What Do Members Expect from a Health Club?

When someone buys a membership to your health club, it’s crucial to meet—and ideally exceed—their expectations in order to keep them as a long-term, satisfied club member.

Nobody knows more about health club member expectations, behavior, and retention than John McCarthy, the former executive director of IHRSA, who has authored several IHRSA publications on these topics. Here are some of McCarthy’s tips, which are valuable for any club operator, whether new or seasoned.

Motivation is the trigger that ignites club membership.

People join a club because they are motivated to get fit, or play squash, or get involved with yoga, or spend more time with certain people. Implicit in the motivation that inspires a person to join a club is an expectation that the experience of being a club member will sustain and support that motivation. When the motivation that ignited the membership decision is not supported or sustained, then the rationale underlying the membership decision is also undermined.

This implies that clubs need to be clear on the motivation that underlies every member’s joining decision. Inevitably, this motivation will be emotional rather than intellectual. It will be a desire to lose weight, to stay healthy, to firm up, to look better, to keep one’s children active, etc. It is desires such as these that underpin membership decisions. Unless these desires are supported and sustained, the membership decision will wane.

Membership retention involves at least one intractable issue: behavioral change.

Every year, the industry sells millions of memberships to men and women who, though they earnestly wish that they could become regular exercisers, have not yet developed the discipline or habit of regular exercise. As behavioral scientists will attest, developing such a discipline is no easy accomplishment. It is difficult for everyone and impossible for some.

Understanding—and leveraging—the member’s motivation affects retention.

In many cases, the transaction that occurs when a person joins a fitness facility does not leverage the motivation that brought the person into the facility. To be specific, when a person is on the verge of joining a facility, there are four opportunities that are often not leveraged. First, there is an opportunity to ask the prospect to be as explicit as possible about their fitness goals. Second, there is the opportunity to let the person know, in a supportive way, that not everyone who joins a club succeeds in achieving their fitness objectives. Third, there is an opportunity to communicate to them that the achievement of their fitness objectives requires a twofold commitment—one from the club and one from the member, and then to ask them if they are ready to make that commitment.

Finally, there is the opportunity to ask the member’s permission to periodically remind them of their objectives and ask them if they are making progress. Such a conversation with a membership prospect opens the door to communication that supports membership retention.

Author avatar

Kristen Walsh

Kristen Walsh previously served as IHRSA's Associate Publisher—a position focused on the creation and distribution of Club Business International, as well as writing and editing articles, newsletters, and research reports.