Gyms work to retain members, and fighting the “member churn” of people who come in and move out after a few weeks or months is a constant struggle. You work hard to develop a positive gym community and retain your members, but how do you grow your membership, and create a place where members are eager to evangelize on your behalf, to share that perfect spot to work out with their friends, co-workers, and family members? Is your gym membership retention where you want it?

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Peter Bregman recounts a bad experience that he had with a gym membership from an expensive gym facility. He had a critical insight about his experience, and his gym treated him that applies to nearly any gym:

“My gym made a critical mistake — it treated me poorly. After that incident, my feelings about the gym changed dramatically.” In a luxury business, it does not take much to make someone resent the fees he pays. Moreover, once that happens, the business dies.

It seems clear from Bregman that keeping a customer means building a positive relationship with him or her. While he does not name names in this article, you can bet that he told his friends and family about the outrageous way he felt that his gym treated him, thus poisoning any chance this gym had with attracting these people as new customers.

This is the essence of two suggestions given by Athletics Business in a recent article on gym membership retention. The key to retention is in two areas: 1. Being proactive in reaching out to members, and 2. Creating fun and focused spaces for social interaction.

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Retaining Members Means: Reaching out to Members!

Keeping a gym member is easier than finding a new one. To make sure that you keep those members that you have, you must also ensure that you remain in contact with them. Be willing to reach out to members who have gone recently inactive. If you have not seen a member within 21 days, consider contacting them to find out what’s been going on in their lives that kept them from working out recently. Knowing that an individual member matters on a personal level can help retain that customer.

Beyond this, be sure that you and your staff are always prepared to deal with problems customers have, and that you make yourselves available to your members. Particularly important in smaller gyms, showing that the owner and the staff use know the facilities and clearly care about their customers goes a long way to making gym members feel connected and relevant to the gym community.

For many people, a gym is a social meeting space, where friendships and relationships outside of work or family take place. Owners and gym employees should engage with whatever community they serve to encourage these social bonds. The simple action of front desk staff greeting members and, whenever possible, knowing them by name, can go a long way to making new members feel welcome, and to help integrate them into your gym’s fitness society. Sharing pictures and videos of member’s exercise successes — a photo of that successfully completed early morning spin class, a video of that weightlifter setting a new PR, that picture of the Tuesday afternoon swim aerobics class members smiling and chatting with each other — on an official Facebook page or Instagram allows your members to share their positive gym experiences with friends and family, and helps your community to grow outside the physical walls of your business.

Creating Active Social Communities Inside the Gym Matters!

Larger gyms may have dozens of themed classes that meet in a week, smaller gyms may have a few personal trainers that work with small groups, but whatever the setting and whatever the size, your gym can benefit from fun, interesting exercise groups for members to join. Not only will your members be building muscle, but they will also be building interpersonal relationships with other members and with the staff member in charge of the group. When exercise becomes a physically challenging social activity, it becomes natural for your customers to want to include their other friends in their early morning spin class or evening boot camp.

Even helping to organize informal groups not run by a personal trainer or other staff can help to foster this sense of community. People in a new gym in a new town will often be looking for a workout partner, someone they can meet with regularly to get encouragement and inspiration from, as well as someone to vent their workday frustrations to. Facilitating a workout partner search for new members, or going the extra step to introduce new members to other members with similar exercise interests can plug newcomers into your existing gym social structure, making them more likely to stay in the long run.

Successful gym marketing starts with establishing positive relationships with your members. The more they want to go to your gym, the more others will want to go with them. Let Harness help you create a supportive, reaffirming gym culture. Contact us today to find out more.