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Retaining Members Online With Your Gym Culture


Currently, the vast majority of fitness businesses are taking their studios online to cater to members in the COVID-19 climate. 

So, much like when you’re running a business as usual at your physical studio, the online market is competitive. So it’s crucial to show what sets your studio apart from the rest.

Thousands of gyms and studios hire the best trainers and offer competitive membership packages, and many are taking their online offering up a notch with services like events and workshops. But without a unique gym culture pulsing through everything that they do, it’s not enough to secure long-term retention.

Implementing a culture at your gym means placing a premium on creating an environment where people want to workout and feel that they’re supported in the community. Your gym culture is a massive part of the member experience, and as you dedicate your efforts to growing your business and succeeding online, it’s more important than ever. 

In this article, we’ll go through what exactly gym culture is and why it’s so essential to member retention. 

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What Is A Gym Culture?

Your culture is the shared beliefs, behavior, rules, and expectations of the people in your community. It’s not only dependent on you as the gym owner, but also on the staff you hire, and the members you attract – your community and your culture go hand-in-hand with one another.

Essentially, your culture is the foundation of your business. It’s what you build your community upon, and it’s what keeps your members coming back.

Gym Culture and Retention

According to a Club Industry Report, it costs nine times as much to acquire a new member as it does to retain an existing one. To emphasize the importance of this, research from Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company found that increasing member retention rates by just 5% increased profits between 25% and 95%.

Retaining both your members and great staff is essential to growing your business. Put simply, you can’t support members without your team, and you don’t have a business without members. Members will come for the workouts; trainers will come for an opportunity to use and master their skills. They’ll both stay for the culture and community at your studio.

Your culture and retention go hand-in-hand, and both become more integral to your business as it grows. To understand this link further, in the next section, we’ll highlight some of the common reasons people leave gyms. 

Why Do People Leave Gyms? 

The fitness industry has a higher churn than most others, and retention remains an ongoing challenge for most gym owners. There are lots of reasons people might choose to leave a gym, and some, like personal circumstances or change of location, are out of your control. The more common causes are areas that you can address because they all come down to service and member experience. We’ve outlined some of the common reasons people leave below:

1. Loss of Motivation/Lack of Progress

Think ‘New Year, new me’ wearing off, or one too many weekend beers – a recipe for defeat. This reason is amplified in today’s climate. Members can sign-up to a class, or have every intention of turning their smart TVs on to take part in a workout at 6 pm. But it’s easier and ever for them not to show up. 

So how can you help keep your clients on track? What can you do consistently to encourage them? 

2. Local Competition

The grass (or class?) always seems greener. Workouts across different gyms and studios can often be similar. So what sets your studio apart? The main aspect a member won’t find elsewhere else is your community and culture. 

3. Cost

People know the price when they sign up, so unless their circumstances have changed or you’ve increased pricing, cost shouldn’t become an issue. What kind of service did your customers sign up for – are your meeting their expectations? 

4. Retention Isn’t a Business Priority 

Many fitness business owners instead focus their efforts on attracting new customers. It’s easy then for existing members to feel neglected and go elsewhere, and this can also create negative marketing impacts. Gym-goers who decide to leave a gym aren’t likely to recommend that gym to others and may even bad mouth the studio they left. 

While enticing sign up offers will bring new customers, retention is cheaper than acquisition. Loyal, long-term members are more valuable to your business in terms of maximizing revenue potential and building relationships with customers. Retention begins as soon as a client walks through your (virtual) doors for the first time, and successful retention lies in providing excellent customer service in the long-term.

What Keeps Members Loyal? 

What keeps members loyal to their studio when there are now so many accessible options to choose from? Based on the common reasons people decide to leave, it’s clear that something more than exercise alone keeps them motivated and loyal to their gym, and it comes down to community.

You probably have a local coffee shop, bar, or restaurant that you frequent. So often, in fact, that you know the names of the staff working there and they know yours. You’re not necessarily close friends with them, but seeing them and catching up for some small talk brightens your day. And given how often you come there, you and the staff share a little piece of history together.

