How To Combat Gym Member Retention

Member acquisition is something that we often hear our customers talk about, but what happens once you’ve made the sale and converted that prospect into a member?  At that point in time, the more successful gyms turn their attention to member engagement and one of our favorite metrics – retention.

Study after study, and analysis after analysis has shown that member retention is less expensive than recruitment.  It typically costs a gym around five times as much to recruit a new member as it costs them to retain an existing member. Of course it is important for the growth of your gym to continue gaining new members, but you also must focus attention on strategies to decrease membership cancellations and hold onto your current valued members.

With the rise of boutique clubs offering programs and services at lower prices, gym owners are now put on the spot to create rewarding experiences and perceived value for members. Since we know that the cost to save a current member is much less than the cost of acquiring a new member, there is huge benefit in having a set of activities and resources focused on trying to prolong the experience with the existing members. Now, more than ever before, gym owners need to focus on making clients feel motivated and confident in their membership investment.

How can gyms meet retention challenges head on? Here are a few ways to consider:

Extraordinary Onboarding and the Right Gym Staff

Right off the bat, you can make yourself stand out as a gym when a new member is acquired. You don’t want your new members to feel lost, intimidated or overwhelmed when they first sign up. Make it a policy to make a personal phone call to new members two days after they join or send them a handwritten postcard in the mail. Let them know that your club is full of friendly people that are easy to connect and relate to! When it comes to hiring your coaches or personal trainers, focus on quality over quantity. A crucial element of an excellent customer experience is matching a client with the right trainer and allowing for smooth connections with other members. You want to hire people who are fabulous listeners and fully engaged in keeping in line with your club’s image and goals. Your personal trainers should easily be able to identify client needs and interests. For example, if a client is into group classes, trainers should know to pair them up with other gym members and create a mini “gym family” they can turn to for support and help reaching their goals. It’s also important to prevent friction points during the onboarding process and during the first few weeks. For example, avoid frustrating situations such as forgetting to give them their membership cards or neglecting to teach them how to book a class or use equipment properly. You must give them the tools to succeed and they will keep coming back.

A Reward Program

Name one person who doesn’t like presents? We thought so. Offer rewards and incentives to keep your members coming back. This is very crucial for the first few weeks and months of your new members’ experience at your gym. Offer a monetary reward for attending a specific fitness program or for getting their picture taken for your social media pages. Offer a free class to your gym members who attend classes a certain number of days for a month or even two months. Surprise members with extra perks for celebrations, such as reaching a fitness milestone.  Encourage engagement, contests and other events that get members engaged with your club and with other members, is another great idea.

A good gym is a community, not just a place to work out.  Perhaps after their first month of membership, you give them one month free (who doesn’t like free!) or a special discount at your smoothie station inside your club—there are endless possibilities. The point is, you need to keep your members interested and see the value of returning to your club.

Effective Software for Tracking Activity

Determining the reason a member cancels, or leaves is one of the most frustrating issues clubs face. Most of the time, it could have been anything. Did they dislike one of your instructors? Was the music too loud? Did they face intimidation inside the gym? WHAT WAS IT? The challenge is your lack of information. Besides asking how a member is doing every time they sign-in at the front desk, how can you track their activity and identify “fragile” members before they choose to cancel their membership?

The solution is Customer Experience Management software. This kind of software has more sophisticated tracking tools that will allow you to identify information such as who hasn’t been visiting your gym as often. Once you have this precious information, you can start putting together a strategy to interact and re-engage them. You can also use sophisticated tracking tools to easily see which classes have the highest attendance and focus your marketing efforts on promoting them even more. Customer Experience Management software helps build loyal customers, loyal customers bring friends, loyal customers stay longer, spend more money, and say great things about you even after they leave.

Using these tools, you can then implement the 21-day rule. The rule is simple: if a member has not visited your facility after a full 21 days, your club reaches out to re-engage them. Be sure to establish a membership retention team to reach out 21 –days, 60 days or even once per quarter. Methods of re-engagement can range from sending an encouraging email to personally checking up on the client the next time they attend a class. Your goal is to reignite their motivation to be a part of your fitness club’s culture and “family”.

Cutting Edge Classes

Last but not least, offer classes and programs catered directly to your member’s interests. Keep on top of trends! Want to compete with that boutique CrossFit gym down the road? Offer CrossFit classes and, while you’re at it, create a Groupon to encourage clients to bring a friend! Do your research to make sure you remain on the cutting edge.


Your club’s ability to create a positive environment will influence whether people keep coming back.  According to the Harvard Business Review, 64% of customers cite “shared values” as the prime motivator in forming an enthusiastic relationship with a brand.

