How to Retain Clients: Experiences of a Fitness Professional to Help Your Business Grow

Client retention is the key to any successful business.  While acquiring new clients is the lifeblood of a growing business, it cost a lot less to keep them than constantly having to find new.  The fitness industry operates the same way.  How can professionals retain clients for services that are 100% based on disposable income?  There is no one single answer.  I will share my experiences to help you in whatever line of client business you are in.

The first step in retaining clients in a business based on disposable income is to have a salesperson mindset.  A huge problem in the fitness industry is that personal trainers think people will come to them because they look good and like working out.  That is the farthest thing from the truth!  Unfortunately, personal trainer certifications wait until the last chapter of a 500-page book to give any information on sales and marketing.  38 chapters are dedicated to anatomy, biology, physiology, and how to partner body parts together for an effective workout routine.  One chapter half the length of all the others gives any info on how to gain and retain clients.  The same goes for doctors, lawyers, and accountants to name a few.

Janet MacDonell

The second step is to work with a wide variety of clients with different goals and ages.  To many trainers want the perfect client who does everything like them and has the same amount of time to spend as they do.  The overwhelming majority of clients have jobs and families that require 99% of their attention.  A couple hours per week with you is not their life.  By working with a variety, you learn how to relate and adjust your style to different people based on where they are in their life.  I had a female trainer co-worker who only wanted to work with other females who were “serious” and had time two days per week at 5:00PM or 6:00PM.  Because she was so restrictive, she missed out on a long-term client that became one of my best friends.  Needless to say, she isn’t employed by the health club anymore or has any clients attempting to train privately.

The third step is to be a product of your product.  People only invest when they see a potential ROI.  Fat and out of shape trainers are broke.  It doesn’t mean you have to be a fitness model or competitive bodybuilder.  You do have to represent a healthy, active lifestyle, and be able to do the workout yourself that you’re making the client perform.  I say this because sometimes the obvious is not so obvious.

Rob Tepper

The fourth step is to be authentic.  People hire other service providers based on some type of emotional connection and justify with logic.  If you are fake, good luck in retaining any clients beyond an initial package.  Because fitness professionals are completely optional, clients are not required to stay with you or even finish out a package they purchased.  A person invested in you because they felt a connection that makes them want to show up before or after work when they have better things to do than waste it on a flake.  Some of my best friends were and are current clients.  You can maintain professionalism and cultivate personal relationships outside the gym when you are authentic.

Hank Adams

The fifth and final step is be teachable.  Continuing education credits are required for any professional service provider.  I’m not talking about going through those motions.  Listen to other gym members, co-workers, managers, and industry news.  Don’t be afraid to implement new ideas and techniques to keep your clients and you interested.  I always have my ears and eyes tuned to other trainers on how they work with their clients.  Give credit to them when you use their ideas and techniques.  It fosters a giving relationship at work and one of trust.  A couple other trainers bought and read my book.  I was honored they thought highly of me enough to invest into my philosophies and practices.

It is easy to think your business is different.  The truth is it really is not when dealing with people.  The service or product you represent is different, how you interact and relate to other humans is the same across all businesses.  For more info on how I work with clients, please email me, Matt Peale, at athleteinthegameoflife@gmail.com, and go to my website, mattpeale.com.

Keeping Gyms Closed is Killing a Community

Gym members can be extremely OCD about their gym time.  Literally come hell or high water, “the regulars” will be waiting at their usual ass crack of dawn time, or whenever their normal time is, to get inside.  They question the safety and sanity of others who prefer waiting for the safe signal to be given before venturing back on to the roads after a storm.  Working in gyms since 2008 in various states, this same profile exists everywhere.  You know who these people are in your circle of friends!

As a personal trainer, gym members seem to think I spend 10-12 hours a day at my place of employment.  While it seems like that some days, I’d venture to say they are at the gym longer than I am.  Obviously being at work opposed to working out, are different mindset hours to me, but not to the members.  When they are at the gym, it’s off time and they think it’s similar for me.  My working and workout hours are very different. 

My senior small group training

The gym is an important part of the social fabric in a community.  It truly does serve as a social outlet for people of all ages.  Friendships and dating relationships are made in the gym.  When this cog in someone’s life is taken away for any reason, there is a feeling of loss and anxiety.  The old adage of the car driving itself definitely applies to gym people in their daily habits of showing up at the same time regardless.  Is that really healthy?  There are worse addictions and OCD habits!

When gyms were and still are forced to shut down, it does more than take away a place to exercise.  The daily contact with friends of years and sometimes decades, disappears.  Mental health is not a common aspect thought of for gyms and health clubs.  Eliminating this socialization has a negative effect that is the same as any other club or meeting group.  Unlike the WFH movement, you can’t really get the same workout physically and mentally in your spare bedroom or living room. 

