Keep your members happy and coming back for more

Here's a pop quiz for you.

The main purpose of playing promotional/fitness games at your club is:

a. to generate some additional revenue
b. to give staff something extra to do
c. to add fun to your members' workouts
d. all of the above

If you answered "a," I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but most promotional games just break even. If you answered "b," I feel sorry for your staff. If you answered "c," pat yourself on the back, because you are correct. (Sorry, no prizes, but feel free to read on!)

"The purpose of promotional games “is definitely keeping a fun and motivational atmosphere in the club," exclaims Julia Wheatley, owner of Women's Fitness Center in Harrisonburg, Va. "It's about keeping them committed to coming through the door and giving them extra incentive to come through the door."

While just about everyone likes to play games, finding what works at your facility is itself a game of hit and miss. Here are some tips on how to create some successful fun in your club.

  • Keep it fair. Make sure your game is something everyone can play. If it is fitness-based only, then the elite athletes at your facility will typically win every time. If this happens, your other members will lose interest.

    To give everyone a chance, Wheatley makes most of her games team-based. Her staff works hard to balance the teams with elite athletes, new exercisers, young and old.

    Although team members don't need to work out together, their points are added up. However, to keep things balanced, Wheatley does put certain caps on points.

    "We [limit the number of] points you can earn in a week because people were obsessing and overtraining and this is something we don't promote," she notes. "We are excited that people are enthusiastic, but we don't want them to injure themselves."

  • Add in a little bit of everything. Since most games are won by achieving points, give points for everything cardio, weight training, referrals, etc.

    "I look at it as the more involved your members are, the more they'll stay," says Doreen Savran, general manager of The Club, a member of The Fitness Company, in New Milford, Conn. "[A game] is a big retention tool and gets them used to taking [different] programming. We try to get every aspect of the club involved in the games [when we can]."

    Within the past several years, Wheatley has added an educational component to her games. For example, members can get bonus points by filling out a survey on subjects such as sleeping habits, bone-density knowledge, etc. They can also get extra points for trying out “the exercise of the week.” These are exercises that members don't often do, such as squats on the Smith machine, the rower, etc.

  • Plan ahead. Games that are the most fun for members are the ones that are well-thought out. If members don't understand the rules or have to keep asking questions, they will get frustrated and bored, and drop out of the game.

    "I can't emphasize enough how important it is…to do the planning and really be organized," Savran says. "Meet with your team to figure out how to [play the game] and who is going to do what. Troubleshoot, play it yourself to work out all the bugs. If you aren't organized and don't market it correctly, then it will be a flop, which is a huge waste of your time, effort and money."

  • Prizes, prizes and more prizes. Let's face it, everyone likes to get prizes. It's why most people play the games. And if you don't give some kind of prize to every participant, people may feel discouraged that they didn't win something. (See "Inexpensive Prizes" sidebar for suggestions.)

    If you aren't interested in giving participation gifts, you can create your game to have different levels and give a different prize for each level accomplished, suggests Savran. "It's important to have more than one winner," she says. "When you have different levels, “it's like competing against yourself." What better motivation is there than that?

    For the bigger prizes, you can look in your own neighborhood. Nearby businesses may happily provide prizes as long as you publicize the donation.

    Hank Boerner, wellness center director for North Mississippi Medical Centers in Tupelo, Miss., notes he gets a lot of support from the community. Local businesses and organizations donate gift certificates for dinners and movies, gift baskets, etc. For example, any father who came in on June 15 (the Friday before Father's Day) was registered for a gift basket that had a handheld portable drill, a massage coupon, a T-shirt, shorts, a hat and more prizes made possible through donations.

  • Get a theme. Women's Fitness Center gives many of its games a theme. Wheatley has tied games in with seasons, holidays and sporting events (e.g., March Madness, the Olympics, etc.).

    Other games have gotten their inspiration from board games. For example, during a Clue-type game, members had to solve the murder of “Wendy Workout.” The club displayed a game board that featured pictures of rooms in the club (e.g., the group exercise room, the locker room, etc.). These rooms became the potential scenes of the crime. The murder suspects were the club's fitness counselors, who had their pictures taken holding various “weapons” (e.g., resistance bands, weight plates). By participating in various activities, members earned the ability to move around the game board and guess the killer, the murder weapon and the scene of the crime.

  • Keep members updated. Members love to see their progress, so it's important to have some kind of big, colorful visual (a bulletin board, for example) displayed in your club. In addition, the display works as a great marketing tool because members are constantly walking by and checking it out.

    Your club staff can also keep members informed. For example, Wheatley who, as previously stated, makes most of her games team-oriented assigns a staff member to each team to act as a coach. The coach updates the team members on their standing and tells them how they can earn extra points. This interaction not only lets members know how they are doing, it psyches them up to try harder.

  • Get the word out. As previously mentioned, a visible display can market the game while keeping current players updated. However, clubs should be more proactive. Wheatley, for example, sends her members messages about the games via the club's interactive fitness system. She also plugs the game in the club's e-newsletter, and creates fun visuals for her bulletin boards.

    "When we did the Eiffel Tower game, we built a 3-D Eiffel Tower puzzle that caught people's attention," Wheatley notes. "You have to be clever and creative…the sky's the limit, especially if you have a theme."

    Savran agrees. When promoting Fitness Trails (a fitness game similar to Chutes and Ladders), she used the tag line "Get Your Tail On the Trail" in all of her marketing. She sent out postcards to every member. She had tails hanging from the rafters. She had signs in the lobby. And on the day the game kicked off, she stood at the door and personally signed up 100 members.

    You don't need to limit your marketing to current members. In addition to promoting upcoming games through a quarterly newsletter and Web site, Boerner publicizes all of the events in an ad every Sunday in the local paper.

  • Keep it short and sweet. Limit games to four to six weeks in length. "If you stretch it out too long, people will lose interest," Boerner explains. "I've tried six-month games and people just lose interest."

  • Don't overload your members. It's important to keep your games balanced throughout the year. If you run too many games, your members could grow tired of them, especially if you don't come up with new ones. Furthermore, if you offer too many games, you won't be able to keep them all organized.

  • Add the element of surprise. While the big promotional games are a lot of fun, Boerner likes to keep his members on their toes by throwing in surprise activities. "Not all of our games and activities are fitness-intensive," he notes. "You don't have to be physically fit to participate and win."

    For example, during the Great American Smoke Out, Boerner set up a table with literature on the dangers of smoking and a pile of cigarettes. Members were invited to throw a cigarette; the member whose cigarette went the furthest distance won a prize.

  • Decide whether to charge. A game requires an investment of time and creativity. So should clubs expect a fee in return? Boerner doesn't think so.

  • "You can use almost anything as a profit center, but I recommend [that promotional games] be used as retention tools to get members involved in the facility and keep them active," he says.

    “In a roundabout way, it is a profit center because you are getting your money on the back end by improving your retention rate.”

    While Wheatley, Savran and Boerner all charge a $5 registration fee for their bigger games, it is only to cover the cost of the prizes. And according to all three, even getting $5 at times is tough.

    "I tried once to make [games] into a profit center and people didn't like it," says Savran. "People were resentful, because they were already paying a membership fee. [We look at it as] the games are a service to our members."


Inexpensive Prizes

  • T-shirt

  • Water bottle

  • Mug

  • Gym bag

  • Coupon for personal training

  • Massage coupon

  • Tanning coupon

  • Free drink at the juice bar

  • Free nutrition bar

  • Movie tickets