Your club culture and environment should reflect the atmosphere of the area, as well as the beliefs and ideals of your members and the surrounding neighborhood to create a positive work-out environment.

These are just some tried and true tactics to fight retention issues; but in reality, the possibilities are endless.

Weighting out the winter


Winter is here and your members and future members are evaluating their fitness right now! They are considering their gym memberships and resolving in their minds to really get serious this next year. set goal, make plan, work, stick to it, reach goal - a success cThis is great for business but the challenge is always how to retain more of these people before they get discouraged and move on or just stop coming in.

Here is something to think about.

Do you know what fitness goals your member’s have? How would you know if they met their goals? If you are a health club operator You should absolutely know this information. Knowing what your members are trying to accomplish is key to connecting them with the right services and keeping them as members long term. If you could keep each member from cancelling even for an additional 2-3 months, how much additional revenue is that?

Here are a couple of ways to learn about your members fitness goals.

  1. Start with asking people when they first become a member. Try this, “Tell me what you are hoping to accomplish with this membership?” Hold the assumptions and give them a few minutes to answer. It is amazing what a few thoughtful well designed questions can produce. It should be no surprise that many people will be eager to tell you about their fitness goals. If they are sitting in a sales office at your health club, they will assume that you are an expert and will be able to advise them how to meet their goals. Capture what they have shared with you so that your trainers and management can access this information. Your engagement with this member should be driven by a desire to see them succeed.
  2. Another way to understand a member’s fitness goals is via a survey. The right member experience management system can provide you with an opportunity to engage personally with your member about their fitness goals and to learn how you can help. Soliciting regular feedback from members is the only way to know if you are actually providing them with what you promised when they first joined you club.

Here are just some of the things your members could be trying to accomplish.

  • Lose weight
  • Gain weight
  • Train for a race
  • Recover from surgery
  • Make new friends
  • Start dating
  • Need a break from their kids
  • and many more reasons

Take the time to understand what your members are trying to accomplish. A few respectful and thoughtful questions will go a long way towards keeping that member engaged and active at your club.


Are you doing anything to understand and track fitness results at your club? Let us know!

HVLP health clubs and member experience

There are a lot of options when it comes to low cost health clubs.  In a crowded field differentiation is necessary and it must happen on experience. Understanding your customer’s expectations and knowing how to meet them is how you will stand apart.

We recently recorded a webinar to help low cost health clubs understand why they need to worry about the member experience. Check it out below.


get more info here


I own and operate two health clubs and in our clubs we relentlessly work to remain focused on delivering great “member experience.” As my own understanding grows about “customer experience” (member experience in fitness terminology) and the memories they create, I hope to share what I’ve learned to continue improving not just our own operations but to have a broader impact on the fitness industry.Retain_Gym_Members

Getting the customer experience right requires acute awareness that all interactions between customer and company (people, plant, equipment, advertising, website, etc.) will merge into a single belief about your company.  This “memory” IS the experience.     Experience shapes belief.  Belief shapes action.  Action shapes results.  Say someone walks into your club for the first time and they are greeted warmly and personally. The sales person is genuine, caring and inquisitive about this person’s world.  The club is spotless and there is energetic and friendly conversation all around.

From this experience one begins to form a belief – “These people care and this place is authentic.”  If, when returning the next day, there is someone different behind the front desk talking on a cell phone and not paying attention, I start to question my belief – “Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps it was just the individuals that were caring yesterday, not the company.” 

Getting the experience right can’t be a “sometimes” thing.  It must be pursued “all the time” thing, even if you know that “all the time” isn’t possible. We call this the pursuit of excellence!


The authors of The Experience Economy (B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore) explain that if we receive any cues not aligned with the experience we expect, the experience is degraded. At Disneyland, if we see two staff members arguing or a sweeper walk past garbage on the ground, we log this in our memory as a “chink” in the Disney armor. Which by the way, I have never seen. But I give these examples of what would be negative “cues” inconsistent with our beliefs about Disney.  

In our own Member Experience Manual (our internal “Bible” for our gyms) we describe negative cues as “defects,” or, something that will degrade the quality of the product. We create customer experiences. Negative “cues” are the defects of great experiences. Our industry delivers all levels of member experience. Many health clubs effectively apply the same customer experience principles as some of the world’s greatest companies (Apple, Four Seasons etc.). Many are small and connected enough to always deliver a great “home town” experience. But mostly, when it comes to customer experience management we deliver mediocrity.