Gym people are their own breed.  Their lives often intertwine outside the gym into comingling at social events in the area.  The common themes automatically lead them to showing up at a festival, restaurant, or race.  I taught a group class for older adults that turned into us having lunch out locally each quarter.  This was a highlight pre-COVID for everyone because of the relationships built from seeing each other multiple times each week.

Health clubs are different from gyms like Anytime Fitness, so the community feeling is not as strong.  Smaller gyms do have their own sense of camaraderie with people who always show up the same times you do.  In this case, you’re forced into expanding outside the gym because there aren’t facilities like a executive locker room or café/grill to interact when not exercising.  When you see someone from your small gym out at the store or in a restaurant, you automatically have a friend! Sheltering in place has been especially hard on those over 65.  Many have not come back to their gyms, health clubs, and senior centers for fear of coronavirus.  Unfortunately, state, and local governments lump gyms in with bars as spreading centers, which is not true.  Research is out that shows gyms and health clubs are on the lower end of transmission compared to restaurants and bars.  The populations in fitness facilities are typically healthier with less obesity risk factors that lead to COVID-19 deaths.  Make your own decisions based on your health, please don’t lump fitness centers into the forgotten and trash piles as places you will never return.

Consumer Shift in the Fitness Industry as Gyms Reopen

Gyms, health clubs, and fitness facilities were among the first businesses, along with bars and restaurants, to be closed in March for the Coronavirus pandemic.  As a personal trainer working in gyms and health clubs since 2008, my world flipped upside down literally overnight.

Over the past few months, home gym equipment has leaped off the shelves of big box stores and backordered for months from online retailers.  Amazon delayed any shipping of fitness equipment until mid-May and into June.  Companies like Peloton are now having record breaking sales with people forced into purchasing higher priced items from continued gym closures and reduced capacity once reopening begins.

at home senior exercise

National and local gyms, and personal trainers of all types have taken to offering free or reduced-price classes to keep members and clients plugged in.  The health club I work at in the New Orleans area also took and is still taking part to an extent, with this model.  With a set of light to medium dumbbells, gym goers can do body pump, Zumba, yoga, cardio kickboxing, etc., from the comfort of their living room any time of day.

#Reopening.  Along with other businesses, gyms are now faced with decisions on how to reopen “safely” at 25-30% capacity in most states.  Some states as of this blog are already up to 50%.  Social distancing and sanitation/hand cleaning requirements also add into the mix for attracting members to come back.  To be honest, most of the sanitation issues have been rules posted in gyms for decades.  Members did not follow these rules and yet somehow aside from an occasional cold or flu, everyone miraculously survived over the decades.

While you may think people are lining up to pack the gym at its reduced capacity on day one, you are sadly mistaken.  Fear still dominates members’ minds even though guidelines are in place.  Realistically, it’s not possible for some of the guidelines to be implemented.  What do members do with all the home gym equipment and accessories they invested in?  Using their membership is great, yet a new routine has taken hold over the past 60 days and now is entrenching into a habit.  Free online classes are still available.  Older members are remaining at home.  Childcare is still closed for a little while longer.  Food services and gatherings for coffee or lunch are still off limits.  Personal trainers also remain furloughed in some health clubs or are making more money traveling to clients’ homes.

Fit and healthy people have stronger immune systems, regardless of age, and are more resilient to bounce back from illness.  Unfortunately, this was and is overlooked by public health, and an industry that literally can save lives, is currently in the doghouse as a den of Covid filth.  Many larger health clubs will feel the economic sting more than smaller ones.  Large health clubs have higher overhead, higher dues, and require more employees to operate.  Small gyms like an Anytime Fitness, typically have minimal to no staff, and at primetime, are still way under the fire marshal 25-30% capacity.  Could the fitness industry see a shift away from high-end, large footprint health club back to smaller boutique or franchised business plans?

A small footprint doesn’t require childcare, group classes, paid training staff, and food services.  Membership costs are low and 24/7 access from a network of locations may make these now more attractive than ever for investors, and members seeking to reduce personal expenses.  A market will always exist for higher incomes wanting perks and the latest in gadgets, classes, and equipment.  What happens to the remaining 80% of potential gym goers who are evaluating their options?  Time will tell the changes in consumer confidence and tastes for what they desire.  The gym landscape has shifted indeed.

“New Normal” at Gyms? Nope, Impossible! Old Works Just Fine, Time to Reopen

“New normal,” a phrase the media throws around to cause shock n’ awe with the public.  Does this phrase truly mean anything long lasting for gyms and health clubs?  The answer is no.

A gym is full of equipment spaced apart just enough to maximize total number of machines, dumbbell racks, benches, etc.  People need people close by to spot them for safety.  These attributes are diametrically opposite of “social distancing”.  While phase 1 (whatever that means) says people have to stay six feet or more apart and only a limited number of members inside, let’s not get into wearing masks while working out, everyone knows that is not possible.  Phase 2 (whatever that means) allows for more people inside and some other freedoms to socially interact.  How many phases are there?  Who knows?

