It’s Gym Quitting Season: What You Can Do About Gym Cancellations

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Memberships for health clubs and weight-loss programs spike each January, says John LaRosa, the president of Marketdata. But by March, the lines thin at the treadmills. In fact, 50% of all new health club members quit within the first six months of signing up according to the International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association. By March new member attendance diminishes “considerably.”

This data makes it even more important to keep the members you do have and make new athletes or students feel welcome enough to stick around at your gym, particularly in those “post-resolution” months. According to the IRSA trend report, the top three reasons people cancel their memberships are:

  • It’s too expensive
  • They can exercise somewhere else for free
  • They didn’t use their membership

Other reasons include moving, the gym being too crowded or feeling out of place.

Today we’re going to focus on things you can do to help someone not feel out of place. Since we’ve already written a number of blogs about the importance of community in your fitness business, I did wonder, “do we really need to talk about this again?” I believe that the answer is “yes indeed” because this is something that a gym owner can fix easily. Especially because you may not be able to change the other reasons folks may leave your fitness business. Physically barricading someone from moving is pretty difficult and discounting your price will impact other areas of your business.

Here’s my story. My beloved gym recently temporarily closed, almost exactly a year after I joined. I was devastated not because they had the largest workout facility or because I thought the WOD’s were challenging and fun. While both of these are indeed true, I was upset because the community I had grown to love and cherish (yes, love and cherish) was going away. The folks who had seen me struggle just getting a bar over my head, had cheered me on at 5am and who really “got” me – along with my challenges, fears and accomplishments were all heading to other boxes and gyms.

So I did what most folks who are addicted to CrossFit® do. I found a new box and I started going to an early am class.

After just a couple of weeks, I was ready to find another box. Barely anyone introduced themselves unless I introduced myself first. It felt like my new box was an exclusive club and membership wasn’t exactly open to new members. There was no cheering mid-workout (I’m a big “woot-woot-er”). I didn’t feel like I fit in and I started to checkout other boxes in the area. This was pretty easy to do since there are about 5 located within a 2-mile radius of my home.

But then I ran into two of the coaches from my new box at a happy hour. Maybe it was the copious amount of alcohol, but after exchanging pleasantries, I told them I was reevaluating their gym because I just “wasn’t feeling it.” They both jumped in to explain why I should reconsider and what the community at this particular box was really like. I noted each one of my concerns and they asked me to give it another go. Their passion got me thinking that I could be missing something and I decided to go back for a few more workouts.

In the next class I went to I had a few folks immediately introduce themselves. Then the coach remembered that I had some medical issues and recommended modifications to the workout before I asked. The coach also was super attentive to everyone in class, making suggestions on form or encouraging each athlete to keep pushing through. And while there wasn’t any “wooting,” every single person cheered on the last person to complete that day’s WOD.

You may be wondering why this matters. With memberships costing anywhere from $125 – $400 per month, a new customer is worth anywhere from $1,500 to $4,800 per year. A little investment in making sure that new members feel welcome and included literally pays off in both the short and long term. I’m suggesting that by making someone feel like they fit in, you can virtually eliminate a big reason people leave a gym. Here are just a few of things to do for new members, if you’re not doing them already:

1. Get to know the new person’s name. Encourage her throughout the workout, addressing her by name. Also, try to remember one thing that person does really well, as well as one thing they struggle with. Be sure to check in with that person frequently on how they can improve that one difficult move. One of my colleagues told me that her old coach was really good at this. When there were WODs with back squats or sprints (which she loved), he would always tell me that the WOD was made for her. On the other hand, anytime there was a WOD with overhead squats (which she found challenging), he would work with her one-on-one beforehand and give tips on how to make it through the WOD and do the movement correctly. He also gave her stretches to do so on her own so she would be better doing that move in the future. She really appreciated this and it created a really positive dynamic between them.

2. Ask any new person about any limitations – injuries, surgeries, etc. and proactively make suggestions on how she can modify a given WOD tor workout before it starts.

3. Ask your athletes or gym members to introduce themselves to new folks. In a box, you can easily do this as your crew huddles around the white board to learn about that day’s WOD. Ask your more veteran members to try to remember new names so that they can cheer them on during the WODs. Hearing a coach or another athlete cheer you on by name helps big time with motivation.

4. When the new person leaves, make sure to ask her when she’ll be back.

5. Follow up by phone and email with every new person. For example, you can send out an email right after the person’s first class “Thanks for trying us out, here’s the schedule for future classes” or you can send one a few days after the first visit “we’d love to schedule you for your first class.” When my colleague was shopping for a new gym a few years ago, she ended up going with hers due to their amazing follow up. She went to a free beginners class, then got a voicemail from the coach the following day asking what she thought of the class and if she would like to come in for a free one-on-one session. During the session, the coach spoke with her about her past fitness experience, fitness goals and then they did a baseline workout. He probably spent 45 minutes with her and it made her feel like they truly wanted her to go there and they cared about helping her achieve my goals. No surprise, 3 years later, she’s still there.

These are just a few simple things you can do immediately to help keep the new members you have and encourage those folks who may have signed up in January to stick around.

As for me, I’ve decided to stop looking for a new box and stay where I am. I don’t expect to immediately be “in” this community, but I’m engaged and excited to workout since the coaches and other athletes are clearly making an effort to help me feel welcome. And, I may even be able to persuade some of my new workout buddies to give a good old “woot” every now and then.


During gym quitting season, it’s important to keep an eye out for warning signs of churn. Get your copy of our free guide, Member Churn Prevention & Warning Signs to help you combat turnover.

gym member retention & churn prevention

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