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Retention Basics

Bob & Jolyn Esquerre discuss the basics of retention:

Q: “What are the best practices regarding member initiation? How can we make sure our new members stay for a long time?”

A: Why is it that after 25+/- years of trying to fix the membership attrition problems within the fitness industry, we are still experiencing a membership attrition rate of between 35% to 45%? Our initial answer, no one’s job had depended on successfully integrating members into our clubs. Our 2nd answer, the 2009 recession and the slower recovery that is compounded by a high unemployment rate, is now forcing our industry to take a much harder look at (1) what hasn't worked; (2) what is still not working and (3) the need to come up with a Plan "B" that has options that have never been tried before.

If they are engaged & integrated, they will stay.

The 2010 Plan “B” must have four (4) interrelated objectives in order to achieve sustainable profits: (1) the creation of a valued-added environment that will attract new members; (2) have the ability to consistently provide value-added services and/or programs that create member-specific reasons for them to stay at the club; (3) have employees who have a vested interest [i.e. keeping their jobs] in managing the member experience so that these members can simultaneously get results and have a great experience; and (4) be able to quantify, package and market the member-specific results so that they can used to manage the increase in member referrals from "happy", "satisfied" members.

Our 2010 Plan "B": The Concept of Programmed Training [PT4] As a membership retention concept, PT4 (1) requires the repositioning of Club Programming as a comprehensive business platform that is able to seamlessly support the member experience, and (2) requires the club's fitness team to both deliver and manage the member experiences. Under PT4, the member experiences include the following four integrated programming options:

  1. Fitness Floor Programming
  2. Group Exercise Programming [Non-Fee Based]
  3. Personal Training Programming [Fee-Based One-on-One Services]; and
  4. Both Small [2 to 8] & Large Group [>8 to 20] Training Programs [Fee-Based].

The ultimate job for the fitness team members is to seamlessly move the members through each of the club's four programming centers so that each member can achieve their individual goals.

If they are engaged & integrated, they will stay. If they get results, they will stay. If they are happy, they will refer pre-qualified non-members to share their positive experiences with.

Bob & Jolyn Esquerre
Esquerre Fitness Group International
Business Solutions Consultants


The Enduring Power of Strength Training

By Jean Suffin

I started lifting weights in the ’80s. Just that expression—“lifting weights”—tells you how old I’m getting. But here’s the thing: as old as I’m getting, I don’t feel it, and that’s because I “lift weights.”

I’ve long been a proponent of weight training, now called “strength training” or “functional training.” The emphasis now is, instead of building bulk to look buff, to be strong and powerful in our daily activities. To be able to lift, carry, walk, and run. To have energy and prevent diseases, like arthritis and osteoporosis. And here’s what’s really fantastic about strength training: while you’re doing all of this, you’re looking fabulous because you’re building muscle and sculpting your body.

A good trainer can change lives, not to mention bring in members. Let’s face it: anyone can get on an elliptical trainer or a treadmill for a half-hour without too much assistance, read their book, and be on their way. The education and personal motivation that a trainer provides engage members in a lifetime of fitness that takes place—and here’s the key—IN THE CLUB. I run, bike, and hike, but religiously, for my entire long life, I’ve gone to the club to get my strength training in. There is no substitute.

In the August issue of CBI, we’ll be talking about new personal training trends and programs, and we’ll be featuring a progressive facility called Brick Bodies in Cockeysville, Maryland. Founder Lynne Brick is an internationally acclaimed industry veteran. Fitness magazine recently deemed Brick Bodies the Best Family-Owned Mom & Pop Shape-Up Spot in America. Lynne gets it. She gets that offering a variety of goal-oriented, trainer-assisted programs engages members.

Group training, shorter durations, life coaching, and “holistic” methods are at the forefront now. Time-crunched members are looking for ways to get efficient workouts for less money, and group sessions that engage participants in continuous activity can provide that.

And the basics, of course: make sure your trainers are certified and highly trained and skilled in form and injury-prevention. Set standards for performance and evaluate them regularly. Get member feedback. Treat your trainers as an integral part of your club’s team, and provide them with continuing education.

