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UNITING THE WORLD OF FITNESS
Health Club Management

Health Club Management

features

Retention series: Quality standards

How important is the quality of your offering in keeping hold of members? Dr Paul Bedford investigates, in the third part of his retention series

By Dr Paul Bedford PhD, Retention Guru | Published in Health Club Management 2014 issue 1
If operators investment in new equipment, they also need to train staff to support any members wanting to use it / © shutterstock.com/Andresr
If operators investment in new equipment, they also need to train staff to support any members wanting to use it / © shutterstock.com/Andresr
Many respondents continue to have issues with operators’ failure to take into account how they will actually consume the gym experience

Since the latter half of the 1980s, health clubs have evolved from small, privately owned facilities or sports centres with multi gyms into what we see today: gyms full of state of the art equipment, along with studios that once only required mats as an accessory now full of additional props and tools to deliver a wider range of classes.

And yet, while the size of clubs and their memberships has grown, the way in which the products and services are delivered has not evolved at the same rate. Some might even argue that quality in this area has gone backwards.

Clean and fresh
In our latest research, we spoke to experienced health club users with multiple years of working out under their belts, who had also been members of numerous different clubs. And we identified that what was of importance to members 10 years ago is still important to them today – yet many operators still appear unwilling or unable to meet member expectations.

Cleanliness, for example, remains one of the most important factors in how members judge the performance of their club – and an area in which many clubs fall down. “This is the only time I share so much stuff with so many people, and with so little clothing on. If the last person left the mat sweaty, I’d rather lie on the floor than use it,” said one respondent. “You’d have thought the club would have worked out a way to avoid that by now – it’s been open nearly 20 years, with three different owners. Do none of them try to improve this or do they just not care?”

A facelift from time to time is also important in helping drive the impression of quality. Another respondent said: “Why can’t they get the basics right? It needs to be clean and working, with enough staff to help you as and when you need it. They also need to change it up every now and again so it doesn’t get boring. I’m in here three days a week and painting a wall and changing the mats every three years just doesn’t justify the monthly fee.”

Design logic
The design of a club plays an important role in selling and retaining members, and yet design elements are often overlooked as operators seek to make maximum use of the space available.

In terms of layout, easy to navigate spaces that naturally flow from one area to another help members acclimatise and feel comfortable within the club very quickly, in much the same way that modern airports are designed to have passengers flow from check-in to security and then into duty free. In the airport, each area nudges the traveller to the next location. Similarly, clubs could ‘flow’ members through the restaurant to get to their classes, or past the free weights area to get to the cardio equipment.

On a positive note, hard to navigate gym floors are already decreasing, with the application of retail behavioural psychology and equipment layout beginning to find its way onto the gym floor. These developments allow members to make optimum use of the equipment in the time available.

“I used to have to walk around the entire gym to get a workout – one piece here, another over there. Since they re-fitted the gym, it’s easy: start at this end, finish at that end [points to a line of equipment]. I actually get more done in less time – brilliant.”

However, the devil is in the design detail. Our research shows that many respondents continue to have issues with operators’ failure to take into account how they will actually consume the gym experience.

“They have TVs on the machines and on the wall, but if you’re on the cardio equipment, you should expect to be able to listen to the TVs on the wall too. It’s ridiculous that you can’t listen to TVs that are on different channels from the machines. I often watch the sports channels, but I can’t listen to what’s going on,” commented one member.

Another said: “In the showers, all of the shower heads are high up. This might suit men, but I don’t want to get my hair wet when I shower. Why can’t they be set at shoulder height? They haven’t really thought about how men and women differ.”

Service standards
As the industry searches for the next big thing – the thing they hope will improve retention – answers are often sought in innovative new equipment and classes. However, while operators will spend thousands of pounds investing in these products, they often fail to train staff sufficiently to support members.

When staff are not available, members feel they have to turn to more experienced exercisers around them – or, indeed, increasingly report conducting YouTube searches and watching the manufacturers’ advertisements to learn how equipment should be used.

“We have that, over there [pointing to a suspension training A frame], but I’m not sure what to do with it,” said one respondent. “I’ve seen the personal trainers using it with clients, but none of the gym staff seem to know how it works. When I ask for help, they just tell me to book a PT session or read the poster. Why can’t they just show me what to do?”

