The success of a health club relies on many factors; one of which is member retention. We consulted leading industry operators to identify the most successful strategies to help you smash your retention records.
Paul Brown, aka ‘Mr Retention’ is the director of Face2Face Retention Systems (www.myf2f.com), which is a world-leading innovator in programs and systems that dramatically improve member retention, customer loyalty and referral based membership growth in health and fitness clubs, and leisure centres across five continents.
Paul has been focusing on his approach to retaining customers for 17 years. He says that sales and retention are inseparable. ‘Retention isn’t about providing distractions, bribery or restrictive contracts,’ he explains. ‘Nor will a bombardment of inconsequential contact or flashing gadgets impress. “Retention” is a word that describes a client who uses what we have often enough to justify the cost, recognises the benefits it brings, and doesn’t want to go elsewhere for it. In other words it works! They like you and how you present it and it’s a fair price.’
He adds, ‘Now if you have systems and a culture to deliver all this then not only do you retain more clients and for longer. It’s also easy to explain and sell without guilt because your clients become your biggest sales force, and one you and your team can use through their testimonials and results to prove this.’
‘If you fail to deliver on your promise then the word spreads also, but this time sales gets tougher and tougher. So there is a loop between your marketing, sales and service or results delivering experience that will spiral up or down depending on your chosen model.’
Paul says the experience members have is the number one factor that will determine how long they stay; yet, while clubs wisely invest heavily in quality equipment, décor and amenities, too often, they leave what happens to their members at the whim of others, or apply minimal resources towards their processes. ‘The most damaging of all has probably been the popular trend to hand new members straight over to a PT sales pitch on their first visit,’ Paul explains. ‘That might be okay in a specific PT studio, but for a membership-based health club it’s proving an unpopular approach that’s sabotaging all other retention efforts.’
‘The extra revenue from secondary program sales has obvious appeal to a club seeking more cash flow and, without doubt, those who do buy ongoing training can receive considerable support; however, for the vast majority of new members that choose not to make the extra investment there is a strong sense of abandonment and betrayal.’
He adds, ‘It’s better to meet or exceed their expectations first, develop a relationship founded on guidance and support, thus earning the right to introduce additional packages that may serve their needs at the appropriate time. In other words, date a while before you ask them to marry you!’
Paul Brown’s Top Three Retention Tools:
- People: the right staff having quality contact with members at the right time.
- Pathways: a clearly defined system for your staff and a step-by-step journey to help your members succeed.
- Proof: make the invisible visible. From the guidance and support to the results, put it all on show so there can be no doubt that your business has the answers your members need.
Amanda Bracks is the director of Bracks Consulting and Women in Fitness (www.amandabracks.com). She is also the author of Customer Acquisition; 465 ways to gain and retain customers and Changing Lives; A hands on approach to successfully selling health club memberships.
Amanda says ‘Most fitness businesses focus too much on the day-to-day service delivery and don’t spend enough time planning either customer acquisition or retention.’ She adds, ‘Often health clubs invest very little on retention strategies, compared to what they spend on client acquisition.’
Amanda adds, ‘The number one mistake made by clubs is to organise member retention campaigns that are competition-focused (e.g., who can do the most push ups or the heaviest bench press). These activities typically appeal to the fit people who are already attending and likely to continue doing so. Instead, successful retention activities will attract those who are not regularly attending.’
Amanda believes that health clubs and small personal training businesses should allocate at least 10 per cent of their total marketing budget towards retention activities and programs. She says ‘This will enable club owners to plan a retention and marketing calendar, letting them be proactive rather than reactive in regards to retaining clients.’
Another key tip is to ensure all cancelling customers liaise only with one person; ideally the manager of the business. She explains, ‘I implemented this in a facility with a member base of 4,500 and it reduced the cancellations by 50% every month, leaving us with a consistent three per cent attrition rate’.
“In order to improve any aspect of your business you should put someone in charge of it.”
Some of the most innovative retention strategies our experts have come across include:
- Monthly graduation events, which acknowledge and reward members who stick to the program. In many cases these have evolved into a club’s key social event, which the entire membership is invited to attend. From salsa dancing lessons in Sao Paulo Brazil to novelty games challenges in Ontario, to fancy dress events in Auckland, every club has its own slant on how to bring the fun back into fitness, and it seems to be working in favour of retention levels.
- A $25,000 joining fee, charged by The Houstonian Club in Texas (USA). When you pay that much to join, they’re pretty confident you’ll remain a member!
- Fitness Lotto (centred around the Melbourne Cup horse race), run by Tim Webster in the UK. Members received a card and on every visit during the six weeks prior to the race they would draw out a ball (numbered 1 to 24). The aim was to create as many trifecta combinations as possible and, after the Cup was run, the cards were then examined to find a winner who has matching numbers.
- Ensuring that clients use multiple services within the business. For example, encouraging members to not only use personal trainers, but to also use other workout programs and equipment and areas in their own time, as well as attend seminars and shopping tours, and participate in group training and in local events. This way they become a part of the business’ entire community.
