Karen Raisch-Siegel is the executive director of LifeWorks of Southwest General in Middleburg Heights, OH. LifeWorks is a 64,000-square-foot fitness center owned and operated by Southwest General Health Center. Karen earned her master’s degree in exercise physiology. She is a certified first responder with the state of Ohio and a certified group exercise instructor. Karen has been working in the fitness industry for the last 18 years. She has served as a fitness instructor, personal trainer, group exercise instructor and program director. Karen is responsible for more than 100 employees and 5,000 members. However, she still enjoys making time to teach her arthritis, aerobics and Pilates classes.

Retention, retention, retention. That is the name of the game if you want to stay profitable. But what’s a club to do when it’s surrounded by competitors? The answer: position, position, position.

As the executive director for a medically integrated facility located in northeastern Ohio, I have experience in dealing with retention issues, especially because all types of fitness facilities surround my facility. What makes it a bit more challenging for us, though, is that we have four recreation centers within a three-mile radius. Two of those recreation centers are top notch.

Although we are still working on positioning our facility better in the marketplace, we have always offered programming and member appreciation events as our retention programs. We currently offer the following:

  • Free, fun fitness incentive programs. Members lost 1,800 pounds with our Biggest Loser program in the first quarter of 2007.
  • Facility-wide incentive programs. The Big 100 program gave away a deluxe gym bag each day for 100 days leading into 2007.
  • Member-appreciation events. The Crazy 8 program celebrated eight years of fitness with a customized water bottle giveaway, a scratch-off ticket when you checked in and complimentary breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Local and international group trips.
  • Programming such as line dancing, belly dancing, Reiki and Pilates.
  • Free food the first Wednesday of each month.

What did we learn from this, and what can you learn from our trials? We, as facility operators, need to do more.

These examples are important elements of retention. However, these programs are not reaching out to all members in a valuable way. We have to ask ourselves, “What do we do for the non-charter member who has been committed to our facility for three to eight years?” We also have to ask, “What about that member who comes in, works out and leaves without speaking a word to anyone?”

Programs that aren’t inclusive or aren’t measurable are really missing the boat when it comes to retention.

A true retention program recognizes members for the time they have committed to a facility and reaches out to that quiet member who goes unnoticed. Fun social events should still be offered, but not without a way to measure them.

Here are five tips for creating a solid retention program:

1. Keep it simple and fun. Make sure that the program is achievable and simple to manage.

2. Measure members’ progress. Folks like to see their names posted on a board so that they can easily monitor their progress against everyone else.

3. Set a goal. There needs to be an end result. Is the goal attendance, weight loss or amount of time?

4. Offer a reward. The reward needs to be something they will value, but something not too great in value that will make the other participants feel cheated. Good options are a light lunch for all winners or personal training sessions.

5. Follow through. Recognize all of the participants who achieved their goals, and post the names of the winners.