By Jarrod Saracco
April 10, 2006

Jarrod Saracco, MES, PRCS, NASM-OPT, has served as a personal trainer, fitness director, executive level manager and even as owner. His practical experience in the trenches gives him a unique perspective and outlook on issues both inside and outside the club. He now serves as an industry consultant and is known as the Health Club Doctor. He is available for phone, Web or on-site consultations. For more information about Jarrod or his services, please visit http://www.healthclubdoctor.com

Every year millions of people around the world suffer from symptoms of the common cold: sniffling, sneezing, stuffy head, fever, headache, body aches and so on. What happens? They run for the nearest OTC: DayQuil, NyQuil, Sudafed or maybe they try herbal remedies of some sort. They continue to go to work, school, or play despite knowing that all they should do is just rest. Well the same is true of our beloved fitness industry. Each year thousands of clubs look forward to a blitz of new members, only to quickly catch what I like to call a “cold.” What’s that? It’s the common mistake club owners and managers make every year—newmemberitis. They bank on new members to establish revenues and cash flow for continued success. They experience the stress every month thereafter of selling new memberships by the truckload. They’re miserable if goals aren’t met; the sales team is miserable because they aren’t making any money, and the whole club catches the cold.

I literally get sick thinking about how this normal routine basically destroys club chemistry and the potential to capitalize on new memberships. So, I’m going to briefly highlight a few simple rules to help your club avoid catching “cold” this year.

Preventive Medicine. Washing our hands regularly, eating right, taking vitamins and exercising all help us avoid getting sick each year. Try it for your business now. Break the cycle of selling new memberships. If you’re a new club, let’s say under three years old, you should still be focused on growing that membership base. But past that three-year mark, you need to really be focused on keeping those current members. We call it member retention, but that phrase is getting old. Let’s look at it this way: avoid member attrition. Sounds a lot worse, right? Because it is. It doesn’t matter how many new members you have coming in the front door if the back door is left wide open for everyone else to walk out. Do the basics and do them well: a spotless facility, well-maintained equipment, great and friendly staff and so on. Master these basics before you try to explore the other areas involved in avoiding member attrition.

Get Help. Hire the right kind of help that is. Poor staff can bring down a facility quicker than dynamite. Young kids at the reception desk talking on cell phones, not in a standard uniform, reading trashy magazines, surfing the Internet…ZAP! You need smiling faces who offer a great experience every time a member comes in. Someone you can count on to multi-task and really step up to the plate. And, you’ll have to pay for them. Good help is not hard to find…they’re hard to keep. Make sure that once you find the right staff, you do things to keep them around. What types of incentives do you offer? Is there an employee-of-the-month award? These are things to ponder to keep the “staff infection” from hitting your place.

Plan Ahead. A sales force that is motivated only by new membership sales is worthless. Set some goals for them in other areas, for instance their rate of retention or buddy referrals. Make sure they are team players with one single club goal in mind. If there is too much pressure on an individual level, sales people tend to get cut throat. And when there is a strategic yearly marketing plan in place, everyone is on the same page and knows exactly what to do. This marketing plan should be developed for more than just the sales department. What about those precious current members? Plan a marketing strategy for other areas like personal training, group exercise, child care or the juice bar. Tweak it as necessary, but planning ahead is the best preventive medicine.

Don’t catch a club cold this year. Do what you can now to break the habit of focusing solely on getting new members. Conquer the basics so you can conquer your market.