Focus On Retention

Keep Them Coming Back for More

Now that the millennium madness is over and the New Year's resolutions have started to fade, we are faced with the problem of helping our new exercisers to stick with their goals. Late winter is often dreary, and many of our members will look for an excuse to cut back on their fitness resolutions. (This is the time of year when members suffer from bad cases of the "too's" - too dark, too cold, too far. I know you have heard them all, but in reality it usually is too lazy.)

How do we keep that initial enthusiasm going and keep members for the long term? One idea is to utilize extrinsic rewards until the intrinsic rewards of exercise begin to occur. February is an ideal time to begin some type of internal motivational program, such as "Cycle Around Colorado" or "Treadmill to Tucson," and give points for each mile completed. Offer material incentives for participating AND finishing. Attempt to emphasize a noncompetitive atmosphere in these programs and reward people for their effort. You would be surprised how far a T-shirt or water bottle will go!

Late winter is also an ideal time to focus on your personnel. Ensure that the front-desk employees are providing constant motivation to all members as they enter the club. While each member should be greeted with enthusiasm every time they come in, it is imperative that the front-desk personnel maintain a close and open line of communication with all members, not just their "favorites."

In addition, each employee can start a "maintenance hunt" where they each look for five things per day that need to be cleaned or repaired. These can be small things that your maintenance staff generally does not do. Remember that there is no substitute for cleanliness and friendliness in your club.

While it might be a little early to send out the "We miss you" cards to the New Year's members who are not utilizing the facility, the front-desk staff and salespeople can do checkup calls to these members. A simple "How is your exercise program going?" call can mean the difference between a happy member and a cancellation. A modest goal is to make contact with all new members two times in the first two months of their membership. In this day of voice mail, pagers and cell phones, that contact may take five to 10 calls. Don't settle for a message - open communication is the best way to find out problems/barriers to their exercise program and keep them coming into your club!

- Matthew Wagner, Ph.D., has owned Nautilus Health Center in Huntsville, Texas, since 1980. He is also the director of the National Institute of Preventive Medicine and works with several clients with various chronic diseases and disabilities.

Five Steps Toward Member Retention

* Focus on service and maintenance
* Remember cleanliness and friendliness
* Start programs by offering extrinsic rewards
* Retention starts at the front desk
* Contact new members soon!

Socializing Equals Success

In its 1999 Industry Data Survey, Profiles of Success, IHRSA examined the 1997 and 1998 retention rates for a variety of clubs. Tennis-only facilities did the best, retaining 72 percent of their members for both 1997 and 1998. Multi-purpose facilities came in second with 68 percent and 70 percent, respectively. Rounding out the list were multi-operation clubs (66 percent in '97 and '98) and fitness-only clubs (62 percent in '97, 63 percent in '98).

Why the differences? For example, why does a tennis-only club enjoy higher retention than a fitness-only facility? It's because of the social element.

With tennis, you need another person to play. You develop a relationship with your partner, and if you know he or she is waiting for you at the club, you're less likely to skip. Also, you're less likely to quit and join another club; if you did, you would have to spend time developing whole new relationships with players. The same holds true for multipurpose facilities, which offer activities (such as court sports) that create camaraderie between members.

In contrast, members at fitness-only clubs can work out alone, and they don't always have a support group of friends who depend upon their attendance. Therefore, fitness-only clubs need programs that bring members together. An example would be a buddy training program that encourages members to join others in workouts.

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