Why do members join your club? What are their individual interests, needs and backgrounds? Do any two members have precisely the same interests, income levels, professional backgrounds, educational backgrounds, ethnicity, religious beliefs, political beliefs or design tastes?
We ask these questions because to improve our ability to attract and retain members in the coming decade, we will need a more customized approach than we've had in the past. So how can we adapt our facilities, programs and services in ways that will be more appealing to prospective members? More importantly, how will we be able to evolve to this customized approach without going broke in the process?
The answers lie in taking advantage of emerging trends and technologies that are both economical and readily available.
1. Take advantage of the heightened attention on health care and prevention by becoming the trusted source for health and wellness information in your community. Someone on your staff or someone affiliated with your club should have the expertise and credentials to disseminate the latest heath and wellness educational information in laymen's terms so your members see the club as the experts. Pay careful attention to which topics seem to receive the greatest member response and provide more on these topics. Use member feedback to create new, paid programs and services.
2. Stop trying to force your members and prospective members into programs, services and rate packages for the masses. Instead, develop structures and systems that allow for individualized packages. Use technology to assess member needs and wants, as well as track usage, so that members feel they are being charged more appropriately for the benefits they receive from the club.
3. Communicate with your members in ways that work best for them, whether via e-mail, phone, Web site, texting, Facebook, Twitter, in person, etc. Imagine how many more dollars in sales you would have earned in the past year had all of your members received the appropriate messages at the appropriate times. This level of targeted communication will require staff dedicated to this vital part of your business.
4. Set up your staffing structure in ways that permit health, fitness and wellness professionals to easily work for the benefit of your club without restricting them to an exclusive agreement. If you make it easier for the “pied pipers” in your geographic area to do business with you, they will each bring a following to your club. Note that you will need to be prepared to compensate them fairly or lose them to your competition.
5. Make every visit feel special to each member by using methods similar to those used by the luxury hospitality industry. Hotels call this a “guest history.” They keep records on each guest pertaining to their specific interests in room type, amenities, level of service, etc. Then, each time they visit, the staff is prepared to provide them with customized service. Imagine your members' reactions when they show up and the staff recognizes them by name, escorts them to their favorite class or workout area, provides them their preferred towel or drink, etc.
6. To create “raving fans” and attract new members, recognize and reward those among your staff and members who help the club grow its revenues. The best way to attract more business is to ensure that those who contribute feel appreciated.
7. Track individual goals and results for each member. New technology allows any club to track each member's personal wellness goals and results. Members and prospective members are becoming increasingly aware of the need to monitor their own health metrics, and savvy club operators will find ways to make this easier and more user-friendly.
8. Understand that a health club or fitness center is first and foremost a social center. People can exercise on their own or at home without the need for our facilities. What attracts them to a health club or fitness center is the interaction with other people, both staff and members. Starbucks sells coffee, but that is not why people go out of their way to pay excessive amounts for a cup of java. We must find creative ways to make our facilities more social. Fitness and exercise may be the core product, but it will not be enough to attract the ever more sophisticated consumer.
Herb Lipsman is president and CEO of The Health Club Co. (www.thehealthclubcompany.com), a firm specializing in consulting and management services for the design, development and operation of upscale sports clubs, fitness centers and spas.