Risk Scoring – A Crucial Part of the Retention Puzzle

February 4, 2019 Category:

Risk Scoring – A Crucial Part of the Retention Puzzle

The verdict is out – anyone who wants to run a successful and sustainable business should be focusing on retention. After all, it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one, and increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. Poor retention is a particular problem for enterprises in the health and fitness industry. In this article, we’ll discuss the practice of risk scoring. Risk scoring is the act of analysing the potential loyalty of a customer or segment of customers, and is an essential component of an effective retention strategy.

Some customers or customers segments are inherently more prone to churn than others. This is expressed in patterns of customer behaviour, with some patterns indicating a higher probability to churn than others. However, without a risk scoring system, it is extremely difficult to identify these behaviours, and who high-risk customers might be. It is even harder to proactively take the necessary steps to prevent these ‘high-risk’ customers from leaving. An effective risk scoring system will not only identify who high-risk customers are, but will also be able to do it in a timely fashion for your to make the necessary changes before it is too late.

About risk scoring

The practice of risk scoring assesses the probability (or risk) that a given customer or segment of customers will churn, ceasing to do business with you. There are a variety of factors that come into play in determining the risk of a particular customer or segment of customers churning. While the specifics will vary between contexts, some factors that are likely to be important include how often they attend the gym, their purchase history, and how long they have been a member of the gym.

Risk scores can also be aggregated. Aggregating risk scores is particularly helpful for individuals who run several clubs or facilities at the same time. By comparing clubs’ overall risk scores, it is easy to tell at a glance which clubs are doing better than others at retaining their members and to swiftly respond to that information.  

In addition, most risk scoring systems will also be able to segment your customer base based on their risk scores, and provide you with a visualisation of the composition of your demographic relative to these segments. Here’s an example of two personas that you may see in your gym:

  1. ‘John’ refers to a customer with a low risk of churning. He’s been a member of the gym for a few years, regularly attends the gym, and has even brought some new clients to the gym through referrals.

  2. ‘Jane’ refers to a customer with a high risk of churning. She signed up for the gym a few months ago, but does not attend the gym regularly. In addition, she is coming close to the end of her fixed membership period.

With insights into the profile of your customers, you will be able to develop marketing and communications strategies that effectively meet your demographic.

Risk scoring in retention management

One of the best ways to utilise risk scoring in retention management strategy is through the practice of micro-segmentation marketing and communication. Micro-segmentation refers to the practice where customers are divided into niche personas or ‘segments’ based on several specific characteristics such as demographic information or behavioural attributes.

Micro-segmentation marketing, in turn, refers to a marketing strategy that creates “hyper-focused campaigns” to accurately satisfy the needs of each of these varying types of customers. This strategy is incredibly effective because one of the best ways to retain high-risk customers is to meaningfully engage them and help them to understand the value of what your business offers. Remember ‘John’ and ‘Jane’? Here’s an example of how two different types of strategic communication could be developed based on their risk scores:

  1. Since ‘John’ has a low risk of churning, we do not need to spend too many resources on ensuring that we keep his business. He is very likely to be retained even if no action is taken.

  2. Since ‘Jane’ has a high risk of churning, more resources should be spent on attempting to retain her as a customer. Jane should be sent a special offer to encourage her to stay on with the business, and customer service officers ought to meaningfully engage Jane to better understand her needs.  

Technology and risk scoring

In this article, we’ve discussed two simplified examples how risk scoring can work to improve your membership retention rate. However, in reality, the various personas you find in a given facility are bound to be more numerous, and the precise communications strategy required more nuanced and sophisticated. Indeed, risk scoring is a very complicated, and potentially tedious process for human hands. The work necessary to carry out accurate and effective risk scoring as a part of retention strategy is exorbitant, and unfeasible for most businesses.

Fortunately, predictive analytics, big data, and other sophisticated technologies have been shown to be effective at risk scoring in some industries. Should a business in the health and fitness industry implement a fitness-specific risk scoring technology, they are bound to see their retention rates quickly improve.    

