For Retention, Culture Matters While Community Is Overhyped 

Your health club culture should remain consistent and tightly aligned with the target demographic you not only want to attract but to keep as well.(Photo courtesy MADabolic.)

The retention model looks different from the volume model, with nuances existing in everything from how you treat your leads and prospects, to staffing standards, to the quality control of the actual product and beyond. When chasing retention, it’s important to remember that you’re playing the long game. And that long game should be defined by how you continually feed and beef up the type of culture with which your target client identifies.

The concept of “community” is oversold, overhyped and overdone in the fitness industry. “Community” can be faked. Culture, however, cannot. So while the physical community of your gym members will cycle in and out over the months and years, your culture should remain consistent and tightly aligned with the target demographic you not only want to attract but to keep as well.

To do that, you first need to be clear on a few key areas:

  1. Who your client avatar is
  2. What they value

Once those answers are crystal clear, every thing you do and say needs to support that target client’s values, which will in turn feed the culture they crave and make them more inclined to stick around. This includes:

  • All verbal and written touch points
  • Internal training materials
  • Staff standards and expectations
  • Class procedures and structure
  • External relationships and partnerships

Let’s use MADabolic as the case study here.

Our client avatar is the high-performing go-getter (think: business professional or entrepreneur) who values accountability, structure and efficiency. That client comes to us knowing they can squeeze a training session in within 50 minutes and get back to their day.

Here are some things we do (and distinctly things we do not do) that keeps that client coming back for more:

  • We provide constant corrections to individual movement patterns. We do not dish out motivational high fives. In fact, we actively discourage the “cheerleader” persona.
  • We prioritize the warm-up and eliminate the cool down to stick to our 50-minute guarantee. We do not make efforts to keep our clients hanging around.
  • We do not offer childcare.
  • We do not allow pets in the gym.
  • We use bold and authoritative language in our client communications. This includes in our newsletters all the way down to our waitlist confirmation text messages.
  • We force all prospective trainers to endure a training camp at our corporate headquarters to make sure they can walk the walk and talk the talk. We do not allow any non-certified trainer to teach classes.
  • Our workouts are programmed from the top down, so every single location runs the same daily workout. We do not allow franchisees or trainers to deviate from the program.
  • We partner and create relationships with high-performing hyperlocal businesses that our target client likely supports or purchases from. We do not partner with generic brands.

Will copying these measures to your gym increase retention? Probably not. Your target client likely differs from ours, which means their values will differ, requiring you to foster a different culture within your doors.

Does this mean you’ll likely have to do and say things that will deter individuals outside your target demographic from joining your facility? Absolutely. But when you are busy trying to appeal to everyone, you risk appealing to no one, and you risk confusing and losing the clients that are already in your doors. Don’t be afraid to identify your niche, build a culture around it and own it.


Finley Funsten is a skilled and credentialed fitness trainer and nutrition professional with a unique background in content development, strategic partnerships and marketing. In addition to serving as a general manager within MADabolic Charlotte's walls, Funsten contributes content development and brand strategy at the MADabolic corporate level.

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