These days, club owners employ many innovative strategies for retaining members. Member loyalty programs, incentives and extras can be effective components of a comprehensive member retention plan, but commitment to your members’ fitness is critical for your club’s success.

The primary reason members join your gym is to become fit and healthy. What keeps them at your club is success. Therefore, the foundation of a winning member retention program is helping members reach their goals. To do so, they need instruction, motivation and results in a positive environment. If you do not fulfill these basic needs, your club’s retention rate will suffer no matter how attractive the facility appears.

The most important link in the chain of success is your team. You must build a team of knowledgeable, service-oriented professionals. These days, with the number of qualified, degreed and certified trainers seeking jobs in our industry, it is unthinkable that club operators would hire anyone who does not meet basic national certification standards. Although you should hire on personality, it should not be at the expense of expertise. Club owners must find an appropriate balance of general fitness instructors and specialists who can serve the “apparently healthy” population and populations with specific medical needs. The integration of the medical and fitness communities is the future of our industry. The ability to instruct individuals at all ages and stages of life, regardless of health status, is the ultimate member retention tool.

Once you are confident that your team has the necessary education, you must focus their attention on delivering fitness services. All employees should undergo extensive company-specific training, ideally beforestepping out on their own to interact with your customers. ACAC employees undergo a launch program that acquaints them with every department and teaches them our member care commandments. These include the 2:1 rule for great member relations (ratio of ears to mouth and thus listening to speaking), the steps to a professional greeting (smile, eye contact and conversation) and the can-do attitude (never falling back on “no” or “I don’t know”).

For a new member, interaction with your club’s physical environment is as important as contact with your team, so ensure your club is beginner-friendly. ACAC offers several opportunities for new members to acclimate and successfully integrate into the facility. In addition to initial assessments, orientations and trainings, ACAC’s HealthQuest program provides members with ongoing support and supervision every time they work out. On their first visit to HealthQuest, members receive instruction for an individualized workout program that is recorded and filed for subsequent visits. What makes HealthQuest different is that this user-friendly circuit is staffed by fitness professionals who not only supervise form and provide corrective feedback, but they also set and adjust each machine for members at every visit. Adjacent lounge seating gives members the chance to stop and rest, socialize with other members or talk informally with team members.

By easing their equipment anxiety, providing instructional feedback and building relationships, you will help club members who are new to exercise feel confident and cared about as they develop exercise habits.

It is also important to celebrate your members’ achievements. For some members, that may mean sending handwritten notes of congratulations. For others, public recognition is motivating and rewarding. At ACAC, we have a wall of “My ACAC” testimonials. It includes members’ pictures and success stories. The wall provides positive reinforcement to the celebrating member while inspiring others to continue working toward their goals.

Fostering individual success and creating meaningful relationships are keys to long-term member retention. To provide the best experience possible for your members, re-focus your fitness efforts by hiring skilled professionals, building a service-oriented company culture, creating a beginner-friendly environment and being a results-oriented fitness and wellness provider. Following these basic guidelines, ACAC’s membership base has grown from 3,000 to 17,000 members in 12 years, and revenue has increased by 500 percent.

BIO

Phil Wendel is founder of ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers, Charlottesville, VA. the company's four facilities have an annualized attrition of 25 percent. Christine Thalwitz, ACAC's director of communications, contributed to this column.