Bring Back Your Health Club & Gym Members

Scott Gillespie, founder & president of Saco Sport & Fitness, addresses a few key methods to speak to your former members. To learn more, join Scott at IHRSA 2023 for his session, Bring Back Your Former Members.

Remember what it was like coming into a bustling facility with happy, uninhibited members and a motivated team? What about community, positive energy, and predictable profitability? After playing defense for two years, it’s time to go on offense!

My session at IHRSA 2023 will address this topic—re-engaging and bringing back your former members. This article includes a few initial thoughts on tackling this challenge, but to get it all, register for IHRSA 2023 and attend my session on Wednesday, March 22, at the San Diego Convention Center.

Few industries were beaten up as badly as the fitness industry. IHRSA data from early 2022 shows that 25% of fitness facilities have permanently closed. Surviving these few years is a big win!

After more than two years of survival mode, it may not be easy to flip the switch. However, to fully take advantage of this opportunity, I believe we need to proactively evolve our thinking and cultures back to fun and growth.

Current Themes Detailing the Fitness Industry’s Future

I recently attended a few in-person industry events, facilitated roundtable discussions, networked, reconnected, met new friends, and learned a ton! I took away some consistent themes.

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A personal training session at Saco Sport & Fitness.

First, there are four distinct categories of clubs in very different stages of recovery:

  1. Facilities in minimal social intervention areas: Many clubs in the United States where the social interventions managing the pandemic were minimal—mainly the South—are very close to, at, or above 2019 membership and revenue levels. These states also have strong summer sales, which aligned with the release of restrictions last spring, setting them up for a strong summer.

  2. Clubs near other closed facilities: There are clubs all over the country in markets where other clubs have closed—they are doing well, having absorbed those customers.

  3. Family/recreation facilities: Large, family, and recreation-oriented clubs reported record growth.

  4. Near-recovered facilities: The largest segment reported a 60-85% recovery compared to 2019. Two factors contributed to where they were in that range. One factor was geography—the longer clubs were closed and the harsher the restrictions, the slower the recovery. The second factor was how proactive clubs were to make changes to improve service, programming, and safety and communicate those changes. Proactive facilities reported better recovery than their colleagues who rode out the storm.

I’ve also noticed a palpable optimism about the future. Like the perfect storm of things working against us these past two years, there is a long list of positive factors contributing to significant potential growth:

  • A consensus is that the pandemic has evolved and is entering an endemic stage. More cautious Americans are thinking about and starting to re-enter normal activity.

  • There is a growing awareness of the importance of physical and mental health.

  • People have been scared and isolated and are ready to reconnect with communities in person.

  • Per the American Psychological Association, inactivity and poor eating habits have caused the average American to gain 29 pounds—proving a need for gyms and other outlets for physical activity.

  • The post-pandemic, remote—what I’ll call the “laptop job” generation—is missing workplace community interaction.

  • Many who replaced their pre-pandemic club exercise habits with a home gym, outdoor, or digital routines are reportedly getting bored.

These themes beg the question, how do we maximize the opportunity to re-engage our lagging former members?

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Initiatives to Bring Back Club Members

The first initiative to bring back former members is to help our teams evolve their thinking from a defensive perspective and low expectations to embrace growth, optimism, and fun. Open a conversation with your staff to help them see the broader picture and potential. Look at the current responsibilities of each team member and see how they can evolve to better position themselves for growth and energy. For clubs that reduced or eliminated sales teams, this may be the time to reinstate them at some level to take advantage of this opportunity.

Consider proactively re-engaging the four different mentalities of former members and customize messaging that speaks to each.

  1. Those with new exercise habits outside the club: Build value in community, fun, and variety of exercise experiences. For example, messages including keywords and phrases such as “improved results,” “community,” “the positive energy of your club,” “get out of your basement,” and “reconnect with…” can resonate with this group.

  2. Those doing nothing: This group needs new programming, support, and comfort! Messages such as “take back control of your health—physical and mental,” “the value of support,” and “fun community” can identify what they’re missing by their disconnection from your fitness club/community.

  3. Those too fearful to return: Identify who they are and why they may be scared. Continue reassuring them of improved safety measures and the health benefits of exercise and a community.

  4. Those that quit long before the pandemic: Consider that your past membership model didn’t work for them. They will want new terms—non-contract options—and programming providing support and guidance. Showcase the new program.

Looking ahead, I believe that the light shining at the end of the tunnel is no longer an oncoming train. It’s potential customers wanting to improve their lives. Let’s help them get there, and let’s bring back the fun! It’s one of the many reasons this industry is so great.

To find out more, attend my session, Bring Back Your Former Members, at IHRSA 2023 in San Diego, March 20-22. I’ll be speaking on Wednesday, March 22, at 11:45 a.m.

Author avatar

Scott Gillespie

Scott Gillespie is the founder and president of Saco Sport & Fitness in Saco, ME, and owner of F45 Training Downtown Portland in Portland, ME.