- Back in the day, ‘Australian Body Works’ offered a dues ‘reducing program’ where if members stayed beyond their first 12 months, the dues reduced by around 20 per cent. Once people got past the first 12 months, it became one of the effective hooks enticing them to stay.
Justin Tamsett is the director of Active Management (www.ActiveMgmt.com.au), which is a consulting company that challenges the status quo of your business, to help you gain clarity in how it could be run for greater success.
In terms of retention Justin says, ‘Every club will have a retention ceiling (i.e., a maximum retention level which cannot be improved upon). It is the responsibility of the owner or manager to establish that ceiling and then exhaust all retention strategies until it is reached.’ He adds, ‘This should be undertaken in tandem with customer acquisition strategies, not at the expense of them.’
‘You need to know what your benchmark is, in order for you to improve it. So, the retention formula that is universally used, is the amount of members who are still with you at the end of a period of time, compared to who was with you at the beginning of that period (this does not include new sales).’ Justin adds, ‘This should be calculated every month, and followed up with a meeting to discuss how to improve that number.’
IHRSA research suggests that a club’s retention is directly influenced by staff retention. So, to improve retention, Justin advises clubs to implement better staff selection criteria, and operate with an understanding that human resources are fundamental for long term success. IHRSA research has also found that clubs with the highest retention levels are those that have a high percentage of members participating in personal training sessions and group fitness classes. Justin says this means clubs should consider adapting ‘a strong personal training culture and a programming philosophy that promotes group fitness’ if they want to improve their retention rates.
Named Fitness Australia’s Personal Training Business of the Year in 2010, Vision Personal Training is one of the country’s most recognisable fitness franchises, with 47 locations in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Andrew Simmons is the co-founder of Vision Personal Training (www.visionpt.com.au), and he believes health clubs and PT studios should definitely focus on member retention because it reflects member satisfaction. He says, ‘If this occurs, they will generate referrals from those existing clients, thereby reducing the need for expensive marketing. If your clients are not satisfied with your services there is no point getting new ones.’
Andrew says the biggest retention mistake that clubs make is telling their clients/members what their goals should be, rather than helping them identify what they are ready to change. ‘Trainers need to establish each client’s level of readiness to change,’ he explains. ‘This may include their exercise habits, eating habits and alcohol habits. Once this happens you need to focus on helping people make small realistic changes in those areas they are ready to change. Never expect people to make wholesale changes quickly.’
In addition, Andrew advises facilities to ‘Make sure that trainers are great role models for the clients/members, both physiologically and psychologically. That way they will be able to relate to the challenges that clients will face on their fitness journey.’ He adds, ‘I also believe that trainers should use a personal trainer themselves (in fact several trainers) before they start training their own clients. Continued use of a personal trainer will enhance or reinforce the belief in the benefits of their services.’
Andrew’s Top Retention Tips:
- Find out what each client wants from their trainer. This often involves extensive non-exercise / programming / education sessions upon commencement, to ensure you truly understand your client’s needs.
- Ensure that each client feels part of your community; that is, they get to know several team players and clients. Group training can help facilitate this.
- Help clients set new goals regularly. Inspire and instill belief in each client that they can be more, do more and have more.
Tony de Leede
Tony de Leede has been a key figure in the fitness industry for over 30 years. His achievements include owning and operating successful fitness companies both internationally (23 Australian Body Works fitness clubs in the US) and nationally (as partner and managing director for Fitness First Australia, he took the company from 11 to 86 clubs during his tenure). His latest venture, Fit n Fast, is a unique budget/time-efficient group of clubs.
Tony believes that it is very important to focus on both member acquisition and retention. He says, ‘It is normally easier to get members into the club than it is to prevent them from exiting; however, member acquisition is a function of contacts whether they be via marketing, member referrals or proactive outreach’.
A general observation made by Tony from his 30 years’ experience, is that ‘many clubs feel the more they spend on “service” (which can be defined in many different ways), the more a member will stay with them. Generally speaking though, the clubs with the most floor trainers and the like, don’t necessarily have better retention than the ones who don’t.’
Tony’s Top 3 Retention Tips:
- Convince the member to bring a friend and/or have a friend join. We all know it is far easier to commit to and workout with a buddy than participating by yourself.
- Get the member involved in some kind of program (e.g., group exercise, PT, small group exercise), as it is far better for retention than if they just come in and do their own thing.
- Price. If you are able to charge a higher joining fee and lower dues you, to a degree, can ‘buy’ member retention. If members commit to a larger up-front payment, they usually don’t want to walk away from that.
To Find Out More, Contact:
Paul Brown, Face2Face Retention Systems | www.myf2f.com | email@example.com | Ph: 0416 299 892
Andrew Simmons, Vision Personal Training | www.visionpt.com.au | Andrew@visionpt.com.au | Ph: 0407 010 520
Justin Tamsett, Active Management | www.ActiveMgmt.com.au | firstname.lastname@example.org | Ph: 02 9484 5501
Tony de Leede, Fit n Fast | www.fitnfast.com.au
Article written by Analee Matthews for What’s New In Fitness Magazine – Autumn 2013 edition.