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The test drive is an important part of the car-selling process. It gives the customer a sample to help their purchasing decision. Virtually any community rec center you visit will have a free pass for one day — its own version of the test drive — for prospects or friends of members to experience what the facility has to offer.

However, considering the myriad of group fitness classes, aquatics amenities, youth programs, wellness programs and sports available at the typical YMCA or JCC, free passes that extend beyond a single day should be more commonplace.

“I’m huge on giving people a longer free pass, so they can bring their friends to see what we have,” said Jan Lauten, the executive director of Decatur Family YMCA, a branch of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta. “You can’t come in on a day pass and fully experience the Y. There’s just too much to do — you can’t try everything.”

Lauten’s logic is sound, especially if the goal of the free pass is to showcase all your facility has to offer and encourage prospective members to find what they’re looking for. “What we’re trying to do is bring more people in, and a lot of people have friends who aren’t Y members — they want to share that experience with their friends,” she explained.

At the Decatur Y, Lauten has seen a lot of success in offering free passes to prospective members that last longer than a day. It conveys a willingness to give prospects time to determine whether the facility is worth the investment.

Right out of the gate, it builds trust and rapport between prospects and the Y’s staff. “We work so hard on being the best we could be, being the most open and friendly, and giving out passes and letting people come see us — it has served us well,” said Lauten.

While having a longer free pass isn’t necessary, it’s certainly a boost for member engagement, acquisition and retention. And for Lauten, engaging members and demonstrating a commitment to making them feel welcomed is a personal point of emphasis.

“I feel, as the executive director, my job is customer service,” said Lauten. “And it’s how you’re greeted at the door. Nobody knows what our Group X program is like — nobody knows what the pool is like. They know what happened when they walked in the door, that someone was standing there, smiling and saying, ‘Welcome! We’re so glad you’re here!’”

In all the years she’s been offering them, the free passes haven’t failed Lauten yet. “It’s always opened the door for people,” she shared. “I’ve had people who have left their gyms because there’s so much to offer at the Y.”

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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