The Lost Key to Retention Starts With How You Take Care of Your Staff


As consumers continue to tighten their spending, club owners and their staff are fighting for every sale and doing all they can to keep members, including lengthening the term of membership contracts and cutting monthly dues. But what if a simpler solution existed — something that could even save money in the long run? What if, in our frenzy to “build a better mousetrap,” we're missing one key element that could make the biggest difference in club retention?

Cost-cutting is important. Driving sales is important. But taking care of your team so that they take care of your members is essential. When leaders take care of the team, the team takes care of members, and members stay and continue to spend money in the club.

Ten years ago, when I started at ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers as a personal trainer, Grant Gamble, our general manager at the time, preached about the power of the team. As a frontline service provider, I was taught an equation that still shapes my management career today: Leadership Team Members=$$.

Simply put, if club management takes care of its team (treats them well, earns their respect, makes sure they have what they need to do their job), the team will take care of members (make them feel welcome, help them be successful) and the club will make more money (members will stay longer, purchase the club's products and services, and even refer their friends).

The equation seems obvious, but you must remind managers and your frontline teams about this equation on a daily basis. You must hold everyone accountable to taking care of the members, and you must hold yourself accountable for taking care of your staff.

Getting your staff to embrace this equation to the point of increasing retention may feel like turning a battleship right now. And you may not know where to start. Here are some steps to get your retention-based culture on track:

1. Share the equation with your team. Tell them you realize that for them to take care of the members, you must take care of them. Ask them what they need to do their jobs better and provide it. Know something about their families, learn about their dreams and ambitions. Show interest in them in general. In doing so, you are modeling a behavior and connecting to your team. For instance, how would you feel if the owner of your club called you on your birthday? Pretty amazing, I'll bet. How do you think your staff would feel if you called them on theirs? In turn, how would your members feel if your staff wished them a happy birthday when they came into the club? Good people don't quit jobs, they quit managers. Do everything you can to keep your good people happy and productive. Members find it harder to leave a club that they are emotionally connected to, even if it costs a little more money.

2. Invest in your team. Most of us tend to do a good job of providing opportunities for the team to keep their professional skills sharp, but we need to also provide them with the skills to better themselves personally. For example, how would it feel if the owner of your company allowed you to learn about investment strategies from his or her personal financial advisor free of charge? How would your staff feel if you extended such a service to them? Now consider how your members would feel if your team gave them something of value free of charge, such as a 20-minute vacation workout or five relaxation strategies for business travelers. Would it create more value, make them want to stay or even purchase some of your peripheral services going forward?

3. Celebrate your team. It's easy to thank the sales team when the club makes the sales goal, but if the entire team is contributing to the overall success of the club, it is important to recognize them all for a job well done. Consider how you would feel if the club owner recognized your contribution to the club's success, even if you were not involved in sales. How would it make your team feel to be recognized for theirs? Now think of how your members would feel when your team expresses their appreciation to them for being customers.

Creating a retention-focused team does not have to come at a high price, but it does have to start at the top.


Amanda Harris is vice president of fitness and wellness at ACAC Fitness Centers in Virginia. She also is a management development specialist with more than 15 years of industry experience, including 13 years as a personal trainer.

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