The only reason I ever took up strength training is because a trainer at my gym was paying attention. He noticed my poor form, approached me, gave me a freebie, made me burn like hell, and got me hooked. Twenty years later, I’m still strong, and I’m in it for life.


IHRSA’s Own Guitar Hero

Hello, CBI readers – it’s Mia checking in.

If you went to the 29th Annual IHRSA Convention and Trade Show in San Diego last month, hopefully you didn’t miss one of the highlights of the event: Joe Moore’s song. Yes—IHRSA’s president rocked out with his guitar to “The World Is Working Out,” accompanied by the exceptionally talented IHRSA Board of Directors and a video montage from club operators around the world. What a performance! If you missed it, don’t worry! It’s already on YouTube. 

Here it is, for all you IHRSA groupies:


How Will You Celebrate Earth Day?

Here at CBI, I’m often referred to as the resident “Green Queen”—not just because I write the bimonthly “Green Scene” column, but also because I’m constantly striving to decrease my carbon footprint at home and in the office.

Tomorrow, April 22, is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. How will you, your staff, and members celebrate? At the very least, Earth Day is an annual opportunity to reevaluate your business’ eco-friendliness. Take a look around. Maybe your facility’s already up to the green standard but, for most of us, there’s always room for improvement.

Consider these small changes for a big payoff: 

  • Paper towel waste: are the garbage receptacles in your locker rooms overflowing with paper towels? Perhaps it’s time to install an energy-efficient, cost-effective, eco-friendly hand dryer instead.

  • Budget-draining lighting: if you haven’t yet made the switch to compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), your electricity bill may be double or triple what it should be. Even better: many local utility companies will now subsidize or otherwise offset the cost of this upgrade.

  • Reusable water bottles: yes, recycling plastic water bottles is a good thing, but not having them in the first place would be even greener. How’s this for an excellent Earth Day gift for members: a reusable water bottle bearing your club’s logo! The upside is three-fold: members will appreciate your thoughtfulness; the environment will benefit; and, wherever members take their water bottles, your business will have a built-in publicity vehicle.

If you’d like to share your Earth Day festivities and green ideas with us, please comment below.

Find additional information at And have a happy Earth Day!


Small Group Training

Bob & Jolyn Esquerre, Lori Lowell, Michele Melkerson-Granryd, and Phillip Mills discuss the growing trend that is group training:

Q: “I keep hearing that group training is getting popular, so I decided I'd ask. What is the best way to implement group training? What kind of exercises work best? What demographic is typically interested in it?”

A: Your observations are correct....Group Training is indeed growing in popularity! The recession and the recovery, especially with high unemployment rate, has forced educated consumers to self-reflect more before they decide to spend money. Here are their thoughts, based on our experiences:

  1. They want additional spending options in addition to one-on-one training [e.g. Small Group & Large Group Training];
  2. They want a stronger reason to initially spend money, which include, for example
  3. Not only getting "Guaranteed Results", but they also
  4. Want a way to quantify/validate their results; which will give them
  5. A stronger reason to keep spending. If these 5 points occur consistently, they will have
  6. A very strong reason to refer their friends, family members and colleagues to you as their subject-matter-expert.
"... they will have A very strong reason to refer their friends, family members and colleagues to you as their subject-matter-expert."
However, most Clubs &/or Fitness Professionals are not successful in planning, launching & managing fee-based Group Training Programs.

Jolyn & I, as a minimum, have identified the Top 5 "Failure Points" why Group Training Programs have failed:
  1. Neither the Clubs nor the Personal Trainers knew how to market &/or position Group Training as an '"added-value" service; this occurred because
  2. They did not know how to create programming value for Group Training;
  3. They could not make a clear/compelling distinction between Group Exercise Classes & Group Training Programs [the exercises & the equipment used in Group Exercise Classes cannot be the same used in Group Training] ;
  4. The Club Managers & Personal Trainers did not know how to stimulate & manage consumer "demand" from educated consumers for Group Training Programs; and
  5. The selected Personal Trainers did not have the skill-sets to deliver & manage Group Training Programs.
For more detailed information &have the ability to ask and have answered your questions, please join us at the IHRSA Group Training Webinar on April 22nd.

