The health and fitness industry has changed and many operators are struggling to cope with the new fitness paradigm. The first paradigm shift occurred in the late 1980’s when the emergence of health clubs as an alternative to public sector leisure centres began to emerge. We saw growth in this sector throughout the 1990’s and into the mid 2000’s, merges between business and small independent operators selling out to the bigger brands as the branded chains set out to grab the largest share of the market. Public sector operators had to compete with business’s that had marketing budgets and sales teams driven to achieve the maximum new member acquisitions as possible.
Then in 2008 the brakes went on hard. The daily news reported a massive change in global economics, banks went bust and the growth of the industry slowed almost to a stop. Enter the budget operator and the new business paradigm. Low cost, no frills facilities that did not exaggerate the levels of...
Measuring retention and its associated factors are a vital element of running any successful health and fitness business.
During 2013 two studies were conducted, one quantitative and the other qualitative, in order to benchmark the industry for the past four years and gain further insight into how members make decisions.
While the White report focused on the analysis of member data from 342,759 members, the Black report was a series of interviews with 1,000 members that had held two or more health club memberships. These 1,000 members had accumulated a staggering 6,500 years of membership between them.
The White report provided a unique insight into the retention and attrition rates of a representative sample of UK’s health and fitness clubs - members from 100 different clubs representing 38 operators across private chains, independent operators, trusts, local authorities and privately managed leisure facilities.
Using recognised statistical methods for measuring retention and...
The economic downturn that began in 2008 and has continued ever since has created a market where consumers are looking for value for money whenever possible. In this environment we have seen the growth of low cost living, pound and 99p stores thrive. Airlines such as Ryan Air and Easyjet who pioneered low cost flying, are reporting increased passenger numbers. But with every discussion about the benefits of low cost flying come discussions about poor service and rude staff.
The leisure and fitness industry has also been effected with the emergence and rapid growth of the low cost or budget gym market. Operators that for many years were at the low cost end of the market are now ten to twenty pounds more expensive each month than their low cost competitors. Firmly placed within the middle market based on price and working hard to justify what the difference is between what they offer that is worth the extra money and failing.
As facilities become more and more alike and...
Just the work ‘club’ creates a sense of community, however many clubs fail to maintain even the most basic level of communications with their members. Clubs are places you join, meet likeminded people and share experiences. Many of those interviewed described no sense of community in clubs that they had previously been members of. Members want to engage with their health club on various levels, sometimes a transactional level other times at a friendship level. This can challenge some operators as only seeing the relationship as transactional and when the transactions are complete the relationship os over.
Over 80% of those interviewed said that the club they enjoyed being a member of was the one that provided them with a sense of belonging. That the member was part of something. sometimes on the periphery and sometimes at the centre but always a member.
Fitting in was a key motivator for day-to-day behavior for usage. They described clubs that had this...
While the topic of contracts may not be the sexiest topic regarding increasing member retention, it is the one I get asked the most questions about.
The real question should not be if you should have contracts or not but, what do you mean when you say contracts and what type of contracts you should have?
So lets tackle first things first. If you say contract do you mean a contract, a binding legal agreement that you will enforce in order to recover your lost income should the member fail to pay. Or do you mean agreement where you hope, would like or encourage them to make twelve payments over a year and if they don’t you will have some interaction with them, try to recover some of the money they agreed to pay, but didn’t, and eventually let them go, because you are uncomfortable with the possible negative publicity if this end up in court or in the local papers.
The recent White Report of 342,759 members has once again illustrated that members who take out contracts stay...
The F word here is the not the F word popularised by Gordon Ramsey and Billy Connolly and frequently used by me when I am getting frustrated. The F word we need to focus on within the health club business if we want to retain more members is frequency, as it relates to frequency of visit.
For the past few years the industry has been fixated on intensity of exercise, to help members achieve their goals. This may be due to the most commonly cited barrier to exercise being “I don’t have time”, these short but intense workouts can deliver the result but we need to be aware one of the most cited reasons for dropping out of exercise was increased intensity. In fact the research shows that as intensity goes up adherence goes down.
If we are seeking to improve the retention of our members we must understand the difference between retention, attrition and exercise adherence.
When I report on member retention I am talking about how long hey pay for, because retaining...
Do gym competitions or challenges improve member retention or adherence?
The thing to consider is what's motivating people to exercise. There’s often a presumption that health and fitness people are competitive, but I'm not sure that's true for everyone that goes to the gym.
Internal and External Motivation
Some people are internally motivated to train, they'll turn up every day and put a lot of effort into it. Others are more externally motivated, where they're training for other reasons than training itself. The research around internal and external motivation suggests internally motivated members are more likely to stick to exercise.
Association vs Disassociation
But does that also mean they're more likely to be competitive? A couple of other things need to be taken into consideration. The concept of association and disassociation. Some people like to disassociate when exercising. This means they use external sources to distract them from the discomfort of exercise....
The fitness industry is in the midst of a paradigm shift. Low cost has established itself as the new large growth area, boutiques and studios are emerging as an alternative to traditional clubs and new technology platforms like Class Pass are offering the public flexible methods to consume fitness services and products.
For operators that means member retention needs to be as high a priority as new member sales.
Retention strategies began around 20 years ago with human-driven, staff to member initiatives based on ‘we believe this is true’ thinking. In 2002, following the release of Melvyn Hillsdon’s Winning the Retention Battle research, we began to incorporate data analysis to identify where and why the problems existed. Now, third generation retention strategies will be built on a combination of staff, mobile apps, cloud services, Big Data analytics and social technologies.
Whilst operators would clearly like to run one automated software...
I would like to report that Health Club Member Retention is getting better, but unfortuanelty for the majority of operators it is getting worse.
The most recent research on UK health club member retention reveals a worrying decline in an already unsatisfactory situation – namely the industry’s ability to keep hold of its members.
The first study of this type was conducted as part of the FIA’s (now ukactive) Winning the Retention Battle series, conducted by Dr Melvyn Hillsdon back in 2002. At that time, a sample of just over 70,000 members revealed that 60 per cent of members retained membership for 12 months. The subsequent national study in 2008, involving 293,000 members, revealed that 66 per cent of members had retained their membership for 12 months.
But the latest figures are even worse. Based on 342,759 member records and covering the four-year period from 2009–2012, The National Retention Report (see information panel, pxx) indicates that only...
The real beginning of our understanding of retention and attrition started back in 2001, when the first of a series of six industry reports was produced by Dr Melvyn Hillsdon on behalf of the Fitness Industry Association. Up until that date, various figures had been published describing attrition percentages; however, these were incomparable and sometimes misleading.
Using statistical approaches common in other sectors such as healthcare, engineering and food processing, Dr Hillsdon provided the first insight into how operators were doing (reports one to three). Because of this standard approach, it was possible to compare public and private sectors, as well as large and small businesses, for the first time.
This early work employed data from 67,601 individuals, ranging from 16 to 74 years. These individuals used various fitness facilities from different sectors of the industry, including small independent operators, public sector facilities, multi-site chains and facilities within...