It’s one thing to attract new gym members and another to keep them paying their membership month after month.

You only need to look at the numbers in January and then compare them to memberships in March or April.

Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the gym industry, it’s never been more important to understand how to retain gym members.

Why do members quit the gym?

Members quit the gym for several reasons:

  • Gym memberships cost money.  People will quit if they can’t afford to pay the fees or if they don’t feel they’re getting value for money.
  • People want results fast and exercise doesn’t always deliver on what people want within a few short days, weeks and months. Initial enthusiasm for new members can wear off pretty quickly, and then so will visits. This will be felt more keenly in your numbers if members don’t set achievable goals and aren’t held accountable for reaching them.
  • When people don’t feel comfortable in your gym, they won’t stick around.  This may mean there’s no atmosphere or limited engagement between members and staff. Toxic environments will put people off, too. For example, some bodybuilding gyms may feel intimidating to inexperienced people or older women. Urban areas often have more than one gym for people to pick from and an unwelcoming or cold atmosphere will encourage people to try somewhere else.
  • People sign up to the gym for fitness but maybe they aren’t suited to running on treadmills or lifting weights.  Some people benefit from classes or outdoor sports and if you don’t offer what they want then people will leave.  Not every gym needs to become niche or boutique but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
  • It’s easier to give up exercise than it is to give up a community. Some gyms are just places where people go to use the equipment or to take a class and then go home.  Some gyms are incredibly impersonal and can feel soulless and franchised.  If people don’t have a good enough reason to keep coming back (a reason beyond just exercising and going), it’s easier for them to quit when their lives get busy.

    If your gym doesn’t speak to people and to what is important to them, you’re making it easier for them to walk away.

    Say, for example, your gym is eco-friendly.  You have electricity generating gym equipment, you have bamboo flooring, LED efficient light bulbs, a ban on single-use plastic, etc, then the people who choose to exercise in your space will, presumably, share similar beliefs and ethics.  They’re less likely to throw in the towel and join the big new franchise gym down the street because they believe in what you’re trying to do as a business as much as they’re trying to stay fit.  
  • And sometimes, people will leave through no fault of the gym. People will move house, lose a job, become ill, divorce, etc. Life happens to everyone, and it will affect your numbers at some point.   

How to keep gym members happy

  • You should make members feel like more than just a membership number. People want to feel part of a community, and they want to feel valued. Ensuring that your team has good customer service skills is the simplest step to making members feel part of the place they work out. Talk to members and get a feel for who they are and why they’re there.  It’s a great way to head off any problems ahead of time, too.  

    Create an ethos that people can get behind or look into classes where members can socialise and mix with others.  Find ways of supporting members on their journeys whether that’s fitness or weight loss.  Bigger gyms may not always be able to keep track of people but often PTs and staff will see the same faces – even small conversations can work to engage with members and make them feel seen and valued.
  • Build on your ethos by creating a brand story that can grow and connect you with lapsed or potential members.  Social media is a great way of staying connected with clients even when they’re not working out.  It makes your brand feel as though it has a personality and people connect with personalities. Members should feel valued by being offered secret rewards and they don’t have to be financial: a free online class or recipes or a discount for a local protein shake company, for example.
  • Help your members create goals. They don’t need vague or unsubstantiated targets but give them realistic short and long-term goals and encourage them to monitor this progress.  It could be creating a self-running support group where new members can chat over coffee or buddy up.  It could also be encouraging members to share their results on social media.  Finding out what people want when they sign up is a great way of assessing trends into why they come to your gym and what they want from it. Get enough people together with the same goals and you have a potential class, or an idea for an incentive, or clues about what equipment to buy.
  • One of the biggest issues we hear from members is that they have to wait to get onto the equipment.  Doing what you can to make sure everyone gets the workout they arrived for is one way of keeping people happy.  Pay attention to what kit been used and what’s not.  This is especially important at peak times. Additionally, keep an eye out for broken equipment.

    Members will want to see what they’re membership is paying for.  Old equipment, battered furniture, short staffing, etc, can make people feel that they’re being ripped off.  Investing back into the gym is key to keeping people on board.  It could be adding microgeneration spin bikes to classes to show commitment to the environment or it could be upgrading the shower room or even just giving the place a new lick of paint.
  • You could set-up an event that people attend – maybe fun and off-the-wall classes or exercise sessions with protein shakes or drinks and socials afterwards or a silent disco rave or a celebrity PT session.  Members-only sessions (even if there’s an additional charge), can help build a relationship between clients and the premises. You could also encourage people to bring a friend, too, and recruit new members.
  • Feedback surveys can be a great way to get people to tell you what annoys or irritates them.  Find out before they walk out of the door.

There’s a lot of ways to retain new members and much of it means taking action: being proactive by reminding your clients why they joined and why they must stay.  It means listening to the people who sign up and providing a community and a value that enriches their experience in the gym.