The reality is gyms and health clubs are social places.  Close contact and body contact are standard modes of operations for members.  Germs are everywhere due to constant touching of equipment, sweat, and temperature of the room.  Cleaning everything by employees after each use is impossible and impractical.  Self-policing by members to wipe down equipment is and has been on every gym’s rules since the dawn of time.  How many people follow this rule?  Not many.  Sure, they will in the beginning, then taper off and back to the “old normal”.  What is truly amazing is how many people are not sick with colds, flus, and viruses on a regular basis from all the shared touching.  It’s called herd immunity and has worked for decades.  Hmmmm, maybe there’s a lesson to learn there, but politicians, media, and “Karens” don’t want to admit this.

When gyms open their doors, social distancing rules will go out the window within a couple weeks if not days.  Charging members full amounts while limiting their access is a recipe for disaster.  Oh yeah, and don’t forget the number of employees needed to run a facility.  You have to add those body counts into the total number allowed on premise.  And one more factor, childcare.  The small humans don’t take up a lot of space, but they do count towards total bodies in an area.  In America, restrictions on our freedoms do not bode well.  Restricting usage for a paying membership population also doesn’t bode well.

On a side note, one of the preventative measures for contracting COVID-19 needs to be gym use and nutrition counseling!  It’s the elephant in the room the media isn’t addressing, go figure.  Obesity + Coronavirus = DEATH.

What is the “new normal” for gym operations?  There is none.  Gyms will be packed shoulder-to-shoulder the first opportunity to be opened.  A stampede and mutiny will happen by all the full paying members who are denied access.  Time to move forward and allow the healthy population to stay healthy.  The immune system of a gym goer is stronger than the average person and needs to be on the forefront of everything health related.  We get sick less and for less duration because of our health condition.  To truly make a difference and get the economy going, the new normal is the old normal for gyms and health clubs.  Reopen them at full strength and include government encouragement to join one.  It is a fact among humans and all animal populations, the strong do survive and create a stronger next generation.  The CDC can’t deny and change what millions of years of earth history has shown and continues to show.

New, welcome back old.  More things change, the more they stay the same.

Coronavirus: Gym Closures from a Personal Trainer’s View

The gym/health club plays a large role in people’s lives beyond the obvious working out.  For many it is an essential part of their social life and source of friends.  Being a gym rat turned personal trainer in 2008, I’ve seen this dynamic in every gym that I spent significant time at over the decades.  Now that Coronavirus has ended this important aspect of people’s lives, what are they to do?

A majority of my friends since 2008 have come from the gym and fitness industry.  This is a natural progression as I spend my working hours in that setting.  What casual gym goers don’t grasp from an employee standpoint, is that the gym is NOT my place to socialize and hangout.  When I am there, even if I’m working out, I’m still in work/employee mode, while they are in social mode.  What appears to be socializing and hanging out, is really not.  Difference is people can come into my place of employment at their leisure and stay long as they want.  I can’t do that when going to a doctor’s office, factory setting, or retail location, it’s conduct business and leave.

In a health club setting where other services like a café, pool, and childcare are offered, members’ lives are tied to opening and closing hours.  Typically, they meet friends for classes, coffee, and relaxation throughout the week.  Taking multiple functions away in one fell swoop is hard to overcome.  The health club is a second home to families, especially when there are school holidays.  Not working out is only a part of the tension caused by health clubs closing down during this pandemic.  I have spoken with members at the health club I work at that are dying to go back for this social reason.  My health club also has multiple pools and a water slide, which is the daily hangout for many families.  Also, the health club provides meals for the day while these families use the facilities to get out of the house during the heat of the day.  Coronavirus continues to do more than just crush the business aspect of a health club; it has an emotional toll too.

What have closing gyms done for me regarding socializing?  It’s had no effect on my social life in the gym.  I don’t spend my non-working hours inside hanging out and talking to members.  The pools are used in the late spring and summer for weekend relaxation, that is a nice perk of employment.  I do not specifically go to the pool for seeing members and coworkers socially.  Sure, I speak with them, but they are not the driving reason for getting a tan and a cool dip in the water.  The gym is an income and exercise source for most employees.  I also know this because not many coworkers are there in their off times except to workout.  Another surprising fact is a majority of employees don’t even workout!  I’ll save that tangent for another day.

Unfortunately, all the positive health and social benefits do not overcome the need to reopen gyms in the first wave of essential businesses.  There are many arguments to support gyms as a necessity, look at the deaths and related obesity factors that led to these deaths more than healthy people.  A gym cannot socially distance, it’s impossible.  Square footage is maximized with equipment and members must be in close proximity.  Because members are exercising regularly, their chances of serious conditions from Coronavirus are lower than the average American, whom over 1/3 are classified as obese.  Government and media want to ignore the health factors because they don’t make news, and nobody wants the truth anyways, it doesn’t sell airtime and ratings.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Comment on the blog or drop me, Matt Peale, an email at mpeale@movementacademy.net.  Stay healthy, my friends!