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A Healthy Membership: How to Stay Competitive in the Fitness Facility Game

It seems that there are gyms everywhere. In fact, according to Statista, as of 2016 the United States had the largest number of gyms and fitness facilities of any country globally, with 36,540. In the 8 years of recorded data, health clubs and fitness centers have increased by more than 6,000.

Fitness facilities in Baltimore City

Fitness facilities in Baltimore

Fitness is big business—to the tune of $28.5 billion in North America in 2015. And judging by the increase in places to engage in said business, the landscape will continue to be dotted by more and more fitness facilities in the coming years.

What does that mean for a gym-owner? Large or small, big box or boutique, fitness facility operators will have to be on top of their game and ahead of it too. Passing out flyers or shoving pamphlets under windshield wipers is not going to fill memberships like it used to. That’s not to say you shouldn’t give it a try, but you would be better served using media that has the most impact.

Competition is fierce. But there is a big enough piece of the pie that makes risking that competition worthwhile. There are some ways to help yourself stand out in the crowd and meet your membership and fiscal goals.

Getting Them In


It always seems to begin with a website, doesn’t it…? For gym operators, it is no different. People may not be able to workout online, but finding a place to workout generally begins with an internet search.

Getting in front of them and being seen is the first step toward converting a searcher to a member. This means you will have to strengthen your online presence.

Simplify The Site

This seems, well, simple enough, but in their need to cast as wide a net as possible, operators fall into the trap of trying to jam as much info onto the site as they can. Don’t. Keep the messaging and the content simple and clean.

FX Studio Fitness facility, Baltimore CitySimplify The Message

Make it emphatic and punchy. You know best what your value proposition is and what makes your facility better than your competitors. Get that across. And quickly, too!

The more time your potential clients have to spend looking for the reason they came to your site, the less likely they are to buy what you are selling.

In fact, after slow load times, the next three things that are going to have your visitors reaching for the “back” button are:

  • Being inundated with offers and excessive ads
  • Seeing something unexpected and unrelated to what they came for
  • Having to dig through content that’s not skimmable

So, make it quick and make it easy to find.

Flex Your Muscles

Identify what is most important, what differentiates your facility and why your place of exercise is better than the many others in your vertical.

You are probably not the only game in town (as we noted earlier). Maybe not even the same street.

Sign Here

So much commerce and business happen online now. People are more and more committed to the idea of convenience. Sames goes with with exercise and gym memberships. There should ALWAYS be a clear path to signing up online, for any and all services you offer.

Know your Audience

If you are a gym that specializes in underwater heavy bags, don’t market to people who prefer the speed bag (*files this under ideas for new exercise fad*).

This includes developing a tone and voice that will appeal to that audience. Extolling a pain-and-gain mantra or voice in a yoga studio will not resonate with your potential and current membership.

Determine The Typical Member

Create a model of what you consider to be your perfect member. This archetype or persona might already be a major part of your facility. If this is the case, then your messaging is probably on point. If not, then you need to idealize what this person looks like, acts like and expects from you. This characterization will then be the conduit for developing your messaging, tone and marketing plan.

Target that audience

Get it up on your site. Get it up your social media channels. Promote it on Facebook. Share it with your email list (you have one, right?). Let it be known that you know what you’re doing. This tethers you and your brand to your clients’ impression of you. It lets them know that they are investing their health (and wealth) wisely in someone that knows what they are doing.

Marketing to Your Audience

When you are targeting clientele, get micro with the details on who you are targeting. Search algorithms are way more advanced now and can help your clientele get specific about what they want, where they are looking for it and how you can reach them.

Spin class studio for specific groups of membersCater to that audience

Develop programs, use specific equipment, offer classes that let your members (current and potential) know you understand who they are and more specifically what they need.

Content For Your Audience

Most marketers will tell you of the importance of expertise. Consumers are more and more savvy. Gym goers are just as discerning. They can see through fluff and flash sales or offers. You have to back yourself.

This means content. Good content. Solid content. Expert content. Specific content. If you know who your target market is, write for them and to them.

Make videos about how to lift correctly. Write posts about diet and exercise. Come up with your own 7-minute workout using the equipment on your floor, in your fitness facility.

Know your Competition

This is as old as business itself. Find out what your competitors are doing. Whatever they can do, you can borrow—or at least identify where you can make your same offering better. It’s not “stealing.” It is a good way to draw specific insights through comparisons.

Determine if there are any gaps in what they are offering and what you can co-opt to make your offering better.


It might not be what you are offering, but rather HOW you offer it. Messaging and how you differentiate yourself from your competitors can mean the difference between a new membership or retaining an existing one.


Know what you do, and do it better.

By all means, go toe-to-toe with your nearest competitor. Just make sure that when you do, you are better at it.

Compare and Contrast

Your nearest competitors will do the same to you. If you see something that you could do (or do better) then don’t be shy to do so. You’re not really stealing per se, more co-opting an idea.

TIP: If there is something that a competitor is doing, and you want to hang a shingle offering the same thing, don’t do it just to have it. If you aren’t set up, or don’t have the expertise, to roll out a new offer or class, then don’t do it.

Keeping Them In

Once you have gotten them in, keeping your members is another critical step to success. There will be stiff competition from other facilities, especially if you are offering similar services.

If you do a Google search about what members are looking for in the gym, most of what you are served is about how to save money on memberships, or questions you should be asking and what you need to know before joining. Which tells you two things: people probably think that memberships are expensive and that they need to be careful and vigilant before taking the plunge.