Conclusion

It is crucial to understand how effectively you are (or are not) retaining your client base. In their 2018 NPS and CX Benchmarks Report, CustomerGauge discovered that “a shockingly high” number of companies can’t report how many customers they are losing annually, with 44% of respondents and 32% of senior management not knowing their retention rate. This is unacceptable. Tracking and managing member activity is a vital component of managing a business and sustaining membership retention in the health and fitness industry. Risk scoring, which we’ve discussed today, is an important part of getting to grips with your member demographics and, accordingly, improving your business’ membership retention.

Implementing Wearables To Increase Member Retention

January 25, 2019 Category:

A Retention Dilemma: Should I ‘Wake Up’ My Inactive Gym Members?

With the average person checking their phone 80 times a day, it is not surprising that an increasing number of gym owners are implementing strategies to utilise this kind of technology in their clubs.

The potential for wearable technology to motivate, challenge and ignite a competitive spirit in gym goers is extensive, and the use of such devices could lead to a notable increase in member retention. Not only that, but the opportunity to capture data and use it to identify and target at-risk customers is also considerable.

Studies have shown that 50% of new members on monthly contracts end their gym membership within eight months of signing up. This equates to around a $6 billion loss of revenue for the fitness industry each year. If gyms, therefore, can better understand what makes previously engaged members lose interest and ultimately leave the gym, the financial benefits are significant.

Now, more than ever, customers are results-driven, and impatient too. They don’t want to wait to find out their progress. They call for instant information on demand, whenever and wherever they are.

Health clubs are in a particularly favourable position to explore the possibilities of wearable technology and offering the use of wearables or tracking apps during workouts and classes could see customer retention rates soar.

In this article, we explore the potential that wearable technology and tracking apps could have on member retention and why club owners should seriously consider implementing the use of these devices as part of their member retention strategy.

Wearable technology – the key to customer retention

A gym member who is accountable for their workouts and motivation needs to be able to assess their performance. Wearable technology can track progress during exercise, summarise post-workout performance and can compare this with historical performance data. This enables gym goers to take responsibility for their own fitness goals, to feel a sense of accountability, and to compete with themselves. They become active and involved in their own fitness and, as a by-product more engaged and motivated to continue.

Shawn Potocki, the owner of UFIT Personal Training in Hamilton, New Jersey, agrees that the use of technology keeps clients more interested in their workouts:

“My clients definitely feel more accountable when wearing a heart rate monitor or another forms of wearable technology. This is especially true when they are doing workouts on their own. The technology helps them keep track of their progress.”

Technology that allows members to set goals and track progress gives them ultimate control and means they actively participate in their workouts rather than being a passive bystander – and doing so naturally has a positive effect on member retention as more engaged members are less likely to feel demotivated, stop going to the gym and eventually end their contracts.

Socialisation and Gamification – an essential part of your member retention strategy

The number of people using social media increased from 0.97 billion in 2010 to 2.62 billion in 2018 and is set to rise even further in the future. Fitness clubs have realised that combining social media and wearable technology creates digital communities, increases socialisation, and encourages members to view workouts as something social, enjoyable and fun.

Gamification is the use of game elements and game-design techniques in non-game contexts to engage people and solve problems. Enabling gym goers to communicate with one another and compete with one another via wearable technology gamifies the process and encourages friendships to form.

People who feel that they are part of a community when attending the gym, and who view going to the gym as a social activity are less likely to leave, so encouraging these communities to develop as well as a sense of friendly competition can see member retention rates increase.

Gyms can promote communication and competition via the use of social media, apps and wearable technology pitting members against one another, creating virtual leadership boards and even setting competitions themselves such as ‘who can burn the most calories’, ‘who has come to the most sessions’ and so on. Seeing other members engaged in such a way could also influence those who are less engaged and encourage them to become more involved.

Wearable fitness trackers that can be linked up to gym equipment can turn both individual workouts and group exercises classes into a game, not only motivating members to push themselves harder but simultaneously increasing the sense of community at the gym. This feeling of belonging coupled with an increase in engagement in their workouts means members are also more likely to reach their personal fitness goals, increasing levels of satisfaction, motivation, and desire to continue.

Wearables and data collection

According to Soreon research, the use of wearable technology in the healthcare sector is only going to extend, with a predicted increase of investments into the healthcare sector from $2 billion in 2014 to $41 billion in 2020.

