Thomas Kulp serves as executive director of Universal Athletic Club in Lancaster, PA, and has spoken in four countries on the subject of retention. He works with Face2Face Retention Systems to improve retention in the health club industry throughout the world. Feel free to visit his blog Fitness Club Consultants. He can be reached at 717-490-8063 or tom@universalathleticclub.com.

Having a good retention rate is like hosting a well-attended dinner party every month. To host a good dinner party, you first have to go through many steps of preparation and behind-the-scenes effort and energy.

Health clubs are really no different. Having great retention requires the same degree of preparation, effort and energy. Success in both endeavors depends on the amount and quality of the preparation we do, in addition to the attitude and priority we assign to the task at hand.

Here are some ways to improve your health club:

Go through a brief assessment of the club. Grab a notebook or legal pad and start a page on each of the following areas:

  • Greeting of policy of guests/prospects
  • Personal-needs assessment performed by the sales team
  • Delivery of a unique and personalized tour
  • The establishment of value in our club by the sales team
  • Realistic goal-setting and initial assessment for each member
  • Ability to create friendships with new members
  • Creation of a system to get the new member started on a pathway to lifelong success through fitness
  • Follow-up on the prescribed program to ensure adherence and enjoyment
  • An established system to measure visits at set membership periods
  • Setting up protocol for contacts/reassessment on regular intervals
  • The development of systems to involve all members in any activities/programs at the club
  • Investment in long-term follow-up with members that ensure they feel individualized and cared for
  • The measurement of monthly progress by recording sales, cancellations and length of membership

At the top of your paper, place a number between 1 and 10 to score your initial assessment of each of these items. Then start to list the things you do now on the left side of the page, and list the ideas you have to make yourself better on the right side. This form of brainstorming may uncover a few easily changed procedures that you presently have at your club. Review your list on each page, then give yourself a score again in each area. This score will be a little different because of your new focus on each item. Simply total the scores and see how close to 130 you score. This is your initial self-assessment score for retention at your club. You should do this project quarterly to see if you can improve your score.

Every club with great retention has this in common—a total commitment to the happiness and success of its members. This is not a dynamic that just happens. It takes strategic planning of the staff you hire and continue to employ. Do you have enough staff to ensure that every member is greeted personally upon entry to your club? Does your staff have the ability to relate to the member and remember things about each member? Is all staff required and able to engage the member? Treating members as great friends has the best payoff of all: long-term membership.

Rule No. 1 in staffing is to hire for personality first. We all have the ability to teach staff what to do, but the way they do it will have everything to do with personality. Your initial interview needs to be short and to the point. The purpose of a first meeting is to see what the person brings to the table in the way they smile, laugh and fit in with your team.

Reschedule a second meeting and give them an assignment, such as a list of questions for you. Have them quickly meet with other team members and get their initial impressions. It is important to make sure this is the type of person with whom you want your members to interact. Invite the prospective team member to call you or e-mail you in the next few days. You want to hire people who ask questions and take an interest in finding out how to shine. If applicable, make the potential team member go through a group interview and see if they are helpful, interactive and able to set themselves apart in a group. You may be wondering if you need to go through this process for all employees or just key people. My answer is everyone. Everyone on your team needs to be responsible to ensure great member retention.

The key to great retention is not as simple as an e-mail or a phone call to members not using your club. It is designing your club to be a place that members wish to stay for years.