The Missing Link

The retention formula seems sound: Usage=Retention=More Profits. Yet a major dilemma exists. As an industry, we know we lose about half our members annually despite trying our best to retain as many as possible. Even more alarming is a study by The University of Michigan and IHRSA that showed that 87 percent of those beginning an exercise program said they knew they would not stick with it This statistic clearly indicates that something must be missing from the retention formula.

Most people know they should exercise more, yet they lack the personal motivation to do so. This is the missing link to retention that needs much more focus from clubs to help keep members coming back. In other words, poor personal motivation=poor usage=poor retention=poor bottom line.


So, why are some people motivated to exercise regularly while most others are not? To answer this, look at the basic foundation of personal motivation. As a rule, we are programmed to seek out pleasure and enjoyment and decrease pain and discomfort in our lives. The problem with exercise is that because most people have gotten so out of shape, they associate pain or discomfort with even the smallest amount of exercise.


Here are ways to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities that exists by helping to fulfill the demand most people have for personal motivation.

  • Make exercise a pleasurable rewarding experience. The basics apply here: a beautiful energizing décor, saying hello and goodbye, smiling, using a member's name, a clean club, making the member feel comfortable and not intimidated, great equipment and entertainment, etc. But also make sure that your staff provides continued support by congratulating your members for just showing up. A “pat on the back” should be as common as getting a drink of water in a club.

    Reward a member's regular usage. You can lower monthly dues, give free months or gifts such as sportswear.

  • Minimize the pain or discomfort a member can associate with exercise — and your club. Have your staff watch out for negative self-talk from your members. When a member complains it isn't working, or they don't have the time, this is a warning sign that they are building their negative file on exercise and substantially increasing their chances of dropping out.

  • Regularly keep your members focused on all the negative consequences that become more and more a part of their life when they miss their exercise. Use a weekly “negative effect of inactivity” poster (put them all around the club) to continually reinforce their awareness of this.

    Except in specific circumstances, do not promote the no-pain no-gain concept. To the average person this is telling them they must have more pain in their lives to get value from exercise and most people don't have the time for more discomfort in their lives.

    Remember, health clubs are places of self-improvement. What better place is there for someone to gain self-motivation — and self esteem — while also improving physical well-being?

    Bruce Carter is founder of the consulting firm Optimal Fitness Systems International and is CEO of GetCYCED! a licensing company providing turn-key personal motivation profit centers for clubs.

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