Bob & Jolyn Esquerre
Esquerre Fitness Group International
Business Solutions Consultants

A: Group Training is very different from Personal Training. Group Training must stand alone as a separate department within the gym. Add it to the org chart.

Many people think that the best way to implement Group Training is to put it under the direction of the Personal Training Department. There is a skill to working with people in a group to include:
  1. Team Building
  2. Putting a compatible team together with a compatible trainer
  3. Delivering an outline to the group of "what to expect"
  4. The trainer must do their homework and know who they are working with.
The best success of Group Training will occur if you have an Trainer/instructor that is both a personal trainer and a group fitness instructor. Because the two approaches are very different it is important to have a really good handle on both skills (group fitness instruction and personal training).

A philosophy of operation of what the approach of "group training department" is critical and the club needs to identify exactly what the approach will be not only from a training perspective but also from a guidelines perspective.

Ask these questions for your team in regards to group training:
  1. What is it?
  2. How are we going to implement it?
  3. How are we going to market it both internally and externally?
  4. Which employees will be part of this "new" department?
  5. What does your "proforma" look like?
  6. How many people can you service; monthly, quarterly, annually?
The mistake that most clubs make is they just go up to the fitness director and say - let's start doing group training without any vision, mission, values, goals or philosophy being set.

Avoid this and focus on implementation by getting this "new department" ready and follow the 6 steps mentioned above for success.

Lori Lowell, Owner
Gold's Gym of Woodbridge, Lorton, Fredericksburg, VA, Madison, Milwaukee, WI
President, Group Fitness Solutions, LLC

A: Small Group Personal Training is a great way to expand your training business and generate additional revenue. Small group training often expands personal training revenues by bringing the group fitness participant into personal training. There is still a social component but more opportunity for individual attention and targeting the workout towards accomplishing specific goals. It’s also an affordable way to introduce members to personal training who have been resistant because of the cost or to increase the number of sessions a client is doing per week with the goal of creating results more quickly.

I recommend that you create your group with a set number of weeks, preferably 8-12, depending on the season. Ideally, you will have a theme that describes the focus – for example, in the spring you might offer, “Beach Body Boot Camp”; “Strong Bones” is ideal for a group of women in their 50’s and 60’s; Yoga Strong could be geared towards men and individuals who might be a bit skittish about getting involved in yoga; 10 weeks to a Stronger Back might be targeted to clients that your massage therapists have identified as. Ideally you will run 3 to 4 cycles of Small Group Training to follow the seasonal cycles of your business. In our area it makes sense for us to run a fall session (September to Thanksgiving, about 12 weeks). We do some smaller bridge sessions for our members who are in town through the winter holidays (Thanksgiving through the first week of January). A winter session starts in the 2nd week of January to Spring Break (2nd week in March) and a spring session runs from the end of March through the first week of June, which is when our schools get out. We also do a summer session starting in mid June which runs through mid August. During those weeks that no groups are scheduled the trainers can run make-up sessions if they feel the need.

It is also important to keep the groups fresh from session to session. You can do that through the theme and also through the equipment that you use. If you are starting brand new with boot camp – perhaps use the equipment you currently have on hand, then every other session or so – add something new – kettle bells, the power rope, ladders, go outside, etc. Keep in mind that your trainers will get bored more quickly than the clients.

Michele Melkerson-Granryd, General Manager
BodyBusiness Health Club & Spa

A: Group exercise has huge potential to help most clubs to improve their business. At a time when many clubs are being hurt by low-cost competition, clubs with great GX are actually increasing their prices and creating a whole new paradigm in our industry. While the average club has less than 500 GX attendances per week, some have more than 5,000, which creates remarkable profitability. I am aware of a number of midsize clubs with gross profits $2-3 million a year based on GX success.

The first key is to track attendance. You can’t manage it if you don’t measure it! Set yourself a goal of increasing weekly GX attendance from, say, 500 to 2000 over the next three years. Have your instructors set their own individual goals for every class they teach, and produce weekly ranking lists, with quarterly prizes for the best performances. Incentivize your GX Manager or Fitness Director to achieve quarterly overall targets. (Les Mills offers attendance-measuring hardware and analytical software if you wish.)

