The busiest time of the year is coming to an end. We look forward to the wonderful numbers of new members that we get in January. We not only got a ton of new members, but it was easy to sell them. The majority of people were acting on the New Year resolutions of more exercise and better nutrition. The real world, however, tells us that no matter how much the member needs and wants a healthier lifestyle, most members will quit before they get started. And for those January members who did begin to exercise will most likely quit before April 1. So the real work begins now. It costs your club six times more to get a new member than to keep one so let's look at 10 keys to retention.

  1. Communication

    It's time to personally contact every new member that joined your club as of Jan. 1. A reminder post card is good. An e-mail may be read, but a sincere phone call is best. Knowing that many of those members haven't been to the club at all, a personal invitation to a specific event at a specific time will be the most effective form of communication. People who are intimidated or inexperienced will probably not come in without it.

  2. Responsibility

    Just because you called and invited the member to a program or event, don't think your work is done. Professional communication includes following up on your invitation. Instead of an R.S.V.P. from your member, your responsibility is to call the member back and confirm his or her commitment. A confirmation call 12 to 24 hours in advance of the program you invited them to is necessary to ensure participation and avoid a no-show.

  3. Recognition

    It's imperative that you give personal recognition to every new member that participates in a program or activity. Recognition can be noted for achievement by giving an award, a ribbon or a trophy, but recognition can be given for many other reasons that are far more important to the new member or beginner. Giving a compliment, taking a picture or extending a handshake can be just as effective. The most important thing to remember about recognition is that it must be given by the leader and in front of the member's peers.

  4. Sociability

    When people join a club they want to be with other people like themselves. When you get people in a group situation they are more likely to enjoy themselves, have more fun, meet others like themselves and form friendships. Most members join clubs for fitness, but they stay for fun. Sociability is a major key to retention.

  5. Commitment

    The member must have a commitment to something. That commitment could be to the leader, to the other members of the group or to the activity, but most important, it must be to a schedule or a time frame. Retention occurs when the member puts your club into their lifestyle — coming to the club at the same time on the same day every week.

  6. Diversification

    Members must have new challenges and new goals, therefore, cross training or diversification is another key to retention. Whether it is a new program or a higher level of achievement in the same program, every member must experience a sense of accomplishment, get recognized for it, and then be invited to another phase of fitness.

  7. Progression

    There should be a logical progression to a programming agenda so that every member can proceed and advance with confidence. For example, programs designed for retention must include an introductory phase, an instructional phase and an improvement phase to keep members active and happy.

  8. Reliability

    Set a precedence of consistency. All programs should have a schedule that offers all phases of progression in a reasonable order. For example, if an introductory class is offered on a Tuesday morning and an intermediate class is offered on a Wednesday, the schedule should remain consistent so that every member can plan ahead. Constantly changing program times confuses a member.

  9. Promotion

    A member is not considered a retained member until he or she is using your club every week consistently for a full year. Professional promotion starts with a calendar of events that can be posted at the beginning of the year and offers activities that will remain reliable and consistent till the end of the year.

  10. Accountability

    Every program must have a leader that is held accountable for all 10 keys of retention — from communication to diversification. That means that someone on your staff must be held accountable for every member that joined your club in January. They all joined for a reason. They needed and wanted a more healthy lifestyle. Did you make sure they got it?

Sandy Coffman is president of Programming for Profit, a presentation, training and consulting firm specializing in customer service, retention and programming. She can be reached at slcoffman@aol.com.