Retention is such an overused word in the fitness industry. Health club operators consider everything from shakes to treadmills to a software program as the answer to improving retention. These items can help, but retention is more than the reliance on things. It is deeper. It is the reliance on programs and your people to make members want to be in your club and excited to return each day. To accomplish this requires creating a culture that breeds a desire for people to stay with us.

Somewhere along the way, I think health club operators missed the point. We did not target enough people in our original membership recruitment efforts. We neglected to put together a plan that would attract the unfit. Instead, we decided that fitness was something to offer only to the fit.

Undoubtedly, health clubs will always be around in one shape or form because some people will always have the desire to use our services. However, that segment of the population has an increasing selection of places to meet their needs—not just other clubs, but also other ways to achieve the results they desire.

Our success at attracting these fit people hinders our progress in bringing unfit people into our clubs. For the most part, health clubs are not the kind of place where unfit people want to be, perhaps partly because the fit member population does not welcome the not-yet-fit new member. This new member is not trained in the methods of the fit. They stand in the wrong place in classes, they do not know how to use machines, and they look awkward.

Fortunately, we can fix this. One way to do so is to redesign the new member integration process so that your staff can help new clients find and try out the programs and services that best meet their needs. We should set up initial interviews to find out what new members really want to achieve and then continue to have these conversations with them as they mature.

It has been said that people know why they should exercise, but they don’t know how to do it. That’s why this is a great place for us to be. We can be the guides that help them determine their needs and desires and help them fulfill those.

Perhaps one of the most important steps is to set up safe places to educate new members about the health club culture. That might include having guidelines that help them learn about the culture, the expected ways of behaving and the best way to use various equipment. We must appoint culture influencers in our clubs who ensure that new members are not intimidated but instead feel like they belong.

The traditional health club model involves selling the member personal training as soon as they join. In a few models, that process works, but members often are subtly trained to avoid asking staff questions for fear the staff will try to sell them something. Perhaps the solution is to hire a new type of employee, a coach who helps new members get started—and does so for free.

Although you may think this suggestion will cost you revenue, it earns you much more. Offering this service makes new members comfortable asking for help, and it brings them into the family more quickly. The added benefit is that personal trainers now will spend their time training members who are ready to train rather than spending time trying to sell training to those who are not ready.

Our industry is one of the few industries with businesses that take a fee for a service and then require that the customer do all the work. We need to be more to more people, and that means changing our perspective about who we are and what we do.

With this new perspective and with new processes, we can have success. You will need to lead the charge yourself and hire or recruit a new breed of employees who are willing and passionate about the change. In many ways, you will need to launch a new business inside of your existing one. You will need to work long and hard and hold all to the new standards. You will need to be the hero, the charismatic leader.

You can be the key to the changes needed in our industry if you will just take the chance and get started today.

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.