The Blog of Dr Paul Bedford
Historically our focus had always been on membership sales, and whilst we had data relating to visit frequency and how long our members stayed with us, we needed to put a strategy in place to improve upon these figures.
We signed up to Dr. Paul Bedford’s 6x6 retention project, which saw our team engage in six one-day business growth training sessions across a six month period, because we wanted to really understand our existing member journey and then create a new one with quality service, member retention and operational excellence at its forefront.
During the early sessions Paul focused us on ensuring the staff, no matter what their job, understood that members are the number one priority. We took time out to make certain everyone was on board with this, from support staff team members to the community outreach team, and that has stayed with us and made a huge difference.
At Active Stirling our main site is the £27.3 million Stirling Sports Village, which boasts a number of outdoor facilities, as well as our indoor centre, THE PEAK, which offers a nine-court sports hall, two swimming pools, sauna/steam, three fitness studios, a 100-station gym, a climbing wall and a curling/ice skating rink. The Village is also home to the Forthbank performance sport centre complete with strength and conditioning suite for performance athletes/teams, plus conferencing facilities. As such we offer a really diverse range of activities for the local community to enjoy.
However, previously we had been stagnating - fighting the same health and fitness battle that every health club, leisure centre or gym seems to have. Paul made us think outside the box. He helped us to see that, because of our unique operating model as a non profit distributing leisure trust and our wide range of services and activities, we could target a different market share; one that other clubs can’t or don’t want to capture.
Before working with Paul we had more than 20 different membership packages. This included single activities, bolt ons and concessions. So we took a risk and significantly consolidated these to just four memberships that include access to all activities. It meant that everyone at Active Stirling, from the CEO to the cleaner, could understand and explain them to our customers.
Having so much choice on the activities they can do as part of their membership has broadened people’s horizons and encouraged them to try new things. We offer over 120 exercise classes per week and thought we might have to cut these back, but they are now running at over 80% capacity across the board. It seems we already had what we needed, the new membership packages have just helped us to fill them! Not only is this better from a health perspective, it has helped to spread members around and reduce the bottle neck that could sometimes form in the gym, so we’ve had less complaints too. Our new membership scheme is entitled ALL IN to reflect the all inclusive activity nature of the packages.
But the biggest difference has been the huge rise in memberships. We have gone from 3,000 to 5,500 in just four months. This is not only down to new members joining - we are still seeing about 25 - 30 sign up each day - but the retention of existing members too. Whilst people are joining at a higher rate significantly less are leaving too - so we are currently adding between 400-500 net members each month.
Paul has helped us to achieve this business growth just by changing our focus and our membership packages. Apart from a few traditional promotions such as mail outs to registered users and some banners, leaflets and posters, we haven’t yet needed to conduct any direct or targeted marketing for ALL IN. Much of our increase has been through word of mouth. Our marketing team, however, have done a fantastic job in helping to bring the ALL IN brand to life and articulating a clear value proposition to customers across the four packages. At the moment we don’t intend to put a cap on membership numbers as we believe people’s behaviour will spread the usage across the different activities that we have on offer, meaning we can accommodate far more people at any one time.
Our four memberships are Group, Single Adult, Junior and Joint. We believe our Group membership is truly unique. For just £79 a month it allows four people to join together on one membership. It can be any mix of people as long as there is one adult that takes on the direct debit.
This has definitely helped with retention as it adds to the social environment. People don’t leave because they all come together. The more links you have the more likely you are to stay. Since launching the brand new membership in April we have a staggering 3,000 people signed up to this package and, whilst it’s still early days, less than 10% of all cancellations are from Group members.
Unsurprisingly, some people have moved across from Single Adult memberships (£38) but our net income is still better even though the yield per person is less, because they are bringing new members on board with them. We thought it would lead to a reduction in our casual members too, and budgeted for a 30% drop, but we’ve actually only seen a 5-10% drop in casual usage, which is a great added bonus. It seems that generally people who pay as they go always will.
Our attrition is at an all time low, partly due to all the new members, but the number of cancellations month on month is far less than it’s ever been. Historically we saw seven months of the year with a net loss of members and just five with a net gain. This lead to a slight reduction in overall membership figures each year and is part of the reason why we needed Paul’s help. Now attrition is down, retention is up and we are seeing a month on month increase in membership income of an impressive 20%.
Our next steps are widening what’s included in the ALL INmemberships to include things like sports classes/activities and holiday programmes so that children can try developmental sports classes as well as fitness-based ones. The 12-week programme would be part of the membership but with a small bolt on price.
It’s all part of how Paul has helped us to completely change our mindset. Previously we would have thought about the bottom line and the need to increase the price, but now we think about how we can give something away that’s perceived to be free and increase the overall number of people coming to us.
Whilst Paul has helped us to move to this more strategic approach, every effort has been made to ensure it does not affect the quality and service of what we offer. We still have excellent service consistency, as laid out in our service plan, which we stick rigidly to from the beginning of a member’s journey to the end. We haven’t sacrificed quality for quantity, in fact the opposite is true and the quantity is a bi product of this quality focus.
I cannot recommend Paul highly enough. As well as thoroughly enjoying working with him, he has really opened our minds to a lot of things, not least that we need to focus on our members above all else.
We are now not afraid to prioritise, to look at who we market to differently, to focus on our member journey and to realise our true and full potential as a leisure Trust. Before we couldn’t see the wood for the trees as we were too focussed on selling memberships. Paul has taught us not to try to do too much, but to do one or two things really well, and it’s certainly working!
Matthew Bunnell, Head of Health & Wellbeing, Active Stirling