Thomas Kulp is CMO of Universal Athletic Club, a large multipurpose facility in Lancaster, PA. Kulp’s club has a member retention rate of 84 percent. He was runner-up in the 2006 John McCarthy Scholarship for IHRSA University. Kulp also is CEO of Fitness Club Consultants, the creator of the Members4ever club management system that brings clubs the ability to manage, involve and keep members at your club. Kulp has spoken in four countries—England, Brazil, Canada and Russia—bringing his experience in management and retention-improving skills to health clubs worldwide. He is a member of REX Roundtables for Executives and is the president of Mid-Atlantic Club Management Association. Kulp can be reached at 717-799-5155 or tom@fitnessclubconsultants.com.

For more than 25 years, health club operators drove the industry on a model of selling memberships based on the attributes of our facilities and on our pricing strategies. Today, however, we are in a different world, and a new model needs to emerge.

Simply put, our organizations must regroup and realize that this new business model will depend on keeping members longer, involving them in club activities and keeping them engaged so they realize the value of their memberships. The best part of this equation is that the longer members stay, the more money they spend. The more money they spend, the more money we have to invest in our facilities and our staff training. It also allows us to design programs that help us make a bigger impact on the community around us.

Can we articulate to our members the need to retain our club’s membership for the rest of their lives? To do this we need to be more than just treadmills and circuits. We need to be a center for stress release and energy enhancement, as well as a place that helps members achieve a better quality of life. When we deliver that every day, we become an essential part of the new member’s life.

No one wants to pay too much for anything. Giving our members value on every visit is paramount to long-term success. We need to ensure that every staff member understands the need to give members value on every visit, because once new members experience a decline in value and don’t know where to go to stop the slide, they will cancel. We should view cancellations as failures on our end, not failures on the members’ part.

Our reception team must start the member experience with a professional, warm and friendly greeting. They must be knowledgeable about the activities and the culture of the club. They should be able to set the stage and initiate the experience that new or current members will have in your facility on a regular basis.

Your club needs to have a theme of involvement, which starts with the salespeople—our membership representatives. Salespeople must establish the types of relationships where new members know they can reach out to them whenever they need help, have a question or are struggling. We need to make sure that after prospects see all the fancy equipment, beautiful locker rooms and nice facility design, they know that behind it is a core group of people who operate every day with the members’ success in mind.

Your staff should have a specific process to initiate new members into the club culture. All members should be treated equally and given all the tools they need to be successful. The sales process should articulate this journey to ensure that new members comprehend that it's not about a single step, but it is one small step after another that will lead them to a more fulfilled, more energetic and healthier life.

Our sales team must slow down and take a few minutes to interview prospects—get to know them, get to know about them and get to understand the struggles they have or will face on our journey together. We need to understand the things that will need to be done to help them succeed by their definition and not by ours. Then and only then should we take prospective members on a tour around our club.

The tour should point out aspects of the club and programming that will benefit that potential member, rather than leading it based on our passions. Tours focused on the potential member’s needs are more time efficient and allow us a longer-term focus on the member. Plus, spending more time with the member up-front builds stronger relationships, allows us to help the potential member understand how to meet health goals, makes closing the sale easier and helps create a relationship that can blossom into referrals and more non-dues revenue sales.

Developing a business plan to get your member to try all the areas of your club leads to higher retention. Your sales team needs to discuss these areas, your fitness team needs to get members involved and your whole staff needs to be connected to new members to keep them engaged.

At the end of the day, it comes down to people getting the success they desire. That means understanding what the new member wants, rather than assuming what we think they want. We need to ask better questions, record the answers, and ensure that our whole team is clued in to member needs. Our plan should be established with their buy-in and commitment, then we should follow-up at planned intervals during the membership life cycle.

We need to start a revolution and get committed to making a different, fitter, healthier world, one member at a time.