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Making the Most of the January Gym Rush: 5 Ways to Boost Acquisition and Retention in 2021


The countdown to Christmas looks a little different this year, and 2020 has been one we’ll never forget. We’ve spent the best part of the year navigating various stages of ‘new normal’ life amid a global pandemic, though nothing about it feels all that ‘new’ anymore. News of a vaccine brings hope for 2021, but the world still has a long way to go before things can start returning to how they were before.  

This year, the fitness industry has faced its biggest challenge but has managed to survive and thrive through various forced closures with a pivot to online services. Come January, depending on where you are in the world, your fitness business will likely be up and running onsite with limited capacity, running entirely online, or a combination of both.

It’s safe to say – much like the Christmas countdown, the January gym rush in 2021 will look a little different. 

We’ll take a look at 5 areas to focus your attention on to make the most of the rush in 2021. First, it’s important to understand what will be different, so you know how to prepare. 

What to Expect From the January Gym Rush in 2021

With such a massive transformation in our day-to-day lives this year, it’s no surprise that consumers have developed new habits, accelerating new trends that will impact the fitness industry through 2021. 

New Year’s resolutions are no exception, with a recent survey revealing the mindset toward them in 2021 will be different. The survey asked 2,000 nationally-representative Americans about their plans for the new year in light of the stress from 2020.

The study shows that people planning on incorporating fitness into their resolutions are likely to do so with a more holistic approach to goal setting. When it comes to New Year’s gym resolutions, one of the common reasons people quit soon after January is that they’ve set harsh and often unrealistic fitness expectations of themselves. According to the results, 2021 could be different: Seven in 10 respondents shared that they don’t plan on setting harsh deadlines to achieve their new goals. For January gym-goers, this means less of the cut-throat “I’m joining a gym on the 1st of January, and I’ll work out 5 days a week” attitude. Instead, they’ll vow to sign up, get moving, and regualry check in on themselves through the year to see how they’re progressing, and this fresh approach is something fitness business can support and work with. 

To stay committed for 2021, 45% of survey respondents plan to set checkpoints throughout the year to measure their progress, and 44% will create a game plan of specific steps for each of their new goals. 

With this, it’s crucial that you support every new member from day one: at the very beginning, this means having a water-tight onboarding experience. From then on, it’s about keeping members motivated and on track with accountability. 

Now we’ve discussed how members’ New Year gym resolutions will look next year, how can you best prepare, and what are the best ways to leverage the January rush in 2021?

5 Ways to Make the Most of the January Rush

With the right plans in place, you can make sure you’re there from the get-go, helping members craft their game plan and stick to it. 

1. Get Ahead of the Game

You want to plan for January as early as you can. Now is the time to start mapping out your class timetables to cater to the increase in demand. This year, it’s more important than ever, as while demand will be higher, covid restrictions will mean running your physical gym at a reduced capacity. 

The good news is that planning ahead means you can use your online offering to balance this out – there are no limits to how many people can participate in live or on-demand workouts.

Start by gauging your current members’ interest for January – what will the split of online/onsite classes look like before any new members join? From here, you’ll be able to plan for capacity and tailor your offers to drive members where you want them to be: online or onsite.

2. Go Hybrid With Your Marketing Tactics

Though there’s nothing wrong with experimenting with old-school marketing tactics, for this section, we’re not talking about running digital ads and handing out flyers for the January rush. What we mean is it’s time to get creative with ways you can promote your onsite and online offering together – because it’s a great way to build overall brand awareness and make the most of your capacity.

With a hybrid offering, you’re in the unique position for 2021 of being able to cast a wider net with your marketing efforts for the January rush. For example, take your gym referral program. Your happy members are your brand ambassadors, and this January, it could be worth extending referrals to include either your online or onsite services. 

Plan a few hybrid sessions around referrals, think along the lines of running one ‘bring a friend’ live class every week in January. Have existing onsite members invite friends and family to join a live class; they’ll be in the studio with you, and their friends can join online.

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This year, though your onsite classes may be smaller, your overall capacity can actually be bigger than ever before.

3. Nail Down Your Onboarding Strategy…

Retaining your members is one of the most important factors in your business’ success. And there is one thing that plays a crucial role in long-term retention that is easily overlooked – your onboarding process.

If your onboarding isn’t water-tight, it means that your retention strategies may be kicking in too late. Retention expert Dr. Paul Bedford recently joined us on The Fitness Founders Podcast, where he talked about the fundamentals of a great retention strategy.

Onboarding is one of the most interesting areas Paul covers during the episode, referencing his landmark study, One Million Strong: An In-Depth Study of Member Retention in North America. The study reveals that 87% of members onboarded correctly remained active after 6 months. This statistic becomes all the more crucial when it comes to January gym joiners, many of whom quit after the first couple of months, as soon as the “new year, new me” wears off. In essence, if your members have an exceptional experience right from the start, they are more likely to remain loyal in the long-run. Now is the time to make sure you have everything in place to give that experience to your new members in January. 

4… But Don’t Forget About Your Current Members

Getting wrapped up in your January-joiners is easily done, but it’s not surprising that more than 50% of your current members won’t appreciate feeling like they suddenly take second place.  

Both online and in-person, you still need to deliver value to existing members and ensure they feel important too. We mentioned using a hybrid referral program earlier in this article when discussing marketing tactics, but it’s not just great for promoting your gym to a broader audience.

Naturally, your referral program will give existing members some perks or discounts, but combining it with your January efforts is also great for bringing members old and new together. It can help your new members feel less intimidated when they’re joining for the first time and encourage your existing members to bring newbies under their wing. 

Aside from your hybrid “bring a friend” classes, make sure you scope out the time both at the studio and online to run classes, especially for new joiners. This way, your current members’ classes won’t be affected. It’s essential to make sure that onboarding your new members’ impacts existing members’ experiences as little as possible. 

5. Focus on Accountability

When Alex Hormozi joined us on The Fitness Founders Podcast, he pointed out the key differentiator that separates your business from all of the others is accountability.

“They can Google a nutrition plan. They can google a free online workout. People pay for you to pay attention.” 

Ultimately, it can be the difference between retaining a high or low number of your new January gym members. Keeping members accountable will rely on communication, and there are a few mediums you can consider:

  • Texts 
  • Emails 
  • Social media 
  • Phone calls 
  • Support groups on social (Whatsapp and Facebook)
  • All of the above!

Whichever mediums you choose, regular check-ins form an essential part of this, but having an influx of new members at the same time means you can get creative with keeping them accountable together. 

Consider buddying members up with each other, create Whatsapp and Facebook groups for your newbies, perhaps even jump straight in with a team challenge for January. A challenge is excellent for creating accountability, and if you incentivize members right, it will also increase retention. Think along the lines of running a 6-week challenge for all new members and offering everyone who completes the challenge 1 discounted class a week in February.

The beginning of a new year is a time when motivation runs at its highest, and this applies to members both new and old, so now is the time to plan for how you will keep members accountable through January and beyond. 

In Summary

Reflecting on a challenging year, it makes sense that people are approaching their 2021 resolutions differently. 65% will be viewing these as intentions rather than resolutions, but the January rush still presents a fantastic opportunity for driving growth for your fitness business. 

It comes down to planning now how you will welcome new members online, keeping in mind limited capacity at your physical gym, and how you can support and motivate members new and old – from day one and beyond.

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