Why Fitness Members Quit—and How We Can Keep Them

Members have many good reasons to join, but they need reminders of why they should stay. Here, how to stay relevant, connected and focused on the members... so their every experience with you is the best it can be.

by Jerod Langness

You can have the best team, classes and equipment, but if you don’t let members know about it, they may pack their gym bags and leave.

In the fitness industry, we acquire and lose members. It is part of the business. We always hope to keep them all, but, unfortunately, we will lose some. Some leave for reasons that don’t have anything to do with us, of course. But some leave because of their experience at our facility, and we need to address those concerns. Here, we’ll explore some of the reasons members leave—the reasons that are within our control—and look at the steps we can take to make each one a nonissue for you and your clients.

Members Quit When They Don’t See the Value

What they may think: “I’m not getting the experience I expected for what I’m paying.”

What may be happening: The member doesn't know how to maximize all that the club has to offer.
People join fitness facilities for different reasons. Many want positive changes for themselves. This can include overcoming bad fitness habits or injuries, enhancing performance, boosting confidence, and improving their lifestyle overall. Some are looking for a place where the entire family can get moving and be healthy. Others want a place to meet people and have a sense of community. If we fail to learn members’ main reasons for joining, we can’t make sure we meet their needs and wants, and they may leave us in search of a location that seems like it will.

FIND OUT THEIR WANTS, NEEDS AND LIKES. For members to see the value of their membership, the fitness professionals at your facility have to connect with them on a personal level and demonstrate that value. You may have a sea of fit members who are getting good results, but if a particular member feels she isn’t getting what she hoped for, she will leave.

INSTILL A SENSE OF BELONGING. It is vital that your team makes each club member feel that he or she belongs (see Just for Starters - Four Strategies to Welcome Newcomersfor specific tips on how to make that happen).

TALK ABOUT THEIR MEMBERSHIP PERKS. You could have the most amazing equipment, fitness professionals, products and services, but if members don’t know about them—or how they can benefit as individuals—those perks are essentially worthless.

CHECK IN FROM TIME TO TIME. The wants and needs of even your most tried-and-true members may change over time. Maybe they joined to take group classes, but now—after getting to know a personal trainer by chatting at the front desk—they may be open to one-on-one instruction. Keep asking your members what matters to them, and show them how you can meet their needs within your club walls.

Members Quit When They Don’t Feel Valued

What they may think: “I feel more like a number than a valued member.”
What may be happening: Members feel constantly pushed to add more services (and pay more money), even for things that aren’t of interest to them. It is no secret that a health club is a business. But some members may feel they’re not being heard or that you only hear them if they neglect to sign up for the add-ons. If that’s constantly what the members feel, you may lose them.

I’ve been in the industry for almost 20 years, and I know it’s easy to get stressed about the business side, and it’s normal to want to get your sales up. Sales are great, and it’s important to drive them, but members should never feel the pressure of the business need. “Sale” is not a four-letter word (okay, it technically is, but you know what I mean!), but if your only push is to hit a number, you’ll make your members feel devalued and unappreciated.

KEEP THE FOCUS ON YOUR MEMBERS. A healthy business focuses on meeting the demands of its patrons, not on the demands of its sales quotas. Actively and consciously show members that they are at the center of everything you do.

You and your team must do all you can to show members you know them—as individuals, not just as one of many coming through the door. (“Hi, Carol! How was your kid’s game this weekend?” means a lot more than, “Hi . . . you. Would you like to schedule a massage today? No, it’s not included in your membership.”) We have to begin each day with a “member-first” focus.

OFFER DISCOUNTS NOW AND THEN. Members like getting deals, and they may get excited for specials. We just have to make sure we connect the members to why they will benefit so they can grasp the true value for themselves.

SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION. This has to be on the minds of all employees, whether they are front-desk associates, membership advisors, maintenance staff members, personal trainers or anyone else who works in the club. It’s no easy task, but it can be the difference between a member staying or leaving. It’s vital that staff members show they are grateful for the member’s patronage, that they listen well to how the member’s experience is going, and that they purposefully do things to show their gratitude.

It’s important to do things for members without expecting anything in return. Offer educational opportunities, fun experiences, community events, and services that build trust and make clients feel valued. Where I work, there are many happenings throughout the year. We have weekly workshops, outdoor workouts, dances, holiday celebrations and many other events to say thank-you. It doesn’t always have to be an official corporate event, though. You can simply, and personally, give a thank-you card to someone that you feel could use it.

When you keep equipment updated and stay on trend with classes, members feel that their needs matter to you—and that you’re going above and beyond to meet those needs.

Members Quit When They See Quality Slipping

What they may think: “This place hasn’t been updated in a while. Same old classes. Same old equipment.”

What may be happening: Members may get restless for many reasons. It could be related to cleanliness issues, ill-maintained equipment, or the fitness floor not keeping up with advances in fitness trends, equipment and education

A well-maintained facility gives members peace of mind. They can concentrate on working on their fitness goals and not be sidetracked by frustration with maintenance issues. There’s a chance members won’t notice that the club is clean and well-maintained, but they will definitely notice (and tell others) if it’s not.

