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Engage Your Members


Members want to be more to your club than mere dollar signs. External retention tools are a great opportunity to show those members you do care and incorporate fun in the process. Using outside events, different activities or even a newsletter can help bring your club together in ways you couldn’t imagine.

By using external retention tools, members won’t consider your competitor. “My members are typically members for life, unless they are moving,” said Amy Passen, the co-owner of Canton Club Health and Fitness in Baltimore, Md., referring to the group of members that interact with the club outside the gym walls.

Getting Involved

The easiest and quickest road to improving your external retention is through your local community. The possibilities are literally endless.

Karmen Nenahlo, a franchisee of Anytime Fitness, gets her gyms involved with local events through the Chamber of Commerce. Nenahlo’s Anytime Fitness members run in local 5K and 10K races as well as half marathons. “Everyone gets an Anytime Fitness t-shirt so that everyone runs in matching shirts. They realize they are part of a team,” Nenahlo said.

At O2 Fitness community is very important. “We make it a priority for all members to feel they are a part of our community, and a major part of that is for us to be part of their community,” said Michael Olander, the president and CEO of O2 Fitness. “We feel that to really engage members, you have to give back to their neighborhoods, their causes, their communities.”

In March, O2 held its first organized charity event, “Pedal for the Playground” at their Brennan Station Club in Raleigh, N.C. Nearly 40 members and staff participated in a three-hour spinning class. The riders raised money for a charity and O2 pledged to donate $100 for each rider that completed the entire three-hour ride. The total raised exceeded $20,000.

O2 Fitness also regularly donates to charities in the form of free memberships. “We will give free membership time to almost any charity a member is part of, and have found that this not only strengthens the bond with that singular member, but never fails to have a ripple effect on other members they know or who see our donation at the same charity event,” Olander said. They give away over an estimated 100 years of free membership time a year.

Passen said that her club helps raise money for charities by incorporating the local communities and causes. This is the club’s third year hosting “Spinners for Dinners,” a 24-hour spin-a-thon where members sign up for times to bike in 24-consecutive spin classes. The event, that takes place in November, raises money for the Maryland Food Bank.

“It’s a great event — a real community event,” Passen said. “Local businesses provide food and donations for the raffle. Prizes are drawn every hour.”

Outside the Box

To build a great community your members need to know each other and the staff, and feel comfortable interacting with both. A great way to break away from the gym setting is to organize events outside the club.

O2 Fitness has implemented early morning outdoor bike rides, outdoor running classes and member socials. Anytime Fitness has hosted a Martini Party. A local establishment concocted a 150-calorie purple martini in honor of the club. Anyone that participated received the first martini courtesy of Anytime Fitness. “The more the members know other members, the more likely they will enjoy the club,” Nenahlo said.

Additionally, every Anytime Fitness manager is responsible for two outside events a year. These are usually member appreciation parties. This summer, there was a Hawaiian-themed party with about 100 people participating — the club  provided food.

There are huge benefits to engaging socially, Passen said. Her club has two different running organizations for members. One is free and open to the public — they choose a time to meet once a week. They typically do a three-mile outdoor run. The other is a half or full marathon training organization. Members are charged to participate in the latter.

Canton Club invites members and guests to a monthly happy hour by way of e-mail. The club makes a deal with a neighborhood bar or establishment that a member owns. Canton will pay up to $100 for appetizers for members and provide them the chance to socialize.

Using Your Resources

External Retention is an opportunity to really wow your members. Anyone that feels valued isn’t going to be thinking about going anywhere else. If members have a constant reminder of their club, then the club will start to be a routine part of their life.

Having an external program like dotFIT, an online nutrition program that allows members to log-in at home, can bridge the gap from home to the gym. “Each dotFIT club is given a unique URL to which they can send their members to order products online or to access their fitness and nutrition program,” said Jeremy Guenther, the National Account Specialist for dotFIT. “If members can interact with their program outside of the gym, there’s a much greater likelihood that they will see results and stick with the program.”

Anytime Fitness has implemented a “Pay it Forward” initiative. Every month, each manager is given $100 to spend as they deem fit on their members. Some examples have included buying a member new running shoes, buying a Physio ball, or even sending flowers to their work.

“They are such little things, but when you receive something like that, it can have a big impact,” Nenahlo said. “I don’t know who else does that.”

Offering your members rewards for meeting their goals not only inspires the member but shows you have a vested interest in their accomplishments as well. Fit Rewards is a company that provides a rewards program for members. Members get points for certain behaviors outlined by the clubs. For example: two points for every dollar spent on merchandise, five points for every check-in and 1,250 points for a referral that joins.

Offering loyalty programs to members uses merchandise they enjoy and gives them an incentive to pursue their workouts at your club. “When a member brings in a referral that joins, most of our clubs give them 1,250 points, which is enough points to redeem for a prize. They can go online and redeem for some golf equipment, a kitchen item or anything else in the 1,250 level,” said Mike Clarke, the director of new business at Fit Rewards.

Rewards aren’t a huge cost to the club. Lots of members like the idea of earning points, but not everyone remembers to cash in. The cost isn’t as expensive as clubs would think, Clarke explained. The average club spends a total of $300 a month. Overall, clubs with the program have seen on average a 5 percent increase in retention.

Reaching Out

There are great community benefits to reaching members through social media. About 75 percent of posts on O2 Fitness’ Facebook page are questions pushing members to interact. “They not only interact with O2 in this case, they will often (virtually) interact with each other,” Olander said.  For example, posting about meals may lead to someone posting a new recipe.

The biggest thing Nenahlo has learned is the importance of being personal with your members. “Genuinely loving people, personal relationships, that’s what creates community,” she said.

That’s really what it’s all about. -CS

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