Ashley Poynter is a freelance journalist and an avid runner and fitness enthusiast. She works as an account executive for the Bradley Wiltjer Marketing Group in Aurora, IL. She can be reached at apoynter@bradleywiltjer.com. Julie Cerone is a personal trainer and the owner of Get The Edge Fitness located in Naperville, IL. Cerone can be reached at juliecerone@sbcgobal.net.

Avid exercisers know the importance of continually developing new muscles. But they also know the importance of maintaining the muscles they have already built up. If you abandon these muscles, they begin to weaken. The same is true of your marketing strategy.

It’s important to try new techniques to bring in additional customers when planning your marketing execution, but businesses can’t lose sight of the customers they already have, which is a mistake some gyms make. The best way to increase your enrollment and memberships is to build off of your existing member base.

If you can keep your customers intrigued and involved, they’re going to remain loyal. It’s less costly and less time consuming to do than it is to go fishing for new customers all the time. It’s especially easy to keep customers in the fitness industry engaged because, unlike other purchases consumers make, gym memberships and fitness services are incorporated into their daily lives. They just need that extra nudge or high five every once in a while so that they know you appreciate their business.

There are many ways to “high five” your customers, but different tactics depend on the size of the business. Larger clubs have a reserve of many high-powered marketing tactics to reach their members, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have an advantage over smaller gyms. Smaller gyms have the ability to form closer bonds with members and reach out in more personal ways. Soft skills play a huge role in retention success for these gyms.

Smaller gyms may not have all the glitz and glam that big fitness clubs use when they’re marketing, but there are still ways to make sure customers are happy. Fitness centers that aren’t part of a big corporate structure often get to be creative in the ways they engage their members. They get to think outside of the box, and a lot of people appreciate that more than the impersonal tactics that many other clubs use.

Here are some more tips for clubs of all sizes:

1. Be prepared. Make sure your help desk is properly equipped to handle customer complaints or issues, and prep your staff on standard procedures. Make sure to follow through in a timely manner when those issues do come up. Gyms that hire people with a willingness to help are going to attract and retain more customers than a gym that offers 75 different kickboxing classes but whose employees won’t flinch when people have a complaint or service issue. The ability to relate and empathize with your members is just as important as professional certification.

2. Aim for professionalism and excellence in customer service. This will significantly increase your customer loyalty. Members are demanding more from their health clubs today. They expect qualified individuals that are willing to listen and help. Customers are most satisfied when they interact with self-aware people who have the ability to show empathy and optimism. Most members will appreciate a gym that offers a staff that listens to complaints instead of a gym that offers 100 treadmills.

3. Pay attention to your numbers. For many years, larger gyms have ignored the retention issue, and it has proved detrimental. Large enrollment numbers mean nothing if these members aren’t sticking around. It’s the revolving door of fitness. Five come in and 15 go out. Larger gyms don’t always pay attention to this because it’s harder to do. For smaller gyms, it’s easier to keep tabs on people and make sure that the core crowd is returning.

4. Be visible. Top-level management should be just as visible as customer service. Your staff should work as a team, and the ultimate goal is customer satisfaction. At times, the customer service desk may not be equipped to handle certain situations, so upper management should be ready and available to lend support. Walkie-talkies are especially helpful in maintaining high communication levels among staff members. Showing your cohesiveness as a staff and your ability to solve any problem is a passive form of marketing that is very effective.

5. Ask how you can improve. Conduct a membership survey with an incentive for participating. The most valuable information about how your brand is portrayed is going to come directly from the target of your brand message. You should use this information to seek out areas of needed improvement and also to build on and perpetuate areas of strength.

6. Make it personal. Have one-on-ones with new members to ensure that their needs are being met and to follow up on their experiences at your gym. This tactic is a personal way to touch your customers and let them know that you’re paying attention to them.

If you work on developing a marketing habit that is geared toward customer retention--and build the proper marketing mindset to facilitate that--you’ll soon find that you’re customers are not only going to remain loyal, but they’re also going to bring friends.

Focus on your strength as a company. If you’re big, then tap into the resources you have. If you’re small, use that to your advantage. Find ways to personally engage your members and keep their interest piqued. New business development should always be a to-do on your calendar, but so, too, should business retention. You don’t want to let existing customers slip away for people who aren’t even in your grasp. Find a nice balance of spending your energy on new and existing customers. Find a system that works for you, and when you do, stick to it.