If we are to live up to our potential as major contributors for solving the current health care crisis, we need more legendary customer care stories than are being generated today.  If we totaled up all stories told about health clubs around the world, it seems the net result would be far more negative stories than positive.   Our goal should not be to merely have more positive stories than negative, but to obliterate negative stories. 

Create so many positive stories that the negative are insignificant by comparison. 

Would that help retention? Yes. We hear that we service the same 15% of the market. Yet attrition is stil 40% (or so). If membership growth in the US has moved from 45 million in 2009 to 50 million in 2011 and attrition is 40%, then over the last three years there are roughly 56 million that have quit. Granted, may of those rejoin somewhere else. But, I am concerned with those who came to use to solve a problem and instead were sold a membership. I am concerned with those that are used to the customer experience they receive from Apple, Starbucks, Disney and others, only to wonder why the same experience hasn’t permeated a business dependent on repeat visits and recurring revenues.

If we are ever to live up to our potential, we must design (Design: to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan) the end-to-end experience in a way that connects with and dazzles people when they are at their most vulnerable and we are in our greatest position of power and influence. This is retention by design. The next step is to deliver the experience. No process, policy, or person stands alone.  They all connect in a “customer experience ecosystem” to form what is the experience of our members. 

 Share your comments on this topic. Do you have a purposeful system designed to retain members at you health club? We would love to hear from you.



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!


You pride yourself on your club’s service and hospitality. You are much better today than you were yesterday but not nearly as good as you want to be tomorrow.  You work very hard to hire right, treat staff right, treat customers right, and to constantly improve. These efforts seem to be rewarded. The questions is can you still do better?

Let’s not kid ourselves about “retention.” You can initially retain members through specific tactics; lock people in to long term contracts and make cancellation painful. But these tactics won’t go unpunished. At some point your “customers” will break free and run like exploited hostages; once exploited, people rebel.  Sometimes it’s mild rebellion and other times it is loud and nasty.

Retention is the lagging indicator of customer loyalty; i.e. a result of the love your customers have for your business.

Stop seeking retention, and start seeking loyalty.  apple-logo-chest-fanboy

What if you measured attrition based on when customers’ hearts left you? Not bodies and wallets. What if you measured how many current and former members still love your business?  In other words, of the people still paying dues, how many do so but don’t really love your business? Of the people that cancelled, how many did so but still love your business?  If the answer to the former is “zero” and the answer to the latter is “all” you would have the highest loyalty possible.  Retention is thought of as people still paying their dues. When they stop, they move to the attrition side of the ledger.  But if you could measure the investment of their heart instead of money, how many members and former members would be on the “loves us” or the “doesn’t love us” sides of the ledger? Your customer retention/attrition metric and P&L are likely not reporting this.

Assume that long-term value was your only objective. Assume the only metric you were going to use to determine long-term value was customer loyalty. Where would you start? How would you determine the things that were causing violence to your loyalty objective?

Here is a simple filter to determine if your operation is creating even minor feelings of exploitation with your customers. Danny Meyer, in his book “Setting the Table,” makes the statement that “hospitality is what happens for you, not to you.” If your focus is on service and hospitality, look at every process and interaction through this lens. Ask yourself if it happens “to” or “for” your customer.  Start with how you answer the phone, transfer a call, check someone in, sell a membership, sell personal training, set appointments, sell a shirt, allow for a guest, cancel a membership, and handle complaints.  Dig into each of these and see if it is happening “to” or “for” your customers.  During the cancellation process have you turned the customer that loved your business into a former customer that now despises your business?

Let’s suppose you’ve looked at every process and are mortified to discover that almost all of these things, by design, are happening “to” the customer. How do you start to turn this ship around?

I can tell you this, not by commanding your staff to be hospitable!  Not by stating a new direction and mandating that everyone attend customer service training.

You start by looking at how you manage and lead your employees. Are their jobs happening “to” or “for” your staff?  Are you trying to be outwardly hospitable with an inwardly hostile culture?  Hospitality and service work when they are an embedded part of your culture. You can’t ask people that do not feel like they are treated well to treat others well.

If long-term value is the wish of the investor/owner, you have one path to follow: Only the right culture can create happy and loyal employees.  Only happy and loyal employees can create happy and loyal customers.  Only customer loyalty can create long-term value. Only long-term value will create a happy owner/investor.

A little forensic work will reveal that bad culture is generally due to authoritarian leadership. The pursuit of the wrong metrics is a wasting your time, your employee’s time, and your resources.

Do you have any comments or thoughts you would like to share? We would love to hear from you!