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Expert Edge

Warm-Weather Retention Tactics

Summer is just around the corner, and here we go again, scrambling for ideas on how to keep our members working out in our clubs during the hotter months. Traditionally, our summertime competitors are outdoor camps, vacations, outdoor swim clubs, and outdoor sports such as tennis and golf. However, if we, as club operators, are creative, resourceful and plan ahead, we can keep at least 50 percent or more of the summertime quitters active all year long.

The first step is don't create a summertime membership freeze option in your guidelines. Some clubs allow for a membership freeze fee to be paid during the summer months. This policy encourages nonuse, and there is always the danger that after a summer away, your members won't come back. Only allow freezes for injury or pregnancy, and require that the member submit a doctor's note. Be sure to outline this clearly in the joining material. If members object, simply explain that even though outdoor activities are important and enjoyable, they cannot completely substitute a well-rounded fitness regime that includes cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training.

If we are not allowing summertime freezes, then we should offer some relief from the summertime blues. Here are some ideas that have worked to keep members feeling good about their decision to stay on board.

Determine the population that you want to target and go after it. At the Newtown Athletic Club, our summer market is adults, college and high school students, and children.

Design programs that address your targeted population and its summertime issues. Here are some points to keep in mind:

* Indoor summer camps are popular because they are not affected by the weather, and children with outdoor allergies stay comfortable. Give members a discounted rate on summer camps, motivating them to keep their family membership active. When parents drop their children off at camp, they often stay to work out.

* Host a run/walk to attract members and nonmembers as well.

* Indoor sport leagues offer members a cool place to participate in team activities, and help avoid heat-related injuries.

* Summer swim instruction is often of a higher quality in a health club setting than in an outdoor swim club. In addition, the teachers are usually full-time employees, more mature and have smaller class sizes.

* Offer sports-specific training programs for outdoor sports, such as softball, baseball, golf and tennis, in a series of lessons or one-time clinics designed to improve performance. These programs work well in the spring as well, to get people ready for their summertime activity.

Don't fight City Hall. If most summertime outdoor activities take place in the afternoon, then program heavily in the morning and evening hours.

Once you've created your programming, you're ready to design a marketing plan. Be sure to begin marketing around April and continue all summer. Use your newsletter, bulletin boards, fliers, sample classes, spring clinics and press releases to promote your summertime activities. Be sure to emphasize the indoor advantages of your programs and remind your members that fitness is a year-round commitment that cannot be replaced by outdoor recreational activities alone.

- Andrea Biernbaum is the youth program director of the Newtown Athletic Club, Newtown, Pa. An award recipient for excellence in youth programming, she is a contributing author to Play Up a Sweat, Your Complete Guide to Youth Fitness.

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