Methods for achieving your targets include:
  1. Recruit instructors with the potential to attract big numbers – people with previous stage experience are great, along with passionate fitness freaks.
  2. Create a training calendar for your instructors involving external providers and internal coaching. As with any athletes or performers, GX teachers need constant practice to become masters.
  3. Design a great experiential studio using theatre principles. The industry standard for studio design is bland and sterile. We need to create unselfconscious, fun places for people to enjoy their GX.
  4. Hold regular GX events where you introduce new classes and material, and ask your members to invite their friends along for free.
  5. Launch licensed programs like BODYPUMP® to create buzz and quality assurance for your members.
Phillip Mills, Founder and Creative Director
Les Mills International


The Marathon Experience

By Liz O’Donnell

There’s something to be said for being the one behind the scenes making everything run smoothly. That’s the role I gravitate toward in most projects I work on, and most plans I organize for my friends. For instance, I’m the account manager who organizes the editorial, design, and sales teams on CBI magazine each month. You’ll never see my writing or design skills; my talent lies in keeping everyone on track, questioning the process, and ensuring that each magazine prints on time.

And, as with my role at the office, my role in this year’s marathon will be to encourage, cheer on, and make sure my friends who are running know I am there supporting them. If you have ever lived in Massachusetts, you know that the Boston Marathon is an annual event few people miss. Patriots’ Day (today) is a holiday unique to Massachusetts and Maine that commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first conflicts of the Revolutionary War.

I love Patriots’ Day. As a kid, it meant the start of April vacation and, because I grew up only a few miles from the Boston Marathon’s starting line, it meant Marathon Monday as well. I’d get up early with my dad and we’d drive over to Hopkinton to watch the runners warm up, see all the reporters in action, and hang out with my little friends. The start of the Marathon is full of an almost overwhelming sense of excitement; the elite runners have an equal chance of winning, and those running for fun or for a charity are all pain-free and full of adrenaline for the adventure ahead. And then, with the crack of the starting gun, the runners race off. As soon as they were out of sight, we’d dash home to watch the Marathoners’ progress on TV.

As I have grown up and moved around the state in the last few decades, my vantage point for the marathon has inched closer to Boston. I’ve watched in Natick and Wellesley (two towns that are west of Boston), then in Cleveland Circle (a Boston neighborhood that’s adjacent to Brookline), and finally, right before the finish line, as the runners move from Commonwealth Avenue to Boylston Street for the final quarter-mile.

It’s always great to see the potential winners go by, but far and away my favorite thing to do is cheer on those who are struggling to keep their pace. At times, the noise is almost deafening as total strangers cheer on innumerable runners as they colorfully race by. If a runner has his or her name drawn on their shirt, shorts, arms, legs, or face, we’ll cheer for them by name. If there’s a couple holding hands in bunny costumes, we’ll root for them to take a few more strides. Shouts of “You can do it!” help to propel wheelchair racers cranking their hand cycles with tired arms up the Boston Marathon’s infamous “Heartbreak Hill.” The men and women who are stumbling and nearly delirious at mile 22 get high-fives and pats on the back from the sideline, reminding these runners why they decided to do this in the first place. And when the soldiers in full military uniform troop by, I get choked up and the level of noise ratchets up even higher than I could have imagined.

What strikes me each and every year I watch the marathon is this: these people are pushing themselves to the absolute limit, training on icy and rainy roads, through dark nights and chilly morning runs. The physical endurance and commitment to a specific cause is so inspiring to me. It never fails that I watch the marathon and think: “I could do this next year.” Now, I have never been, and likely never will be, a “runner.”  But I think the inspiration and passion can be applied to any type of physical fitness. If the marathon is the extreme, then we can all do a little better using that inspiration to get up off the couch and stay physically active. You can be sure that later today I’ll be full of workout ideas and ways to keep myself on track at the gym in the coming months.

As you read this, I am likely jumping up and down at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Hereford Street in the Back Bay… and if you listen hard enough, you just might be able to hear me cheering.