The vast amounts of data gathered from apps and wearables can provide gym owners and their team’s crucial information that can help influence membership retention strategies and can be key to answering the problem of how to improve customer retention.

The information gathered from these devices can indicate which members are at higher risk of cancelling their membership, enabling staff to intervene and influence with measures to try and turn them around, be that through 1:1 attention and motivation techniques or through offering an incentive to stay such as free classes or personal training sessions.

Sending out reminders for classes that might interest members based on the data collected from wearables, as well as training tips and push notifications could also help to encourage at-risk members to continue using the gym. Using apps that inspire people to set their goals and track their progress when not at the gym such as inputting meals or additional workouts can also provide valuable insights into whether members are having trouble sticking to their goals – and if they are offering advice and support could help them get back on track.

Whether the gym is part of a multinational chain or a small local business, club owners are beginning to realise that improving member retention rates is key to their continued success, and the benefits of using wearable technology can play a meaningful part in this. Be it attendance, in-club spending, workout progress and fulfilment, or rating the facilities and customer satisfaction overall, all this data can be collected, analysed and used to improve customer experience from every angle.

Integrating wearables and tracking apps into the fitness experience and using this technology to gather individual membership data provides a powerful insight into how engaged customers are. This gives gyms the opportunity to become an essential part of members lives, improve their experience, increase motivation and offer them incentives, all of which will inevitably result in higher member retention rates and steady, sustainable growth.

Boost Member Retention By Motivating Your Gym Employees

December 29, 2018 Category:

Boost Member Retention By Motivating Your Gym Employees

As Kotler stated in his 1994 article, “The key to customer retention is customer satisfaction.” The core of any effective membership retention strategy is creating a positive experience of your brand for your customer. Such a positive experience often entails two main components.

The first component involves providing excellent customer service. It was found that 73% of consumers would consider purchasing from a brand again if they had a superior customer service. The second component is creating a sense of community. Humans are social creatures, who desire a sense of belonging. At gyms, members who’ve made a friend at the gym in the last three months are 40% less likely to cancel than those who haven’t.

Some common ways that gyms attempt to improve customer service and create a sense of community in a gym include group classes, the gamification of member experiences, and strategic communication. However, there is one commonly overlooked aspect of gym management that, if well-managed, can drastically improve both customer service and customer’s sense of belonging in a gym – its employees. In this article, I’ll explore the important role that gym employees play in customer satisfaction and customer retention strategy.

The relationship between employees and member retention

The experience that gym staff have of the company that they work for, from higher management to the brand itself, has a strong impact on the membership retention rate of that company. Besides your customers, the best advocates for your business are your employees themselves.

It was discovered that leads from employee advocacy are 7 times more likely to close, and customers referred by an employee advocate have a 37% higher retention rate. In addition, brand messages get re-shared 24 times more frequently when shared by an employee as opposed to the brand. This phenomenon is bound to be further magnified as the Internet grows in popularity as a source for recommendations, and more websites like Glassdoor (a website where employees and former employees can anonymously review companies and their management) emerge.

This means that how your employees feel about your brand has an influential impact on how your customers feel about it. Studies have found that studies have found that companies with high employee engagement scores had twice the customer loyalty than companies with average employee engagement levels. It should be no surprise, therefore, that according to a Hay Group study, engaged employees can cause companies to grow revenues twice as much as companies with lower engagement levels.

However, one cannot assume that their employees are reflecting their brand in a positive light. A startling close to 50% of employees in North America are actively discouraging those they communicate with from purchasing from or working for their employer.

Thus, in order to achieve healthy membership retention rates, employees of the company must first be engaged and motivated. Here are some ways that you might go about doing that.

Start a conversation

The most straightforward way to find out what would motivate and encourage your employees is, simply, to just ask them. Never underestimate the power of creating an open channel of communication between employees and managers, particularly in organisations such as gyms, where gym owners and upper management rarely interact with gym staff on a day-to-day basis.

Find out what your employees enjoy most about their jobs, and what they enjoy least. If there are complaints that come up again and again, consider making some organisational changes. This process doesn’t have to be impractical or time-consuming. It could take the form of something as simple as feedback forms for employees to anonymously submit their thoughts about the company. If your employees feel heard, they’re more likely to feel valued by the organisation, which will, in turn, make them feel more connected to the company, and motivated to work hard.

