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Member Retention: The Importance of Relationships

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Two health clubs share how to be successful at member retention through communication and a great club culture.

Due to the huge losses of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever for your club to retain the members who have come back post-COVID, and keep ahold of any new ones.

At Stafford Hills Club in Tualatin, Oregon, retention has usually been quantitatively defined and measured by their new member joins and attrition. In the past, a member who discontinued their membership was unlikely to return to the club in the near future. 

“With the uncertainty of COVID, we are seeing members who canceled during the pandemic are just as important to market to and keep informed as they will most likely return to your facility when they are ready,” said Evan Zupancic, the chief operating officer for Stafford Hills Club. “Keeping flexible freeze and cancel policies will benefit you in the long run and help you build trust with your members.”

For Zupancic, there are three major areas to focus on in order to be successful at retention. 

“Be consistent with your communication, fair with your policies and reinforce your value proposition,” said Zupancic. “Most of us, including our members, have whiplash from the rollercoaster of restrictions and have grown tired of the negative media headlines. Be the sanctuary from all the noise and safely help them feel comfortable to be social again inside your facility.”

Stafford Hills did this by never adopting the term “social distancing,” replacing it with “physical distancing.” Zupancic explained they value the relationships their members have made at the club and will continue to promote community — something that can’t be replicated virtually.

Consistent communication is a task the Houstonian Club in Houston, Texas, has made a priority. While the club was closed, they prepared the infrastructure to reopen safely and this plan was communicated to their membership by their general manager, Cher Harris, on a weekly basis. Additionally, they gave their membership four different options regarding dues payment during the closure so they could choose what worked best for them. In response, 91% of their members remained active during the pandemic. 

While virtual offerings can’t replace in-person connections, Zupancic said they can be a great tool to keep your members engaged and still paying for their membership. “This will be an important complement to your live offerings and an easy way to stay in front of your members,” he said. “If possible, promote live classes or recordings of your instructors as you want the relationship to continue between the member and your facility.”

The Houstonian quickly formed an online workout class schedule and group exercise Facebook community so their members could workout with instructors via Facebook Live. The club had several Zoom happy hours, cooking classes and art activities for the children to do remotely. Trainers, tennis pros, Pilates instructors and aquatic instructors adapted to connect and work with members virtually.

“The most successful and significant program we created is our online virtual group exercise and training platform,” said Colleen Kennedy, the director of membership for The Houstonian Club. “New outdoor group exercise classes and outdoor personal training has made a big impact on member retention.”

Additionally, Kennedy said the club has invested in amenities that help members feel safe, a key to keep them coming back. They installed a medical grade filtration system and implemented their biosafe water fogging system, which is available in all areas for member and employee use. “More recently, we installed a new system called Global Plasma Solutions (GPS),” she said. “GPS’ needlepoint bipolar ionization produces both positive and negative ions just like the ions created in nature that seek out and attack pathogens, viruses, pollen and mold to deactivate and neutralize them as well as inhibiting them from growing or spreading.”

While the responsibility of retention can typically fall on club operators, it truly takes a village to keep members happy and returning to the club. 

At The Houstonian, retention is the job of every employee. Kennedy said they hire employees who have a heart for service and a true passion to cater to members. “This training is ongoing for each department in our club with a strong emphasis on teamwork,” she said. “Our ownership took very good care of our employees during the shutdown, and likewise, our employees continued to take great care of our members by providing them with elite service.”

Zupancic agreed and recommends empowering your employees to be able to take action when they see a situation that needs to be addressed.

“Give them the tools to make things right for your members, whether it’s the ability to award a monetary benefit or just listening and answering a question,” said Zupancic. “Ultimately, you must have a culture of caring for the customer and be looking for opportunities to delight them. With the number of individuals your facilities team has the opportunity to interact with, they could make an incredible impact on the member experience.” 

Keys to Member Retention Success from Colleen Kennedy

  • Trust. “Members need to feel as though their club has taken every precaution possible with the guidance of experts to keep the members, employees and vendors safe.” 
  • Concern. “Members need to know we empathize with how they feel. They all have different financial situations, different views regarding masks, different personal struggles with respect to family members, etc. In our Stephen Covey training, we learn to ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ This is a very important skill our employees were trained to use.” 
  • Payments. “We gave our members various payment options during the shutdown and those options were appreciated.”
  • Options. “Indoor, outdoor and virtual group exercise options were made available for our members and many of our members kept their memberships active for the entire year.”
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Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor for Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com

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