I have been part of the fitness industry for close to 15 years, and in that time I have watched our industry implement every trick in the book to address retention challenges. Instead of more tricks, I believe its time to get serious about using tools to focus on data and the tools uncover new member engagement opportunities.

I’m not talking about social media, direct mail or even wearable devices but rather tools to guide good decision making, specifically, analytics tools.

I believe in good member analytics. The industry will move the needle not only in regards to attrition, but in acquisition and loyalty. Clubs just need solid member insights. The challenge is, how will gyms or fitness centers get started?

Recently, Motionsoft held it’s first annual Fitness Industry Technology Summit. Over 30 technology executives representing more than 1,500 club locations across North America attended the event. Speakers from some of the top companies in the world like FirstData, Technogym, Apple, N.E.V. and retention expert, Dr. Paul Bedford headlined the attendees.

Dr. Paul Bedford, founder of Retention Guru, delivered the retention session at the Summit. Dr. Bedford presented eye-opening insights and data about member communications, promotion strategies, and retention case studies.

If you haven’t seen Dr. Bedford’s presentation, please download and read it now.

Members who come in more than 3-times a week in their first week of membership had a shorter overall average membership and are more likely terminate their memberships after a few months.

Dr. Bedford presented a deeply informative case study that analyzed a data set for a multi-location chain of fitness centers. One of the most striking facts that he shared is that members who come in more than 3-times a week in their first week of membership had a shorter overall average membership and, were more likely to terminate their memberships after a few months.

You could hear the audience cringe when his findings were revealed.

For years the industry has been operating under the assumption that if people come … people will stay and people pay. That’s no longer true.

In another case study, Dr. Bedford analyzed a fitness center that was tracking interests and cancellations. Upon further analysis it became clear that members who joined for weight loss (the number one reason people join) were getting hurt from over exertion and were giving up. Why? The data and technology to support important member-engaging interactions was missing. In this case, a simple email offering massage services could have easily been communicated to these members to keep them engaged.

Our challenge as an industry is to understand the data that is captured in club management software and to identify the warning signals so that gyms and fitness centers can create personalized services to minimize attrition and boost loyalty.

Here are some additional data insights from Dr. Bedford’s presentation:

  • Retention strategies have to be unique for each club. Cluster clubs by problem not location.
  • Stop promoting two-months free and no start up fees. You’re likely to see a drop of 5% or more in retention.
  • Use the median not the mean to calculate retention. There’s an artificial attrition decrease when sales sells more memberships.
  • Older members stay longer that younger members. Structure student memberships based on 9 months upfront.
  • Intervention planning is critical for non-visiting members. With one interaction, your member is 20% more likely to visit again; with two to three interactions the member is 50% more likely to revisit; and, with four or more interactions, your member is 80% more likely to revisit.
  • Follow the 4-visit rule. Four monthly visits is the ideal frequency to help reduce the risk of membership cancellations.

If I was a marketing consultant, I’d make a beeline to this industry because operators are so desperate to solve the attrition challenge that they will try just about anything to move the needle.

Today, the latest hashtag phenomenon is wearable devices. As an industry, we need to be aware of these trends and accommodate members who want an integrated wellness experience that devices like the Apple Watch promise to deliver.

At the end of the day, people join gyms for one reason…CHANGE. Whether that change is obtained through joining a medically certified fitness center to control diabetes, a commercial gym to loose holiday weight or a cross fit program to train for a Tough Mudder.

So let’s focus on putting the member first and using data to guide our engagement strategies.

Once we arrived at this conclusion, leverage your data warehouse to uncover insights to address attrition by usage category, most valuable members by revenue, member visit frequency and likelihood to quit and so on.

Ready to learn more? Join us at one of our upcoming regional technology leadership seminars, and get serious about fitness industry retention strategies.