With a new year comes newfound fitness motivation for people across the country — which necessitates fresh marketing strategies by health clubs.
“After 32 years in the fitness industry it never fails to amaze me that this influx happens like clockwork every year,” said Linda Mitchell, the marketing director for Newtown Athletic Club in Newtown, Pa. “What also amazes me is the fact that current members seem to come out of the woodwork in January to start using the club again, after sometimes disappearing for months at a time.” In fact, Newtown Athletic Club can generate more than 300 new members at the beginning of a typical year, according to Mitchell.
Merritt Athletic Clubs share a similar scenario. Donyel Cerceo, Merritt Athletic Clubs’ marketing manager, explained that Merritt sees about a 30 percent increase in memberships during January. Since clubs can time this influx of new members almost perfectly, they can also prepare for it. For example, this new year, Merritt Athletic Clubs is planning on rolling out more “Biggest Loser” type challenges, which it will market internally via e-mails and signage within its clubs.
No surprise, the first month of the year is also the top sales month for Gainesville Health and Fitness (GHF) in Gainesville, Fla. As a result, it will focus on promoting programs that are offered year-round but used the most after the turn of the new year: how-to classes being the most prominent example.
“We have ongoing education programs that we promote more in January,” explained Debbie Lee, the director of marketing for GHF. “It’s already an existing area of our company that’s staffed all the time, but after the new year, there are lots of ‘newbies’ that come down and don’t know what they’re doing who need extra help. We really do a push for those classes in January.”
Health clubs are turning more toward results-oriented marketing that focuses on the member experience, rather than price models. The philosophy is that people will immediately jump for a low-priced promotion but then lose their motivation to actually get in the gym and stay.
“This January we are really changing the message we typically market,” said Cerceo. “We are trying to get away from price-driven marketing because we know these people will join because of the great price but inevitably fall off in their usage. We are going to work on marketing weight-loss programs to the public because we know that the number-one resolution people make is to lose weight, not to join a gym, per se.”
Even though clubs gain their money through memberships, they gain their reputation through members’ usage of the facility. So, at the beginning of the year, clubs that focus on keeping new members (and newly-motivated old members) in the gym permanently will see more success.
To aid in this effort, GHF has used a program called “Face-to-Face,” which matches new members with a fitness counselor, whose primary responsibility is to keep the member engaged in the gym.
At Merritt, all new members are enrolled in a “Results Program” that lasts six weeks and guarantees the member will see differences in a key body measurement or get their money back. Merritt also has a “Back on Track” program to help those who have temporarily fallen off the fitness bandwagon.
For Newtown Athletic Club, the same concept applies. Getting members into the gym during January is one accomplishment, but keeping them there throughout the first quarter of the year is crucial.
“The increased member usage we see in the first quarter of the year falls off within four to six weeks,” said Mitchell. “In many cases we set up incentive programs or contests to encourage members to keep up their usage. This can range from contests which award prizes for regular use, or programs which educate and reward members for participation. We are able to use our Technogym Wellness Cloud and equipment in our TechnoFit Fitness Center to manage some fun fitness challenges that inspire members to keep coming to the club so they can receive recognition or win prizes.”
In terms of internal marketing to current members, Lee has found that weight-loss tips are the best way to re-engage those who have lost their motivation by December’s holiday season. Education is key, and it is a huge staple in GHF’s marketing plans at the beginning of the new year.
“In January we’re going to present creative ways of losing weight,” she said. “Maybe we’ll include the ‘Top 10 Ways to Burn Calories’ in a newsletter. We’re going to tell them how to do it, but then we’re going to tell them what programs on the treadmill or what classes they can take at the gym to help them do it. All of our education is how they can actually implement the education at the gym and how they can do it here.”
While January may bring an influx of ready-made members to health clubs, the goal of marketing departments across the country is not just to get those membership contracts signed. Once the new year hits, it becomes a full-fledged campaign to keep members motivated throughout the whole year and engaged within their respective clubs.
By Ashley Scoby