Great Staffing

Two women signing up for a gym membershipYup. If you look at almost every membership retention strategy guide or list, the mention of the need for quality customer service is at or very near the top of all of them. For good reason.

Real people, spending real money and real time in your facility, (versus someone else’s) like to be acknowledged. More than anything else, that personal touch and caring about their needs, complaints or personal plights is an absolute must if you care about keeping them around.

Getting the right people in the right spots is pivotal to the success of a fitness business. Being able to handle complaints, being empathetic, knowledgeable (reads: qualified), upbeat and most importantly, friendly, are all key personality traits to getting people into your gym and keeping them there.

Here is a look at some actual strategies used to help bolster membership retention.

Occasional Boosters

We all need a little infusion of get-up-and-go from time to time. Things can get stale, so it is important to consider how you can add some potpourri to flagging interests.

A personal training session

Same thing. Sometimes it can be about waning gains or dismay because goals aren’t being met. A gentle readjustment with a friendly personal trainer can kick start that motivation again. Your personal trainers might pick up some business and you get people back in the gym.

A discount on a different class

It is not that difficult to put two and two together. If your attendance is down, it might be because of boredom or waning interest in doing the same thing over and over. Identify those members who are showing up less frequently and offer them a lower rate on a group of classes. See if the financial incentives will get the fitness juices flowing again.

Let’s Get Visual

Visuals are a powerful marketing tool. In fact one of the strongest. Almost 61% of marketers believe visual content to be necessary for their strategies. People may remember something three days later, but they are 65% more likely to remember it when paired with a pertinent visual. Fitness goes hand in glove with this philosophy. Remember to get photos or pictures out there. Members might enjoy seeing themselves on social media, or they can see someone they know making gains and use it as impetus themselves.

And this leads us to….

Social Media Game

More specifically Facebook. This still remains an incredibly powerful engagement medium for businesses of all types and sizes. In fact, for gyms, fitness facilities and health clubs, it still remains the most effective membership retention and marketing medium. Instagram is another powerful visual medium, especially for engagement.

Mixing tips, videos, fitness information, offers and pertinent information about your facility gives your current and prospective members the full spectrum of who you are and what you can do (for and with) them.

It is the perfect medium to create a community of like thinkers. A healthy community becomes a self-sustaining entity and great base of support for the others in the group. It is something that once created, managed and nurtured will bear fruit for a fitness facility.

A socially active member is also a beacon for your facility to their network. Every time they mention a workout or check in, it is essentially a free plug for your business.

Competitive Equipment

Queenax exercise equipmentBeing competitive in vying for clients’ exercising affections doesn’t always mean getting the best and/or latest equipment into your facility. But it definitely doesn’t hurt, either. State of the art is nice. Indeed, in some cases, it is what the clientele joins for.

If your equipment is a couple of generations old, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will lose members or fail to entice others; however, exercisers are more and more tech savvy and have certain expectations when it comes to what they sweat on.

It also sends a message that the facility is committed to staying abreast of the market and is willing to provide the best fitness equipment for its members. Of course, this isn’t true of all fitness facilities, but the occasional equipment upgrade does do a lot to add some shine to current and prospective members.

Stay in contact with your equipment provider or manager. The better your relationship is with them, the better they understand your particular business. This deeper and clearer understanding means a better picture of what you could use and what might help give you a competitive edge.

Value vs Price

As a species in the 21st Century, we have a Pavlovian compulsion to seek the lowest price. We are almost slaves to it. As a gym owner, your pricing will continually be under scrutiny by your members, as well as those who might want to join.

Getting into a pricing war won’t serve you. There is nearly always a cheaper game in town. And if your members are tied to price then your facility will be in their rearview mirror before you can say “goodbye.”


Much like any workout, changing up the routine is an important facet of keeping your workouts fresh. The same applies for your facility. Wholesale changes aren’t necessary, but the occasional shakeup is noticed and valued. Offer new classes (if you have the expertise) at new times, upgrade or add onto the classes you already offer (remember, no one likes the same old, same old), and spice up the offerings a little with some newer accessories.

In-house Competitions and Challenges

We are competitive by nature. The fact that people sign up for gym memberships is an indication that a member is competing against, at the very least, their own worse nature.

Challenges will create an interactive environment where rivals and buddies alike will engage. If done well, it will add another facet of the community-building piece.

It also introduces a motivator to get to the gym, and in doing so, increases health and fitness—creating a positive feedback loop.

Remember the whole “get visual” part? Challenges and competitions are great opportunities to put that social and visual piece together. Capturing the energy and the results is a great way to increase engagement and create a little hype.

Know what you do, do it well. Very well.

specific types of training for specialization If it isn’t in your wheelhouse, don’t do it. Or bring someone in whose expertise it is. A quick way to lose the interest (and coin) of a clientele is to randomly add a class because it is hot and poppin’. Don’t get dragged into offering a class or competition in a rush because you are worried about falling behind a competitor.

Check In With Your Members

If you have any concerns that what you are offering isn’t quite hitting the mark, or it could use a “fresh coat of paint,” don’t be afraid to ask your members. Sit down with them face to face, send out a survey, hit them up on social media and ask them if there is something you can be doing to improve their experience.

Remember, this is very much an engagement vertical. Let them know that their input is valued and will be heard.

Many of these strategies are already being implemented in fitness facilities, health clubs, gyms and boxes around the globe. Successfully, too. You might have your own secret sauce, but these tips to staying competitive in the ever-expanding world of fitness facilities will help you to stay so.

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