Clubs as Communities

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 2.35.37 PMHow to create a bond amongst members that’s hard to break. 

Imagine a world in which your members enjoy coming to the gym. Despite their busy schedules they look forward to working out every day.

This does not have to be a fantasy; it can become reality by creating a strong sense of community within your club.  While this approach may seem obvious, it is easy to overlook the power of community. Too many gyms allow their members to walk in the door, get on a piece of equipment, complete their workout and leave, without speaking to a single person.

Without a strong sense of community, members will not feel loyal to your club and retention rates can suffer.

“Naturally we keep our club very clean, equipment in good repair and programs functioning at the top level,” said Linda Mitchell, the director of public relations and community partners at Newtown Athletic Club (NAC) in Newtown, Pennsylvania. “As important as all of these elements are, they pale in comparison if members don’t feel interconnected.”

Fortunately, there are a number of creative ways to develop a sense of community within your gym.

The first step is to engage your members by getting them involved with the various services and programming offered at your club. If they do, they are more likely to enjoy coming to the gym and reach their fitness goals. Encourage members to take advantage of personal training, group exercise classes, wellness programs, youth programming and more.

“After a membership is sold, the new member is immediately transferred to our member experience team for follow up and education,” explained Mitchell. “We feel the member experience is so important that we have devoted an entire department to its implementation.”

A critical part of a positive membership experience is ensuring that members connect with other members, instructors and personal trainers. Help them build relationships with others in the gym. An easy way to do this is to host events.

“We are always hosting events throughout the club,” said Mitchell. “Sometimes events are geared towards a specific target market, such as a luncheon for the senior members or a Halloween party and parade through the club for the kids.”

Besides getting members engaged with activities in the club, it is also crucial to make sure they feel valued. Let members know how important their feedback is by conducting regular surveys.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 2.35.11 PM“Another tool that has proven to be a game changer for us is the Medallia member experience system for collecting member feedback on an ongoing and systematic basis,” said Mitchell.

According to Mitchell, each member receives the Medallia member survey once per quarter. They complete a three-minute questionnaire that ultimately produces a Net Promoter Score, along with other measurements on friendliness, business practices and more.

“Our Net Promoter Score increased by over 40 points in the space of a year as a result,” explained Mitchell. “Anecdotally, our members tell us that they feel we really care and are much more connected to us.”

However, building a community does not have to be limited to within the walls of your club. Get involved with the outside community as well.

Giving back to the community is a priority for Kim Kenyon, the managing partner of Gold’s Gym Dutchess County (GGDC), which includes two facilities in LaGrange and Fishkill, New York. Her clubs host around 20 events a year.

“Hosting and sponsoring events doesn’t always have to mean money,” explained Kenyon. “We have four or five pillar events that we are monetarily involved with and then we have our next level of events where we provide a giveaway or stuff like that. Then the third level of events would be where we donate some membership time for an organization to auction off.”

Recently GGDC participated in the American Heart Association program, Better You. During the program 14 women were selected to participate in a 12-week challenge. GGDC donated the 12 weeks of membership time for all 14 participants, along with 12 personal training sessions.

“That was a program we felt very strongly about,” said Kenyon. “We felt that it was exactly why we are in the business because it wasn’t a weight loss challenge, it was about getting healthy, getting off your metabolism medication or lowing your blood pressure, so the program was an absolute win-win for us.”

Fusion Fitness Center in Newark, Delaware, also goes to great lengths to give back to the community. Nic DeCaire, the president of Fusion Fitness Center Inc., uses fitness challenges as a creative way for members to get in shape while benefiting a local non-profit.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 2.26.19 PMThe club hosts six challenges a year, each between 21 and 28 days long. To join the challenge members pay a fee and all of the proceeds go to a local non-profit. Members are divided into teams of 20 to 30 people and they compete in various challenges to win points.

“You can earn one point for every workout performed during the challenge,” explained DeCaire. “Workouts must be a minimum of 30 minutes. Then once a week the team gets a special challenge, which might be to workout with a partner — that way we also encourage members to get to know one another. On the last day of the challenge we have a big workout celebration and we announce the winning team.”

Proceeds from the most recent fitness challenge went to Preston’s March for Energy, an organization that provides adaptive bikes for children in need. Each bike costs between $1,800 and $2,500. The goal of the challenge was to raise enough money to buy one bike for a child in the community.

Members got so involved with the challenge they blew past the $1,800 goal. According to DeCaire, they raised over $7,000, which allowed them to purchase four adaptive bikes.

“The greatest enjoyment of all the charity work we do at Fusion is watching the members come together,” said DeCaire. “It becomes more than just fitness and is truly about changing lives in our community.”

Of course it is crucial to remember that your staff play a huge role in community building. Besides helping your members feel engaged, make your staff feel like they are a part of the team as well. A happy staff will reflect on your members.

The Newtown Athletic Club helps its staff to feel energized and valued through the recognition program, Lifechangers. Based on nominations submitted by members online, an executive committee of senior managers will select an “Ultimate Lifechanger of the Month.”

“We celebrate monthly by inviting the members who nominated the employee to join us in recognizing the employee during a small informal ceremony where they are presented with accolades and gifts,” explained Mitchell. “That recognition is promoted throughout the club, social media and the community. We have found that even though employees receive discounts, they are motivated by recognition and appreciation.”

Fostering a strong sense of community takes time and is not a simple process, but it reaps significant rewards. Both Kenyon and Mitchell confirm that this sense of community contributes to member satisfaction and retention. “We are surrounded by low-price model clubs,” said Kenyon. “I can’t change that, but I can change the way members feel when they come into the club.”

 

By Emily Harbourne

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