Help members stick with their resolutions

How can clubs make the most of the New Year by a) attracting people who want to get in shape and b) keeping them committed once the initial enthusiasm wears off? According to experts, it takes a concerted team effort.

- Dream up your marketing campaign sooner, rather than later. At The Mount Auburn Athletic Club, in Cambridge, Mass., planning starts in the early fall. "We start brainstorming about what sort of approach we're going to take, and planning ads and special promotions," says Kim Clements, group exercise director. "People start thinking about fitness then, even though they may not get around to doing anything until late December or early January. The sooner we connect with people, the sooner they'll make their decision."

- Put your marketing campaign in full swing the week after Christmas. "Prior to that, people are preoccupied with the holidays," says Sandy Franco, owner of Franco's Athletic Club, in New Orleans and Mandeville, La.

While Franco is a big advocate of direct mail, she feels that's not the way to go when people's mailboxes are being flooded with holiday cards. Instead she recommends that you run an advertorial in the local paper or get a fitness story published in the paper about gearing up for Jan. 1 or about weight loss.

At the very least, start to tease people during the week between Christmas and New Year's. "People aren't going to do anything until Jan. 1 arrives, so you need to position yourself and put the thought into their mind that you're available," says Franco. "The optimum is to get something in their hands on Jan. 2."

- Recognize that people who show up at clubs at the start of the New Year are different - and be prepared."They're ready for action," says Franco. "They want change. These aren't people who want an appointment with a trainer in two weeks. They want immediate gratification so you need to serve them right away."

You also need to be aware that many of these people "doubt their commitment," adds Franco. "They've probably done this before but they want to try it one more time." As a result they need more one-on-one attention and follow-up.

To best serve these people, staff up, advises Franco. "Let's be equipped for January," she maintains. "We know they're coming. Why not increase your payroll a bit? In the long run, you come out ahead."

-Offer special New Year's memberships and programs. One year, Franco's club sent out two-week membership cards to nonmembers. People who responded were treated as full members with all the privileges. Each person received a fitness assessment and a consultation with a personal trainer who helped her set realistic goals.

"Hopefully, in two weeks, if certain goals are met, a person will feel pretty good about herself and think, `I can go ahead and be successful at this,'" says Franco. As further incentive, Franco's offered a discounted membership to anyone who joined the club within the two weeks.

Programs with a New Year's peg are also motivational. One year, Franco's ran "12 Days of Fitness." Members received certificates at Christmas time that they were encouraged to give to friends. (Most people redeemed them Jan. 2.)

At Mount Auburn, introductory classes are scheduled for January with the new member in mind. "We want to help people be successful at that first," says Clements. "With these types of programs, they don't get frustrated or embarrassed or injured. We want to help them along so they feel more confident when they go into an ongoing class. It'll be a much more positive experience for them and they're more likely to stick with it."

- Keep in touch. "Our New Year's resolutions need to be held accountable," says Franco. "A new member needs someone to report to. Or she needs someone who will call her. You can end up with such masses of people coming into your club that you lose sight of them. The biggest challenge we have is to develop a team that stays in touch with these people and calls them."

- Keep the member motivated when the first rush of self-improvement wears off. Use technology or other methods to show new members how they are improving. "We use technology to show members they are getting better," Clements says. "That's something black and white that keeps them going."


The Big Six

Why do people flock to health clubs at the start of the New Year? The reasons are as varied as the people themselves. But Sandy Franco, owner of Franco's Athletic Club, and Kim Clements, group exercise director for the Mount Auburn Athletic Club, say these six reasons are cited over and over again.

1. I want to lose weight. "This is the single most common reason people join a club," says Franco. "Go anywhere between Christmas and New Year's and that's all anyone talks about."

2. I want to get into shape. "You may think losing weight and shaping up are one and the same, but they're not," says Franco. "A lot of skinny people want to shape up."

3. I want to make an important lifestyle change. This encompasses quitting smoking, sleeping better and cutting out junk food among others. "A lot of people assess their life in the New Year and seek more of a balance," says Franco. And one resolution can feed into another. For example, a person who wants to quit smoking may also want to start exercising to get in shape.

4. I want to improve my overall health. "Many people, such as seniors, are more concerned with their health," says Franco. "Their physician may have told them to join a health club."

5. I want to reduce stress.

6. I want more time for me. "Sometimes that may mean just coming to a club and lying on the floor and stretching," says Clements.