This results in misuse or lack of use, because staff are unable to demonstrate where that particular piece of equipment could be used as an alternative to something the member is already doing.

“What happened to the fitness staff – where did they all go?” asked one member. “It used to be that you had staff who would come and help you with things. They would write you programmes, talk to you about your day and check you were OK. What happened to them?”

Indeed, our research shows that service levels remain a particular bugbear. While the physical environment is much more conducive to exercise nowadays – with fewer rows of kit and more design – clubs don’t appear able to match member expectations with delivery of service. Members aren’t after the ‘wow’ experience every once in a while, but rather the basics being done consistently well – and this isn’t generally happening.

Another finding that came out of our research is that members are happy to buy, but are unhappy being sold to. “Overnight my club turned into an advertisement for a large German car company,” said one respondent. “OK, I get that they want to link with other brands they think members want, to maximise advertising revenue, but that was a bit much.”

Class offering
Meanwhile, in the studios, members love the diversity now offered. However, this comes with a caveat: while there can be more to choose from, this can also result in less of what they actually want to do. Class teachers can also come in for some criticism.

“I’ve been told that this club pays a little more than all the other clubs locally. You can tell because all of the teachers are good. You even have teachers who make up their own choreography rather than the same old same old. I used to belong to my local leisure centre, where I think they pay the minimum and what you get is a generic class – nothing special… just what it says on the timetable.”

Retention drivers
So what’s driving members’ decisions to stay at particular clubs? Respondents reported staying at clubs:
* Where staff took an interest in them and not just their money.
* Where the club was clean and members could see cleaning at appropriate times.
* Where the exercise environment was designed for ease of use.
* Where they knew that proper support was available.
* Where they could see the club making some investment year-on-year.
* Where the staff appeared to be happy in their job and working conditions.
* Where the price reflected the level of service received.

Experienced exercisers are willing to pay more for what they want. In fact, some will pay more for less choice if it means they actually get more of what they want. This is reflected in the growing number of boutique fitness studios focused on just one activity – such as PT, yoga, pilates or group cycling – but with the best instructors, creating a defined and designed user experience and charging more for it.

Respondents also stated that they would be willing to – and indeed do – pay more when they can find clubs that can deliver on their expectations.

One respondent concluded: “My gym has everything I want in a club. The equipment is well maintained and clean. When they buy new equipment, they have general induction sessions on how to use it.

“The staff have been here for years – some come and go, but they always seem to get a good replacement. And they don’t try and sell to you all the time like some gyms I’ve been a member of. They let you know what’s available, but then they leave you to make the choice.”

Paul Bedford PhD has worked in the fitness industry for more than 20 years. His business, Retention Guru, helps health club operators increase retention, reduce attrition and improve member loyalty. 
Email paul-retentionguru.co.uk
Twitter @guru_paul
LinkedIn Paul Bedford

Sign up here to get HCM's weekly ezine and every issue of HCM magazine free on digital.
Cleanliness remains a key factor in how members rate their club / © shutterstock.com/
Cleanliness remains a key factor in how members rate their club / © shutterstock.com/
The majority of members aren’t looking for a ‘wow’ experience – just the basics done consistently well / © shutterstock.com/Andresr
The majority of members aren’t looking for a ‘wow’ experience – just the basics done consistently well / © shutterstock.com/Andresr
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/759725_869614.jpg
How important is the quality of your offering when it comes to keeping your members? Dr Paul Bedford reports
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features

Retention series: Quality standards

How important is the quality of your offering in keeping hold of members? Dr Paul Bedford investigates, in the third part of his retention series

By Dr Paul Bedford PhD, Retention Guru | Published in Health Club Management 2014 issue 1
If operators investment in new equipment, they also need to train staff to support any members wanting to use it / © shutterstock.com/Andresr
If operators investment in new equipment, they also need to train staff to support any members wanting to use it / © shutterstock.com/Andresr
Many respondents continue to have issues with operators’ failure to take into account how they will actually consume the gym experience

Since the latter half of the 1980s, health clubs have evolved from small, privately owned facilities or sports centres with multi gyms into what we see today: gyms full of state of the art equipment, along with studios that once only required mats as an accessory now full of additional props and tools to deliver a wider range of classes.

