Understand Why Members Join to Understand the Reasons They Leave

Content sponsored by The Retention People.

Some people remain members of a health club for years while others leave after just a few months. Why a club retains one member while losing another may leave club operators scratching their heads. However, cracking the mystery behind member cancellations could be as simple as developing a better understanding of why members join the gym in the first place.

Reasons Prospects Join

Approximately half of members joined their gym to lose weight, according to a 2012 IHRSA trend report. The other half of members joined for other reasons, including to:

  • Stay in shape
  • Maintain their weight
  • Enjoy social aspects of the gym

Regardless of the reasons that members join, their expectations are that the health club will help them reach those goals. However, the study found that factors beyond goals go into which gyms members join, and those factors include:

  • Location
  • Equipment
  • Classes
  • Atmosphere
  • Cleanliness
  • Customer service

Every day when new members lace up their sneakers for that first workout, they are evaluating and re-evaluating their decision. They ask themselves if the club is helping them meet their goals and whether the club is still clean enough or has the latest equipment to justify the dues price. This re-evaluation process is compounded by the direct mail and online marketing messages that members receive from competing clubs, according to a study from FitnessForWeightloss.com. All of this makes it important that club owners and staff meet member expectations and continually prove the wisdom of each member's decision to join.

Reasons Members Leave

Members leave health clubs for a number of reasons. The main reasons, according to statistics portal Statista, include:

  • No time
  • Too much exercise too quickly
  • Lack of motivation or enjoyment in the activity
  • Pain
  • A bad experience on a machine or in a class
  • Financial reasons

Fitness owners know that many of these reasons actually are excuses. Unstated is the possibility that these departing members joined a facility because their expectations were not met. Relocation and financial issues can't be fixed by club owners and staff, but they can fix issues such as lack of enjoyment by introducing members to group exercise classes. They can fix lack of motivation by spotlighting members for their weight loss in club newsletters. They can help members relieve pain by introducing them to a personal trainer.

The more satisfied members are, the more likely they will stay and reach out to their friends to join them at the gym, according to Laurie Cingle, who consults and counsels health club operators about how they can increase retention.

Member loyalty can begin waning because of physical changes in a club, such as renovations, a flood or a fire, or it can wane because of changes in management or the social atmosphere of the club. When members feel as though their dues price does not equal the benefits they receive from the club, their behavior changes over several weeks, according to Statista.

Recognizing This Change

To prevent members from leaving, club owners need to recognize behavior change. One good way to do so is to monitor check-in frequency, particularly a lessening of check-ins, according to the IHRSA report. Also, monitor length of stay to see if they are now shorter. Members who are about to cancel their membership may begin complaining about issues that never bothered them in the past, and they may freeze their membership for an extended time. Proactive club owners make an effort to engage these rogue members to help prevent cancellation, Cingle said.

"Many gyms do not actually track their members' usage, but they need to so they can notice behavioral changes," she said. "The moment a member starts to be disengaged, the club needs to personally reach out. They need to offer a free training session, a shake on their birthday, even a call to ask how they are enjoying the gym can all help deter a person from cancelling."

Retention Help

Although members have many reasons for leaving, club operators can increase retention and limit cancellations in several ways, but savvy club owners know the importance that continually engaging members has to retention. Members stay longer when they feel a part of the gym's culture and when they have created a connection with the club, according to the FitnessForWeightloss.com study.

Depending on the length of membership, members' habits can fluctuate. They may regularly go to the club for a few months and then lag in their fitness efforts for a few months, which is why it is important to consistently communicate with them inside and outside the club through emails, mailers, e-newsletters and social media. Doing so keeps members satisfied, up to date about what is going on in the club, and most of all, reaching their fitness goals.

By maintaining member expectations and encouraging them to reach their fitness goals, club operators prevent dissatisfaction from becoming a reason for cancellation, according to the FitnessForWeightloss.com study. Even if members don't mention problems, they are continually re-examining the service they are receiving and determining if their gym meets their needs.

Part of those expectations are meeting their goals, so club owners and staff must ensure:

  • The promises the sales team made to each new member are being carried out
  • The new member gets everything offered when they joined—including a fitness evaluation with a trainer, if that was offered
  • Members know how to work all of the equipment
  • They are aware of everything the facility offers, including classes, juice bar, pro shop, child care, social media pages

Member retention takes hard work, good communication and attention to member needs. However, by having a better understanding of why prospects join your club, you increase your chances of retaining them for longer.