Rebecca's GRAVITY-Defying Field Trip

By Rebecca Maverick

When I learned that we were launching a blog, I thought this might be just the excuse I was looking for to get out of the office and go “into the field,” to visit health clubs and try fitness equipment I’ve never tried before.

So, earlier this week, on Monday morning, I traveled by train into Boston to visit the Boston Sports Club location at Downtown Crossing, and take a GRAVITY class on the Total Gym GTS machine.

The purpose of going there was really three-fold: Not only did I want to have something interesting to write about, but I also needed some help breaking through a serious case of writer’s block that had plagued me for years, and, finally, I was hoping to jump-start my workout routine because I was in a slump and wasn’t exercising with much regularity.

The GRAVITY workout on the Total Gym GTS was just what the doctor ordered; I think it accomplished all three objectives. I worked up a sweat and burned off some steam. It was challenging, but not too tough.

When I arrived at Boston Sports Club, I was welcomed by two smiling, friendly trainers: Robert Wood, regional director of fitness, and Meghan Hughes, group exercise coordinator. Both Rob and Meg really seemed to “know their stuff” and were very personable and fun to be with.

I was initially worried that perhaps there’d be a big learning curve, and that I wouldn’t be able to perform the exercises properly on my first try, but I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to pick up each one fairly quickly.

Rob chose to work out alongside me, on another Total Gym GTS unit (the club has four, total). Having Rob there, next to me, not only helped to create a rhythm, but he was also able to demonstrate more difficult modifications to each move, in case I was inclined to “take it up a notch.”

The machine itself has a pad that travels up and down on a track. Depending on which body part you’re working, you can either be upright, lying on the pad, or you can have your head facing downward. Its pad is very cushiony and comfortable.

The Total Gym GTS is simple to get on and off of, and the smooth, gliding motion is soothing, partly because of the swooshing sound it makes, which almost reminded me of a heartbeat. The motion itself gives you a freeing feeling. Moving back and forth on the track creates a sort of breeze that blows through your hair.

But that’s not the only way you use the moving pad. You can also place one or both feet on it, and perform many different exercises that way. I was amazed at the vast number of different exercises you can do on the Total Gym GTS.

Performing jumps on the machine provides a little “fun” by making you airborne for a moment. It reminded me of how sometimes I’ll just jump up and off of a curb, and click my heels together, just for fun. Something about that feeling of being up in the air, albeit briefly, feels liberating. Not unlike the weightless feeling you have when you jump up in an elevator when it’s about to come to a stop.

The club, itself, was spotless, filled with light, and housed all sorts of beautiful state-of-the-art equipment. And Meg greeted each of the members with a friendly hello as they walked past. She mentioned that she likes working in that particular area of the club because that’s the route people travel as they’re entering or exiting, and she enjoys engaging them as they come or go, to say “hi,” and/or “have a great day.” It was really refreshing to see how she engages the customers and makes them feel like part of the family.

Both Rob and Meg seemed really enthusiastic about the Total Gym GTS, describing how they use it regularly not only with their clients, but on their own. I got the sense that Rob and Meg would love to have an entire room full of Total Gym GTS units, so they could teach group classes, including Pilates. And although Meg is already very familiar with GRAVITY training on the Total Gym GTS, she seems eager to learn even more and is impressed by some of the other trainers and how they use the units in their own way. She mentioned that one personal trainer there is a martial artist, and that he does some complicated martial arts moves on the Total Gym GTS with great effect.

Meg explained to me that the people at Total Gym seem more like friends to her than business associates. And I concur. Not only did Cassie Piercey, Total Gym’s communications manager, set up this appointment for me, but she (among others) has been a source of inspiration and encouragement over the past few weeks, as I prepared to begin blogging for CBI. She helped me to overcome the writer’s block by reminding me that it’s easy to write about something you love, such as physical fitness and working out—which I do.

So, all in all, it was a really nice experience. I’ve been working out alone for a long time. But now, after having this experience of working with trainers, I think I’m hooked on personal training. And I hope to do more of it. It seems like the kind of motivation I need to stay “on track.”

