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Opinion: Understanding ‘the Other 80%’

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The Other 80%

Editor-in-chief Rachel Zabonick-Chonko shares tips and tricks for attracting the elusive group known as “the other 80%,” based on her personal exercise journey.

Everyone in the fitness industry is familiar with “the other 80%” — that elusive, nondescript group of individuals who have either never set foot in a health club before, or who join temporarily and then leave after a few months, never to be seen or heard from again. 

The Other 80%

Currently, the fitness industry is on high alert concerning this group. Many operators I’ve spoken with over the last year have highlighted the importance of reaching beyond the 20% of the population who are regular users of gyms, and into “the other 80%.” However, many are at a loss for exactly how to do so. Do a club’s marketing images and messaging need to change? Should operators experiment with new programs and services? Many don’t have a clear answer. 

Personally, I’m not sure the answer lies in a marketing message or program. Instead, I believe the answer lies in operators becoming experts (or at least well-versed) in psychology and behavior change. Or put another way, identifying exactly what motivates someone to adopt a regular exercise routine after months or years of inactivity. 

This is where sharing my personal history with exercise may be beneficial. 

For many years, I was a part of this group known as “the other 80%.” It wasn’t until after college — in fact, until I began reporting on the fitness industry — that exercise became a regular part of my life. However, even then “regular” was more like “intermittent,” with me joining gym after gym after gym, never staying for longer than a year or months at a time. 

I should know better, right? Technically, I work in the fitness industry. I know the benefits of a regular fitness routine and appreciate everything the industry does. But even so, for the longest time, nothing ever stuck. Every single time I joined a gym, I’d exercise for a week or two before losing all motivation, and ultimately, petering out. 

At least that was the case until January 2020, when I decided to join a CrossFit gym. What did I have to lose, right? 

It turns out, a ton of weight. In three months I lost 30 pounds, and gained a ton of confidence. In the blink of an eye, I became the person I never thought I’d be. That is, someone who goes to the gym four to six times a week, and absolutely loves it. 

Unfortunately, my CrossFit gym did not survive the pandemic. However, I have since joined a Pilates gym, and have maintained my enthusiasm for exercise sparked over a year ago when I first entered that box. 

Why? What did these gyms do the others didn’t? After some reflection, I believe I’ve identified the main factors that made a difference for me in my journey, that could be helpful to know as clubs try to reach people with similar psychologies. 

Goal Setting & Preparation 

One thing both my CrossFit and Pilates gym did right off the bat was force me to set goals. This wasn’t done two or three weeks into my membership, but before I’d even joined, in preliminary chats with staff as soon as I expressed interest in becoming a member. 

These were not “aspirational” goals, but specific, measurable ones, i.e, “lose a specific number of pounds in three months,” or “attend three to four classes a week.” 

The Other 80%

Once I’d committed to joining, both facilities then provided training to ensure I knew how to do the exercises correctly and was familiar with the equipment I’d be using on a day-to-day basis. 

At the CrossFit gym, this came in the form of a two-week beginner’s class, where I trained in a small group with other newcomers and an experienced instructor. At the Pilates gym, this involved an “intro” class, where I met one-on-one with an instructor to learn about the equipment and common terminology. 

These “intro” classes or series of classes were game-changers. Instead of taking my first class with no idea of what to expect, I was able to enter feeling empowered. As a result, pretty much all intimidation was eliminated. At former gyms, I’d always felt like a fish out of water when first getting started. 

An added bonus? In each intro class I met other members and staff, sowing seeds of connection that would come to fruition down the road. 

Takeaway: When prospects express interest in joining, it’s vital to gather information on their exercise history. If they have a history of gym hopping, or have never been a member before, consider making them take a beginner’s class before giving them full access to the facility. 

Community 

Operators from across the industry know the power that lies in group fitness. In addition to a great workout, participants gain access to a baked-in community that provides accountability, joy and motivation. 

I felt that at my CrossFit gym especially. I quickly got to know not only the names of everyone in my regular classes (instructors and other members included), but also what they did for a living, their hobbies and interests. In fact, at the beginning of each class, we’d kick-off the warm up with a “question of the day” such as, “What is your favorite go-to, feel good movie?” or “What is your biggest pet peeve?” This is a simple practice that went a long way in forming connections between myself and others in the group.  

As a result, I not only attended classes to get in a workout, but to see the people I had begun to form friendships with and care about. Nothing is more powerful. 

Takeaway: If you have group offerings at your gym, do whatever you can to plug new exercisers into these programs immediately. Doing so will increase your chances of retaining new exercisers by 10-fold. 

Price 

Lastly, my Pilates and CrossFit gym shared one other thing in common: they were on the higher-end when it came to pricing (around $150/month). As a result, joining was a commitment. If I was going to join, I felt obligated to attend to get my money’s worth. Admittedly, this was never a factor at gyms with pricing between $10 and $40/month. 

Takeaway: Emphasize the value of your fee-based offerings like Pilates and small group training. These programs are powerful tools for motivating people to attend, and for providing people with measurable results. 

The Other 80%

These are just a few of the things I’ve identified that transformed me from an intermittent exerciser to an avid fan. Hopefully, sharing my experience provides you with specific strategies or ideas you can use to attract and retain people like me, as you seek to attract those elusive members of “the other 80%.” 

Various other musings on “the Other 80%”: 

  • As experienced industry professionals, it can be easy to forget what it’s like to be a newcomer to exercise or a gym in general. It can be scary. Ensure your gym is empowering people to be successful, even if it’s just on the fitness floor doing their own thing. 
  • When goal-setting with newcomers, be sure to emphasize the aspects of exercise that are beneficial beyond losing weight. Oftentimes, increased confidence and improved mental health come before anyone drops a pound or two. 
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Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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2 Comments

  1. Kris Mulkey August 31, 2021

    Great article! Love your insights and think you are spot on. We are in the process of revamping our new member orientation – I’ll be sharing your article with the team!

    Reply
  2. Allison Flatley September 19, 2021

    Great article Rachel! Clubs can learn so much by spending time with the “80% ers” in their community. Try a roundtable of former members or those that quit after a few months. You will learn a lot! Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Reply

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