In the gym business, the word “success” should contain an “R” for “retention”: Gym member retention is absolutely vital to your success.
This article will explain every aspect of gym retention and how to improve gym membership retention statistics so you can profit from your fitness business.
Retention in Dollars and Cents
It costs five times as much to acquire a new client than to keep one, and it’s much easier to convince a current member to stay longer than persuade a potential member to join.
Improving your gym’s retention rate maximizes your marketing return on investment (ROI) while saving you the cost and hard labor required to replace departing members.
Existing members—especially long-term members—are more likely to stay than brand new clients. As an added bonus, these loyal long-term members generally have high brand affinity and see value in your business, so they’re much more likely to buy additional products and services from you. That increases average revenue per member per month (ARM). Some Two-Brain gyms have ARM scores over $300—think about how important it is to retain these high-value clients.
Retention measured in years is the gold standard, and some of the top gyms in the world have average length of engagement (LEG) scores from three years to over five years.
Even increasing your gym retention by a few months can be highly profitable. In Two-Brain’s 2018 Gym Check-Up, the average respondent would have earned an extra $45,000 that year just by increasing average retention by two months. That boost would come without additional advertising expenses, price increases or intake costs.
It should be clear that retention is a driving force in running a successful gym.
Improving Gym Member Retention Makes Sense in Other Ways
Some gym owners think supercharged marketing machines can keep up with attrition or “churn.” But poor gym retention rates create incredible marketing challenges.
For example, a gym with 374 members and a 95 percent retention rate would have to gain 19 members per month just to stay even. That’s more than one new member every two days all year, including holidays and weekends.
Further, a dominant marketing strategy operates on the premise that market conditions will stay constant. So, it doesn’t account for things that disrupt member acquisition, such as:
- A price war with the competition.
- Unfortunate bad publicity.
- A sudden shift in the marketplace that affects demand.
- Changes in federal or local laws.
A current member has already bought into your program. Gym member retention statistics show that it is much easier to resell to a happy existing customer than to sell your gym to a new one, so simply auto-renewing an existing membership puts far less stress on your sales and marketing systems.
Happy current members are also walking advertisers for your gym. Imagine the added value a current member gives by referring two people to your gym. Most likely, the referred people will be easy sales. They’re what marketers refer to as “warm leads”: They already know about you because the referring friend has endorsed your gym.
So your initial marketing spend to acquire the original client has created three clients. Let’s say each one pays $205 a month and they all stay for 14 months. That’s $8,610 in total revenue. Keep them all for 20 months and it’s $12,300. If you retain them for 30 months, you’ll collect $18,450. In each scenario, the cost to acquire first client was the same.
Retention is a multiplier in the fitness industry.
Gym Retention Goals
14-Month Gym Member Retention
Your first gym retention goal should be 14 months. Any number below that will force you to direct most of your resources toward marketing because members will leave faster than you can replace them.
In the beginning, a 14-month gym member retention rate might seem high. However, Two-Brain’s RampUp program can help you learn how to increase your score and get from 50 clients to 150 clients—or more, if needed.
As you continue reading, you will get many of the tips and principles included in the program. What you won’t get here is the guidance and accountability provided by a certified mentor who’s actually run a successful gym with impressive retention metrics.
Why 150 Clients First?
According to our research, maintaining 150 clients gives you the potential to earn $100,000 annually.
For example, if your monthly average revenue per member is $175 and you have 150 clients, your annual gross income would be $315,000. This scenario would leave you with a 33 percent profit of about $103,950 after deducting 44 percent for staff pay (about $138,600) and 22 percent for fixed expenses (about $69,300). (This system is referred to as the “4/9ths Model.”)
More isn’t always better when it comes to clients in a coaching gym—for several reasons. One of the most common reasons is it is tough to maintain solid, nurturing relationships with clients when you have more than 150. When a gym moves past 150 without impressive retention systems, relationships start to crumble and members leave.
The best plan: Target 150 members first and develop a sound business with impressive retention and length of engagement metrics.
To push past this level, you’ll need to create a management team, optimize profit and build the systems needed to keep your business running smoothly. And you’ll need a retention plan based on your client journey, as well as a staff member who’s responsible for retention (see below).
