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Veterans in the fitness industry know that member retention isn39t simple but it is cyclical Photo by Thinkstock
<p>Veterans in the fitness industry know that member retention isn&#39;t simple, but it is cyclical. <em>Photo by Thinkstock.</em></p>

Retention Schmention—It's Mostly Old News

Membership retention is not as simple as user value, clean clubs, interested staff and a positive environment.&nbsp;

Being in an industry long enough sometimes creates a "Yeah, I've heard this one before" attitude. With that in mind, I hope you will take my first entry in this IdeaXchange section of Club Industry as intended: a bit tongue-in-cheek and a bit of a wake-up call.

I chuckle a little whenever I read a "new" article about member retention. Because of my almost four decades in this business, I have a perspective that it's pretty much all been said before—at least a dozen times.

I recently read an article about retention from an "industry veteran" (who turns out to have all of six years of experience selling memberships at two clubs). The writer posited that the way to increase retention was to increase user value, offer a clean club, ensure staff was interested in members and create a positive, upbeat atmosphere. These were his keys to member retention.

Uhhhhhh, if it is that easy, how come we are not all doing it? And, how come this industry is now in its umpteenth gradual increase in member attrition? (My recent Fitness Business Council survey results show that general annualized retention is now at a down-trending 62 percent from a high just two years ago of 68 percent.)

A more likely factor is that retention is cyclical, and often that cycle is directly related to the local, regional or national economy. The number of discretionary dollars that Jane and Joe Average have in their pockets plus competitive marketplace factors have as much to do with value as what type of equipment you have in your gym, how attentive your staff is or how much you train your sales personnel on customer relationship building.

In an era when exercise outside the four walls of a gym are seen by many people as more appealing than exercising inside four walls, it may be useful to recognize that member loyalty positioning is as important to retention as is anything else you do. In other words, is your club tuned in to technology that members and clients can use regardless of where they participate? Can your club demonstrate how members are benefitting from their activities? (And I don't mean a friendly "atta boy" pat on the back and a "when are you working out again?" throw-away.)

I'd be remiss if I didn't include in this somewhat disrespectful diatribe that as an industry we don't even have a nationally accepted and industry-endorsed retention formula. How's that for reality?

What are your thoughts about retention trends today, causes for these trends and strategies for improving retention? Share in the comment section below, and I will respond as I can.


Michael Scott Scudder is founder/CEO of Fitness Business Council, the independent club business network. He can be contacted at 575-751-1212 or

For your PDF copy of the 3rd Quarter FBC Business Results Report, click his secure Dropbox link:

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