Most of my career in the industry has been spent focused on the challenge of retention and strategies to improve it, either as an operator or as a consultant and supplier of retention tools.
Throughout that time, I’ve seen operators fall into four categories:
While some operators have a handle on member engagement, anyone who says “we don’t have a retention problem” has always been a red flag to me. It’s usually quantified by “we get great customer satisfaction scores” (not a measure of retention), “our attrition is low” (not a measure of retention) and “we make great sales” (not………you see where I’m going!)
Silver bullet hunters
Those who accept they need to improve retention but think a single step/tool/change will bring about immediate results. That isn’t how retention works.
Most operators fall into this category. They know retention is critical, that they need to improve and that it will take time and the creation of a strategy they are willing to work on. Unfortunately the urgent overtakes the important and it slips down the priority list to end up on the back-burner.
There are some clubs and operators who are fantastic examples of commitment to member engagement, who have teams driven by their central purpose and who live and breathe it daily because it’s who they are.
I don’t know where you believe yourself and your organisation were sitting up to 20 March 2020 but I highly recommend you ask yourself the question and be honest with the answer, because you will have noticed that shit just got real!
In a matter of weeks we went from the New Year influx of new members and implementing our 2020 plans to having to consider exactly how we could keep our business and our teams afloat.
The reality is, the coming weeks and months are going to be extremely challenging for us all and, if you didn’t have a real and effective strategy to stay connected to your members before the 20 March forced closure, there’s a real risk to the future.
However, as a good friend and ex-colleague once quoted to me, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now”.
The real opportunity here is the chance to use the closure time to focus on the business rather than just working in it. It’s unlikely we’ll ever be given this chance again, so we need to act and act fast and be aware of the facts:
There is demand
The European Fitness Market has grown by 3.7 per cent in the last four years and was worth €28 billion in revenue in 2019, according to the Deloitte European Market Report.
€4.9bn of this was attributed to the UK, making it the second largest region for growth of revenue and member penetration.
Tech is the future
According to market experts, two of the top three trends for growth were apps and wearables (the other being indoor cycling). These are the future of fitness.
People want to exercise on their own terms
Fitness aggregators are growing, allowing people to have more choice about where and how they exercise and potentially removing the connection between member and club.
The only certainty is change
Whatever happens, when we finally open the doors, nothing will be the same.
So what now? We have an opportunity to shape our fitness offering and turn the challenge into something positive.
Be honest about your situation
Consider how connected you are to your members – you need to acknowledge your starting point and recognise both the gaps you need to fill and any good strategies that are in place already.
Acknowledge the ‘new normal’. When we reopen our facilities we can’t expect to operate as we did before, and maybe that’s not a bad thing.
For a long time, we’ve been trying to force people to exercise a certain way. If nothing else, the last few weeks have shown us the potential of meeting people where they are and enabling them to exercise on their own terms.
Over the last few years the growth of digital has been well documented, but not well adopted. All this has changed in just a few weeks.
Build a virtual strategy, use apps and devices that build membership value.
Remote PT, programming and advice, at-home workouts and live streaming won’t just be for lockdown – smart operators will make them part of their offering going forward.
Member retention has always been about building connection, habit and value, that won’t change, but how we do it must. It can open the door to people who can’t – or choose not to – come into our clubs.
Map strategies to your purpose
Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle remains relevant and is a fundamental key to success. If you know the ‘why?’ of your club or organisation, the ‘how?’ and ‘what?’ become clear and align all departments and messages.
This doesn’t mean facilities will be obsolete. People will always crave face to face experience – maybe now more than ever – and will continue to want to attend classes with their favourite rock star instructors.
There will still be value in the one-to-one support from trainers and a desire to take part in gym floor workouts, but by creating a more holistic experience, allowing people to exercise when, where and how they want, we not only improve the chances of them building and maintaining habits, we also potentially start to draw in a wider population of exercisers and increase member penetration and revenue streams.
The challenge ahead is real, but so is the opportunity.
Tamara Bailey is group account manager, UK, at Myzone. @tamarab44