Analyzing Your Gym for a Better Retention Rate
Critically evaluating your gym’s performance is vital to its success. But it can be challenging to leave personal bias out of your assessments. This tendency is one of the reasons why a data-driven analysis can help you accurately assess and improve your gym member retention rate.
It’s common for gym owners to think “my retention is fine.” But if you don’t run the numbers, you won’t know for sure—and you won’t know if you’re improving or when members are most likely to leave.
Finding the Leaks
Several years ago, CrossFit Moncton owner Kevin Wood sat down with host Mike Warkentin for an interview on Two-Brain Radio. This session was special because Kevin’s gym has a fantastic gym retention record.
While most gyms keep members for an average of 7.8 months, CrossFit Moncton had a 4.5-year (54-month) length of engagement score at the time of recording in October 2020. That represents incredible retention. Some of Kevin’s clients have been training in his gym for more than a decade!
During the interview, Kevin said this:
“Find the leaking point. … You must find your specific leaks before starting an effective gym member retention strategy.”
If you analyze your retention, you’ll find critical periods when people are likely to leave. For Kevin, it was between 30 and 50 days. Other gym owners often find people drop off when their intro period ends—usually about three months. And so on.
If you know exactly when clients are most likely to leave, you can take steps to stop them. Some gyms use Goal Review Sessions to create face time and an opportunity to energize clients, and others will send cards or award badges at key intervals to ensure clients feel appreciated and see progress. The best gyms combine all these tactics to keep clients in the business.
The Important Metrics of Gym Retention
The length-of-engagement (LEG) metric is the most accurate way to evaluate and track your gym retention performance. It measures the average length of time a member spends in your gym business. When you use this powerful tool to identify critical departure times, you can confidently put a plan in place to boost your gym member retention statistics.
Many gym owners use their monthly churn rate to evaluate their gym retention status. But this practice is lacking because it suggests all gym members are equally likely to leave at any time, and it doesn’t reflect the length of time each member stays. This lack of depth can also give gym owners a false sense of prosperity.
For example, a gym with a 3 percent monthly churn rate might seem to operate successfully. However, it will actually go from 100 to 69 members in 12 months because churn erodes the member base each month. This gym would start Month 2 with 97 members, then lose another 3 percent—and so on.
This means the gym owner must commit money, time and person-hours to replace 31 members each year just to stay at 100. Churn rate’s lack of predictive value makes it a poor retention analysis tool.
On the other hand, the LEG metric provides great predictive value by giving you exact time frames to take action. For example, if analysis of departing members reveals an average LEG of 2.8 months, you know you’re doing something wrong in the intake and introductory periods of membership.
Also, LEG calculations can help you meet benchmark goals for long-term success. For example, our studies show that clients who make it past the eight-month mark are likely to make it to the 14-month mark. If you know that, you’re going to want to take steps to make sure clients have a reason to keep going after eight months of membership.
Calculating Gym Retention Statistics
Although most gym software platforms don’t offer easy ways to track LEG, some do. Still, many gym owners use a spreadsheet to do it (Two-Brain provides one for clients). You can calculate your LEG metric by dividing the total sum of all months (or days) of engagement by the total number of members.
Member 1: 3 months
Member 2: 6 months
Member 3: 12 months
21 months / 3 members = average LEG of 7 months
To get a completely accurate overall LEG number, you must include both active and departed members because using only active members could falsely inflate the LEG. Some gym owners choose to track three LEG variations:
- Current client LEG
- Departed client LEG
- Overall LEG (most important)
Lack of progress is a common reason why many clients lose enthusiasm for your gym and its services. For this reason, adherence rate is a support metric that can help you determine whether a member is at a high risk of leaving.
Adherence rate measures the number of times a client completes workouts in a given period, usually a week. Because clients who consistently exercise are more likely to reach their goals, adherence rate is a valuable indicator to track while developing and implementing your retention strategy.
In 2006, Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper determined his average client participated in 2.3 training sessions per week. He pushed the numbers further and realized that he would increase his revenue by about 40 percent if he added just one session per week for each client. This huge revenue increase wouldn’t require him to find a single new member; he just had to find ways to serve his current clients even better.
(This data comes from our free retention guide: “Never Lose a Member Again.” Get it here.)
Talking to Your Members
Current members are an excellent source of information that’s useful to your gym retention strategy because they have firsthand knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of your current operations. Clients will also tell you how you can serve them more, and if you ask the right questions, they’ll even tell you exactly how to retain them.