Put down the carrots and sticks

It may seem tempting to ‘incentivise’ greater employee productivity through measures such as forcing employees to work for commission or to ‘incentivise’ better employee-customer engagement by mandating that employees engage with a certain number of customers every work day.

However, such strategies are fundamentally misguided, and will harm, rather than help, employee motivation. Dr. Paul Marciano, a Ph.D. from Yale University, found that the typical reward-and-punishment model is extremely ineffective at motivating employees. Instead, a whole variety of other factors including supportive feedback, respect, and empowerment are much more effective.

So, instead of constructing rigid organisational structures intending to compel employees to be more motivated and provide better customer service, how about investing in them instead? For example, employees of the health and fitness industry like personal trainers and group fitness instructors often have to invest large amounts of money into getting the necessary fitness qualifications to teach and improve in their career. A gym who wishes to invest in their employees could consider starting a ‘talent development fund’ to subsidise some of these training costs. This not only will make staff immediately feel valued, acknowledged, and supported, but will also improve the quality of service that they (and consequently, your gym) can provide to customers.  

Create the right connections

Once you’ve succeeded in winning over your employees, don’t forget to connect them with your clients. 70% of customer perception of a brand is determined by experiences with people. For example, encourage your employees to interact with your clients on social media once they’ve left the gym, or create fun social events in the gym space that are open to both clients and employees. This will not only link up your strongest brand advocates (employees) with your customers, but will also foster a sense of community for both customers and employees alike.  

Conclusion

In this article, we’ve explored the importance of the role that employees play in ensuring high levels of customer satisfaction and customer retention. So, the next time you’re looking for brand ambassadors, don’t forget – they’re right under your nose!  

Membership Retention Struggle For Low-Cost Gyms

October 30, 2018 Category:

Technology Can Solve Low-Cost Gyms Retention Struggle

Low-cost gyms are dominating the fitness industry. In 2015, the number of members at “budget club(s)” grew 69%, while the growth rate of “mid-market clubs” stagnated. As of June 2017, there were more than 500 low-cost gyms in the United Kingdom alone, accounting for an estimated 35% of all gym memberships, and offering membership rates from as low as £8.99 per month.

Besides cheap membership rates, low-costs gyms often share more than one common characteristic. Fernandez et. al. (2017) discovered that many low-cost gyms shared multiple characteristics, like running on very little manpower and offering a “gym-only proposition”.

However, the characteristics that make low-cost gyms so successful also create unique challenges with respect to membership retention. This article uncovers the challenges low-cost gyms face in retaining customers, and suggests that the right technology can meet these challenges head-on.

Low costs, low manpower, low retention

 The business model of low-cost gym facilities can be summed up with one phrase: the essentials. Besides doing away with rarely-used facilities like cafés and saunas to maximise workout space, many low-cost gyms also allow gym members to access the facility without requiring a staff member to let them in. For example, the U.K.’s largest low-cost gym chain, PureGym, has an access system in which each member has a unique PIN code, and international gym giant Anytime Fitness provides members with electronic key fobs for around-the-clock access.

Since low-cost gym facilities depend on a low-manpower business model, they observe substantially lower recurring operational costs than traditional gyms, which depend heavily on staff members being present on-site. These cost savings can then be passed on to the consumer through attractively low membership fees.

However, the same systems and operations that make it possible for low-cost gyms to offer cheap memberships also present severe challenges in terms of membership retention. We know that gym memberships are often cancelled when members experience low engagement, lack in motivation, or lack sufficient funds to continue with the membership. Members of low-cost gyms are unlikely to drop-out due to not being able to afford the membership fee, but they are particularly prone to experience both low engagement and low motivation.

