Building a Neighborhood

I recently met with a few old friends, and when the topic of fitness clubs arose, we reminisced about our early days in the club business. We laughed as I recalled my first week of employment in the industry. I hadn't even been on the job for two days and was already being reprimanded by the area director.

I was talking with another instructor as the area director entered the gym. I could see him approaching us with a look that could kill. As he made a beeline toward us I began reviewing a checklist in my mind of what his problem might be. Then he screamed, and we learned.

He was furious that we had been talking to each other while there were plenty of members in the gym that we should have been talking to.

The members are the reason for the club's existence, the reason staffs are employed, and the focus of every minute on the job. As my career in the business progressed, I soon understood the power and importance of being able to recognize most members by name, as well as always focusing my attention on their needs, and their situations.

It is easy to forget what is really important to members. I currently have a membership to a beautiful facility in a Chicago suburb. It is new, clean and offers the latest in equipment and amenities. But is it enough to keep me? Honestly, if a new facility opened nearby, I could easily be persuaded to join the new club and cancel my current membership. Why? Possibly because I feel no sense of belonging or loyalty to the club. The only person on staff I know by name is the manager who showed me the club and sold me the membership. Because of my crazy schedule, I visit the club at various times each week, yet seldom is there any interaction with the staff, other than a possible “hello” as I show my card upon entering. It almost feels like I am a visitor from out of town, rather than a member of the club.


New technology doesn't seem to help this situation. Although the membership software and front desk check-in equipment is obviously important for running today's clubs, it often eliminates an opportunity to speak with members as they leave the facility. “How was your workout?” is rarely heard at many gyms as members leave the clubs, seemingly unnoticed.

Many people join a club for more than just a place to exercise. There are those who consider it a refuge at the end of a long day. Some have home offices and enjoy the opportunity to get out amongst other human beings. Yes, the equipment, classes, and cleanliness are important, but human interaction is what will keep members from thinking the grass is greener elsewhere.

Once members are inside the facility there is a perfect opportunity to earn loyalty. There is definitely no lack of people using equipment incorrectly. But in many clubs, if there is an instructor present, they are standing behind a counter or only helping someone who has paid extra for personal training. How much better could business be if people were really getting fit at our clubs? We have the ability to create walking billboards if we make sure members are doing the things necessary for real results. And that starts with a simple “hello.”

Part of being in the business of exercise is understanding a little psychology. What makes people comfortable and how to teach without intimidating? Instructors, managers, and salespeople should all circulate the club on a regular basis, making sure to greet, speak to, assist, or at least acknowledge each visiting member they see.


Managers and owners must take the time to walk through the club with each employee, showing them the way it needs to be done. Lead through example as you greet members during the walk-through.

Get rid of chairs at the front desk. Can you imagine entering a nice restaurant, being greeted by someone behind a desk who doesn't even get off his or her butt when you walk in? Make your members feel important by addressing them by name when accepting their membership card.

Find a way to thank members for visiting the club. “How was your workout” or “Have a nice day” should be mandatory as each person leaves the facility.

As the media continues to report health club sales on the increase, there will be no shortage of new clubs being built. They will be brand new, bigger and promising many new things to your members. You can smile and stand your ground by going back to the basics for higher retention and happier members who feel they already belong to the right club.

Jhan R. Dolphin is a professional speaker and 21-year fitness industry veteran who teaches businesses how to tie sales and customer service together for more successful results. He can be reached at (847) 265-5319 or at


Essentials of a Neighborhood

  • Staff becoming involved
  • Seeking out members
  • Walking the floor
  • Members reaching goals
  • “Hello” and “goodbye”
  • Benefits of a Neighborhood

  • Motivates members
  • Creates a sense of belonging
  • Establishes staff-member and member-member relationships
  • Increases retention

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