Fitness facility operators and staff spend countless hours, an enormous amount of energy and a tidy sum attracting new members.
But for clubs with high attrition rates, it could begin to feel like you are continually on that hamster wheel of new member sales, feverishly trying to replace exiting members.
Most operators know that having top-notch on-boarding practices, a well-managed business, a clean facility, and personable and knowledgeable staff members are keys to retaining members, but too few operators may be using all the tools at their disposal to recognize members who are about to leave. And that means they are not employing tactics that could help re-engage and retain those members.
To improve retention rates, the first step is to identify members who may be at risk of bolting. The most obvious sign is someone who has stopped paying dues, but a second obvious sign is someone whose usage rate has dropped.
A club's software system should be the main source for determining check-ins.
For example, Motionsoft, Rockville, MD, has a data warehouse that uses up to 10 indicators and a complex algorithm to predict which members are trending toward quitting, says Al Noshirvani, CEO of Motionsoft.
ABC Financial, North Little Rock, AR, also offers a reporting system that allows club owners to configure reports that can be auto-emailed to them or staff members that show check-in history, frequency of club usage and club activities, says Steve Ayers, chief revenue officer at the company.
Club operators who use software to track members' participation rates in programs and classes have an added advantage of tracking reduction in members' participation in these activities, which also is a sign they may be ready to quit.
"Our benchmarking studies have shown that if we can get our members to participate in more than two programs/departments with the JCC (Jewish Community Center), the likelihood of retaining members is around 90 percent," notes Steven Becker, vice president of health and wellness services for the JCC Association, New York. "We encourage JCCs to educate members in the wide variety of program options, such as early-childhood, cultural arts, social events, camping and social action programs, available to them."
Once you have identified at-risk members, you need to contact them to find out why they have been absent. Their absence, declining check-in numbers or low class participation may be occurring because they have been discouraged by a lack of progress on reaching their fitness goals or because they are bored with your offerings.
Of course, their absences may have to do with something outside your club, such as illness, a busy work schedule or traveling. For that reason, when you reach out to declining-usage members, you want to tread carefully and retain a positive spin. But do not let that stop you from reaching out, as doing so shows that your staff noticed that member's absence and that you care.
If club operators choose to reach out by email, they can do so on their own, or they can use companies such as Retention Management, which provides email (as well as social media branding) communications services to about 800 client clubs.
Richard Ekstrom, president of Retention Management, recommends reaching out by phone or email to members who have not visited your facility in two consecutive weeks.
Retention Management can send that member an email, branded to the club, to "softly and clearly reach out," he says. The email may offer a health or nutrition tip and a note that invites the member back to the facility—just a friendly and unobtrusive reminder that the club is there for the member and is concerned enough to offer some advice.
One client club, Franciscan Omni Health & Fitness, with health clubs in Schererville, IN, and Chesterton, IN, has given Retention Management parameters to watch for in its usage reports. For example, at-risk members are sent emails about upcoming club events and messages about the importance of staying active.
"They're positive messages that help us stay in contact and encourage members to keep physical activity a priority in their lives," says Sharon Sporman, regional executive director of wellness for the clubs.
The Schererville facility, which has about 9,000 members, has a retention rate of 67 percent, while the Chesterton club, with 3,000 members, enjoys 70 percent retention.
Once a member has been absent for four consecutive weeks, Ekstrom recommends re-engaging by sending a "recovery message." In this email, a compelling offer, such as a free smoothie, free guest pass, an offer for reorientation to the club or a complimentary personal training session, often is proffered. The latter, says Ekstrom, is by far the most popular option among members.
"We can craft any offer the club operator wants; it's completely customizable," he says. "We have a 'recovery message' template, and club operators can change what they like and make their own offers. It's all automated, and yet it shows the member the club has noticed their absence and is concerned. You really have only a very small window to reach an at-risk member, so these communications are designed to capitalize on that."
Even with these efforts, members sometimes still do not renew. If that happens, club operators should reach out to find out why they left. If many departing members say that they just did not have time to work out, it could be a club's cue that they should start offering half-hour exercise classes or personal training sessions, says Carole Oat, national sales manager for Twin Oaks Software, Berlin, CT.
"It's hard for some people to commit to hour-long programs," Oat says.
For departing members you are unable to contact, check their recent fitness and wellness evaluations to see if you can find any clues for their departures.
"The vast majority of members are in a club because of a physical goal they have," says Andy Graham, a consultant with NEXT Fitness. "If you're not helping them achieve the results that are most important to them, why should they stay? All things being equal, results drive retention."