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The Retention Puzzle


You spend countless hours and marketing dollars attempting to entice new members into your club. However, you may find that the biggest struggle comes after the membership deal is signed. Whether it is 30, 60 or 90 days later, eventually some members fall off the fitness wagon.

Improving retention is a problem every gym faces, yet the solution is elusive.

But a few fitness facilities have taken a unique approach to solving the retention puzzle, establishing innovative ways to engage with members and provide them with a reason to come into the club.

Jeff Halevy, the founder of Halevy Life, identified what he thought was a fatal flaw in the industry. He felt there was a low level of professionalism toward personal training clients in particular. “I saw the burden always being placed on clients when they did not achieve their goals,” said Halevy. “It was never the trainer’s fault.”

To prove to his Halevy Life clientele that he was devoted to their success, he created the Fitness Guarantee membership model. Upon joining the gym, a thorough assessment is conducted for every new member, which includes determining lean mass, fat mass, cardiopulmonary fitness, mobility, flexibility and strength.

Each member’s progress is tracked throughout the following 90 days. If the client’s fitness has not improved in at least three out of five areas, they will get their money back.

“From our perspective, we wanted people to realize that we are a trusted source and that we are willing to put our money where our mouth is,” he added. “We hold ourselves accountable to very black and white metrics that are taken when a client first comes in. There is no gimmick. It is a very straightforward guarantee.”

The idea is so simple, yet revolutionary in some aspects. When trying to engage and retain members, there is no need to re-invent the wheel with eccentric ideas. All you need to do is provide results to assure members that you are invested in their success. When trying to increase retention rates, consider returning to the basics.

“To me, just making sure you have a really well functioning program is being out of the box and is all that is necessary in order to retain members,” explained Halevy. “Consumers have short attention spans. They are always seeking something new and I think there is some truth to that, but when you are constantly delivering results to someone, their desire to have something new is absolutely muted by the results they continuously get.”

O2 Fitness in Wilmington, North Carolina, also established an innovative way to get members into the club and keep them there. In 2013, the gym launched its loyalty program. Members earn points each time they workout, complete a personal training session, refer a friend, engage with the club on social media or complete various other activities.

According to Michael Olander, the CEO of O2 Fitness, members have posted 3,603 times on social media since launching the rewards system and around 1,900 new members joined through referrals from the program. Since launching the initiative, O2 Fitness has seen a 5 percent improvement in retention rates.

“We felt it was a good differentiating factor for us,” said Olander. “It is about creating habits that we felt [were] important for our members to have, like coming a certain amount of times in the first 60 to 90 days, trying new things, bringing friends, being social and being active participants in the club. We really wanted to use it to not just create member loyalty, but also create community within the clubs.”

Once members have racked up enough points, they can redeem them for various rewards such as gym merchandise, a free month pass for a friend or a free personal training session. O2 Fitness has also forged partnerships with local businesses, which allows members to redeem points for various services like a free month at Massage Envy or a free spray tan at Sun Tan City.

When it comes to choosing rewards, Olander suggests sticking with items that are easy to fulfill and have very little cost to the club, but also provide members with a wide variety of choices.

Not all retention strategies need to be monetarily or rewards based. Merritt Athletic Club in Baltimore, Maryland, strives to keep members engaged through a variety of fun activities and programs.

“We offer something for every member of the family at no additional cost,” explained Donyel Cerceo, the director of marketing for Merritt Athletic Clubs. “We have outdoor water parks, Zumba classes, a larger interactive kids’ club and junior fitness programs for tweens. We are not a gym, we are a lifestyle. Our mission is to be the best part of our members’ day.”

Of course, besides providing members with rewards and an eclectic offering of programs, listening to their feedback is also a critical element of the retention puzzle.

To assist with that challenge, Merritt Athletic Clubs implemented Medallia, a member survey service. “We have an entire customer experience team that focuses on the feedback we get from our members immediately,” explained Cerceo. “We correct any issues our members may have immediately and we can identify members that are not necessarily promoters of our club and help move them by exceptional customer service.”


Emily Harbourne

Emily Harbourne is the assistant editor of Club Solutions Magazine.

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