Enhanced Design and Programming Helps Retain Members

Commitment to fitness and service should always be a top priority for a club’s staff, but clubs of all budgets and sizes have other ways to enhance their members’ experience. Design and programming are two ways to do so. The following are a few suggestions:

Create a social space. Members naturally want to congregate and chat while at the gym. Instead of seeing this as a traffic problem, think of it as a positive sign that your members are connecting socially with each other. Encourage this community by adding seating areas throughout your club. The more personal connections your members make, the more inclined they will be to keep their memberships.

Re-evaluate your club’s colors and lighting. Many clubs are filled with bright, bold colors to create energy on the floor, but in reality, these bold colors can create a harsh, off-putting environment. Lighter, warmer tones are fresh and energizing, and they are also easier on the eyes. For contrast, select a pleasant cool tone for accent and trim. Light your space well. If you do not have an abundance of natural light, you may need to experiment with different bulbs and fixtures to capture the right ambiance.

Invest in your staff. Avoid cutting corners and hiring minimum wage workers when you should be creating career paths. Your willingness to pay competitive wages, hire experienced professionals and help people with a passion for fitness who are changing careers will result in a motivated, high-powered team. Once you have hired the right people, make ongoing education and training part of your company culture. This spending will be one of the best investments you will ever make in your club.

Be tech-friendly. Install computer stations or offer Wi-Fi in your club for your members’ convenience. Instead of rushing out after a workout, this area allows members to sit down to check their e-mail over a cup of coffee or a post-workout meal.

Develop and grow programs. When introducing new programs, think strategically. Fifteen years ago, yoga classes were not yet mainstream club programs, but yoga classes had a strong core of participants each week. Evaluate whether this is the case at your club and increase your mind/body programming, which can help you reach important and loyal populations.

Rally for racquet sports. Tennis clubs have the highest retention rates in the industry. Ironically, fitness clubs, which grew up around indoor racquet sports, shifted away from racquetball and squash during the 1990s. Today, racquet sports are again on the upswing across the country, with courts constantly booked. Adding racquet sports may require more funding, but the result could be beneficial.

Add aquatics. Pool-based programming also is among the most popular in clubs today. Clubs with outdoor water park features, such as slides, splash gardens and child-friendly zero-depth entry pools, are attractive to families. Indoor water elements are perhaps even more powerful, due to the benefit of year-round programming.

Add short-term lockers and storage compartments near your check-in area. Many members appreciate the convenience of storing their personal items without having to claim a locker in the locker room. Providing these areas should be possible with only a moderate monetary investment.

Upgrade your locker rooms. Aside from the lobby, the locker rooms are likely to be the most highly trafficked areas of your club. Too often, locker rooms are shortchanged during a club’s design phase, resulting in cramped quarters, poor layout or subpar finishes. Give top priority to personal space, privacy and comfort. Curtained changing areas, wider benches and larger-sized towels are just a few ways to help members who are self-conscious feel more at home. For a club that seeks to attract families, elderly or disabled individuals, assisted changing facilities are a prudent investment.

Whatever your club’s budget, you can increase the value of your membership by making your club more comfortable, more convenient and more appealing to diverse populations. Whether you put up a small or large investment, the payoff will be worth it.

Phil Wendel is founder of ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers, Charlottesville, VA. The four facilities have an annualized attrition of 25 percent. Christine Thalwitz, ACAC’s director of communications, contributed to this column.

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