Membership Retention: Can Health Clubs and Gyms Recover Members?

membership retention can health clubs and gyms recover members

Written by Ryan Grimshaw

Ryan Grimshaw is Head of Brand and Marketing for Topodium Group. Specialising in digital marketing, communications and brand development, Ryan has worked in marketing for over 7 years. He heads up the Topodium Marketing division and leads a talented team of marketers in the UK, USA and South Africa.

October 27, 2020

It’s essential that businesses are prepared to evolve in order to best serve their future and current members. Though the big question right now is how can health clubs and gyms recover members? 

Across the globe we’re seeing the fitness industry undergo changes that will redefine how businesses operate and support their membership. 

Many gym owners and leisure centre managers will be working hard to revise their marketing plans and strategies; pivoting swiftly to optimise for customers whose needs now centre on digital fitness options …  but that’s not every member’s only requirement. 

The Health Club Magazine recently listed the hybrid model of gyms and health clubs as one of the latest trends. 

It’s clear that the pandemic has accelerated the need for leisure centres, health clubs and gyms to move on both the valuable digitalisation of their offering, whilst also maintaining in-person accessibility where possible, to keep our communities strong, healthy and active. 

But while leisure and fitness businesses try to bring in new sources of revenue, it’s no secret that the revenue from membership retention is what leads to long-term, long-lasting survival. Gym owners and leisure centre managers face not only the challenge of driving new revenue, but also maintaining income from their current membership. 

Can they do both? Can they successfully drive membership retention in this disconnected and disengaged world?

The answer: Of course. 

Still, there’s a few do’s and don’ts that will help recover members in a way that is authentic, transparent and customer-centric.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Membership Retention

Don’t: Dial up capacity

Some may jump to the quickest solution for generating revenue quickly; dialling up capacity to where it’s allowed or feels reasonable. Well, if you want to survive in the long run it’s time to rethink.

Members don’t want to turn up to your venue and find it crowded or unsafe, especially paying good money for their usual full experience. Their disappointment will reflect in poor membership retention and even more lowered income.

Having a real-time indication of your capacity at any one time, using CRM or app technology which Topodium Group can help with, will allow you to monitor your foot flow and keep members safe, informed and happy to return.

Do: Provide personalised experiences

Members will be willing to pay if you’re going to look after them on a personal level. If you can provide a personal service that meets the need of your members, you’ll be providing value at a time when it is most well received.

Consider offering a more intimate membership opportunity, where studios open earlier or later, with more time spent on welcoming members into the class, and more freedom of space. This also works really well as an incentive for those who want to ease back into working from the gym, or those who are more reserved and introverted.

These opportunities may require more resource, though you can offer limited exclusivity and charge a higher price point, finding the sweet spot that works for your business.

Don’t: Ramp up pricing without reasoning

Price-sensitivity has increased since lockdown as members are more critical of what to spend their money on.

Make sure if you are increasing your pricing that you communicate explicitly, clearly and consistently with your members. If you’re positioning your venue with quotes along the lines of, “It’s like having the entire gym all to yourself” then make sure you are delivering on what you’re promising.

Members will react less price-sensitively and will cherish an improved experience if you can guarantee they have increased access to equipment/kit, they have more time slots available for classes, they receive priority booking, and fundamentally that you’re providing a safe, covid-secure environment. Live up to the expectation or don’t offer it at all.

Do: Have a wide range of offering

It’s clear that diversifying your income streams is a quick way to revitalise your offer and drive new interest for your members.

For those members who are not yet ready to return physically, hosting virtual fitness sessions or online classes has proven very successful. 

Consider taking this a step further and developing unique programmes for your membership retention strategy. Develop services which relate to your members specific circumstances; perhaps a class for professionals who are working from home, or an evening virtual family class, or a members-only class for those who do a hybrid-mix of at home and gym workouts. You may even consider a late evening disco class with neon glow sticks and hi-viz workout apparel.

