During my 20-year career, I have watched this industry from the outside but also from the trenches. I have watched the evolution from infancy to where we exist now and noticed that most health clubs are still facing the same challenges they've been experiencing for decades.
Most clubs mainly function as equipment rental facilities. Some are flashier and cost more than others, but, fundamentally, they exist to rent members their space and equipment. It may not be what is promised and it may not be the intention of the business, but this is what happens.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why the sales quota gets achieved month after month, yet usage remains static? It is because the people who purchase the membership in hopes of achieving their goals never do that. This is not a complete indictment of the facility, as each member has a personal responsibility to be dedicated and use the resources available to them for their fitness purposes. However, to this day, facility marketing often centers on weight loss and body transformational changes but only provide members with equipment. Maybe in your facility you offer to teach people to use some of this equipment in an orientation and maybe you offer personal training, but how many people join, show up for a while, then never come back, forcing the business model to focus on replacing the missing clients with new ones?
Ultimately, you do not have a sales problem. You have a retention problem. Retention is achieved by the combination of building relationships with your members and giving them the tools, teaching them the skills and providing the support to allow them to be successful in achieving their goals. Basically, your members need to know that you actually care about them and that you can and do help them.
Most members join your facility with the goal of losing weight. Your facility is simply the vehicle that they believe will aid them in attaining the goal. But what happens three months after members join when they have gone through their initial and free personal training sessions, they are bored with their workout, and they are not achieving the results they expected when they joined? They probably have not developed a warm relationship with the club or staff, and they have either decreased the frequency of their visits or ceased coming altogether. Where many fitness studios get it right is providing fantastic and complete fitness services. Additionally, some studios specialize in providing weight control education through nutrition coaching and personalized support.
With the ever-growing amount of competition in the fitness arena, the consistent failures of the individual to achieve the results they seek and the nonstop bombardment of marketing promises they receive (through radio, TV, billboards and social media), the member is left frustrated, confused and searching for another new solution. What they are doing is viewing your club as a failure and looking for another solution. Maybe they realize they need to exercise so they view the low-cost competitor, or they try a big-box solution, or they join a weight loss or diet program, or they move onto the next "or."
You have lost this member. They may still be paying you for the membership, but when their contract expires, they will move on, if they have not already.
To evaluate where your club might be going off track, ask yourself the following questions about members and the solutions that you provide to them:
- Why has this member joined? What are they looking to accomplish?
- Have we laid out a plan in which they will be successful or have we left it up to them?
- Do we have the tools and resources in place for them (including nutritional support, products, educational materials and support) to be successful?
- Have we created a viable, economic solution for them so they will not seek out other methods beyond our club?
- Are we one-stop shopping for all of their fitness and weight control needs?
- If we do in fact have these tools and systems in place, then why do my members consistently leave?
It all starts with delivering on your promises and delivering on the reason that they joined. For more information about how to improve retention in your facility and avoid common mistakes, attend my session, "What Now? The Sale Was the Easy Part," from 8:45 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24, at the Club Industry Conference and Exposition.
Robert DeVito is the president of Innovation Fitness Solutions, which provides proprietary fitness and weight management programming and staff education and offers health club business consulting. He has served the fitness industry in various capacities for 20 years, has certified more than 10,000 fitness professionals and consulted with more than 200 health clubs.