Since the inception of the health and fitness industry, club operators have tried to solve the riddle of member retention.  From offering free Personal Training and nutritional assessments to hiring “retention managers”, operators have tried everything under the sun to move the proverbial needle.  So why, despite the industry’s best efforts, does retention continue to plague organizations?

The reality is that there is no singular answer or panacea to the retention gorilla.  You can leverage tools and companies who espouse retention as their core focus, offer freebies or promotional discounts, or hire a staff member whose sole focus and incentives revolve around keeping your members.

In the end, what typically ends up happening is club owners and operators become frustrated with the results they are getting and move back to the norm which is living with the revolving door of members.  However, as we all know, this cessation of efforts in keeping members and focusing on enrolling new ones ends up costing the clubs more money since the normal customer acquisition costs for new members far exceeds the cost and effort it would take to retain those members already under their tent!

So, what is a club operator to do when most of the time staff are incentivized in signing new members or selling ancillary services such as PT and spa service?   There is no singular solution, instead, it is a combination of best practices and available technology that can be leveraged to improve the results of any retention efforts.

Hiring the aforementioned “retention specialist” can help; using vetted and proven technology such as Reunify can certainly help.  Better on-boarding is something that every member-based organization, whether it is a health club or trade association is, in my humble opinion, of paramount importance.

Dr. Paul Bedford, The Retention Guru himself, has gone all over the world evangelizing engagement.  Dr. Bedford has literally quantified this, 8 quality engagements a month with your existing members can result in one member saved!  8 as in the number 8!  Now if you’re really going to impress, if you conducted eight engagements per day, equating to 240-248 per month, that’s thirty members who are more likely to stay with you!  30!  What does 30 members whose duration of membership is extended mean to you from an ROI perspective?

Nelly Flumo of the Talley Management Group, a management consulting shop, in a compelling article ( writes: “Membership Retention is an essential part of Membership Management, and like Membership Recruitment, it is also part of the sales process.  Both recruitment and retention go hand- in- hand. I believe that if you recruit the right member from the start, nurture and meet their expectation, retaining them is simple.  Keeping in mind that retention is an ongoing process, we need to focus on retention during the recruitment stage and throughout the membership life cycle. Everyone needs to be involved in this process, starting from the organization leaders straight down to members.  This includes Board and committee members, who should be directly involved in recruitment and retention efforts.”

Whoaaa Nelly!  Stop the presses!  “Keeping in mind that retention is an ongoing process, we need to focus on retention during the recruitment stage and throughout the membership life cycle”.  Retention is on-going, because just like every relationship, it takes two to tango.  Making members feel wanted, heard and appreciated can reap great rewards.  Also, something I know Soul Cycle does extremely well, is creating a sense of community amongst their members

Speaking first-hand, my family and I recently joined one of the elite brands-not going to name any names here-who I have known to be regarded as excellent in their service, did little to nothing when it came to orientation for us as new members.  We were given the requisite tour, they talked up their personal training and once we signed…. well, you know, nothing after that.  What message does that send to your members?  Hey, now that you’ve signed after we chased you for several months welcome to the club and have a nice workout.

Now, I’m not suggesting at all that every club operates this way, or that even my own health club operates this way across the board.  I am merely relaying my own experience.  What if they had taken the time to learn (I mean really learn) what our interests were (more than just clicking a box in your CRM or CMS when your selling) and what they could do to support those interests, I might have bought more from them.  Without any emphasis placed towards orientation, you are essentially sending a message to your members, and that message is not one that is likely to keep them around longer than the term on their contract.

So, think about what you are doing today around engagement and orientations.  Is it enough?  Are you seeing results from your efforts? Could you do better?  Have you thrown up your hands?  If you haven’t thrown in the towel on truly implementing retention practices call me, we can help in more ways than one.  Hey folks, thanks for your time and if you have any questions, want to berate me for this blog post or just say hi, please do so.  Until the next installment.

By: Alex Buffington, VP Sales – Reunify AI