By Hugo Braam, Special AFS Contributor

Gym membership statuses have become a hot topic this year, right up there with postponed concerts, and canceled flights, and interrupted holidays. Yet, unlike other industries that were forced to grind to a halt, savvy businesses in the fitness sector quickly reshaped and adapted to the changing economic landscape caused by the coronavirus.

In the past few weeks, however, we’ve seen huge strides being made in rolling out a vaccine for the coronavirus. In effect, we may be on a trajectory towards the ‘old normal’ again – but what does this mean for your member base?

"According to a Run Repeat survey, 60% of US gym members have canceled or are considering canceling their memberships. Many are favoring the security and ease of home workouts that have become the norm."

With numbers like these, gym owners and managers should place a heavy emphasis on membership retention going forward. Not only will this increase your chances of maintaining revenue, but a by-product of retaining loyal members is that your community, as a whole, will become closer and more engaged with your brand.

But where do you start? Keeping your members happy is often an aggregate of marketing efforts – and let's face it, with the budget cuts we’ve all suffered this year, your team might not be in its best shape. So, right off the bat, here are some tangible (and easy) ways you can focus on membership retention in 2021.

Fool-proof your member onboarding

Let’s start at the beginning: when your member signs their first contract with you. The best way to win at the membership retention challenge is to play the long game. When your lead has become a fully-fledged member, make it a priority – no, your responsibility – to integrate them into your gym environment. Having a robust onboarding program that reinforces their decision to sign up to your gym is an important step to getting off on the right foot.

Set up triggers to check in with your new members during their first few months, and mobilize your staff to engage with them so you can build a lasting impression. It takes a little more communication, but it’s worth the effort when the time comes for members to decide whether or not to stick with you through thick and thin.

Address the needs of at-risk members

I’ll expound more on 'at-risk members' below, but for now, it’s good to be aware that 52% of people who have not returned to gyms since reopening are having a harder time getting motivated to exercise compared to the 42% of members who did return. Knowing what is stopping them is crucial in rebuilding a relationship with your members.

Consider calling them to find out their pain points. Many people have suffered job loss this year; if members are leaving because it is too expensive to maintain a membership amid the pandemic, offer them a more affordable digital membership experience using a strong mobile app solution.

Speaking of which, if you’re not already using a fitness app to manage your business and communicate with members, it’s time to start wielding the power of tech to increase engagement and retention. At Virtuagym we offer such tools integrated with powerful business management tools, including an upcoming new Retention Planner module which uses data to predict the risk of churn, so you can see which members are healthy, which are low-risk, and who’s at a higher risk of churning. It is the ideal way to effectively manage your member retention goals!

But, I digress; my point is that you listen to problems and look for viable solutions with a high degree of self-awareness. Membership price too high? Consider a temporary price drop or offer more value for money by adding digital services. People don’t feel safe at the gym? No need to push them – hybridize your member offering through virtual workouts and online coaching.

Data should be at the forefront of your decision making

As I mentioned above, you can avoid churn by discerning at-risk members. What does this mean?

Make use of a good software solution to make better decisions regarding staff and member retention through a user-friendly system that auto-generates graphs, charts, and heatmaps of member behavior. And the best part is that it doesn’t take a tech whiz to use it – just the determination to learn from data and follow-up on it with your members.

Retention management tools help you determine at-risk members, that is, members who are at risk of churning based on their behavioral data such as days since they last visited the gym and when their next booking is scheduled. This will enable you to streamline your retention efforts to target members that are worth retaining – and trust me, most of them are worth retaining. A study by Harvard Business School cited that a 5% increase in customer retention can potentially raise your company's revenue by up to 25%- 29%.

So, if you want to make sure you can keep existing members with you, make sure you keep adding sufficient value, both offline and online. Additionally, it is vital to develop a strong retention strategy. This will allow you to successfully steer through the challenging months ahead, until we’ve overcome the pandemic.


Hugo Braam is co-founder and CEO of Virtuagym. Virtuagym provides innovative management, booking, and coaching software solutions for gyms, clubs, and studios. They have just launched PRO+, the world's first turnkey solution for fitness operators

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