Why Your Gym Needs to Be a Community Center

Your members need social connection. Give it to them and watch your club thrive.

Today’s behavioral psychologists have identified a central paradox of internet culture: the more we're connected by social media, the more we feel isolated.

Social connectivity is immediate and on-demand, but it’s not galvanizing our communities. We’re a step removed, our dopamine receptors thirsting for satisfaction from the glowing screens of our mobile devices while our interpersonal skills atrophy.

This is true even for the original online generation, Millennials, who came of age as the World Wide Web and mobile technology grew in influence. One recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that adults ages 19-32 who spent two or more hours every day on social media sites increased their feelings of loneliness two-fold.

It’s a growing societal problem. A 2018 survey by Cigna found that nearly half of adults interviewed (46%) suffered from feelings of loneliness. Experiencing frequent stretches of loneliness can lead to serious health consequences. One study asserted that chronic loneliness can have the same ill health effects as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

Health Clubs Create Opportunities for Social Connection

Scientists believe that social connection, like physical activity, is essential for health and happiness. A health club is the ideal place to satisfy both of these basic needs. Not surprisingly, the Cigna study cited above found that the more a person exercised, the less lonely they felt. The health club environment may have a lot to do with that.

Of course, health clubs aren’t immune to the paradox of social media. Even as technology allows clubs to communicate more efficiently with members, club operators still must find ways to build a sense of social connection within their gyms.

There’s no community if there’s no engagement. The key is getting members involved in the club in as many ways as possible.

How to Increase Engagement That Builds Community

Chris Stevenson, owner and founder of Stevenson Fitness in Oak Park, CA, built a thriving community in his 7,500-square foot facility by adhering to the club’s motto: “Your Community, Your Gym.” In IHRSA’s e-book, “Maximize Your Revenue with These Powerful Retention Tactics,” he shares his strategy for creating a bond with your members.

“Diversify member engagement—make people come to your facility for more than one reason,” explains Stevenson. “Get them involved in multiple layers. You’ll have a much better chance of keeping them.”

“Diversify member engagement—make people come to your facility for more than one reason.”

Chris Stevenson, Owner and Founder

Stevenson Fitness - Oak Park, CA

Here are his suggestions for increasing member participation:

  • Build a dialogue with new members. “The more you hold their hand in the first 90 days, the better,” he says. “It’s important to build the relationship right away.”
  • Track member usage and encourage involvement. “If members don’t visit the club, reach out and get them involved,” says Stevenson. “I don’t want people to join and never use the club.” He recommends having software that lets you know when a member’s usage changes, followed by a plan to reach out to them.
  • Keep your team on point. Have staff greet members by name, he says. “The more they interact, the more likely members stay.”
  • Encourage group exercise. “Members who use group exercise are more likely to be long-time members,” says Stevenson. Research in the IHRSA 2018 Health Club Consumer Report backs this up.
  • Create clubs and other groups. Stevenson has found success creating social groups within the club. This can be a run club, dance club, or other fitness-related social activity.
  • Host charitable and social events. Stevenson recommends hosting community service events. His club has regular blood drives with the Red Cross. He also advocates having social gatherings like holiday parties. “We want members to bond with each other, not just to staff,” he says.

You can’t have community without communication, and the best way is through mobile technology. But how do you develop a digital strategy that avoids the social-media paradox while building a vibrant offline/online community?

Making Connections That Matter

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With so much communication being conducted on mobile technology, your club’s CRM needs digital tools that can maximize engagement. ASF Payment Solutions has made it their mission to create new member-facing applications beyond their celebrated club-management payment system. A leading brand in health club technology since 1973, ASF has developed a range of products that are designed to increase revenue opportunities and retention by strengthening member relations.

ASF’s latest innovation is the My Member Account App. This interactive app creates a personalized profile with a member photo, and is equipped with a messaging system that addresses the member by name. It allows for online and mobile check-in services, and offers schedules for personal-training sessions, training packages, group classes—whatever your club provides. If members see something they like, they can sign up for the session on the spot and instantly purchase it.

The app makes it easier for front-desk personal, sales reps, and trainers to process transactions wherever they are. They can strike when it’s hot. For instance, staff can easily enroll new members through text messages with links using ASF’s My Enrollment feature. The app can also alert members to different promotions (e.g., a discount on training packages, a sale on protein bars), and offer inspirational messages to motivate those members who may be lagging in attendance.

You’ll also have a more powerful voice in creating a sense of community by announcing special events through the app. If you’re sponsoring a 5K or hosting a charity event, the app will alert your members and offer them simple ways to become involved.

The app is customizable for your brand and can scale to any size club, even if you have multiple locations. And with their commitment to service—conducted by actual humans, not robots—ASF will insure that your needs are met.

To learn how AFS can help you build engagement and community with their digital products, visit their website or call 800-227-3859.

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Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org