And I’ve worked out every day of the week since.

To learn more about the Total Gym GTS, check out this video:

And check back again to see the soon-to-be-released marketing video that was filmed at the Boston Sports Club Downtown Crossing, which features Rob and Meg in it!

- Rebecca Maverick is managing editor of CBI magazine and can be reached at


Making Lasting Connections

By Mia Coen

Since I joined CBI in January 2009, I’ve managed to make a connection with nearly everyone I’ve ever interviewed or worked with. Thus far, the people I’ve met in the health and fitness industry has been so helpful, kind, and knowledgeable, and their unforgettable stories and triumphs have made a lasting impression on me. In fact, some of the associations I’ve made were fortuitous in that they led me to other interesting people and things that are relevant to my work and writing interests. Kind of like a “Six Degrees of Mia Coen.”

Take, for example, Kristina Ripatti, a keynote speaker at IHRSA 2010. She was also featured in our CBI Interview in the March issue. Patricia Glynn, our associate editor, interviewed her and it was my job to hunt down the best photos to illustrate the piece. Patricia put me in touch with Kaye Kittrell, a photographer who has worked with Kristina. What a surprise it was to be communicating with not only a talented photographer, but a philanthropist who shared with me one of her photojournalism projects, called Transforming Lives.

Kaye’s project was a compilation of photos and stories about people with spinal cord injuries and other disabling conditions. Though each individual had their own story, they all had something—or, I should say, someone—in common: their trainer, Taylor Isaacs.

Taylor is remarkable in the sense that his fitness philosophy is all-inclusive, extending to every human being. To him, exercise is a means of preventing injury, illness, and disease, as well as a performance enhancement—as he puts it, “two horns on the same goat.” This philosophy can be applied to spinal cord injury (SCI) patients and people with other disabilities, people who lead sedentary lifestyles, the obese, even healthy people…the list goes on and on. According to Taylor, fitness can mean the difference between degeneration and regeneration—for both the mind and body—and this is something he incorporates into his life and teachings every day.

In fact, Taylor is far more than a personal trainer. He’s a man who helps transform people’s lives, who has lots of experience as a clinical instructor, clinical exercise physiologist, and nutritional counselor, and is a speaker on the topic of health and wellness promotion. In 1999, he was awarded Met-Rx’s World’s Best Trainer for his work with quadriplegic Jesse Billauer, a top-ranked surfer who eventually returned to surfing. In 2000, he was given the same award for his work with Aaron Baker, a professional Moto-Cross racer who beat his one-in-a-million chance of regaining the ability to walk. In 2002, he was named IDEA Trainer of the Year, and the American Council on Exercise (ACE) named him Clinical Exercise Specialist of the Year.

When it came to winning awards for his work with clients with disabilities, Taylor said, “It was more than about transforming bodies—it was about people. It was about transforming attitudes and lives. My mission was to infuse Aaron and Jesse with power and strength. Immediately after being named the MET-Rx World’s Best Trainer in 2000, Aaron turned to me and said, ‘I am a champion, not someone who just wears the uniform of a champion.  I can’t wait to get back to our training sessions. I am intent on making unimpeded progress.’ I remember these words as a major defining moment. At that moment, my mission was clear-cut: I would work single-mindedly, unconditionally for results.” 

If you were at the 29th Annual IHRSA Convention and Trade Show, you would’ve seen exactly the results he talks about: Kristina Ripatti, a long-time client, glowed as she gave the feature presentation in front of the IHRSA community. Troy, Mike, and Tiffane, clients and friends of Taylor’s, boasted sleek physiques as they tested the NuStep Total Body Recumbent Stepper along with a variety of equipment on the trade show floor. If you went to the Kristina Ripatti VIP event, you would’ve seen Taylor himself!

I will happily be working with Taylor on future CBI projects on the topics of inclusive fitness, post-rehabilitation exercise, and personal training. Stay tuned for more!   


Training: Paid or Free?

Bill McBride, Scott Lewandowski, Geoff Dyer, and Brad Wilkins clarify a conundrum submitted by one reader who asks, If retention in mission critical, why make people pay for even the most basic level of one-on-one training?

