E-mail Newsletters Build Community

As club managers, you are charged with strengthening member retention on a limited budget. Yet traditional retention tools, such as print newsletters and personal calls to truant members, are costly, and the returns are difficult to document.

Fortunately, there is an easier, and less expensive, option, which is also one of the most effective ways to inspire and retain your members. Considering the high-profile advances in high-tech exercise entertainment, computerized training systems and member tracking software, it's easy to understand why this option has been virtually overlooked.

E-mail Delivers By 2002, the number of active Internet users in America will increase to 88 million, according to the eUser & Usage Report, released by eMarketer.com. Users are no longer just the upscale. They reflect all walks of life, and they are your members. Even people who don't actively surf the 'Net rely on e-mail to stay in touch with their family and friends, sharing good news and keeping each other updated on their lives.

Similarly, you can use e-mail to keep in touch with members-and you can do this for free whether or not your club has a Web site. With e-mail, you can share good news about members and personnel; keep members up to date on the latest equipment, events and programming innovations at your club; and build the one-to-one relationships that contribute to long-term member retention and loyalty. And loyal members not only renew their memberships, they refer new members.

Here's How Put on your advertising and journalism hats and prepare to launch an e-mail newsletter, such as the Fitness Center Gazette. Consider what kinds of news and information your members might find useful and, therefore, inspiring:

* Schedules for group exercise classes

* Sports-training skills and drills

* Guidance from personal trainers

* How to be a safe spotter

Provide information that instills confidence and makes the gym experience more comfortable for members. Invite your instructors, trainers and managers to write articles and offer their own tips and insights to establish personal bonds among your staff and members. As members learn about their new cycling instructor and all of her qualifications and certifications, for example, they become more likely to attend her classes and more willing to listen to her guidance during class.

Considering adding Internet access to your cardio equipment? First gauge member demand with a quick survey in the newsletter. Just invested in new Pilates equipment? Promote the program's benefits in the newsletter. Looking for a new revenue stream? Include text ads in the newsletter from suppliers of equipment, sports drinks and nutrition bars. They may pay you for the space and/or the ads may translate into increased retail sales in the gym.

How Often? As long as the newsletter provides valuable information that get your members to stick with their fitness programs, nearly every recipient will read it every time you send it. Plan to e-mail the newsletter monthly, and only release additional issues when there is breaking news to reveal.

Leverage the investment in your member tracking software and use personalized e-mails to truant members. Run a report of members who have missed two weeks in a row, for example, and send them a message that their favorite treadmill has grown lonely. Although e-mail cannot replace personal contact, it can be used to influence a large population at no cost and, in conjunction with personal contact, can significantly impact member retention rates.

--Paul Entin is associate publisher of online health and fitness encylo-magazine Fitness Link (www.fitnesslink.com) and a featured speaker on Internet marketing. Entin manages two e-mail newsletters reaching 30,000 fitness enthusiasts. He can be reached at (609) 397-7664 or paul@fitnesslink.com.


Starting Your E-mail Newsletter

1. Gather e-mail addresses as part of the member registration process and have your staff ask existing members for their e-mail addresses when they sign in.

2. Set up an account with an online newsletter/list management company such as Topica (www.topica.com) or eGroups (www.egroups.com). These companies will store your mailing list and send out your newsletter for free. Their privacy policy states they do not sell your members' addresses to anyone.

3. To send the newsletter, just e-mail the copy to whichever company you're using, and it will send it to everyone on your list within minutes.


Tying Newsletters to Web Sites

If you have a Web site, your options for newsletter content and opportunities for success expand exponentially. Look what else you can do with e-mail once your club is online:

1. Alert members to new equipment and include a link that goes directly to a page on your site with pictures and video demonstrations.

2. Enable your members to receive their daily workout program.

3. Promote events and tournaments, and include a link where members may sign up to participate.

4. Alert members that high-demand classes often fill up, then permit them to reserve a slot in class from your Web site.