An IHRSA research study determined that the top two personal reasons why members leave their health club are: one, not making use of their membership; and two, losing motivation and interest in fitness at the club.

Sound familiar?

Let's face it, members can achieve sufficient workouts at home for much less than the monthly cost of a membership. So why do they come to health clubs? Members join to receive face-to-face instruction and to meet new friends.

The truth of the matter is your members at some time will question the value of their memberships. Unless you create a system to support members, praise them and appreciate them, they will often cancel their membership after their first six months.

How can you show your appreciation?

Throw a party.

In a world of computer screens, a party provides much needed socialization. A party fosters the atmosphere for building staff-member relationships and member-member relationships, which are vital to ensuring lifelong members.

To throw a successful party, you must first formally invite members. Send them an email to let them know that the party is coming up. Complement the email with proper signage in the facility, promoting the party. The staff should follow up the email and signage by reinforcing the party information to members.

You can also get employees involved in the party promotion by creating a committee of staff from different departments to organize the event. Use the committee to educate the remaining staff about the importance of the party and confirm staff's attendance.

If you want a big turnout, allow members to come with a guest. Members are more likely to attend a party if they can bring a spouse or friend. Plus, inviting guests gives you an opportunity to use the most inexpensive form of marketing: member referral.

A successful, well-attended party must include entertainment, prizes and food, all of which lure members and staff to events. If your budget won't allow for these details, try trading with members, who can provide services (e.g., food) in exchange for a free month of dues. Similarly, you can trade with local businesses through a barter association. Companies participating in the association will list services that they are willing to trade. If you request something from one of the participating companies, the service provider receives a credit for the cost as part of the trade.

Member appreciation parties must be fun and benefit the club. The following are examples of successful member appreciation parties:

Six-Month Retention Party

When members join the facility, they meet with fitness professionals and establish goals. After six months, the members are invited to a graduation party to celebrate their achievements. At the graduation party, the goals are revisited.

It is important that your personal trainers be available to help discuss the current established goals and provide avenues to achieve new goals.

Anniversary Party

Throw an anniversary party annually to thank the members for being part of the club's growth. For the entire month of the anniversary, you can offer a free month of dues to every member who refers another member. You can increase participation by giving an opportunity to win a larger prize to the members who refer more than three people. If you have a basketball court, give each finalist three attempts to hit a full court shot. If they make the shot, they win the larger prize.

Workout Party

Schedule an evening event of high energy and dance. Bring in a disc jockey and turn the open space in the fitness area into a dance floor. Offer special group exercise classes on the floor. Invite vendors and neighborhood businesses to provide product sampling and prizes. Decorate the floor and equipment with balloons.

Birthday Celebrations

At the beginning of each month, send a birthday postcard to all members who will celebrate a birthday. The members can redeem the birthday postcard for a smoothie at the juice bar or an item in the pro shop.

Parties play an important role in the socialization of all members. Parties are enjoyable and show members we appreciate their business.

Our role as fitness professionals is to encourage fitness while having fun in the process. Remember, a member won't think twice about leaving a business, but a member will not leave a friendship. Host parties in your health club and form the friendship that builds loyal membership.

Scott Lewandowski is the director of health and fitness for Union Station Multiplex, Chicago, and an ACE Advisory Board Member. He is the 2001 IHRSA/ACE Fitness Director of the Year and can be reached at sl@fitnessformula.com.

Party Time!

Essentials of a party

  • Staff
  • Friends
  • Entertainment
  • Food
  • Prizes
  • Benefits of the party

  • Motivates members
  • Creates a sense of belonging
  • Establishes staff-member and member-member relationships
  • Promotes programs