Chanda Fetter is the group ex director for the Santa Barbara region of the Spectrum Health Clubs. Contact her at cfetter@spectrumclubs.com.

Creating the perfect class schedule is an ultimate challenge for managers and directors. This is one area of your club that will be in a constant state of change. Hopefully these tips, many of which I’ve learned the hard way, will help you to bring more members into your clubs and keep your retention levels high.

How often should it change? Our club revises its schedule quarterly and divides it into four themes—winter, spring, summer and fall. Using this method allows the membership base enough consistency that patterns of traffic can begin to form. If you put too much time in between schedule launches, then you limit your ability to make the necessary class changes, but if you don’t allow enough time, you create a lack of consistency that challenges the member as well as the instructors.
Although we launch four schedules a year, the saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” really does hold true in our case. When we revise the schedules, we make the necessary changes to either maintain or create new traffic patterns. At times, this warrants more changes than others.

Analyze the components. The three components to putting a schedule together are class type, class time and class instructor. When making changes to any of these elements, only make one change at a time. For instance, if 5:30 p.m. is a great time for a class in your club, but no one is coming to the scheduled class, try introducing a different instructor. If you still don’t see the desired traffic by the time you make your next revision, try a different type of class. At that point if you’re still unsuccessful, take a look at the time you are offering the class. By maybe moving the class time just 15 minutes, you could solve your problem. If you try changing too many components at one time, you’ll never know the actual reason the class never worked. It’s important to understand the trends that exist in the culture of your club. Although it can be a slow process, gradual changes are the only way to produce an effective and popular class schedule.

How long do you let a timeslot suffer? Through much trial and error, I have created the following system. When I am trying out a new timeslot or class, I typically give it two schedules to survive (six months). Members tend to take several months to find what’s new, and then they need the appropriate time to try it before you decide to take it away. During these six months, you have the opportunity to change out instructors if necessary, but again, you need to allow enough time for each instructor to find success. If your original pick doesn’t pull them in, cut bait and try someone else. If the second instructor doesn’t pull them in, cut the class and bring in something else on your next scheduled revision.

Survey your members. Save yourself a lot of headaches by asking the members what they want. Take a look at your instructors’ time availability and the types of classes they can teach well. Put together some options for your members and ask them what they would prefer. Getting the members on your side is extremely valuable and will limit the amount of complaint calls you have to deal with later. Be very clear however, and provide them with options to choose from. Don’t ask open-ended questions such as, “Would you prefer a Spin class at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays?” Remember that whatever you offer them, you should be prepared to follow through on. If you don’t have an instructor available for the class you’d like to offer, don’t even bother asking their opinion. Only ask for what you can give.

Specialty classes. Specialty classes are a great way to re-introduce the fun factor into your club. You can run them mid-schedule, weekly or any other frequency. You may even go so far as to charge them to produce a little revenue that can be put back into the program or even fund an appreciation party for your staff. If you’re lacking male participation, find someone to do karate, a boot camp or fencing. The possibilities are endless.

Class scheduling is a love-hate task. However, it is the one area in your club where you have the most power, control and ability to drive people into (or out of) your clubs. This service provides members a place to get healthy, have fun, make friends, stay consistent and really change they way they their bodies look and feel. Try to have fun with it. The rewards are more amazing than you could imagine--for both the members and your club.