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New way to sell memberships

When it comes to health clubs, what’s one of the most important, indeed critical, aspects of the operation?

The answer is: membership sales.

The most important aspect of the business, of course, is member service, but the sale comes first - you can’t serve a client until you have one.

That’s why, during IHRSA’s 33rd Annual International Convention and Trade Show in San Diego, no less than eight sessions were devoted to the topic. That’s also why, this month, CBI turns to the participants in one panel discussion, “Generating Leads and Positioning Your Sales Team for Success,” for their best thoughts on the subject.

The four - moderator Chuck Hall, Jason Reinhardt, Amanda Konigsberg, and Shawn Stewart - emphasize the importance of well-defined sales systems, the need to monitor key performance indicators, the critical role of referrals, the use of strategically sophisticated promotions, the seminal impact of social media, the centrality of community involvement, and the need to remain alert to changes in the greater membership sales environment.

The State of Club Sales

“Great salespeople understand the science of selling and the soul of selling,” says Stewart, the director of operations for Gainesville Health and Fitness, in Gainesville, Fla. “The science involves having the right scripts and systems, understanding the systems, learning and practicing sales skills, and managing your numbers. The soul has to do with a deeper connection - it’s about creating

Stewart suggests that a sales consultant should spend the first 15 to 30 minutes of each day creating a prospecting game plan, and that their agenda for the week should include at least three to five hours “pounding the pavement” outside of the club. “You can bait the hook and sit back and wait for the line to bob up and down,” he counsels, “or you can jump into the water and grab the fish.”

Though the panelists had slightly different views on the tracking and legitimacy of sales metrics, all endorsed the primacy of numbers. “Key indicators have to be meassured to achieve a successful sales goal,” insists Konigsberg, who, employed by Active Sports Clubs, serves as the director of membership for the 92nd Street YMCA in New York City.

“It’s been my experience that a lack of appreciation for the productivity and accountability standards that are required to generate a sale is the reason for failure,” she observes. “When developing a sales team, the highest and best use of a manager’s time is to focus on perfecting and managing the basics: appointments, walk-ins, telephone inquiry conversions, phone calls, referrals, and outreach.”

Although everyone recommends referrals, Reinhardt, the owner of Go M.A.D. Fitness, in Monroe, Mich., is, perhaps, their greatest champion. Referrals, he posits, should be solicited from nearly everyone virtually all of the time - staff, existing members, new members, and even prospects who decided not to sign up.

“A great salesperson should connect with a guest, offer some health tips, and create enough of an engagement to ask for referrals - even if they don’t buy,” adds Stewart.

Reinhardt drives Go M.A.D.’s leads and referrals efforts with a telling tactic. “I don’t believe in the ‘F’ word - free’,” he said, explaining that is connotes a lack of value. Instead, he circulates “gift certificates” with a designated dollar value. He distributes tham, for instance, during cold calls to retail enterprises, such as GNC, harvesting leads in the process. “You have to get outside,” he urges. “You have to capture not just those who do business with you, but all those who appear in front of you.”

Konigsberg, formerly the director of sales and market- ing for the Newtown Athletic Club (NAC), in Newtown, Pa., recalls, “Our most successful member referral campaign was tied to the club’s ‘Big Build,’ a $16-million expansion project.” The initiative, which involved, among other things, a “first prize” of a new Lexus, helped drive a 30% increase in membership over two years, resulting in a waiting list.

“People are driven by the fear of loss,” Reinhardt points out, “so the notion of something like ‘the wait list is coming’ is very motivating.”

Other initiatives that have proven productive: “25 Days for $25,” with the money going to a charity; reductions in monthly dues pegged to number of referrals promoted with T-shirts reading “Is your member- ship free?”; and asking members to post “Proud Horsham Athletic Club Member” signs on their front lawns, and sharing photos of them on Facebook.

The Future of Club Sales

Over the last decade, a number of developments - the emergence of new business models, proliferation of budget facilities, availability of online fitness offerings, etc. - have had a dramatic impact on the industry, including membership sales.


Sales panel discussion

Available at the IHRSA Store

“The price, the offer, and the level of service have changed dramatically,” reflects Hall, the owner of HappyLeeFitness, LLC, and HappyHall Consulting, in Arnold, Md. “Competition has forced everyone to get better; social media has forced everyone to get better. If you’re not delivering from your Webpage or communicating via social media, you may not get a chance to make the sale, because your competitor will already have done so.”

Because cost and convenience remain primary concerns for consumers, it’s more important than ever - given the increased competition - for clubs to clearly communicate the value of what they do. “If you assure consumers that you can take care of their needs, that your club cares and delivers results, they won’t go anywhere else, regardless of price,” says Hall.

“The changing nature of the industry absolutely has forced the basic membership sales process to change,” reports Konigsberg. “The extensive development of boutique studios in the marketplace - ones offering a custom experience, no-commitment programming, and single sessions—can have an impact on sales and attrition. ... Multipurpose facilities need to change their mindset from ‘all- inclusive amenities in one location’ to ‘all-inclusive boutique experiences- all in one location!’”

She also suggests that clubs should create and promote specific solutions to common problems - e.g., arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, low-back pain, stress, insomnia, etc. - promoting the benefits of regular exercise, and aligning the industry more closely with the healthcare community. “Creating a low-back program can introduce you to a whole new market,” she suggests.

“The rule, without exception, for any sale, is that the better a membership consultant does through- out the needs analysis, the easier it is to close the sale,” Konigsberg contends. “If membership teams consistently make emotional connections and establish value within their marketplace, the close may be as simple as ‘Will that be MasterCard, VISA, or American Express?’”

“Sales is a very noble profession, especially since we get to sell a product that everyone can benefit from fitness,” concludes Stewart. “A great health club salesperson should first be a fitness expert - by becoming an avid student of fitness, health, your club, and the industry.” 

Craig R. Waters can be reached at


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