Is Your Health Club Prepared for the January Rush?

It’s never too early to lay the groundwork for the critical first quarter. Here’s how to maximize your opportunities for next year’s “resolutions rush.”

Ryon Packer, chief product officer of ABC Financial Services, contributed to this article.

Every year the holidays seem to start earlier than ever. Pumpkin spice lattes hit the market in August instead of October. Thanksgiving reminders pop up before Halloween. Christmas jingles hit the airwaves well before snow starts falling. Like it or not, the marketplace is laying the groundwork to maximize opportunities for the seasonal demand on their goods and services. To them, it’s an imperative.

For some retailers, the few weeks of holiday shopping sustains them for the year. This isn’t the best scenario, but in today’s competitive online and offline marketplace, you have to make the most of every advantage you have. Party City, the costume and decorative paraphernalia chain, may be open all year, but without Halloween, they would have problems maintaining the concept year-round. And, incidentally, Party City started marketing their Halloween-related products in August.

The holidays are generally a slow time for health clubs. Traveling, heavy feasts, parties, all of it can distract potential members from thinking about fitness. But, as any industry veteran can tell you, the November-December holidays are the calm before the storm. The first quarter of the year is what retailers would experience if Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and Thanksgiving were all-in-one. It’s the time of year where more consumers are considering joining a health club than any other time.

To capitalize on the first quarter, health clubs should have a carefully considered plan in place. It’s never too early to lay the groundwork.

Foresight is 2020

While you’re busy with the back-to-school rush, make sure you’re also giving yourself the necessary time to formalize your plan for the first quarter. Much like a successful personal training plan, the first step is to benchmark current performance and understand the historical impact of the first quarter on all aspects of your gym.

You should be able to extract year-over-year reports and dashboards that outline some key operational metrics, including:

  1. Where did your new members come from? Was it through advertising? Gifts from friends? Old members returning? Walk-ins? What geographical areas did they come from?
  2. How would you rate your operational readiness from last year? What was your daily check-in volume? How long did your prospects wait to sign up for a new membership? How many seasonal employees did you hire to support the demand?
  3. What was your feedback from last year? What can you improve for the new year?

You also need to look carefully at what has changed since last year. Specifically, what new competitors have entered your market and what do they offer?

It’s not just about the big players who have entered your market. You need to identify the boutiques that have gained popularity and ask: How can I market or sell to members who are already engaged in other fitness activities and put together an offer that is more compelling?

Create Early Demand for the First-quarter Rush

Similar to other retailers, the ability to create demand well before the new year can mean significant financial gains. One sure way to differentiate your club is to start regular engagements with both prospects and members.

Here’s a month-by-month breakdown.

October: Assess Operational Readiness

As noted above, you need to put a premium on customer experience and targeted promotions while managing all these new accounts. Your club is going to be busier than any other time of the year, and you have to be ready to accommodate new members with minimum friction points in regard to payments, check-ins, class scheduling, equipment condition, and other services.

Managing all this requires technology, process, and staffing. You need to equip your staff with data to help guide them in their marketing and sales efforts through every customer touchpoint. And members will want a seamless digital experience when accessing club features. If your club management software is not up to the task, October is the ideal time to switch, so you can convert to the new system without disruption for the coming new year.

November and December: Get Ready for the Holiday Season

While traditionally the holiday season is slow in new member sales, you should find ways to stay top-of-mind while people are thinking about working off that last indulgence. Here are some ways to stay relevant during the holiday season.

Create referral and gift opportunities. Gift cards and referral programs for current members can be very effective in bringing in their family and friends. After all, working out with a buddy is more enjoyable.

Target former members. Consider “welcome back” or “amnesty” promotions that provide incentives to former members who still live in the area and may not be aware of the improvements you’ve made to your club. When January rolls around, these former members may be rethinking their decision to leave. Give them a reason to come back.

“To capitalize on the first quarter, health clubs should have a carefully considered plan in place. It’s never too early to lay the groundwork.”