With the increased reporting of Covid-19 ‘long haulers’, many people are finding that it’s a drawn out journey to recovery, facing fatigue and lack of focus. Developing your own Covid-19 recovery and rehabilitation programmes within your health and fitness provision could be another way to build trust, show your expertise. Using trained staff, you could help members bounce back to pre-Covid fitness levels, opening up another avenue in re-engaging members.

Offering individual health checks, sleep advice, nutritional guidance or 1:1 virtual sessions (obviously under licence) will show your members that you’re there for their complete health and wellbeing.

The impact of the pandemic has also seen many of us suffer from poor mental health. Gyms, health clubs and leisure centres are primed to help members by providing specialist mental health services, both in venues and virtually.

Providing and resourcing mental health focused services will help your members. Ensure you have the right level of specialists to deliver this service. If you don’t have the capacity or expertise in-house, consider a partnership with mental health experts to help reach your members in new, innovative ways. 

Don’t: Fire out email after email

Avoid bombarding your membership into submission with email after email after email. It won’t work and will only serve to annoy your members.

To show you truly understand your members and that your membership retention strategy is considered, create a retention email structure that is responsive to the data and trends you’re seeing from your campaigns. Understand what is working well and what has flopped by responding to opens, non-opens, clicks, etc.

The average email open rate in the fitness industry is around 21%, with click-through at just above 2.5%. Email usually sees a good return within the health, fitness and leisure sectors, but to ensure you’re not just causing more harm you need to work out your flow. It’s only until you understand what works for the majority of your membership base that you can harness the real power of email marketing. 

Retention emails in particular will help members understand the value you’re providing, whilst also prompting engagement. 

True retention emails work best when they are automated (less time on your part!), triggered as a result of a membership behaviour (or lack of behaviour such as a membership lapse), and encourage members to get more engaged (either becoming more aware of events, classes, offers, etc).

The idea is that these emails are only sent to people who need them, when they need them. Stop fire-blasting your lists and start responding to your email data in a clever way. And remember: benefits always over features! 

Do: Communicate your venue infrastructure and hygiene practices

Use this time to educate your membership on what you’re doing to address their concerns and fears around returning to your venue. Utilise real imagery of your staff cleaning down equipment, or even produce a video to show how your one-way system works and how you’re protecting your members and staff. 

Why not consider using a member of staff – someone your members will know and have possibly interacted with often – to talk about the new measures in place, how things will work, and to provide that smiling trusted face your members have come to know.

Communication is key. Consistent and authentic communication out to your members via social media is one of the quickest and simplest ways to ensure your message is seen. 

Easily schedule your messaging across all your social accounts and platforms by utilising a social media management tool such as ToPost. You can use in-depth reporting to see which posts have been successful and use that intel to make smarter decisions on your messaging to members.

Don’t: Dismiss your community 

They may not all be in your venue right now, but you have a whole host of members who rely on you to keep them physically and mentally supported.

Building your community without expecting a financial return is one of the most authentic actions you can take. It shows that you care about the people who use your services, even when they’re not paying in.

One great way of ensuring all your members are fine is by checking in. Why not have your sales, marketing and front of house teams unite to call your membership base and see how they’re doing? 

Listening to your community, understanding their fears and concerns, and then using that data to make informed changes to your operations could mean a safer return for members, and a commendable action in honest, authentic membership retention.

Engaging your members by keeping them inspired and motivated is another way to provide benefit to your community. 
For example, holding member challenges can generate a positive buzz. Getting members to share their achievements and actively encouraging others can also help people who feel disconnected right now, perhaps those who previously relied on your venue as a source of social stimulation.

So, what’s your plan for membership retention in this new normal? What do you think of our recommendations?

If you require help or guidance in balancing your new member activity whilst retaining current members, let us know. From app development, to email marketing, social media management and content marketing, we’re here to help gyms, health clubs and leisure centres take back control of their capacity and revenue, whilst creating a safe environment for your members.

Let us know how our team can help you by dropping us a message.

The article was written by Ryan Grimshaw, Head of Brand and Marketing for Topodium Group.

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