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Should you change your membership model in times of uncertainty?

Should you change your membership model in times of uncertainty?

Memberships are every gym and fitness studio’s dream. They create a predictable source of revenue and a supportive community, both of which are crucial to running a successful fitness business.

Problem is, many of your potential members may hesitate to sign a contract when COVID-19 cases are in flux, and new variants have made at-home workouts increasingly appealing. How do people know they’ll feel good about going to the gym a year from now…or even next week?

If you’ve done everything you can to make your clients feel safe in your space (like following the latest CDC guidelines) and your memberships are still meh, it may be time to shift your model. Wix Fit spoke to business experts to learn how you can offer more flexibility for your community and still make money in fitness. Their tips ahead.

Promote short-term memberships

Fitness professionals typically prefer the predictability of annual memberships over short-term ones, but “unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions,” says Douglas A. Ribley, MS, a fellow of the Medical Fitness Association and president of Douglas A. Ribley & Associates, a consulting company in Ohio. Offer no-contract month-to-month memberships people can cancel at any time. You can charge a higher monthly rate for the benefit of the flexibility.

Offer day passes

Some people will feel comfortable going to the gym when COVID-19 cases are low, then take a step back when they surge again. Day passes can address this. How you price your day passes will depend on the price structure you already have in place.

“Generally, the fee is set to allow no more than two or three visits a month before the amount adds up to what the regular membership fee would be,” says Brad Roy, PhD, FACSM, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and director of the Logan Health Medical Fitness Center in Montana. But you can also offer a cheaper rate if you’re trying to get people in the door as one of your marketing strategies.

Price some services à la carte

Offer à la carte programs and services for non-members, like a selection of group fitness classes. Similar to a day pass, this allows people to come when they feel comfortable, without the commitment of an annual membership. Consider this part of your marketing strategy, too, since you’ll introduce more people to your facility in the process. Ask clients for their email addresses so you can send them your fitness newsletter, and encourage them to follow you on social media so you can keep them posted on future promotions.

Add more value to your memberships

Don’t just change your memberships; change your services. Ribley says to ask yourself: Have we done everything possible to look at this new world that we’re part of and add value to the membership?

Example: Virtual sessions are a great way to keep clients engaged with their memberships when they can’t make it to the studio. Gyms can still use their facility and film workout videos after hours, one way to make hybrid fitness work for you. (FYI: You can build your video library with Wix Fit.)

Same goes for outdoor offerings. “Gyms have gotten creative and developed outdoor facilities associated with their club so that people can engage in group exercise classes and other activities in an outdoor environment,” Ribley says. “That’s a pretty impressive adaptation to address some of the safety concerns.”

Think both long-term and short-term

Work with your members to find a solution to their concerns. “I’ve had a lot of success just being very reasonable and flexible with people,” Ribley says.

If members are recovering from COVID, coping with sickness or death in their family or struggling financially, offer them a temporary freeze on their account. Or, if they enrolled in a six-week program but had to sit out part of it, consider refunding a portion of that cost. Even if people still cancel their membership, you’ve built valuable goodwill with them and the overall community, which may draw more people in through word of mouth, according to Roy.

“When you get really rigid and say, ‘no, we’re not going to change,’ you lose people very quickly.”

The bottom line

Keep in mind that many membership model changes only work in times of uncertainty. “When things normalize, some of those practices don’t support the long-term success of a business,” Ribley says. Granted, some smaller clubs and boutique studios may be able to sustain month-to-month memberships or a pay-as-you-go model. “But when you’re a larger multi-purpose facility that has pools and tons of overhead costs, month-to-month memberships would make it challenging to maintain a base income to support your facility,” Roy says. Many businesses will need to revert to their old membership structure to keep their doors open.

For now, though, your primary concern is getting people into the club and retaining gym members in hard times. And to do that, you need to be ready to compromise. “The most important piece is for facilities to be flexible and reasonable, and try to work with their members,” Roy says. “When you get really rigid and say, ‘no, we’re not going to change,’ you lose people very quickly.”

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