And yet, while the size of clubs and their memberships has grown, the way in which the products and services are delivered has not evolved at the same rate. Some might even argue that quality in this area has gone backwards.

Clean and fresh
In our latest research, we spoke to experienced health club users with multiple years of working out under their belts, who had also been members of numerous different clubs. And we identified that what was of importance to members 10 years ago is still important to them today – yet many operators still appear unwilling or unable to meet member expectations.

Cleanliness, for example, remains one of the most important factors in how members judge the performance of their club – and an area in which many clubs fall down. “This is the only time I share so much stuff with so many people, and with so little clothing on. If the last person left the mat sweaty, I’d rather lie on the floor than use it,” said one respondent. “You’d have thought the club would have worked out a way to avoid that by now – it’s been open nearly 20 years, with three different owners. Do none of them try to improve this or do they just not care?”

A facelift from time to time is also important in helping drive the impression of quality. Another respondent said: “Why can’t they get the basics right? It needs to be clean and working, with enough staff to help you as and when you need it. They also need to change it up every now and again so it doesn’t get boring. I’m in here three days a week and painting a wall and changing the mats every three years just doesn’t justify the monthly fee.”

Design logic
The design of a club plays an important role in selling and retaining members, and yet design elements are often overlooked as operators seek to make maximum use of the space available.

In terms of layout, easy to navigate spaces that naturally flow from one area to another help members acclimatise and feel comfortable within the club very quickly, in much the same way that modern airports are designed to have passengers flow from check-in to security and then into duty free. In the airport, each area nudges the traveller to the next location. Similarly, clubs could ‘flow’ members through the restaurant to get to their classes, or past the free weights area to get to the cardio equipment.

On a positive note, hard to navigate gym floors are already decreasing, with the application of retail behavioural psychology and equipment layout beginning to find its way onto the gym floor. These developments allow members to make optimum use of the equipment in the time available.

“I used to have to walk around the entire gym to get a workout – one piece here, another over there. Since they re-fitted the gym, it’s easy: start at this end, finish at that end [points to a line of equipment]. I actually get more done in less time – brilliant.”

However, the devil is in the design detail. Our research shows that many respondents continue to have issues with operators’ failure to take into account how they will actually consume the gym experience.

“They have TVs on the machines and on the wall, but if you’re on the cardio equipment, you should expect to be able to listen to the TVs on the wall too. It’s ridiculous that you can’t listen to TVs that are on different channels from the machines. I often watch the sports channels, but I can’t listen to what’s going on,” commented one member.

Another said: “In the showers, all of the shower heads are high up. This might suit men, but I don’t want to get my hair wet when I shower. Why can’t they be set at shoulder height? They haven’t really thought about how men and women differ.”

Service standards
As the industry searches for the next big thing – the thing they hope will improve retention – answers are often sought in innovative new equipment and classes. However, while operators will spend thousands of pounds investing in these products, they often fail to train staff sufficiently to support members.

When staff are not available, members feel they have to turn to more experienced exercisers around them – or, indeed, increasingly report conducting YouTube searches and watching the manufacturers’ advertisements to learn how equipment should be used.

“We have that, over there [pointing to a suspension training A frame], but I’m not sure what to do with it,” said one respondent. “I’ve seen the personal trainers using it with clients, but none of the gym staff seem to know how it works. When I ask for help, they just tell me to book a PT session or read the poster. Why can’t they just show me what to do?”

This results in misuse or lack of use, because staff are unable to demonstrate where that particular piece of equipment could be used as an alternative to something the member is already doing.

“What happened to the fitness staff – where did they all go?” asked one member. “It used to be that you had staff who would come and help you with things. They would write you programmes, talk to you about your day and check you were OK. What happened to them?”

Indeed, our research shows that service levels remain a particular bugbear. While the physical environment is much more conducive to exercise nowadays – with fewer rows of kit and more design – clubs don’t appear able to match member expectations with delivery of service. Members aren’t after the ‘wow’ experience every once in a while, but rather the basics being done consistently well – and this isn’t generally happening.

Another finding that came out of our research is that members are happy to buy, but are unhappy being sold to. “Overnight my club turned into an advertisement for a large German car company,” said one respondent. “OK, I get that they want to link with other brands they think members want, to maximise advertising revenue, but that was a bit much.”