Determine if you need temporary help. Just like retailers hire seasonal help, you may find that your staff is overwhelmed by the January surge every year. While it’s not optimal to have temporary employees at the club, you need to prepare for the busy season. Don’t fret, though—it’s a good problem to have. At the very least, prepare your employees for the rush and consider performance-related incentives to keep your team fully engaged right up to the finish line. As Maria Miller, regional programs manager for Merritt Athletic Clubs in Maryland says: “We change our mindset and don't look at it as 'dealing with it' but as, 'this is awesome,' and we encourage it."

Complete your pricing strategy. You want to get people in the door, but don’t set up unrealistic expectations for pricing down the line. Strike a balance between incentives and long-term projections. Work with your club management provider to review historical performance and make sure you understand the current competition in your area to help you determine your new pricing strategy.

January: Here Comes the Rush

Have solid onboarding in place. Getting people in the door through reduced prices or other incentives in January won’t do you any good if they quit in a few months. You need a plan to onboard these new members to keep them committed to your club, so they don’t wander aimlessly and fail to engage in a results-driven program.

"The club should make all possible efforts to guarantee that the members see results, as we know that when members see results, they continue to be motivated and engaged," says Fred Hoffman, M.Ed., owner of Fitness Resources Consulting Services. "But in the majority of cases, they need to be monitored and followed closely to keep them on track."

Just like you would set up performance-management programs for your employees with clear rewards and objectives, establish programs that engage your members in achieving their objectives. And be sure to think of all your members. You will need programs for the fitness newbies probably more than for those trying to double their mileage.

Don’t neglect the regulars. You also don’t want to alienate current members by giving all the attention to January recruits. Doling out goodies to newcomers is fine, but make sure you keep your loyal members happy as well. Your member data should tell you which classes are already popular, so you can make sure you allow for overflow with extra sessions to give priority to regulars. Regular member appreciation programs not only improve retention, but also fuel referrals for the rest of the year.

A Club Management Platform for First-quarter Dominance

As you face these challenges of entering the new year rush, you need a partner that can provide the right platform. ABC Financial Services has designed their suite of club management software and services to help your club maximize customer experience and financial resources. Its proven conversion services, performance reporting, and seamless integration will free you and your staff to do what you do best.

Here are a few ABC solutions that can help you capitalize on the January rush:

Leading real-time club management software to drive operational efficiency: simple employee and payroll administration; intuitive resource and inventory tracking, such as lockers, tanning beds, and merchandising; flexible scheduling and communication for classes and personal training appointments.

Seamless conversion services to minimize business disruption: ABC’s team of dedicated analysts will help with re-branding, training, and project management, so you can be ready in as fast as 45 days.

“The club should make all possible efforts to guarantee that the members see results, as we know that when members see results, they continue to be motivated and engaged.”

Fred Hoffman, Owner

Fitness Resources Consulting Services

Proven operational support to alleviate your staffing needs to optimize revenue, such as optional full-service billing management and member services for in-bound inquiries and charge-back disputes. And with ABC’s intuitive dashboard and performance reports, managers and staff can stay on top of member check-ins, scheduling, and employee availability and performance.

Optimize revenue performance to simplify and automate billing and payment processing, including industry leading delinquency remediation that delivers a higher percentage of your billables in revenue.

Intuitive member engagement for the entire life cycle. The software makes it simple to create, track, convert, and sign up new members with a paperless workflow. This includes a custom-branded portal to sign up, enroll for classes, and update payments. This is ideal for today’s consumer who wants autonomy via digital platforms to control their experience. Club’s need to provide services beyond their four walls, and these digital tools give members everything they need to stay connected to your brand.

Reliable and secure platform to help you grow. ABC’s comprehensive platform has built-in system redundancy as well as disaster recovery to ensure your system is up and running 99.9%. This includes Level 1 PCI compliance for secure payment processing, and robust vendor partner integration to meet your unique club needs.

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Ryon Packer, Chief Product Officer, ABC Financial Services

In today’s marketplace, you can’t leave any opportunities go to waste, and in January, the pressure is on. You need a digital platform that can handle today’s market complexities.

Contact ABC Financial to see how they can help you start the new year with your best first quarter ever. Go to the ABC Financial website to connect with a representative or ask for a demo.

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Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org