START WITH A SENSE OF PRIDE. It’s important that everyone on your team takes pride in your fitness facility and in giving members a great experience. Members know they are cared for if they see staff taking part in the upkeep of the facility. Interestingly, my fitness department has noticed that cleaning is a great way to connect with members about how their experience has been. This may be because we, as club staff, seem less intimidating while we have a spray bottle and towels in hand.

BE ON TOP OF TRENDS. To stay successful and keep members coming (and to attract new members), you must know what is going on in the industry. The fitness business is constantly evolving, and if you want to keep ahead of the competition, you have to cater to your members with offerings and information that will excite them and make them feel they are getting the best experience possible. Social media and other news outlets connect our members to all current fitness trends, as well as to new programs and equipment. So fitness club owners must stay connected to what members want and where the trends are heading. Again, talking to members individually is a great way to keep your fingers on the pulse of what cutting-edge options they would—or wouldn’t—like to see offered.

Members put their hands, feet and faces on those mats. Keep ’em clean to keep ’em coming back.

Members Quit When They Forget Why They Like You

What they may think: “I’m not really using all the services I’m paying for. This other place is cheaper, and they have X, Y and Z. Maybe I should check it out!”

What may be happening: Even if your programs are the best, you can still lose members if another fitness business is better at getting the word out. You have to know your competition, and you need to market yourself strategically.

There is a lot of rivalry in the health and fitness industry. Marketing is a very important component for health clubs: It creates brand awareness and lets members know what sets their health club apart from others. I work at a place that I feel has the absolute best people, places and programs for anyone to achieve their ultimate results, but if the members don’t know what we have (because we don’t tell them through marketing), they won’t get the message.

DON’T STOP MARKETING ONCE THEY JOIN. We have to make it easy for members to know what we have, as well as why it will help them. Think about how to market to current members—it may be different from what you do to attract new ones.

WATCH WHAT COMPETITORS ARE DOING RIGHT. To be the best, you have to know what others are doing well so you can know how to improve. Don’t just focus on why you’re better or why they’re “worse”—look at what you can learn from their successes.

SHOW YOU CARE (AGAIN AND AGAIN). Members may also see value in a competitor if there isn’t that personal connection that makes them want to stay loyal to your business. (I know, I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating!) First and foremost, we have to show we care. If you have the best programs and facilities and a staff of highly intelligent professionals, and if members feel truly cared for, they won’t be tempted to check out the competition. In fact, they may even tune them out entirely!

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
—Maya Angelou

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
—Theodore Roosevelt

Members may leave us for circumstances out of our control, but for the things that are in our power to control, we must do all we can to put their needs ahead of our own. That is how we serve our members, and that is why they will keep coming back.

See Your Club as a Member Does
Tour your club and use all of your senses to find (and fix) things that might turn off club-goers. Daily club audits are important for getting a feel for the member experience. It takes complete team compliance to keep a club looking, smelling and feeling like new—and it’s a key component to retaining members. For years, I have heard from members who have switched to my club because the gym they came from was dirty.

HOW DOES THE CLUB LOOK?
What might members see that they might recall negatively? Remember to look high and low and at eye level.

  • Are there sweat spots on the floor or equipment?
  • Is equipment out of place?
  • Are things dusty or dirty?
  • Are there smudges on glass or steel?
  • Is there clutter?
  • Does the equipment look like it needs to be repaired or replaced?
  • How do the team members look? They are the physical embodiment of your club’s brand.

WHAT DOES THE CLUB SOUND LIKE?

Noise pollution can frustrate members during their time in the facility. Think of what a member would be doing in certain areas of the club, and evaluate if the area is inviting or annoying based on the noise levels there. Is the stretching area next to a HIIT workout area (with lots of pumping music and workout sounds)? This could be upsetting for a member looking for a little peace.

  • Are there competing speakers in an area of the club?
  • Do the sounds make sense for the purpose of the area?
  • Can the sound be motivating to the members?
  • Is there a chance of noise pollution?

DOES THE CLUB SMELL GOOD?

This is one that can really only go one way. No one wants a bad-smelling club!
Walk around with the intention of noticing any smells that a member could notice. Go wherever members go, including the locker room, the corners, the mats and even the parking lot. Check out the little things as well, like the handles of dumbbells and the pads on benches and workout machines.

  • Is there adequate ventilation to circulate the air?
  • Are the bathrooms and locker rooms fresh?
  • How do your team members smell?
  • Is there anything smelly in the parking lot, like a dumpster or garbage can?

HOW DO THINGS IN THE CLUB FEEL?

When it comes to the sense of touch, it’s important to really experience what the members feel when they’re at your facility.

  • Is the upholstery on the equipment in good condition (not cracked, for example)?
  • Does the equipment feel clean (not sticky)?
  • Is there anything that could feel painful? (For example, brand-new pullup bars can be rough on members’ hands. You may want to forewarn them if it’s something that can’t be “fixed.”)
  • Does everything feel safe (no loose bolts, slick flooring or turned-up rugs that can trip members)?

It’s easy for those of us who work in the same four walls every day to lose sight of the attention to detail within the club, but it’s vital to stay on top of the little things. It could be the difference between members staying or taking their senses (and dollars and cents) elsewhere.

Meet our experts

AFM_Author_Langness Jerod Langness, Jerod Langness, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, WLS, BCS, is an NASM Master Trainer, team development manager for Life Time and the Life Time Academy lab instructor in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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