We’ve talked about how difficult acquisition is in other posts, and while it’s definitely one of the most expensive aspects of running a business, the spotlight often gets shifted away from the egregious task of membership retention. Once you snag the sale and acquire a new member or customer, you have to give them reasons to stay. All the time.
For a gym model, the structure is thankfully simple: maintain good-quality machines, make it safe, welcoming, and never let the water cooler empty all the way. Keep your gym nice and your instructors energized, and people will keep showing up.
It’s a more simple model than most, but there’s an entire buyer’s process that you need to know about to truly understand what makes membership retention so difficult for specific individuals. Let’s talk about it.
When you start a new gym, you need new gym members. You put in effort, you market, and people sign up. That’s great, and that’s called customer acquisition. The thing most people don’t know is that custom acquisition is far, far more expensive than customer retention.
At its core, customer retention is how you follow through on your promise at sign-up, evolve your business, and apply updates to your business that give your customers value. Why are they going to stay after you get that initial payment? What’s the reason to re-up that monthly subscription and stick with it?
That’s what we need to find out. Then, we have to double-down on those strengths in order to maintain a higher retention rating. It is always more expensive to acquire customers than it is to retain them.
First Three Months
For any new member, this will be the most vulnerable time of their transition. CrossFit states that more than half of new members will actually quit exercising in just six months or less. So what should you be looking at?
- Coach Friendliness: Make sure your coaches make them feel welcome without overdoing it and smothering them. Provide friendly greetings, call them by name, and essentially just make them feel like they’re part of the gym culture (because they are) right from the get go. Because most people will sign up for a CrossFit gym to attend classes, you want to pull them into that community mentality and greet them as a member of the gym. It’s not just a subscription; it's an entry to a community.
- Follow-up Communication: You’re not limited to the four walls of the gym. Your CrossFit gym and service is going to be a core part of their life. If they opt-in, you have text messages, emails, and goal-setting sessions. You can send up to nine emails per month with information on nutrition, valuable info about exercise, specific workouts, community fitness events, and more. The value doesn’t only happen within these four walls, and those emails can actually help remind them to come in for their classes.
- Establishing Habits: It takes time to launch a new habit and stick with it. To really form and mold it. Your new clients need direction, and they need it from you. Provide as much value as possible (which will dually serve as reminders) early on so they can easily put this CrossFit journey into their lifestyle for good.
The first three months are critical, and they’re entirely up to you. Your front desk staff, trainers, and gym atmosphere will play a part, but how you handle this “campaign” for each new member is arguably half the battle. You can use email automation and email address capture at sign-up to really help you make the process as simple as possible.
After some time has passed, you can back off on the frequency of communication. CrossFit says this is around the six-month mark, but you really should use your judgment. If they haven’t opted out of emails, you can still send them along, but you don’t want to go overboard or anything.
People change their goals, their lifestyle changes, and six months is actually a very long time when it comes to habits, personal experience, emotions, and life changes. A lot can happen in that amount of time. Your clients will not be the same people that they were when they first entered your facility.
However, CrossFit has an interesting plan to help with this. Since your members should have a fairly high retention rate after the six-month mark, try to schedule a one-year goal-building session with a coach (and, make it free).
If they’re still going to the gym regularly, their original goals are likely close to completion, or they’re just going for personal maintenance. A goal-building session helps them find new fitness goals or personal goals, and achieve them like nothing else.
This is an extremely personal journey for that member, so make sure you have your best coach handle this one. Your best coach will have a personal approach, and hopefully secure more time for the member that may otherwise exit. It’s an excellent retention strategy that most people don’t think about in the long-term.
Former members already had their foot in the door, so why can’t they become customers again? They’ve been there, they had a reason for joining in the first place, so why not try to win them back? It’s easier, cheaper, and often much more direct than trying to acquire brand new customers and attract new attention.
In fact, a simple email campaign (if they’re still subscribed to your newsletter) could be the trick. They’re familiar with the gym, coaches, culture, and already have a frame of reference. Here’s what you can do.
- Revisit Their Exit Survey: If they filled out an exit survey when canceling their subscription (which you should really set up if you aren’t already using that feature), you can find out why they canceled, and make a custom approach to win them back. Was it due to the subscription price being too high? Offer them an introductory offer, like half-off for the first few months.
