The Benefits of Thinking of Your Health Club as a Community Center

Your club is more than just a building where people work out—it's where a community comes together.

Chances are you don’t think of your health club as a community center where exercise happens to take place. But maybe you should.

“When we feel connected to a group of people or an individual or a mission or purpose, that connection is what improves society at large, and I think the health club industry has a really unique opportunity to make an impact,” says Karen McNenny, speaker, facilitator, and coach for McNenny Enterprises. “Often I encourage people inside the industry to think of their club as a community center where exercise happens to take place, and a lot of the research that IHRSA has done will show us that relationships equal retention.”

McNenny explained how health clubs can succeed through community building in her IHRSA 2017 session, “Community is the C.U.R.E.—Developing Employee & Member Retention.”

Her belief that a strong community will lead to a strong business is based on four key pillars of creating and sustaining healthy communities—the “C.U.R.E.” They are:

Commitment: This refers to both employee recruitment and retention as well as member recruitment and retention. Does your club have the elements to make both groups stick around? Or, as McNenny puts it, what makes your club “sticky”? (She delved into “stickiness” in the session.)

Unique experience: The experience economy plays a big role in the health club industry. McNenny uses coffee as an example—you can make your own cup of coffee at home for mere cents, yet so many people are willing to pay $5 for coffee that comes with the coffee house experience. It’s the distinction between buying your own exercise equipment, staying in your living room, and having an isolated experience, or going to a health club to have a unique, community experience, she says.

Retention: Like Commitment, Retention looks at both employees and members. At IHRSA, McNenny discussed “the IKEA effect”—a theory that suggests people take more pride in something they worked hard to accomplish. Translated to the fitness industry, this means staff and members alike should be challenged. “We don’t want to steer away from the things that can be challenging,” McNenny says. “For the fitness industry, it’s what ignites purpose and commitment from people.”

Engagement: McNenny likes to teach through metaphor, and she has another one for the Engagement pillar—“the shopping cart syndrome,” which refers to people who abandon their shopping carts in the parking lot rather than take a few extra seconds to return them to where they belong. In the health club industry, this syndrome is common where employees aren’t engaged. They might not pick up a piece of litter on the floor because no one is watching, or because it isn’t their job. “In a committed work environment everyone sees to the high function of service to members,” McNenny says. “Picking up litter isn’t just for facility folks—every employee inside a club works on behalf of the members.”

Community is the C.U.R.E.

At her IHRSA session, McNenny helped attendees:

  • Obtain an introduction to the four key pillars of creating and sustaining healthy communities (Commitment, Unique Experience, Retention, Engagement).
  • Learn how pillars are relevant as we develop employee and member retention, creating a great place to work and workout.
  • Discover why now, more than ever, emphasis must be given to the overarching experience of the member.
  • Explore how this fundamental idea goes beyond service and satisfaction and roots itself in member loyalty.
  • Gain insight on how to see the club first and foremost as a community center where people happen to exercise.
Author avatar

Marianne Aiello

Marianne Aiello previously served as IHRSA's Senior Digital Content Manager—a position focused on crafting and monitoring IHRSA’s digital strategy and covering IHRSA events.