Managing Health Club Membership During the Coronavirus Crisis

It's time to think about membership dues, suspensions, and cancellations as mandated closures continue.

With clubs across the world facing total closures or severely limited operations during a global crisis with ever-changing effects, there are dozens of factors to consider—like how to manage your membership dues collection.

Your members will want to know what is being done with their membership—and soon. Can they cancel with no penalty? Freeze their membership for a month or two? Or will they continue to be charged? And if so, how much and for what in return?

Some club companies are able to offer a freeze on all billing until further notice, or credit the number of days closed to memberships once the clubs reopen. This might be a financially desirable option for your members, but is this option feasible for your business?

Realistically, for many clubs, collecting no membership revenue during this crisis is simply not an option.

“We got a lot of pushback on social media about doing free membership suspensions, but we made the decision not to,” said Colin Grant, CEO of Pure International Group, in his March 18, 2020, webinar. "We didn’t have the luxury.”

With a plan that considers the best interests of your business and your membership base, you can create a scenario that brings in much needed revenue, keeps staff employed, and keeps your members engaged—and healthy.

Member retention Avenu Fitness barbell column

A member working out at Avenu Fitness & Lifestyle before a temporary shutdown.

Create a Temporary Membership Dues Strategy

The first step is deciding what your new membership options will be. If possible, you may want to consider a few choices to accommodate different financial needs. Common options include:

  • Continue paying full (or a significant percentage) of normal membership dues.
  • Freeze membership for a small monthly fee—for a few months, or an unlimited time, depending on your anticipated reopening. This may be an attractive option for club members to avoid enrollment fees upon reopening.
  • Cancel or freeze membership at no cost if the member has been financially impacted. Most clubs ask that members reach out personally to request this arrangement. If you offer this as an option, make sure you have a dedicated staff member available to answer the phone or respond to emails. This may be a difficult conversation for your members to have, and you want them to feel heard and safe asking for help.

Communicating Value for All Membership Options

No matter which options you offer, you’ll need to show what value members are getting for the amount you are collecting, which can include emotional value. Members may feel like they lost a social network along with their fitness regimen. They might be moved by empathy toward your club’s staff. Explain that their continued membership payments will help cover online instructor wages, educational opportunities for furloughed staff, or financial assistance for those in need.

In an email to her members, Crystal Reynolds, owner of 43 Degrees North Athletic Club in Concord, NH, wrote, "We are a small business with a BIG heart and 43’s passionate and knowledgeable fitness professionals are excited to continue to keep you moving and connected to our community. The faces you recognize and the people you know and love. We PROMISE to keep you motivated and are humbly asking you to support our small business by not freezing or cancelling during our temporary closing."

43 Degrees North is offering unlimited access to online membership, streaming classes, and support through Facebook, Instagram, and email.

Members have positively responded to Reynolds’ outreach. One member replied, “... I am enjoying the positive energy that you guys at 43 are putting out there. Although I miss the in person classes and instructors, I truly appreciate and feel the connection via the LIVE stream classes and other virtual content. I would like to continue paying my full membership.”

Castle Hill Fitness 360 in Austin, TX, is offering live online classes, workout ideas, and inspirations through daily emails with the continuation of membership. Drop-in livestream class passes and packages are available for purchase without membership.

Club General Manager Michele Melkerson-Granryd, who is also an IHRSA board member, wrote to her members, “We understand that online workouts are not what you signed up for—you are a Castle Hill member because of the community! But we are a small business, a local business, and we are committing to paying our trainers, front desk, housekeeping, childcare, and spa staff with the risk of no additional revenue... If you want to support the continued health of our business and service providers, one way to do that is to maintain your membership.”

Other tangible (and revenue driving) benefits you can offer include equipment rental from your club such as free weights, medicine balls, or TRX straps, online fitness classes, virtual education, and even donation-based classes.

Member retention 43 Degrees North Interior column

43 Degrees North Athletic Club in Concord, N.H., is offering different membership dues options.

Brent Gallagher, owner of Avenu Fitness & Lifestyle in Houston, TX, offers personalized FaceTime workouts and 30 minute virtual group fitness classes for a fee, along with a robust online schedule of free classes via YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, and live classes through the Avenu app. A large number of IHRSA member clubs around the globe are providing these type of virtual web and Facebook Live classes and activities. See “Implementing a Strategy to Convert Fitness Services to Virtual” for more on these options.

No matter what you choose to charge or offer, your members are still your community and many are like family to you and to each other. You’ve spent years cultivating relationships, building trust and loyalty. Now is the time to act on that. Personal communication and honest messaging can make all the difference. Be forthcoming about what you are facing as a business. Remember, they are faced with uncertainty, too. Whether it’s emails, newsletters, or via social media, keep your community informed and engaged.

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Carolynn Jordan

Carolynn Jordan previously served as IHRSA's Member Communication Specialist—a position that developed outreach for IHRSA members to gain knowledge on how to best use their benefits and stay engaged in the IHRSA community.