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A key ingredient to success for any fitness facility is member retention — in fact, this may be the most important factor. No matter what other operational decisions you may make, your success will always be limited by poorly executed retention strategies. Conversely, great retention strategies will set your facility up for sustained success.

Adam Shilling, the executive director, membership and program at YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, has found there are three keys to maintaining high retention rates:

  • Helping members achieve their goals.
  • Connecting members to other members.
  • Ensuring members feel welcomed at the Y.

These keys are backed by studies on why members stay at or leave their fitness facilities. “According to research by Y-USA, 81% of members who meet their goals for Y membership stay at the Y,” explained Shilling. “We retain 83% of the members who have a friend at the Y, and we retain 78% of members who feel like they belong at the Y.”

Knowing that 83% of members who have a Y friend stick around, the Greater Grand Rapids Y has implemented a program called “Free Friend Friday” that allows members to bring guests to the facility for free on certain Fridays — a tactic that has increased new memberships and current member retention.

In short, connections are critical for the member journey — the more welcomed you can make an individual feel, the more likely they are to keep coming back. Having a friend certainly helps, as do consistently positive interactions with staff members.

At the Greater Grand Rapids Y, staff are encouraged to ask members detailed questions. “I like to call it ‘going three questions deep,’” shared Shilling. “I can talk to any stranger and ask two questions about their life: How are you doing? How was your weekend? But asking a third question typically requires knowing something about their life. Asking detailed questions is more important than remembering someone’s name.”

In addition to knowing members on a personal level, staff members can improve member retention by investing in their members’ fitness journeys. Remember, 81% of members who reach their fitness goals will stay at your facility.

“Staff play a role in this area by constantly checking on progress that members are making towards their goals,” said Shilling. “From informal conversations about how someone is doing in their race training to formalized personal training sessions, intentional focus on the part of staff plays a major support in propelling members toward achieving their goals.”

Prioritizing connections, achieving goals and making a welcoming environment have been successful for Shilling and his team. “These efforts, as well as a continual focus on exceeding member service expectations, have allowed our Y to maintain 13-month retention rates between 70% and 72% over the past year, and a churn rate that averages 4% each month,” he said.

If you’re hoping to improve your member retention over the next few months, remember that connections — between members and staff, as well as between the members themselves — are the key. The more at home and motivated members feel when they walk through your doors, the more likely they are to keep coming back.

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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