Be the ‘Coach’ Your Gym Members Need

Take member engagement to the next level to watch your results and retention soar.

In any discussion on retention, the two hottest topics are always engagement and onboarding. Several sessions at IHRSA 2018 covered these subjects, which is proof of how much attention health club owners are giving to customer relations as a retention tool.

Arguably, the terms engagement and onboarding can seem overly broad. Thankfully, IHRSA has commissioned a number of reports, webinars, and research to help guide club operators when creating an engagement system that works for their type of club and clientele.

Research and input from industry experts and club owners have drilled down into the details to come up with helpful specifics on enhancing membership relations.

One path to successful engagement is to offer services as a virtual coach or mentor to help your members reach their goals while creating more meaningful interactions with club personnel. After all, people need help and encouragement. Give it to them and they will repay you with loyalty and commitment.

Here are some suggestions to get you started.

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Get New Members Involved Early

IHRSA’s Guide to Health Club Member Retention stresses the importance of getting new members engaged in the first six weeks after joining.

“Clubs must recognize that each and every new member will have individual needs that truly can be systematically met to ensure maximum retention rates and brand loyalty,” says Paul Brown, CEO of Face2Face Retention Systems. “This has to kick in from day one and evolve with the member for the lifetime of their membership, even beyond it.”

Jeff Houghtaling, membership director for VillaSport Athletic Club and Spa, recommends having employees dedicated to the task. “For onboarding, we have what we call a fitness concierge. They make sure the person who's joining has a connection to the fitness advisers or personal trainers. … You definitely need someone to oversee that. Because if one person assumes another is taking care of it, people can slip through the cracks."

Encourage Group Exercise

Members are more likely to stick with your club if they’re involved in group exercise, according to a study by The Retention People. The researchers found that “88% of group exercise members retained their membership compared to 82% of gym-only members. And the risk of cancelling was 56% higher in gym-only members compared to group exercisers (27.6 cancellations per thousand per month versus 17.7).”

Target Members Who Don’t Use Your Club Often

According to an IHRSA Trend Report, 23% of former health club members quit because they did not use the health club. If they’re enrolled in group fitness, the relationships they make with other members will encourage them to visit more often.

“Clubs must recognize that each and every new member will have individual needs that truly can be systematically met to ensure maximum retention rates and brand loyalty.”

Paul Brown, CEO

Face2Face Retention Systems - Brisbane, Australia

Utilize Social Media

Facebook, in particular, can be a powerful tool for health clubs to encourage and coach members. Marisa Hoff, general manager of Stevenson Fitness in Oak Park, CA, has successfully utilized Facebook outreach to boost engagement. She suggests taking the time to complete your profile, start hashtag campaigns, and post testimonials, class schedules, etc. There are abundant possibilities and the financial investment is relatively low compared to the reward.

“What’s really awesome about Facebook is you can target to a very specific audience, which means the money that you’re spending is going much farther than if you’re blanketing the entire neighborhood with flyers,” she says.

Offer Guidance on Nutrition

Even dedicated members can undo all of the work they do on the exercise floor if their nutritional needs aren’t met. In “Leveraging Nutrition Expertise at Your Health Club,” part of IHRSA’s Best Practice E-Book Series, club owners offer testimonials on how nutrition programs created more opportunities to improve member experience by enhancing overall fitness results while increasing more interaction with members.

Upgrade Your Mobile Strategy

Mobile is where your members are—even when they’re physically in your club, they’re often online in the cloud.

“It's irrefutable that a 'mobile-first' strategy is emerging, which means that you may need to rethink some aspects of your business model,” says Bryan O’Rourke, the president of the Fitness Industry Technology Council (FITC). “The clubs that are going to be the most successful are the ones that integrate thoughtful digital strategies with the brick and mortar.”

All of the strategies listed above can be realized through a system of cloud-based apps. This is a better approach than trying to create programs that link up with different proprietary fitness software and wearables, since some technology may not be compatible with your equipment. And apps are cost-effective.

“Basically, these apps tap into a smartphone's built-in tracking sensors and repurpose that data for fitness monitoring,” explains Michael Rucker, vice president of technology for Active Wellness. “If you're a high-volume/low-price club, your members are likely to be cost-conscious. They're going to appreciate it if you offer them a free mobile app that does 80% of what a [wearable] does.”

How Mobile Apps Support Onboarding and Engagement

When members feel they have the support and information to succeed, they’ll embrace your brand with a higher level of commitment. This is where a mobile app-based system can help you become a virtual coach, nurturing community and engagement.

Virtuagym, a fitness technology company provider, has an extensive package of coaching mobile apps and software that aids member onboarding and engagement through numerous solutions. The apps encourage club staff and in-house personal trainers to communicate directly with members, while building a vibrant membership community at the same time.

Virtuagym’s coaching apps include:

  • Nutrition software that offers personalized guidance, meal plans, and features that unlock new revenue streams.
  • An instructional workout database with over 4,500 animated exercises.
  • A system that tracks client performance to encourage engagement and encourage goal progression.
  • A class scheduling system that streamlines the process for no-hassle booking.

Pieter Verschuren, communications manager for Virtuagym, says that the coaching software is versatile enough to allow clubs to use it within their comfort level.

“A number of our clients use our system in a self-management approach,” he says. “They give members app access and some club workout plans (for a small surcharge) and just let them free into the gym. Other chains have a more hands-on approach, where they actually guide their members and help them use the apps in a more efficient way. Of course that leads to better results in terms of progression towards their goals. But both approaches are proven to be effective in setting up additional revenue streams.”

The apps present numerous opportunities for community building through group instruction, event planning, and rewards programs. And the system is completely white label, so you can use your branding and design features during login and operation.

To learn more about Virtuagym’s coaching apps and arrange for a demo, visit their website or call (415) 675-1469.

Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org