running-in-placeMember attrition is expensive. Every year many clubs have to replace 30% to 50% of their members just to stay even.  You’re running in place.  Every replacement can cost up to a few hundred dollars to attract.  That doesn’t leave you with a lot of resources to grow your membership.

Improving retention is critically important if you are going to break this cycle and start growing. But how?

There is no magic bullet. No single program keeps all “at risk” members coming back. Members leave for different reasons at different times in their life cycle. A program that is effective at keeping a recent member coming back may have no effect on the seasoned user who has decided to explore “options.”

It’s not hopeless – not by a long shot. The good news is that members generally fall into natural groupings.  It is possible to predict when members in different groups might terminate their membership. And often these groups’ characteristics can help you decide how valuable they are, what their natural usage level is, and what some of the triggers driving them away are.

In other words, by using your own information to understand your members better, you can improve retention by reaching the right member, at the right time with the right message.  Your retention program won’t be one size fits all.  It will be directed, nuanced and very cost effective.

Let’s look at how something like this might work. Remember, every club will be different. Your club won’t be exactly like these examples that are composites of a number of very different clubs. It is also important to remember that there is a member life cycle – at different points your members become vulnerable.  It is key to catch members at these points before the urge to leave takes root.

In some clubs we see a spike in attrition 60-90 days after a member joins. Perhaps the member started out strong…and then life got in the way; perhaps the member joined because of $0 down…but didn’t build a strong habit. Further analysis of these members can uncover different groups.  That allows you act decisively in a targeted fashion.

Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Generate a list of members who have been with you for 90-120 days and whose work out habit degraded after their first month.
  2. If any of these members didn’t complete the free fitness screening you offer during on-boarding, schedule a time with them,
  3. If in their first month they tended to work out Mon-Fri at lunch or before/ after work, let them know what programming you have that fits their schedule,
  4. If they used kids club in the first 30-60 days, let them know what new programming you have for kids (make their kids happy and they’ll be happy).

Attrition isn’t just in the first few months. Our analyses of various clubs suggest that there are later danger points.  Exactly when varies depending on several factors – dues level; club culture; target audiences.  But 12, 18, and 24 months out, some members will get restless.  Again, it is often possible to identify and group these people.

It can be especially enlightening when you identify groups of people who seem similar in many ways, but one group terminates at a higher rate.  Subtle differences between these groups can lead to exciting retention programs.

For example, long-term members working out more than once per week tend to have much better retention than those working out only once per week. Therefore we recommend that you create programs to encourage the “once a week” to become “twice a week” and try to get the ones working out twice per week up to three times per week.

Although you may have a very large group of long-term members who aren’t using the club at all, we recommend focusing on the members who are working out at least once a month. This is both cheaper than focusing on members who haven’t worked out in months (there are usually lots of those members) and more likely to be successful because you are focused on members already working out.

Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Find out what time of day they come in and let them know about other programming at those times on other days,
  2. Let them know about events your club is involved in within the community (races, outdoor classes…),
  3. Ask them to provide input on programming they’d like to see (sometimes simply asking for their opinion helps them engage…and may give you some new ideas).

Remember, this is a long run – not a sprint. One size does not fit all. But you will have a dramatic impact on retention if you take the time to understand and target the natural segments in your membership. Creating programs geared to them will pay off. Combine this with an understanding of your most valuable members will let you create targeted pilots using your scarce resources to the get the greatest benefit for your club and for your members’ health.

Please share any questions or comments with us!

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