You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand why member retention is the single biggest problem facing fitness centers and YMCAs around the nation. With the introduction of boutique fitness centers, Crossfit and storefront gyms, there are simply more fitness facilities, 15% more than there were just six years ago. At the same time, the advent of programs such as P90X, Fitness in the Park and Beachbody has given health-seekers a myriad of exercise options outside traditional physical fitness facilities. The long and short of this is that fitness centers are now working in an environment where there is more competition and a smaller base of potential customers. In this saturated environment, you simply cannot rely on a strategy that grows your membership base simply by selling more memberships. With fewer and fewer people walking in the front door and greater competition for those that do, fitness centers must place their focus on member retention.
But how? What is it that truly causes people to stay? With limited financial and staff resources, where should fitness centers focus their member retention efforts? People try to answer this question in many different ways. But if you look at the research, the answer to that question is surprisingly straightforward and can be summarized in a single word: onboarding. Onboarding is a formal process of meeting with a member several times over their first month to familiarize them with your facility, learn their goals, and develop a plan of action. (For a complete look at onboarding, check out our FREE eBook, Bringing New Members Onboard.
Groundbreaking Study on Member Retention
A break-through study done by Dr. Paul Bedford shows the power of proper onboarding. Dr. Bedford studied 77,000 new members of fitness centers over a four year period.1 Of those new members, a control group was given a standard one-time, 60-minute orientation session. The second group was given the same standard orientation followed by three additional sessions with a wellness coach of 30 minutes, 20 minutes, and 10 minutes over a three week period. The results were startling! After six months, 30% of the control group members had dropped out as compared to only 10% of the experimental group. After 13 months, the retention level of the control group was a paltry 40% compared with a much more robust 70% of the group that had received the three additional sessions. On average, the members of the experimental group remained a member a whopping seven months longer than the members of the control group!
The one key member retention strategy your fitness center cannot miss is proper onboarding. The place to focus your resources is on the critical first month. Our next blog posts will discuss exactly how to do that. We’ll look at how onboarding is different than an orientation, how to give a tour that maximizes member retention and what your coaches need to accomplish in their critical first meetings with a new member. We’ll also give you some practical tools like scripts for calls and voicemails with new members. So, be sure to subscribe or touch base again soon!
1Stephen J. Tharrett and Paul Bedford, Why People Join, Leave, and Stay with Health/Fitness Clubs: The Ultimate Handbook of Member Retention (Monterey, CA: Healthy Living, 2012), 122.Follow us: