The New Year has brought in a rush of members — both old and new — but now that you have these members, what are you doing to make sure that they are still with you in three, six and 12 or more months from now?

Are you doing anything different this year to successfully connect with your members? Do you have a mechanism, a system of programming in place that is designed to connect with not only the new members but the returning old members as well? Have you identified “who” or “what” group in your organization is responsible for “connecting” with and “tracking” the success of your membership base? Are you really ready to plug the gap in the back-end where new members, who are not connecting with your club, are escaping and dropping out?

The Mercy Healthplex (aka The Plex), a 140,000-square-foot, for-profit, hospital-founded, multiservice fitness facility in the Cincinnati marketplace, has just redefined its membership retention strategy.

Under the direction of Laurie Cingle, The Plex has identified its fitness team as the focal point for membership management and retention. Within 10 minutes of executing a membership contract, the new member is handed off to the membership management team. This team consists of the fitness staff (personal trainers and group exercise instructors) whose new role is to successfully manage the experience level of each new member.

The fitness team is the gatekeeper that directs and guides each member through the programming maze at The Plex. The gatekeeper function is not arbitrary; it is a deliberate and calculated process that is driven by the information collected from the member's goal-setting appointment. This data ensures that The Plex connects each member with the programming options that will help them reach their individual goals.

Because of the critical nature of this process and the costs associated with a high attrition rate, the team members are not your ordinary fitness professionals. The selection process at The Plex has identified qualities that these team members must display to make the team. The employee that conducts the goal-setting appointment becomes the go-to person for the member.

All things being equal, the team members are held accountable to follow-up with these members until they have been integrated into The Plex. The success of this process is managed by the program director. The reduction of the member attrition rate is the success barometer and can help the club's retention rate by placing a priority on programming.

Bob Esquerre is a program design specialist, a business planner, master trainer and program developer for Reebok University. He is also the owner of the Esquerre Fitness Group International and a personal trainer.

Program for success starts with your staff in the following roles:

  • New/Current Member Goal-Setting Program (GSP)
  • “Gate-Keeping” Management
  • Personalized Fitness Assessments (PFAs)
  • Equipment Orientations
  • Program Design Development
  • Personal Training (One-on-One)
  • Personal Training (Small Groups)
  • Group Exercise Classes
  • Membership Fitness, Health & Wellness Lectures