"No one can steal your clients, but you can lose them."
Before my fitness career, I opened and managed bars and lounges. For the latter part of my career it was for celebrities in New York City.
Because the bars had celebrities attached to them, you can imagine that they were pretty popular bars that people wanted to be in.
On a typical night, I would be constantly moving around the establishment. I would be checking on atmosphere, temperature, music, ability to move around comfortably and the ability to get a drink in a short amount of time.
Once I started having trouble moving around the bar or I noticed that the bartenders and waitresses were in the weeds (overwhelmed with orders), I would tell my front door man, “Hold it up, don't let anyone else in.”
After a few minutes, I would walk around the whole bar again and check on the bartenders and waitresses.
I would ask these questions (to myself):
1- Are they still overwhelmed?
2- Are customers having a hard time getting a drink?
3- Is it hard to move around the lounge?
4- Are the bathrooms getting messy?
5- Is it getting hot?
6- Does the music need to be turned up a little?
After a few minutes, the door man would radio to me, “Hey Ant, we have a line out here, what should I do?”
If the answer was "No" to the first three questions, I would tell them, “Give me 5 more people.” I wasn't about to overwhelm the place again; I would gradually let the people outside in.
If the answer was “Yes” to the first three questions, I wouldn't allow any new people in the bar.
When this happened and I said, “No new people, hold it up,” without fail, five minutes later, the door man would call back and say “They're getting hostile out here, do you still want a line?”
I would say, “Hold on” and check the bar again.
I didn't care about the people on the line.
They weren't my customers. They could wait forever.
I cared about the people who were in the bar.
I wanted the people in the bar to have the best experience possible. I had to control the things that were in my power to control and being able to move comfortably, making sure the music wasn't too loud or too low, being able to get to the bathroom easily and getting a drink in a timely manner were under my control.
What does this have to do with the fitness industry?
We get a lot of questions about marketing on StrengthCoach.com, we rarely get them about retention.
I see so many ads with “Get 41 new clients to your gym this month” but I never see ads that say “Never Lose a Customer Again.” Unless it's for the book, “Never Lose a Customer Again.” (great book by the way)
There is nothing wrong with marketing and getting new clients in the gym but when we are so focused on that, we lose sight that we have gold sitting in our gym already!
The collateral damage from some of these "get 37.5 Clients this Week" marketing programs is that IF you don't already have systems in place, you will lose current customers.
Who is taking care of all of these new leads?
Who is calling them? Like Alwyn Cosgrove from Results Fitness University said on a recent Strength Coach Podcast, “It's never one phone call. Most of the time you call them, and you are leaving a message. Then you might play phone tag with them and it ends up being 3 or 4 calls.”
Who is meeting with them to give them a tour and sell them on your services?
If you make the sale, there is paperwork and payment processing and questions that need to be answered.
This stuff takes time.
New clients need extra time and extra care, and more coaching.
If you have more people in your gym, there are more towels to wash, more garbage to empty and more cleaning to do.
Who suffers when this happens if you don't have the staff and systems in place?
Your current clients do. The people already in the bar!
I'm not saying that you shouldn't be marketing. I'm saying you should focus on keeping the clients that are currently in your gym in there as long as possible.
How do we do that?
There are so many ways but lets just start out with the basics.
1- Big greetings! Make them always feel welcomed with an enthusiastic greeting. No matter where you are in the gym, acknowledge their presence right away. Dale Carnegie, the author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” talks about how people love to hear their name. Use their name.
From Mike Boyle:
Clients love it when they know you really care.
"They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Caring is a text later in the day.
Caring is remembering life details (number of kids, names, sports played, etc.)
Caring is showing up at their sporting events.
Make sure you know everything there is to know about them and ask about their families.
Check in on them with emails and texts and calls. Vince Gabriele of Gabriele Fitness in New Jersey talked about an employee that they have called a “Trial Concierge” just to make sure trial members don't get lost in the shuffle. They constantly check in on them with emails and personal calls.
Being organized shows you care too. Reminder emails the day before and having your program ready when they get in are things that show you are prepared. Don't just wing it.
3- Listen to them. No, really listen. This is their session, their time, remember it's about them.
4- Keep your personal stuff out of the session. See #3.
5- Keep it positive. Get them excited about their progress.
6- Be present. Put the phone down and focus on coaching.
7- Keep your gym clean. This seems a little out of place but it's important. People don't want to work out in a dump. If you work in a big box gym, it's still no excuse to have a messy gym. Before and after my sessions at Equinox, I put dumbells and plates back, picked up towels and empty water bottles, and made sure the place was as neat as possible. I even color coded some body bars one time. (ok, it was a slow day!)
These are just a few things that are easy to do and won't cost anything but I think they go a long way in helping with retention.
Stop worrying about the people on line and worry about the people in your gym.
For a deeper dive on the subject, check out the great articles by