Q: “If it costs far more to attract new members than it does to retain existing ones, why do most large health club chains emphasize on sales and closing techniques rather than on retaining clients through provision of cost free floor trainers? Most, if not all clubs are based on a paid-training model, but this ought to be part of the membership fee. Why the contradiction?”

A: Member retention is the bedrock of success. If your club keeps its membership engaged, delighted and progressing with results, it does better in all other areas – sales, ancillary revenue, referrals, community awareness, etc.

...sales and attracting new market segments is crucial to success.
The industry focuses on sales as a large number of members quit due to somewhat “uncontrollable” factors such as relocation, illness, injury, personal issues & financial hardship. An analogy is saving money – retention is the saving money & sales is the future earning potential. While we all like to save, without future income, many of us would spend through our savings and become broke. Sales is the growth engine. As our industry is still not attracting the vast majority of the population, with many mature clubs battling to sell more than their losses each month, sales and attracting new market segments is crucial to success.

Some clubs do indeed use an “included service” model – typically charging a lot more per month or somewhat more with a limited number of sessions allotted per month. Some allow the sessions to accumulate and some are “use it or lose it.” The right business model for a particular club is one that works for the business and the clientele. To run a multimillion dollar club at a relatively low price point and include highly educated service trainers for free is a challenged business model for many. Others that have free training and pay training struggle with two “silos” and a very confused membership base… Why pay when I can get it for free? As well as, what is the difference in qualification and service levels?

I do not believe there is necessarily a right or wrong approach with the various models, but I am of the personal opinion that regardless of your model, your members should be started properly on their journey and be able to get advice and support when needed as part of their membership. With that said, I would not offer on-going “free” personal training if you are offering fee based personal training (at the same dues rate) as this confuses two separate business models in the consumer’s eyes.

Differentiating what is included in the membership and what is an extra or enhanced service should be well thought out and articulated.

Mr. Bill McBride, Chief Operating Officer
Club One, Inc.

A: For a health club to be successful, the management must focus equally on membership sales and membership retention. Membership sales will continue to be a focus of a health club regardless of the club’s retention efforts.

Retention should not be the sole responsibility of the fitness department.
I recommend a cost free floor trainer such as a Fitness Specialist who offers fitness suggestions, coordinates fitness programming, and demonstrates new equipment. Health club owners decide not to create this position because it is an additional salary and prefer to use Personal Trainers who earn commission on paid sessions to service the members on the floor while prospecting for new clients. I agree that Personal Trainers should be interacting with members on the fitness floor to solicit new business. The dilemma is who is responsible to service members on the floor when a trainer is conducting a paid session. In the end, both scenarios have been successful for health clubs.

I would note that the fitness team is only a piece of the retention plan. Retention should not be the sole responsibility of the fitness department. The General Manager, along with his or her department heads, should outline each department’s responsibility in enhancing the member experience. This will create the most successful retention plan for club success.

Scott Lewandowski, Regional GM/Fitness Director
Fitness Formula Clubs

A: All clubs focus attention on sales, it is the lifeblood of our industry.

Member retention is AS IMPORTANT as new member sales but not all clubs track their retention or measure the activities that impact the retention of their members.

To acquire a new member there is a marketing expense and a sales expense or commission. Most of the time these two costs added together equal $100 or more.

After the new member has joined every month that the new member stays will add bottom line revenue, after the acquisition cost has been recovered!

Members will stay longer if they are actively using the club, if they are properly oriented in to the club, if they “connect” with both staff and with members…the list of retention tools at our disposal is enormous.

Providing trainers on the floor to offer advice will help, as will providing orientation clinics, or 2-3 sessions with a trainer to show the new member how to use the club and its programs and equipment. The first objective is to focus as much time and attention to member retention as we do to new member sales. It will then be easier to prioritize which retention tools will work in your organization.

Geoff Dyer, Founder
Lifestyle Family Fitness

A: You have asked some great questions about this wonderful industry we work in. And to answer this type of question it is sometimes a good idea to take a step back to observe the industry from a global perspective.

