Content Sponsored by The Retention People.
Your fitness center is more than a place to work out; it is a place where members create a community. The atmosphere and culture of a health club plays a big part in member retention, according to a 2014 IHRSA Member Retention Report. In fact, almost 60 percent of members credit social motivation as the reason they attend their club, according to the report.
"The loners are the ones who tend to quit the gym—the ones that go off on their own to an elliptical, treadmill or for a swim," said health club consultant Laurie Cingle. "The more a gym owner can encourage group exercise and interaction, the better it is for the success of the gym. Member-to-member connection is the foundation for good retention. Friends don't leave their friends. They want to work out where their friends are."
Because club culture is a significant reason that individuals remain with their facility (or leave it), club operators would be wise to ensure their retention efforts include maintaining and improving social interaction among their members. Members' socializing outside of the club either through social media or social activities was the best predictor of exercise frequency, according to a 2010 study from the University of Southern California called "Social Relationships and Physical Activity in Health Club Members." Members who had workout buddies had fewer skipped workouts and greater exercise satisfaction. The study showed that motivation to exercise can come from working out with friends or a spouse combined with the social accountability people have with exercising in public health clubs.
Social Connection for All
Group fitness plays a large part in membership retention, especially for women and active seniors, according to a 2014 IHSRA report on group exercise and retention rates. Gyms that had a strong group exercise schedule had better retention, the report stated.
"As a trainer, I see it all the time," said Stephen Jandovitz, a NASM trainer at Gold's Gym in Princeton, New Jersey. "Members don't know what to do, so they go to an exercise class. It's either that or nothing at all for a lot of seniors. And for the more specialized classes, such as yoga, cycling, swimming, weight lifting, Zumba, the members go above and beyond. They will do a Zumba class for two hours to support a certain charity. It really brings everyone together, and of course, they post pictures on social media."
Part of what may make group fitness a retention helper is a sense of "team" derived in taking the classes.
"Ask anyone who played team sports and they will tell you one of the things they liked best was the camaraderie between their teammates," said Bruce Carter, president of Optimal Design International and a past club owner. "People coming to clubs are all on the 'wanting to be healthier' team so many feel a 'togetherness' when exercising at a club – regardless of age."
Age does not seem to matter when it comes to the need for social connection.
"I see people of all different ages coming to the club and motivating each other," Jandovitz said.
Cingle said: "Some people are just more social by nature regardless of age. So as a club owner, it's important to get everyone involved in the club – young and old, social and the not-so-social members."
Increasing the Social Aspect of Your Health Club
With social media, text marketing, e-newsletters and health club websites, there's more opportunity than ever for club operators to connect with their members and make it easier for members to connect with each other. When it comes to creating a social atmosphere, Carter advised club operators to find out what different age groups are more in to and look to offer such activities inside and outside the club.
"Those members with an active lifestyle may enjoy sports-oriented events – in and out of the club," he said. "Some ages like travel-oriented activities."
Seniors often enjoy socializing over coffee after exercising, Carter said, while members between 30 and 45 often get together outside the club for club-sponsored social/sports/travel events.
Club operators who can communicate about the social spaces within a club or the social events occurring inside and outside the club will help to increase the community within their four walls.
Even serious workout addicts like to socialize, Jandovitz said.
"They come in the weight room completely focused with their earbuds in and act like they are the only ones in the room," he said. "But shortly after their warmup, they are looking around for a buddy to spot them, and they end up chatting. There's no denying that the gym is a very social place. Gone are the days when you can come in the gym and ignore everyone. You just can't, and I think that's a very positive thing."
Find Social Space
To increase the sociability of a club, club owners must create an inviting atmosphere within the club. That can mean utilizing the non-exercise spaces in the gym. Everywhere from the locker rooms to the juice bar and lounge have potential to be a social setting. Even the waiting areas outside of group exercise classes can be a node for social interaction before and after classes.
Club owners can anticipate potential areas of interaction and make those areas more welcoming. For many clubs, the juice bar is a natural hotspot for social activity. Members often stop before and after workouts, so simply adding chairs and tables can increase the social atmosphere.
For those who go to the gym regularly, it can feel like a second home, and, for those who have anxiety about the gym, making it as comfortable and friendly as possible can help them feel at home. Whether the social connections are encouraged by the health club operators and staff or whether they are the result of a good design, social interaction can create a bond that ultimately leads to retention. People tend to go where they know people and have relationships. It's about more than just feeling comfortable; it's about feeling a part of the club.