For many years, health club operators have driven their businesses by focusing on new membership sales.

Unfortunately, once those operators get those new members through the doors, the mistakes begin.

The problem is two-fold. First, many club operators have decided that once people join their club, they must be sold a personal training package. Second, no one in the industry has been successful at educating the public about the difference between a health club and a gym. These two issues actually relate to create a retention problem.

Selling personal training sessions to members is a great goal. Personal training is a sure way to increase retention, create additional revenue for the club and improve the results of the participating members. But the way trainers approach getting new clients may actually push the majority of new members away from the type of assistance they need to be successful. Many clubs still practice the concept of getting members to join, offering an orientation with a trainer who tries to sell them personal training, and if the new members do not purchase a package, the trainer simply wishes them luck and hopes they are successful.

The numbers reveal that this is a short-sighted approach. On average, if 100 people join your club, about seven to 10 of them will buy a personal training package right away. Even if you triple that number and get 30 people to buy a package, what is the likelihood that all 30 will continue with personal training year after year? Typically, 30 percent to 40 percent will do so, which would equate to 10 to 12 people. As great as that number is, it would be better if all 100 people remained members for many years. To accomplish that, the industry needs a methodology to get them engaged and successful at your club.

One thing that can help is for club operators to teach their personal trainers to be coaches rather than trainers. The difference, simply put, is that trainers exist for the minority; coaches exist for the majority. This business has become a lot more difficult than it was in the beginning as people have become inundated with choices to fulfill their wellness goals. This means that it has become harder to pry dollars from club members, even if they are stretching out their hands for help. It is rare to find a club that will offer that assistance without making members pay for it. To me, that is like refusing a life preserver to a drowning person until they pay for it.

The other part of the problem is that the industry has done a poor job of differentiating between a health club, which has a higher price and higher level of service, and a gym, which offers lower prices and little to no service. We also have not done well at communicating that difference to the public. Club owners who want to charge more must provide more value to differentiate their clubs from lower-priced facilities. One way to do this is by offering a coaching concept in addition to a personal training concept.

Personal trainers perform a valuable, profitable and needed service in our businesses. The problem is that they are there to sell themselves and their expertise, which causes them to ignore the needs of any members who do not purchase training packages. It is hard to blame them, especially those new and up-and-coming personal trainers who typically are the ones offering the new member orientations. These trainers are keen to build their clientele as quickly as possible and in the most effective way possible, so they meet as many people as possible and offer their sample services to them. When they realize that these new members are not likely candidates, their interest wanes and, additionally, so does the attention that these new members will receive.

Our businesses can no longer afford to follow this model. Offering a coaching concept can help you maximize the value of your facility by showing that it is dedicated to assisting, encouraging and engaging new members. The coaches will recommend group exercise classes, programs and even personal training at the appropriate time in the membership cycle, but they should not have a stake in the sale of personal training sessions. Instead, their goal—and your club’s—should be retention and long-term engagement for all members.

Thomas Kulp is the chief motivational officer at Universal Athletic Club in Lancaster, PA, and CEO of Fitness Club Consultants. He also is president of Mid-Atlantic Club Management Association. He can be reached at 717-799-5155 or Tom@universalathleticclub.com.