The first thing to realize is that it is a large industry. In the US alone there are approximately 30,000 fitness facilities. This includes everything from recreational centers, to large chains, to small chains, to “mom-and-pop” shops, to publicly traded companies, and everything else in between. These facilities can range in sizes from a couple thousand square feet to well over a hundred thousand square feet…with fee structures ranging from a few dollars per month to well over a hundred dollars per month. The point on this quick view of the industry is to show that there are a lot of different business models out there in the industry, with different strategies and goals…and this is why the contradictions you mentioned in your question seem to exist.

So, is member retention important? Yes it is. Do you need to manage your attrition rate? Yes you do. To what degree or effort do you attack it? Well, it depends. It depends on your model, your strategy, and your goals; it is all a numbers game that each and every one of us plays (no matter if we are a high-end low volume business or a low-end high volume business…or something in between) between membership activation, membership inactivation, facility capacity/constraints, fee structures, services, and available finances.

So, are all clubs doing the right things in regards to retention? Probably not. The days where commercial clubs could sustain profitability with 35% – 45% attrition rates are being challenged due to the current global economic situation. New approaches like the one you mentioned in your question should be explored to enhance the members experience and increase the club’s value proposition.

Brad Wilkins, Director of Fitness Mgt & Devt
Cooper Fitness Center


Childhood Obesity: Wii Can Work It Out

By Jean Suffin

My boyfriend bought us Wii games last Tuesday. By Thursday, he was so sore, he actually had to turn down running and hiking with me in our beautiful new environs in Boulder, Colorado. It seems he pulled a leg muscle bowling too strenuously. Mind you, it’s a computer game, and a simple flick of the wrist sends the ball down the alley. But that’s the fun of it, emulating the real sport. I bring this up because…let’s face it: to keep anyone interested in fitness—adult or child—it has to be fun!

For an upcoming issue of CBI, I’ve written an article about childhood obesity and what clubs can do to help reverse this terrible epidemic. While interviewing sources, I discovered a heartening thing: there are many, many people out there who’ve felt moved by this issue and have taken action. Usually, as human nature dictates, people take action only when an issue affects them on a personal level, and it seems this issue is affecting virtually everyone on a personal level. From witnessing a child getting teased because of his weight, to being frustrated by the lack of healthy options in restaurants, to the rising cost of healthcare, to the simple observation of more overweight kids at the beach—the people I interviewed were all driven to action by a personal experience and a realization that, to quote a few of them, “Something has to be done, and somebody has to do it.”

Robert Oliver gave up a high-powered, lucrative career as a stockbroker to start the non-profit Fan4Kids in Hoboken, New Jersey, to educate kids and families in low-income, inner-city neighborhoods about the dangers of being overweight and teach them how to be healthy. The “exercises” the kids participate in are disguised as fun and games, but the kids have such a good time and feel so good about themselves that they inadvertently learn that fitness is fun. Oliver emphasized that organized sports can hurt a kid’s self-esteem and that many children, by the age of 13, quit because they’re either not good enough to make the team or not good enough to excel.  Simple activities that engage kids with a social team-building component are best.

In my state of Colorado, there is no PE in the schools, so kids have to find another venue to stay active. Granted, the mountains are close by and the outdoor lifestyle and fitness-oriented way of life make this state one of the thinnest in the nation but, still, there are plenty of overweight kids. There’s also no shortage of nonprofit community centers that cater to families and encourage kids to participate in all sorts of healthy initiatives. Clubs have an opportunity to jump in and fill the gap. It just makes good sense on every level. Clubs can be a part of the solution, and they can attract a whole new generation of members.

And what I learned from the experts in the field, including Dr. Monica Pierson, a bariatric pediatrician who teaches physicians through an organization called The American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM), is that kids don’t need elaborate facilities to get fit. They need education, fun, and social outlets. Give them a few balls and put them together on teams and start to see things change.

Organizations like IHRSA and ACE provide resources for clubs to help them get started with programs to combat obesity in adults and children. Let’s step in and play a role in helping our nation’s next generation. It just makes sense.

To learn more about Fan4Kids, follow this link:

Visit IHRSA’s Resource Center at: