In the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy, the newcomer to the strange and magical land of Oz, observed, “My, people come and go so quickly around here!” With the start of the New Year, many fitness clubs will operate in a similar universe. The whirlwind of sales that typically hits after the holidays creates an influx of new members eager to adopt healthier habits. Unfortunately, within a few short weeks, many of them are gone with the wind, but with some planning, clubs can increase member satisfaction and improve the odds of retention with these five tips:
1. Make members feel at home. Joining a gym may push new members out of their comfort zones, making them feel self-conscious and vulnerable. You must have enough staff on hand to ensure that new members get the attention they need, which might require you to increase the number of trainers on the fitness floor to provide feedback on form and offer assistance with operating the machines. Make sure there are enough classes on the schedule to meet demand and that changes are communicated well in advance. You may want to have instructors team teach busy classes. Consider creating a seasonal position for a greeter or concierge to welcome members and answer questions. Eliminate anonymity by coaching your team to learn names and interact frequently with members and guests.
2. Show new members the way. The first 30 days of a membership make or break a new member’s experience. Industry research shows that members who come to the club two to three times per week are more likely to stick with their memberships than those who come less frequently. Teach new members how to exercise. This generally requires more than the industry standard of two 30-minute orientation sessions after joining. Then, focus on results. Consider developing an incentive program that promotes regular attendance and encourages members to try different areas of the club and meet key team members. Rewards could include credit towards club services and products or a discount on dues.
3. Minimize confusion. One of the funniest scenes in “The Wizard of Oz” is when Dorothy and her friends approach the Emerald City gate. Excited to gain access, they ring the bell, and an impatient gatekeeper appears. He chastises them for ringing the bell and snottily asks why they couldn’t read the instructions to knock on the door. He insists that the sign is as plain as the nose on his face, when, in fact, there are no such directions on display. Look through the lens of a beginner in your club to uncover unspoken rules or confusing policies. Experience mapping is a useful exercise to identify potential breakdowns in operations and service. Once you recognize possible points of confusion, take steps to minimize the possibility of any miscommunication. Clearly publicize time limits, reservations guidelines and other gym etiquette. Make sure you post plenty of comprehensible signage and that facility maps are well labeled.
4. Ensure your maintenance team is ready. Dorothy was quick with the WD-40 whenever the Tin Man broke down. Is your maintenance team equally responsive? Service your machines before the January rush, and inspect your heating, cooling and electrical systems regularly. Make sure you have procedures in place to quickly identify and resolve issues that may arise with your equipment or physical plant. The only thing worse than a collection of out-of-order signs on a crowded gym floor is a filthy facility. IHRSA’s 2008 “Guide to Health Club Cleanliness” report found that nine out of 10 members who consider their club extremely clean are likely to renew their memberships compared to only five out of 10 members who consider their club to be unclean. Moreover, members who believe that their club is extremely clean are more likely to recommend it to friends and family. Practice good facility hygiene and pay close attention to hot spots, including locker rooms, equipment surfaces, floors and pools. Create a culture of cleanliness, coaching team members to be alert to the “big picture” club environment, such as temperature, lighting and potential hazards. Task all team members with club upkeep, and make it everyone’s responsibility to respond to simple housekeeping needs—for example, picking up dirty towels or straightening equipment.
5. Be visible. Don’t be the invisible man behind the curtain. Members want to see team members—especially managers—walking the floor instead of seated at their desks hiding behind their computers. Club research clearly correlates member retention with personal interaction between members and staff, so make it a priority to build relationships.
With a little preparation and attention to detail, this January’s journey to Oz can be a magical experience for your members. They will be so pleased with your club that they won’t want to click their heels together three times and go home.
Christine Thalwitz, director of communications and research at ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers, Charlottesville, VA, believes that even grumpy Miss Gulch could have been reformed with a first-rate group cycle class and a great club experience. She advocates the use of brains, heart and courage to make fitness a magical journey for club members as they endeavor to keep their New Year’s resolutions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.