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Fear Factor: 10 Tips for Putting Prospective Members at Ease in Your Club

Fear Factor: 10 Tips for Putting Prospective Members at Ease in Your Club

Last month, we reviewed five fears that keep potential members from joining a gym:

1. Physique anxiety
2. Fear of looking stupid
3. Fear of isolation
4. Fear of looking like a klutz
5. Fear of high-pressure sales tactics

This month, we examine how clubs can optimize their physical environment and adopt sales and service strategies to overcome those fears. Here are 10 tips to keep in mind.

1. Layout and design. Creating a clean, comfortable, aesthetically pleasing environment will help put new members at ease.

If you have the opportunity to design your own building, ensure that the locker rooms allow enough privacy. Individuals who are self-conscious or modest will appreciate individual, curtained changing areas and private shower stalls.

On the fitness floor, maximize space between machines. When possible, stagger your machine alignment so that members do not have to stare at each other when using the equipment. Also, face machines that require members to assume an awkward position (the abductor/adductor machines come to mind) toward the wall or place them in low-traffic areas.

Try to maximize natural light in the facility, but consider using frosted glass in some areas, such as group exercise studios or spaces that front a sidewalk, to protect members from casual observers. You may also want to limit the use of mirrors in the facility.

Small “homey” touches, such as plants, can also soften a harsh environment.

2. Music. A rocking tune always gets you in the workout mood, right? That may be true, but what is upbeat and motivating to one person can be grating and off-putting to another. If you are trying to cultivate diverse populations in your gym, consider pulling the plug on your stereo speakers. That’s why we have iPods and mp3 players.

3. Exercise 101. Establish an area of the club that is dedicated to training people who are new to exercise. All ACAC clubs have a beginner strength circuit and light cardio area called HealthQuest that is staffed by fitness trainers who facilitate new member workouts. In addition to creating and recording new member workout routines, the trainers adjust the machines and provide supervision and feedback every time members work out in HealthQuest. As a result, new members feel confident and well cared for as they work to develop the habit of exercise.

4. Dress for success. One of the first questions new members have is, “What should I wear when I work out?” To create an non-intimidating environment, stress function over fashion. This message begins at the top. Do your team members have professional-looking uniforms? If team members are wearing flashy or revealing attire, others will emulate their behavior. If you have a logo shop, fill it with plenty of attractive, comfortable clothing that flatters people of all shapes and sizes. Also, think about the marketing images you use around the club. Are your walls full of beautiful, hard-bodied models? Selecting photos of “real” people for your promotional materials projects a different set of values. Your members will take their cues from you.

5. People—your most valuable asset. You can have a stunning facility with top-of-the-line equipment, but without bright, smiling faces to greet your members and qualified instructors to teach, you won’t offer much value. Hiring and retaining top talent is a good use of your money. In addition to strong professional credentials, look for team members who are excellent service providers and who have a gift for connecting with other people.

6. Not just a number. Sometimes, we forget that the simple things, such as smiling, introducing ourselves to members we don’t know and calling members by name, make them feel welcome. When giving a sales tour, introduce your prospective members to other employees to show how personable the team is.

7. Act instead of react. Are you the kind of person who stops to ask for directions, or do you circle about aimlessly until you either stumble upon your destination or give up in disgust? Often, new members fall into the latter category. Train team members how to spot and respond to that “lost” look. Create a culture of proactive customer service by teaching team members to anticipate the needs of your members and guests.

8. Build trust to boost sales. Though facilities vary in size and amenities, there is probably limited functional difference between you and your competitors. Trust is your primary competitive advantage. Buyers remember the aggressive sales techniques and tricky contracts during the early days of the health club industry. Build trust with an open, honest sales process in which you, the seller, take time to get to know the unique needs and wants of each buyer. Trust-breaking activities include fluctuating membership prices, misleading advertising, wheeling and dealing, and other high-pressure sales tactics.

9. Offer a test drive. A trial membership is an effective entry point into your gym without requiring a contract—but it doesn’t have to be free. Clubs across the country offer free weeks, sometimes months, to prospective buyers. The problem with giving your product away for free all the time is that it can lessen its perceived value. Instead, try offering a low-cost, low-commitment program that encourages potential members to interact with your team. ACAC’s Physician Referred Exercise Program (PREP) costs $60 for 60 days, which represents substantial savings off the regular monthly membership rate. During the program, participants meet with medical fitness experts and work out in small groups. Although they can try out the entire facility during the program, having structured sessions with team members ensures that participants will get the most out of their visits. At the end of the program, when they decide whether to roll over into a full membership, they have begun to develop a network of support in the club. You might quit a gym, but you don’t quit your friends.

10. Getting to know you. Create social space in your club that promotes member-to-member interaction. Clubs with cafés, lounges or other places where members can socialize have higher retention rates than clubs that don’t. If your club does not have dedicated social space, consider adding a sofa or chairs in areas where members regularly wait or congregate—for example, outside the locker room or where group exercise participants gather before class. ACAC clubs have sectional seating inside the HealthQuest training area. It is a popular place for members to catch up or talk informally with a team member.

From architecture and ambiance to policies and personnel, there are many ways to roll out your club’s welcome mat. Adopting even just a few new strategies can go a long way to making prospective members feel comfortable in your club—and earning their trust means earning their business.

Phil Wendel opened his first health club, ACAC, in 1984 in Charlottesville, VA. Convinced that gyms should not be just for the young and fit, Wendel set out to operate a health club where everyone would feel comfortable coming to exercise. In Charlottesville’s community of approximately 100,000 people, ACAC has attracted more than 16,000 members of all ages and stages of life. Today, there are four ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers in Charlottesville, one in Richmond, VA, and one in West Chester, PA. Wendel also served as a board member for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association from 2005 to 2009.

Christine Thalwitz is director of communications and research at ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers. She is an active presenter, continuing education provider and writer for industry publications. Though not particularly athletic as a child, Thalwitz discovered her own path to fitness and for more than 20 years has enjoyed helping others do the same.

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