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How to build effective gym member retention programs

Keeping members engaged has always been a priority for gyms. In 2021 and beyond it’s going to become even more critical.

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For the past decade, the gym industry has seen tremendous growth.

Worldwide, industry revenue topped $96.7 billion in 2019, with 184 million members globally belonging to 210,000 health clubs.

Source: Statista

Then COVID-19 hit and shuttered gyms across the country. While the pandemic won’t last forever, its impact will.

For one, around 56% of people have figured out how to happily exercise at home. Others now value getting their exercise outdoors, with more bicycles sold in 2020 than any year prior.

While gyms provide a unique workout experience, there’s more competition than ever for them to worry about.

Gym member retention strategies are in the spotlight

Getting customers and keeping them is a top priority for nearly every gym. 

But when the pandemic first began to shut down gyms back in March, acquiring new customers became an afterthought.

The vast majority of health clubs shifted to doing their best to keep existing members engaged at home. 

While this was a necessary shift, member engagement, and retention have always been the smartest priority for your time and resources.

A study from Bain found that increasing member retention rates by 5% increases profits between 25% and 95%.

Gym membership retention statistics before and after COVID

Member retention is not something that’s historically been a priority for gyms because the average gym membership retention rate has been a smidge over 75%. (Personal training studios enjoy an impressive 80% retention rate.)

That’s going to change as more facilities reopen. On average, data from gyms has shown 30% of members return. Even the top performers have only seen that number rise to 50%, with it bottoming out around 10-15%.

Over time, this number will naturally rise as the scary and turbulent environment created by the pandemic is replaced by something resembling normality.

While it might be tempting to jump into full-blown member acquisition mode like it’s January 2nd, you’ll be competing with other gyms for a smaller pool of customers–at least at the start.

Even in the good times, that competition means memberships in traditional fitness clubs grew by just 5% in a three-year span

That’s why you should turn to existing members with a renewed focus on member retention. 

6 ideas for effective gym member retention programs

Hopefully, we’ve painted the picture that, now more than ever, member retention has become paramount for the survival of gyms. Here are six things you can do about it.

1. Offer free incentives to existing members

A lot of member acquisition campaigns focus on giving new customers perks, like a reduced rate or a free personal training session.

Lianne Mira, a licensed yoga instructor and fitness expert at Total Shapes, says that it’s all about showing existing customers value.

To achieve this, she adjusted the prices of their memberships and included free calorie-count recipes, workout plans, and even yoga sessions which, in the past, were an additional cost.

2. Start a member referral program

One of the best ways to encourage both member retention and membership acquisition is through customer referral programs. 

When a customer refers a new customer, they are rewarded for their contribution and assistance in bringing new members to that gym or studio. Not only that, but they also have someone they can now work out with.

3. Pay attention to member behavior 

A lot of gym management platforms have notifications that you can set up to trigger when a customer stops attending or cancels classes. 

This allows gym owners to pay closer attention to their customers who might need a little extra motivation.

Having this information can give owners the signal they need to be more hands-on and dedicate time to a specific customer who needs it the most.

📚 Read: The 7 Ultimate Survey Questions for Gym Members

This attention to detail can be a huge motivator for customers who value this extra support, especially since it’s something that can’t be replicated with a push notification from an app.

4. Don’t stop online classes just yet

When the lockdown started last year, people found themselves doing online classes for the first time. Some people enjoyed the ability to squeeze them in during a lunch break, or early in the morning before kids wake up.

In other words, online classes might be here to stay. It’s predicted that people will gravitate to a single fitness brand across in-person and online experiences, so be sure to keep an online option available.

The takeaway: don’t downgrade your Zoom account just yet.

5. Start a gym text hotline

As a text messaging service, we’ve seen first-hand how gyms have used texting to increase attendance of online gym classes.

With 98% open rates, SMS renewals are also a great way to improve customer retention. But we think giving your members a number they can send their questions to is an excellent way to differentiate yourself.

That way people can ask fitness or nutrition-related questions and know they’ll get an answer from an expert. 

Communication is the key to forming a lasting bond with customers, and your members should have a sense that you genuinely care for their health goals.

6. Focus on your tribe

A CrossFit gym in Ontario ran an online class called Sip n’ Stretch where people would have a drink and stretch for 40 minutes over Zoom. It was the box’s most popular class.

The point we’re making is that the social community element of gyms is one of your best retention plays. People who feel like they belong to a community will feel a much stronger bond with your gym. 

Consider the ways you can bake more social interaction into your gym–whether it’s a charity event, a family workout session, or a healthy food fair.

Gyms like Equinox have applied this strategy for some time. Others like Montgolfière gym in Paris have taken it a step further with a cocktail bar, DJ’d parties, and coffee shops.

The wrap on gym member retention strategies

Despite the many challenges facing gyms, we’re not all doom and gloom about the prospect of gyms coming back better and stronger.

Gyms will continue to provide a place for people to train in the way they always have, but there’s an opportunity to move in a new direction that aligns with how people’s lives have changed.

That should be at the heart of your gym member retention strategy.

Drew Wilkinson
Drew Wilkinson

Drew Wilkinson is the Head of Marketing at SimpleTexting. Drew has more than a decade of experience managing successful integrated marketing programs to build brands, raise awareness, and generate demand.

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