The same applies to retaining gym members.

Create a culture where people greet, know, and support each other, so there’s a sense of community that it would be a shame to leave behind. Make sure that your gym members feel appreciated and want to come back because you brighten their day. 

3 Components of a Gym Culture That Retains Members

Now it’s time to look at some specific, actionable tips for how you can create a fantastic gym culture that makes your members come back and recommend you to their friends and family.

1. Write A Mission Statement

Good gym culture starts with a clear mission statement that outlines your overall business goals, who you’re targeting, and where you see yourself going. 

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Your gym mission statement should work as your compass every time you have to make an important business decision. 

That could, for example, include who to hire as a member of your team. When you evaluate a candidate for a position, ask yourself if that person would be a good fit for your gym culture and if they’d contribute to it positively. 

Here are four examples of core values to include in your mission statement:

  • Responsibility – we take personal responsibility for members’ motivation, training, and desired outcomes. 
  • Courage – we’re not afraid to try new things and keep an open mind when it comes to suggestions and experiments. 
  • Support – we’re a close-knit community who do our best to provide each other with a high level of moral support.
  • Communication – we’re always quick to announce any news, disruptions, updates, and major events at our gym on social media. 

These are, of course, just examples, and we’d encourage you to come up with your own core values that you truly believe in and advocate. 

2. Ask Yourself “Why”

As part of your gym mission statement, or as an overarching theme, you should clearly define the reasons for why you do what you do – and why others should join your mission.

As Simon Sinek notes in his book Start With Why, “Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.” 

The “why” of your mission should be the mantra you repeat to yourself when you get out of bed in the morning. It’s what your staff should think of when they show up to work. And it will be the driving force that attracts and retains your gym members.

Here are some examples of “why’s” for inspiration:

  • “To live a healthier and happier life.”
  • “To inspire others to greatness.”
  • “To create a sense of community.”

Again, these are just examples, and you should think about a unique “why” for your own gym business. Write a list of potential “why’s” and run them by your friends, family, colleagues, and members to see if it creates the same sense of motivation in them as it does in you. 

3. A Solid Plan

Once you’ve determined your core values and the “why” of your gym business, it’s time to get down to brass tacks. Write up a plan that outlines exactly how you’ll apply your principles to running a successful brand with a great culture. 

Write down and answer two key questions in a few words – we’ve outlined a simple example of some answers below.

What are the values of my business?

Inspirational. Supportive. Transparent.

What is my vision for the business? 

Motivational. Innovative. Daring. 

Your answers will be unique to your studio, but from here – ask yourself what these values and vision look like in real life and how you will apply them to your (now virtual) business. Be mindful that this may be different from how you would usually reflect your values at your physical studio:

What are the values of my business?

Inspirational. Supportive. Transparent.

  1. Inspirational: We’ll share our member success stories, reviews and testimonials. We’ll create a virtual ‘member map’ graphic and pin all of the locations we have members join from, and share the map within our community as we continue to reach more people.
  2. Supportive: We’re offering more than workouts. Our studio is virtual, but it’s still a place we will encourage people to come together for workshops, events and social activities.
  3. Transparent: At a time filled with uncertainty, we will openly communicate with members through social media, email, texts and phone calls to keep them up to date.

Although a gym culture is something that evolves organically, a plan can help you nudge things in the right direction. It will also help inspire your staff, so they’re not just shooting for the stars but know that a competent leader backs them with a vision. 

In Summary 

Gym culture will come about whether you actively try to nurture it or not. If left to its own devices, then it might become something you never imagined when you started your business – and that’s not always a good thing.

So make a concerted effort to promote a positive gym culture that retains members.

You do that by having strong core values, a reason for doing what you do, and a solid plan for how to do it and make your members see it. 

It’s also important to recognize that these components don’t work independently of each other. You can’t attract good team members without a strong vision, and you can’t retain loyal customers without a good team behind you. 

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