Consider the average new member at a low-cost gym. This member is likely to sign up, make payment, and receive their gym access information through the Internet. When they visit the gym for the first time, they may not encounter a single staff member, since, as previously mentioned, most low-cost gyms have enabled staff-free access. Finally, since many low-cost gyms also tend to have non-binding membership contracts, that same member could cancel their membership as easily and as quickly as they signed up – all without meeting a single member of staff face-to-face. This lack of meaningful engagement between customer and company inhibits the sort of community-building that we know improves member retention rates, and transforms the gym into a mere physical location, entirely substitutable for the next best option. In addition, a lack of member engagement also means that the gym is deprived of an avenue to find out their customer bases’ sentiments and needs. This makes it almost impossible to identify which members are at risk of terminating their membership.

Members of low-cost gyms are also prone to experience low motivation to exercise, which in turn makes them more likely to terminate their membership. Because it costs so little to join a low-cost gym, the sunk cost (incurred costs that cannot be recovered) for the average member is very low in comparison to a mid-range or luxury gym. A member of a mid-range or luxury gym may, in the absence of all other motivation, continue working out as a result of sunk-cost effect; they’ve spent a lot on their gym membership and want to get their money’s worth. However, the sunk-cost effect is negligible in cases of low-cost gyms. The aforementioned lack of engagement that members of low-cost gyms experience also hampers motivation because it results in a lack of accountability for the average gym member. After all, if a member at a low-cost gym stops turning up, it is unlikely that anyone would notice.

The devil’s in the data

 It is obvious, therefore, that many traditional strategies or gateways to improve membership retention inherently conflict with the low-budget gym’s business model. For example, on-boarding new members can drastically improve both short-term and long-term membership retention rates, but on-boarding every new member entails a sizable team of staff that many low-cost gyms lack. Similarly, strategic communication with at-risk members, and creating a personalised member experience seem unrealistic low-cost gyms.

That is, until you fully consider the power of technology.

Many low-cost gyms already incorporate technology in their operations. After all, the automated member access systems at most low-cost gyms run on fairly sophisticated data and technology. In fact, these automated access systems may already hold substantial amounts of crucial member data, such as the number of times a particular member has attended the gym in the past month. This sort of information is powerful, particularly when harnessed by the right technology.

For example, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can utilise existing data to identify which members are at higher risk of terminating their membership, which locations (if a gym owns several) are more likely to see member attrition than others, and even provide custom class or product recommendations to members based on their gym activity. In fact, online fitness marketplace PayAsUGym has recently taken a step in this direction, signing a partnership deal with customer data expert InfoSum to gain greater insight into their customer base and to improve their customer retention rate.

With the right technology, a low-cost gym can generate a member experience as personalised as that at a luxury gym by acting as an intermediary between client and company – a role typically filled by staff. Technology might even be able to be more effective in understanding customer’s needs than staff members, since it is free from human error and available around-the-clock. Bye, bye, low retention!

Pricing Strategies for Gym Retention

October 28, 2018 Category:

Pricing Strategies for Membership Retention

Membership retention should be top priority for any business aiming for long-term success. It costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one, and increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.

One of the factors that affects membership retention rates is pricing strategy. In this article, I’ll discuss the current pricing strategies popular in the health and fitness industry, and suggest three strategies to improve membership retention rates.

The status quo: inefficient and ineffective

Pricing speaks volumes in this industry. When a gym or health centre sets its prices, it is also involuntarily committing to a model of business that prioritises either attraction or retention.

Statistically, it is well-established that 44% of companies focus on customer acquisition as compared to 16% that focus on retention. Taking the United Kingdom as a case study, virtually every commercial gym giant offers free trials of at least 1 day in length. For example, Virgin Active, Anytime Fitness, Fitness First, and Nuffield Health all offer free trial schemes of varying lengths. Other household names like easyGym and PureGym also promote offers which reduce joining fees for new customers. In addition, many gyms promote lower membership rates for new members. These establishments are all following a pricing model that intends to bring in new customers with eye-catching offers.

However, this pricing strategy also sorely misses the mark. The optimal strategy for a firm in the health and fitness industry is to focus its resources on retaining existing members rather than attracting new ones. But current behavior communicates to both existing and prospective members that the business cares more about its new members than its existing ones. After all, the old members aren’t the ones getting discounts and membership benefits.

Jill Avery, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, adds that this sort of pricing strategy also is likely to attract the ‘wrong kind’ of customer – “deal seekers who then leave quickly when they find a better deal with another company”.

