What does your new gym member journey look like? Every business and every member is different. So, journeys will naturally be different too. Yet, successful onboarding processes that engage and retain new members have similarities.
The second of our Loyalty Mindset live panel sessions took place on 28 March 2023. We were joined by industry experts to chat about how gyms and fitness clubs (like yours) can measure the success of onboarding journeys for new members. Missed the session? Watch it back here.
Don’t have an hour to watch? No sweat! Read on for the key need to knows from our expert panellists on what makes a successful gym member onboarding process. And how you can start measuring onboarding success.
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Introducing our expert panel
Before we get stuck in, let us introduce you to our expert panellists. Starting with our knowledgeable host:
- Guy Griffiths – Fitness Industry Revolution Consultant & Founder of GGFit – Guy is a leading authority on member retention on a mission to help more people to be healthier and happier by spreading the word on member retention tactics that work.
Guy was joined by a stellar line up of panellists:
- Amy Ritson – Partnerships Manager at Independent Gyms UK & Ireland – Amy is a former gym owner having set up and ran SO51 Fitness, a green gym and personal training facility. Amy has also held various roles at several big chain operators including Fitness First and Cannons (now Nuffield Health). She recently joined Independent Gyms UK & Ireland – the national membership platform for independent fitness facilities.
- Kave Sedaghat – Owner of Fit Nation Global Gym & elite online coach – Kave founded Fit Nation in 2013 and has grown the business to become one of the leading independent gyms in the UK. Kave also runs a successful online coaching business.
- Lee Wood – Commercial Director (Deputy CEO) at Active Tameside – Lee has 18 years of experience in the fitness industry. This includes owning and managing gyms, before moving into multisite leisure centre management 10 years ago.
- Julie Allen – Business Development Director at Leisure-net Solutions – Julie has worked in the active leisure industry for 18 years and is passionate about creating engaging, memorable member experiences that lead to happier, healthier lives.
- Will Cheeld – Key Account Manager at Xplor – Driven by the mantra, ‘who cares wins’, Will has a passion for delivery of first-rate people engagement. He’s worked within the fitness & wellbeing industry for 25 years. Will spent most of his career on the operator side before moving to support operators as a supplier.
Onboarding best practice tips
“Onboarding new gym members is one of the most important parts of getting retention right!”Guy Griffiths
A successful new gym member onboarding process will:
- Help members set realistic, achievable goals
- Use segmentation to increase relevancy of communications sent
- Regularly ask for feedback and referrals
- Educate members on basic health and fitness topics
- Welcome members into an inclusive, social training space
- Offer follow up assessments and programmes at the right times
Beyond these basic factors, our expert panellists each shared a top tip for a successful new gym member journey. Adding a personal touch was a common theme, although how to achieve this needs to be different for larger, multi-site operators.
“One size doesn’t fit all.”Julie Allen
For a smaller independent gym, an effective step is to quickly integrate new members into your club’s community. If you have a closed Facebook or social group, introduce and welcome new members. Encourage existing members to welcome and cheer on new ones.
“My go to thing as soon as someone walked through my door, and they joined up, was to get them in the closed Facebook group. And introduce them to my members. I’d introduce them and, if they were happy, share the goals they were going for. So, I’d really get to know that member.”Amy Ritson
Want another top tip for successfully onboarding new members to an independent club? Completely tailor the services you offer to the individual you’re welcoming. Spend time understanding the real reason a new member is joining (you may need to help them articulate this). Set them up with a completely customised plan. They need to feel really listened to. Build on people’s foundations and expectations, and you’ll retain more members for longer.
“People really need to have their services built for them, so they’re feeling that it’s a bespoke service. So, if you come to the gym, we look for the real reason why you’re actually joining. We then work with that reason and set you up with a plan…
Over the years we’ve built up hundreds and hundreds of members. And looking at the retention statistics that we’ve got, we may lose, out of 100 members, maybe 2 a month at the most now. So, we’ve learnt over time that building on people’s foundations and their expectations is more what it’s about than simply taking them through a process.”Kave Sedaghat
When it comes to scaling your onboarding approach to work across multiple sites and to serve larger volumes of new members, you should still aim to meet people where they are in their journey. That often means using your gym management software to create customised new gym member journeys. Build in milestone and activity-based triggers to send personalised email and SMS messages automatically.
“Often, you’ve got to have some sort of linear journey when running multiple sites. But don’t forget one of the most important things – first impressions. The first 5 seconds of customers coming into your buildings matter. We know that around 70% are still new and nervous coming through the doors. So, a warm greeting, a smile and product knowledge just puts people at ease, which in turn gives a great first impression.”Lee Wood
Make sure you create a good first impression as new members walk through your doors. For larger operators, creating accountability across your team can help drive onboarding success.
Easy ways to measure the success of your new gym member journeys
New member onboarding journeys can differ massively between both clubs and even individuals. Yet, there are some easy ways to start measuring how effectively you are welcoming and retaining your new members.
All members should have an induction of some type. Exactly what this looks like will depend on your club and the types of membership you offer. For example, if you have a class only membership, your induction could be a casual coffee. Or a skills and techniques class for beginners to help them feel at ease.
Usually, an induction will involve a tour, an explanation of how key gym equipment works, and goal setting with a trainer. Are you a larger facility with lots of different equipment? Consider regular sessions to explain items in more detail with groups of new members.
“One of the things we did, which proved to be really useful because we’re primarily a strength gym with 120 stations and it’s a lot of variety, was to establish a free strength induction. So, once a week new members could roll in, learn how to use the equipment, and have a proper discussion about their training plans again. All the new members would come as a group. They’d all get to know each other.