Class offering
Meanwhile, in the studios, members love the diversity now offered. However, this comes with a caveat: while there can be more to choose from, this can also result in less of what they actually want to do. Class teachers can also come in for some criticism.

“I’ve been told that this club pays a little more than all the other clubs locally. You can tell because all of the teachers are good. You even have teachers who make up their own choreography rather than the same old same old. I used to belong to my local leisure centre, where I think they pay the minimum and what you get is a generic class – nothing special… just what it says on the timetable.”

Retention drivers
So what’s driving members’ decisions to stay at particular clubs? Respondents reported staying at clubs:
* Where staff took an interest in them and not just their money.
* Where the club was clean and members could see cleaning at appropriate times.
* Where the exercise environment was designed for ease of use.
* Where they knew that proper support was available.
* Where they could see the club making some investment year-on-year.
* Where the staff appeared to be happy in their job and working conditions.
* Where the price reflected the level of service received.

Experienced exercisers are willing to pay more for what they want. In fact, some will pay more for less choice if it means they actually get more of what they want. This is reflected in the growing number of boutique fitness studios focused on just one activity – such as PT, yoga, pilates or group cycling – but with the best instructors, creating a defined and designed user experience and charging more for it.

Respondents also stated that they would be willing to – and indeed do – pay more when they can find clubs that can deliver on their expectations.

One respondent concluded: “My gym has everything I want in a club. The equipment is well maintained and clean. When they buy new equipment, they have general induction sessions on how to use it.

“The staff have been here for years – some come and go, but they always seem to get a good replacement. And they don’t try and sell to you all the time like some gyms I’ve been a member of. They let you know what’s available, but then they leave you to make the choice.”

Paul Bedford PhD has worked in the fitness industry for more than 20 years. His business, Retention Guru, helps health club operators increase retention, reduce attrition and improve member loyalty. 
Email paul-retentionguru.co.uk
Twitter @guru_paul
LinkedIn Paul Bedford

Sign up here to get HCM's weekly ezine and every issue of HCM magazine free on digital.
Cleanliness remains a key factor in how members rate their club / © shutterstock.com/
Cleanliness remains a key factor in how members rate their club / © shutterstock.com/
The majority of members aren’t looking for a ‘wow’ experience – just the basics done consistently well / © shutterstock.com/Andresr
The majority of members aren’t looking for a ‘wow’ experience – just the basics done consistently well / © shutterstock.com/Andresr
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/759725_869614.jpg
How important is the quality of your offering when it comes to keeping your members? Dr Paul Bedford reports
Dr Paul Bedford, ,Quality, retention, research, Dr Paul Bedford, cleanliness, interaction
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US fitness industry revenue dropped 58 per cent during 2020 – from the US$35bn all-time ...
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The UK government is exploring whether incentivising people financially to take part in physical activity ...
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Addiction – a word laden with negativity. But isn’t that exactly what the fitness industry wants? For members to be addicted (in a healthy way) to exercise – not just to increase profits but, most importantly, so they can live happier, healthier and longer lives.
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Featured supplier: Strengthening your mind...one work out at a time
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Company profiles
Company profile: Proinsight Research Ltd
We take time at the outset to understand your unique customer journey. Then we work ...
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Company profile: TRIB3 International Ltd
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Supplier Showcases
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Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Directory
Exercise equipment
Pendex Fisio S.L.: Exercise equipment
Spa software
SpaBooker: Spa software
Whole body cryotherapy
Zimmer MedizinSysteme GmbH / icelab: Whole body cryotherapy
Red Light Therapy
 Red Light Rising: Red Light Therapy
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Uniforms
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Property & Tenders
Diary dates
03-06 Jun 2021
Expo Centre & Riviera di Rimini, Italy
Diary dates
12 Jun 2021
Worldwide, Various,
Diary dates
13-14 Jun 2021
Online,
Diary dates
16-17 Jun 2021
ExCeL London, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
18-19 Sep 2021
Locations worldwide,
Diary dates
21-24 Sep 2021
Messe Stuttgart, Germany
Diary dates
01-07 Dec 2022
tbc, Dunedin, New Zealand
Diary dates
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