‘Okay’, you might say. ‘The status quo hasn’t quite got it right. But what would an optimal strategy for membership retention look like?’ In the next section, I suggest a few general principles to guide a retention-focused pricing strategy.

Reward loyalty

Have you ever received a stamp card from a coffee shop? If you have, it probably sounded something like this: ‘buy 9 coffees, and get the 10th free’. If you’re lucky, you may even have experienced the sweet satisfaction of turning in a completed stamp card at your favourite coffee joint, and subsequently claiming a free drink.

That feeling of excitement is why so many coffee shops have this sort of loyalty scheme. When you feel rewarded for your action (in this case, consistently getting your coffee from one particular shop), you are more likely to associate enjoyable experiences with that same shop. You are motivated, through such an action-and-reward mechanism, to stay engaged with the shop you are patronizing.

And it’s not just coffee shops that play the ‘loyalty card’. International clothing brand H&M has H&M Club, a loyalty program that gives regular shoppers reward points for their purchases. These points can then go on to redeem “offers, services, events and much more”. Sainsbury’s, the second largest chain of supermarkets in the United Kingdom, also runs a similar program with their Nectar Points scheme. In fact, everyone seems to agree that rewarding loyalty matters. Except, strangely enough, the health and fitness industry, in which loyalty programs are not the norm.

If you’re a health and fitness operation, making loyal customers feel valued will not only improve their experience of your brand, but will also solidify their commitment to your business. Some techniques to make long-time customers feel valued include allowing for members to pay incrementally lower monthly rates depending on how many years they’ve stayed with you, or for long-term members to get perks that new members don’t, like a free towel service and refreshments.

This will not only improve membership retention rates but could even have the happy consequence of attracting new members through word-of-mouth recommendations from your ever-growing loyal and satisfied consumer base.

Charge customers at the right time

In a recent article, Harvard Business School professor John Gourville discussed the psychology of pricing. He discussed the case study of an “average health club” who is faced with the challenge of ensuring that they both attract and retain their member base (sound familiar?). Gourville suggests that the owner of a health and fitness business should actually make members pay monthly, rather than yearly, in order to improve membership retention rates.

This seems odd at first. Surely, making new members commit to a year of payments upfront is better, since it eliminates the ability for them to ‘drop-out’ every month. However, the psychological element behind payment means that a monthly payment cycle incentivises people to exercise more regularly than a yearly payment cycle. This, in turn, means that members of your health and fitness facility members are more likely to reap the physical benefits that they signed up with you in order to achieve, and will motivate them to continue on with their membership beyond the first year.

Thus, knowing when to charge is just as important in pricing strategy as knowing how much to charge.

Be sensitive to your members’ needs

Finally, one final important element that is necessary in pricing for retention is a sensitivity to your target demographic. Every business has unique needs and a unique demographic. You know your business better than anyone and are better placed than anyone else to figure out what sort of pricing strategy will work best for your members. Do your members value flexibility or costs-savings? Do they use all your services, or would they prefer paying for one at a time? Find out, and then work towards your demographic.

After all, at the heart of all of my suggestions is one simple principle: if your consumers feel valued, they’ll stick with you for the long-run.

Gym Membership Retention: It Matters

October 25, 2018 Category:

Customer Retention in the Fitness Industry

So, you’ve got the fitness company of your dreams. You’ve pushed through hours of conceptualising your brand and business model, creating the best facilities, hiring the best employees. You’ve even been successful at getting customers in the door. All the hard work is over now, right?

Wrong. The key to real, sustained success in the fitness industry is not member attraction, but member retention. This article will explore why this is the case, why it’s not necessarily easy to achieve a healthy membership retention rate, and why you should make improving membership retention a top priority, starting right now.

The importance of retention

 You probably don’t need to look at your bank book to know that a strong membership base is really important for any health and fitness business. However, if you do, you’re likely to see that membership fees account for around 80% of overall revenue, as Helen Watts discovered was the case for a significant proportion of businesses studied in her paper “A Psychological Approach to Predicting Membership Retention in the Fitness Industry” (2012). This means that member fees are a vital component of revenue (and consequently, profit) generation for fitness businesses. And yet, according to the Fitness Industry Association’s figures in 2002, the average retention rate for a fitness club is 60.6%. This means that each year, a club loses approximately 40% of its members! It is unsurprising, therefore, that the IHRSA has referred to membership retention as the “Achilles Heel” of the fitness industry.

