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In Print

An Uphill Battle


Your members move away, they get sick, their financial situation changes, or they simply join another gym to workout with friends. The reasons are endless. But in the end, a percentage of your members are leaving. Your goal is to find out why and hopefully change their mind.

Let’s start with the “why?” According to Colleen Kennedy, the director of membership sales at The Houstonian Club in Houston, Texas, there are a wide variety of reasons members choose to terminate a membership. These include, but are not limited to, cleanliness, a member not reaching their fitness goals or staffing.

The team of employees at your club is crucial to retention efforts. “The first thing I would tell people is to make it a great place to work. Retain your employees,” said Kennedy. “It begins with hiring the right people, spending time taking care of your employees so they are committed to the vision and the mission. When they carry that out and they are really passionate about it, then the members feel it.”

Larry Conner, the general manager of Stone Creek Club and Spa, agreed staffing has a significant impact on retention. He stressed that filling your club with top-notch instructors and staff is imperative. “Continuity of staff is extremely important to the club experience and making sure the level of service is where it needs to be,” said Conner. “Then coaching the team all the time is essential. Not just putting rules down, but being a part of the team and working with them. There isn’t anywhere our management team wouldn’t pitch in when it is needed.”

For some of your members, terminating their membership is not a choice. Maybe they are going away to college or recently broke their leg. However, chances are a partial percentage of your members fall into the non-use category, and they simply need to be re-engaged in club activities and feel as if they are a part of a community.

The Houstonian Club has implemented several initiatives to show members they are a priority. The Houstonian Cares program, developed by Kennedy, is an example. “The staff clue the membership department into what is going on in our members’ lives, and then we act upon it,” she explained. “There is a man named Fred who comes to the café every day and he loves the Southwest Caesar Salad. He was hospitalized for two weeks, so we went to the hospital and brought him his Southwest Caesar Salad. We try to get creative and show our members how much we care.”

This considerate approach seems to be paying off for the club, which boasts a 98 percent retention rate. With around 6,000 memberships, The Houstonian Club sees an average of 22 in-activations per month. According to Kennedy, out of the 22, about 17 are moves, one is non-use, two might be medical reasons and one or two will get expelled due to financial reasons.

YB Fitness in Short Hills, New Jersey, boasts a similarly high retention rate. As David Bell, the executive vice president and general manager explained, this can be attributed to listening to member feedback.


© Jason Cohen Photography

After purchasing YB Fitness two years ago, Bell addressed the reasons members were leaving and looked to quickly remedy them. “This information was invaluable to not only getting former members back, but implementing programs and amenities to keep them from leaving again,” said Bell. This included adding new group fitness classes, retaining and hiring top-notch instructors, improving the complimentary childcare and creating an upbeat, energetic, professional and clean environment.

The YB Fitness management team also maintains an open-door policy. They are open to receiving, and even encourage, members to give their feedback. “We ask for as much feedback and suggestions as we can get,” said Bell. “We then figure out a way to give the members what they are looking for. Our employees are trained to welcome each member when they come in the club and make customer satisfaction the most important part of the job. A one-on-one relationship with the customer is crucial — without it, we would not be as effective.”

When a member comes in with a complaint or suggestion, work to resolve and accommodate the request as quickly as possible. At Stone Creek Club and Spa, Conner ensures all staff are empowered to handle any situation that may arise. “We always stress to our team the importance of taking care of any situation quickly,” added Conner. “Empower your team to make decisions when needed. This makes the team feel like they are part of the process and not just a follower. That way, the club is managed at all times, with and without you there.”

However, as much as you strive for a 100 percent retention rate, it is very hard to achieve. When a member does decide to leave your club, it is crucial to not just let them walk out the door. Instead investigate why they left and see if there is anything you can do to change their mind.

At YB Fitness, all cancellations must be done in person. “We listen carefully to understand their reasons for the decision,” explained Bell. “We then provide alternatives for the member to consider. For example, freezes, family plans, alternative class offerings, etc. I go over each cancellation. It truly helps being involved at that level. Information is the key to building the best customer experience strategy.”

Similarly, at The Houstonian Club, cancellations must be handled through the membership department. “For someone that is non-use, those are the people that we try to get re-engaged in the club,” said Kennedy. “We will do a complimentary training session. We also have a member service manager who handles the in-activations and is very well trained. If someone says they are intimidated to come to the club, she will go take classes with them, meet them in the lobby and get them re-oriented with the club.”

Hopefully, by hiring the right staff, training all employees, listening to member feedback and accommodating member needs, your retention rate will be an easier uphill battle.

Emily Harbourne

Emily Harbourne is the former assistant editor of Club Solutions Magazine.

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