We’d talk to them about the use of the equipment. Our research has shown that most people struggle to understand some of the equipment. So, we found that there were so many different levels to that one-hour service that really helped with our retention. Because it was really a lack of knowledge that meant people were getting frustrated and many not staying as long with us as they might.”Kave Sedaghat
Track when a member attends an induction. You’ll soon be able to see what percentage do. And identify the impact this has on their length of stay with your club.
Visits in the first 30 days
All new members should be making some visits in their first weeks with you. Visits are an easy metric to measure in a standardised way. Most gym goers will visit once or twice a week. So, in their first 30 days you’d expect at least 4 visits. And if a new member has visited less than this, it’s time to get in touch.
“There’s one thing I’ve nearly always done when setting up member journeys at 200-250 clubs over the last 15 years. Regardless of whatever else the journey is around day 30, we’ll send a text or an email that says congratulations – if you’ve made 4 or more visits. If you’ve made less than 4 visits, we’ll send a text, or other type of communication, that encourages you to come in for a programme review or something similar.”Guy Griffiths
At the end of each month, review how many new members made it to 4+ visits in their first month. Look to increase that percentage each month.
“Let the technology do the heavy lifting and then you can focus on people that need that personal touch the most. Typically, people who are new to exercise.”Will Cheeld
Digital engagement rates during onboarding
Does your gym member onboarding process involve sending emails? Measure how these communications perform.
“Send the right message, at the right time, to the right person to generate that return visit, which is essentially what we’re looking to achieve from any form of communication.”Julie Allen
Click through rate
Looking at the average click through rate (how many links were clicked) is a good starting point. Your gym marketing software should make it easy to see click through rates.
Most emails in your onboarding journey should have a clear call to action (CTA) that you are aiming to get members to click through to. If an email has multiple links, look at the click through rate for each.
Look to increase click rates. And review emails with multiple CTAs to prioritise the most important one.
Measuring open rate is important as it will show if members are reading your emails. Again, your software should make it easy to measure open rates for each onboarding email.
Pick the right subject line for your emails (adding a name can boost open rates by 5.2%). And let all new members know to expect to get these emails which will contain important information for their membership.
“Looking at where people are clicking is important. However, more important than click rate, of course is open rate. Are people opening your welcome message? Most clubs I work with see open rates north of 50%… you should be getting at least half of your new members to open.”Guy Griffiths
This is arguably the most important to pay attention to. Emails can bounce for several reasons. For gyms, the most common bounce reason is an email address not existing. Likely there’s been a typo when the member joined.
Keep a close eye for email bounces. Look at the email in your system, sometimes it’s easy to correct and if not it’s a great opportunity to give the member a call. If you don’t address bounces, it will be tough to contact impacted members with important information when you need to.
“We’re very straight talking, and I think our customers like that. When we email people, we quite clearly say this is an offer or this is some information for you. So, they can actually choose whether they want to open it or not.”Kave Sedaghat
Make upselling part of your new gym member journey
Whether to upsell to new members can be quite a divisive topic for gym owners and operators. Many people will need progression to keep them motivated on their journey with you. Meeting milestones towards, and achieving their goals, will help members feel a sense of progress. Offering extras at key intervals can also help encourage members on in their journey.
There are soft ways to upsell during the onboarding period. Some clubs will offer fitness tracking technology free for the first month. The technology will be returned or paid for at this point. This can be a great way for members to track their progress. And for you to add gamification to your club, encouraging members to interact with each other.
Are you a smaller independent gym located near to other independent businesses? You could put together a package of discounts for members. Make this available after a set period to encourage members to stick with you.
“[My members] unlocked their benefits after 3 months which helped me retain them for the 90 days. That is a crucial window when creating a habit. And that gave my gym a retention tool that didn’t cost me anything. It was a way to increase retention and have something there to offer, but not at any cost to me and nothing physical because one size doesn’t fit all.”Amy Ritson
Many independent and boutique gyms will also use merchandise (like gym clothing) that members can buy once they reach a milestone.
A great example of how this can work is Parkrun. Runners and volunteers can buy milestone products (like t-shirts) once they’ve reached key targets (like 10 runs or volunteered 100 times). It becomes a badge of honour to buy and wear these items. Members often wear these items outside of your club – giving you brand exposure!
Upselling isn’t always about pushing products. During onboarding (and beyond) it can also mean making sure you give members access to the correct membership options for their needs. That might be offering bolt-ons for other services not included in their package. Or showcasing the benefits of upgrading to a premium membership. Tailor recommendations to the individual based on activity so far and even personal conversations you have with them.
The wrap up…
Every new gym member journey will look a bit different. There’s no one size fits all approach. But you can use digital communications to complement more individualised approaches. Building personalised, automated digital onboarding journeys becomes important as you scale and grow.
Measure the percentages of new members who have had an induction and visited 4+ times in their 30 days with you. This will help you find ways to adjust your journey to encourage more visits. Visiting frequently (aim for at least once every 7 days) will be key to retaining members.
Look at digital engagement rates – follow up with any members who have a bounced email. Aim to increase open rates and optimise CTAs to encourage members to take the actions you are looking for.
Use upselling (or unlocking) to encourage new members to progress on in their journey with you. Get creative to find engaging way to make the most of upselling opportunities across your business.
Here to help you onboard new members
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Article by Xplor Gym
First published: 05 April 2023
Last updated: 31 October 2023