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Waiving Enrollment Fees Not The Long-Term Answer

As of late, many club owners have been struggling with whether to charge an enrollment fee and how to increase non-dues revenue. Because clubs received fewer inquiries during the first two quarters of this year compared with last year, some club owners may be inclined to discount or waive enrollment fees. For some club management, that practice has worked to create more volume. However, it may not be the best way to operate in the long term.

Over the years, we as an industry have not done the best job of teaching members how to stay with their health and fitness programs. A component of that failure to retain members is that we often compete on price, which is exactly what is happening when we discount or waive enrollment fees.

Instead, club owners should consider two tools that allow them to collect joining fees, provide value for joining fees and provide a stronger integration process for new members that results in increased retention.

The first tool is the Joining Fee Rebate Program. When a new member joins, they pay the full enrollment fee. They are then enrolled in the 30-Day Make It Fit Program, which is designed to have the member meet on a regular basis with a trainer (preferably the same trainer each time but that is flexible) who will design a tailored program for the member for the first 30 days of their membership. Once they complete the program, they receive a 50 percent rebate on their joining fee in the form of club cash or credit to be used on whatever they desire.

The program's benefits for members are that they immediately accelerate the results they see with the club, they create solid relationships within the club and they understand how to be successful with their membership. The benefits to club owners are that they get a member who stays with the club longer because they are getting results, they get the enrollment fee and the member spends more on other non-dues programs when the rebate kicks in.

Does this tool cut into personal training revenue? No, and here's why. Look at how many people actually purchase personal training within the first 30 days of their membership at your club. I estimate that it is not a high number. This program becomes a stronger feeder system than any other tool out there for ongoing personal training sales and member retention. When members get their rebate back, what do you think they are going to spend it on? Personal training — but only if their original personal training experience proved beneficial. Clearly, the success of ongoing personal training sales depends on results and the relationships that trainers create with new members.

The second tool is the Personal Choice Program Fee. In this program, club owners develop a menu of services from which all new members can choose when they join. In essence, the enrollment fee becomes the Personal Choice Program Fee. The menu of services could be five 30-minute sessions that need to be used in the first 30 days of the membership and could include tennis, Pilates, personal training, etc. Clearly, if your enrollment fee is low ($49 to $99), then you may want to consider three 30-minute sessions. If your enrollment fee is more than $99, then go with five 30-minute sessions. The goals of this program are to create customized demand-driven results for members (which creates value for the program fee), to create a bond with the club and repeat usage in the first 30 days, and to generate increased non-dues revenue sales.

Consider implementing these programs and promote the fact that at your club, members don't just pay dues — they get results through your programs.

Karen Woodard-Chavez is president of Premium Performance Training, Boulder, CO, and Ixtapa, Mexico. Woodard consults and trains clubs throughout the world. She can be reached at 303-417-0653 or at

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