Feature Article - March 2011
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Focus on Members

In a Tough Market, Customer Relations Is at a Premium

By Brian Summerfield

Use Your Imagination

It's no surprise that in the longest and deepest economic downturn since the 1930s, some health clubs are struggling to retain members. In this environment, many people are taking a hard look at their finances to determine where cuts can be made. Unfortunately, club memberships are a common target.

Needless to say, this has prompted club managers to get more imaginative in how they engage with consumers. "The economy has definitely made it harder. Health club owners and managers have had to get more creative," Windscheif said.

Part of that creativity has been focused on attracting new customers, said Jarod Cogswell, general manager at ClubSport Oregon in Portland.

"Consumers are becoming savvier when it comes to sales," explained Cogswell, who added that they're hunting high and low for deals to limit their upfront costs. "Thus, we have been forced to be creative with membership promotional offers, but at the same time, have the ability to sell value vs. price."

In other words, no matter what specials you offer, don't undersell your value and keep your integrity intact.

To be sure, drawing in new members is important. But how do you retain the ones you have, especially in this tough market? It's actually quite simple, and no different from when economic conditions are great: Make sure they're using the facilities on a regular basis. One way is to offer a different mix of programs, such as group training sessions. Windscheif said World Gym has improved customer retention and engagement by implementing an expanded blend of programs.

Also, be specific about programming offered to members. The more involved they are with programs, the more value they get from their membership. "If a member consistently utilizes the facility and the club is a genuine part of one's lifestyle, then they will look for other ways to cut costs vs. eliminating their membership," Cogswell said. "If they don't use the club, they leave."