffee," Abdilla says.

2. Offer locker-room amenities, such as shampoo, soap, lotion and towels. "These are necessities," Abdilla maintains.

3. Emphasize the personal. "If you don't have money, get your butt out on the fitness floor," Abdilla insists. Offer a magazine to someone on the stairclimber or refill water bottles.

4. Offer regular free blood-pressure screenings and skinfold measure- ments. "People love information about themselves," Abdilla maintains.

5. Greet members by name when they check in at the front desk. At the very least, tell them to have a good workout. And say goodbye to members as they leave.