- Have an Email Strategy in Place: Don’t spam them with emails, do not beg them to come back. If a former member wants to come back, they will with little prompting. It’s important that you don’t overwhelm them and turn them into someone that’s brand-averse to your gym. Treat it carefully, otherwise you’ll make them sick of your marketing efforts.
- Take Emotion Out of the Equation: You should wait at least 200 days after a member quits before you bother emailing them about signing back up. If it’s a week after, the memory and emotion behind the reason that they quit their subscription will still be fresh. Even a single month after. We talked about how habits change over the course of six months, right? Well since 200 days is six months and some change, that’s the perfect time frame to try them again. Be careful, though: you want to set this up and automate the task in advance. Otherwise, you’ll dedicate your thoughts to regaining former members during your day-to-day operations and take away from your current tasks.
Former members can be a powerful source for subscriptions, revenue, and testimonials for social proof to power your gym forward. It all depends on how you approach it and what value you can take from it, even if the end result isn’t regaining an old member.
From Intro to Onboarding
The introduction is its own critical area, and onboarding is the flip side of the coin. When CrossFit interviewed their most successful affiliate gym owners, they found that there were similar processes to how they run things.
Those systems specifically zero-in on new member introductions, and onboarding. Both of these processes should be taken extremely seriously. Introductions are designed to get your new members excited for what’s to come. It’s like an upsell. It builds anticipation before actually getting your feet on the ground.
Then you have onboarding, which is a very specific process. Done right, you’ll have a ton of new signups that stick. Done incorrectly, and you’ll see the numbers dwindle. Don’t worry; there’s a framework for all of this. Let’s get into it now.
Onboarding allows you to integrate new members into your gym and your culture. There are numerous benefits to onboarding that help promote long-term client memberships, such as:
- Providing Instant Value: Immediately, you have the ability to educate new members on aspects of your gym that they may not have previously known. In fact, a lot of people join a CrossFit gym and assume it’s a company, not an affiliate program. This is the perfect chance to solidify your brand while also aligning it with the trust and credibility of CrossFit.
- Community Integration: CrossFit is all about community. The coaches, staff, and even regular members are all faces of your brand, one way or another. This is your chance to onboard new members and show them the culture of your gym firsthand. Walk them around on a tour, talk to members and coaches, and show off the community that you’ve built. Everyone is here for their own reasons, but it’s all united by one thing: CrossFit. Community is everything.
- Instant Accountability: Accountability is one of the most attractive traits that a single person can possess. When you perform the onboarding process, you learn about a members’ wants, needs, and their personal roadblocks. You help them become accountable for their goals, and you become accountable in helping them reach those goals. It builds immediate trust and rapport.
- Track Engagement: How engaged is the new member? Are they just kind of wandering through onboarding? This lets you know how dedicated they are, and how hard you need to work to make them feel like part of the community. CrossFit says that the first four weeks of a new client’s membership is critical if you want to convert them into a long-time customer. After the first month, there’s no obligation for them to continue. Give them a reason to want to continue.
The one-on-one can sometimes be a one-on-two. This is when you schedule a one-on-one coaching session with a new member, and one of your coaches. This is imperative because it allows you to see member engagement almost instantly. Your coach can report to you afterward, and tell you the likelihood of those members being engaged.
The one-on-two joke is because oftentimes, you should recommend that the new member bring a friend or family member for a free class so they can also meet the coach or instructor, and get to know the gym. It could lead to another long-term sign-up (it usually does).
Group setups are simple. If you only have a small amount of time throughout the week for onboarding, as many founders will, then you can schedule group sessions. Let’s say you have one spot each Saturday at noon. Schedule a ton of onboarding for that time, and lead a group through the gym. Be personable, be patient, and understand that there will be questions. This helps you save time and can help certain members cut down on their social anxiety as well.
Intros are important because they let prospective clients “try before they buy”, as CrossFit puts it. It removes fear, shows the client why the gym will benefit them in a visual, real-time sense, and provides incentive as well as urgency.
Maintaining and Retaining Members
Membership retention isn’t as hard as acquisition, and once you have a good community of like-minded people in your gym, the culture begins to help with retention on its own. Keep your core values at the center of absolutely everything you do, and you’ll be amazed at how long your membership retention rates carry on.
While not all membership cancellations can be avoided (economic stress, income issues, etc.), you can work to keep your target market in your gym if you understand their journey as members and manage their expectations along the way.