“But who cares?” You might question. “Even if people leave, new members will just come in and replace them.” However, the statistics indicate that this may not necessarily be true. The 2018 State of the UK Fitness Industry Report shows that the rate of growth of the fitness industry is slowing – during the 12 months to March 2018, the number of fitness facilities increased by 4.6 percent, as compared to increases of more than 5 percent in the previously recorded period (March 2016 to March 2017). IBISWorld, an international market research company, has made a similar warning, recently predicting that Australia’s gym market may reach saturation in the next five years. This means that there is no guarantee that there will always be new members to make up for the revenue (and love) lost if your current members leave.

Additionally, apart from ensuring the longevity of your business, there are also inherent benefits to higher membership retention rates. Firstly, focusing business strategy on retaining existing members rather than attracting new members is likely to result in some real costs savings, since, as the Harvard Business Review notes, the acquisition of new customers entails unique costs. For example, the costs associated with advertising, new member discounts, and the practice of giving ‘free trials’. These costs are not incurred with the retention of existing customers. Thus, a shift in business focus towards retention will bring about costs savings, and accordingly, higher profits.

Secondly, improving your membership retention rate can also improve your rate of growth. With a more consistent consumer base, meaningful relationships between these regular members (and even between staff and members) are more likely to develop. This sense of belonging can drastically improve the member experience. As Phillip Mills once said, “people join to get results and motivation, but they stay because they make friends”. When people enjoy and have confidence in your business, they are more likely to recommend your business to others, bringing new customers to your door! Retained customers, therefore, could also be a valuable form of word-of-mouth advertising for your business. 

Sources of the problem

In the first part of this article, I showed that membership retention is really, really important for any successful health and fitness business, and that it is often a problem for businesses within the fitness industry.  Why might this be the case? I suggest three reasons.

Firstly, fitness culture is changing. The concept of holistic fitness is becoming more popular, people are demanding greater variety in their fitness regimes, and companies such as ClassPass and GuavaPass are stepping up to meet that demand. This means that the idea of long-term commitment to just one type of fitness facility or workout is becoming increasingly unattractive to consumers. In the Internet age, there are also an increasing number of resources available for free online that allow people to work out from the comfort of their homes, without spending any money!

Secondly, staying fit isn’t easy. At almost every point of one’s fitness journey, there is the temptation to quit. At the beginning, fitness is difficult because one hasn’t yet developed the habit of regularly turning up to the gym and working out. Even when that has been overcome, the motivation to keep exercising diminishes as one becomes more experienced, and session-to-session progress slows down. In addition, people often undergo life changes that make it difficult to keep up with their fitness routine – people go away to college, start demanding new jobs, or have babies. There are many exogenous factors that can make someone leave a fitness gym or facility, membership retention strategies aside.

Thirdly, and most importantly, health and fitness businesses simply aren’t doing enough to ensure that their members stay in the long-run. If businesses don’t actively prioritise membership retention, they won’t account for it in their business and resource allocation strategy. Many businesses even actively divert energy and resources into attracting new members rather than retaining existing ones. As has already been discussed, this is a big mistake, and is likely to be a significant source of the retention problem in the industry.

Don’t wait. Act quickly!

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably interested in improving your health & fitness business’ retention rate. Although every situation is unique, one thing to be mindful of is the existence of ‘first-mover advantage’. First-mover advantage is the advantage gained by the initial significant occupant of a market segment. Although this phenomenon usually refers to the gaining of technological leadership or resources, it is also applicable when a business emphasises membership retention amidst an industry that does not. As illustrated earlier on in the article, low membership retention is a striking problem throughout the health and fitness industry as a whole, and businesses haven’t caught on yet. But you have.

So, start thinking about your membership retention today. Look closely at your demographics, the people behind your profit line. Think about how to make them feel happier, more included, and more engaged. Think about developing relationships with them for the long-run, not just for the now, and start considering the resources you may need to do so. Start today, get that first-mover advantage, start retaining your members, and watch your business grow!