During your periodic one-on-one assessment interviews or Goal Review Sessions, you can ask such questions as:
- What keeps you motivated?
- What would increase your motivation?
- Are you happy with the progress you’ve made so far?
- What needs to happen over the next three months for you to feel completely satisfied with your progress?
- What frustrates you most about the fitness industry?
- What is your biggest struggle outside the gym?
While doing your research, it’s essential to compile demographic data on your longtime clients, including age, gender and occupation. This step will help you establish the characteristics of long-term clients, which will influence your marketing and client-acquisition strategies.
Putting Together Your Retention Implementation Plan
The average revenue per member (ARM) and length of engagement (LEG) metrics are the most critical for your gym’s success, and their tandem performance has a huge influence on your total outcomes. If you multiply ARM by LEG, you will get the average lifetime value (LTV) of clients. As a result, a lopsided ratio between ARM and LEG can put your gym in peril.
ARM measures your sales and marketing performance, and LEG measures your gym’s operations. However, about 44 percent of businesses in an econsultancy.com report focus on acquisition, while only about 16 percent focus on retention.
The truth is both metrics are crucial to the stability and growth of your gym. But retention offers a much higher return of investment (ROI) by extending the ARM over a longer period. This benefit is the reason we emphasize retention over marketing. It would be silly to focus on acquiring more clients when your business can’t retain them.
Higher gym member retention rate results rely on system improvements. To this end, your gym business has many actionable areas you can focus on. Here are potent moves you can make to increase your gym member retention rate.
Hire a Client Success Manager
By helping members reach their goals, a client success manager (CSM) can be a vital component in your gym member retention plan. A good CSM can do the job part time. If your gym is in the start-up phase, you might fill this role for a few hours a week until your client base expands and you can hire someone.
What’s important is always ensuring one person is focused on and responsible for retention. If it’s “everyone’s job,” no one will do it well. You must do the tasks or assign them to someone, set time aside for this work, budget for CSM wages, set the metrics for success, and review those metrics.
CSMs help clients stay engaged and achieve their goals by:
- Being a cheerleader and motivational coach wrapped in one.
- Making the experience fun for the members.
- Helping solve clients’ problems before they become relationship-ending issues.
- Tracking adherence and contacting absentees quickly.
- Acting as a liaison between the clients and staff.
- Sending congrats on accomplishments, birthdays and life events.
- Answering questions and offering prompt customer support.
- Helping new members get acclimated.
- Booking Goal Review Sessions at regular intervals.
- Organizing fun events both inside and outside the gym.
You and your CMS must find ways to celebrate your clients! For example, you can start “accomplishment clubs,” such as a 15- or 20-lb. weight-loss club or a first pull-up club. You can also post an honor roll of members who have reached a particular length of active participation—like 500 classes or three years of membership. In this area, your imagination is an asset.
The person in this role must have exceptional listening skills, an upbeat personality, keen interpersonal skills and a penchant for time management.
Former Two-Brain client success manager Eden Watson commented that the CSM “can be thought of as the ‘Bright Spot.’ They make sure your clients feel like they’re doing a great job all the time, they feel good about themselves, and they know what’s coming up next.”
Sir Winston Churchill once said, “The difference between mere management and leadership is communication.” Most people join gyms because they seek the guidance necessary to reach their goals. If you can demonstrate your concern for your clients’ ambitions, you’ll have more long-term members.
Constructive communication serves as a bridge between you and your clients. It provides you with the information you need to keep your clients engaged, on track with their goals and connected to your brand.
This conversational approach is different from the one you use in the analysis phase because you want to bond with your clients and demonstrate your overall investment in their growth. So, in addition to asking them about their likes and dislikes, you should encourage them to share their life stories, their fitness journeys and their aspirations. Then, highlight the people and their stories on your website, bulletin board and social media platforms.
Overall, this practice will help your members feel more connected to your gym and more confident that you and your staff genuinely care about them and their success. It might sound odd to recommend you “talk to your clients,” but many gym owners get caught up in operations and spreadsheets and programming. You must remember that retention is about relationships.
More effective communication practices should extend to every aspect of client relations, including and perhaps especially onboarding. A study conducted by Dr. Paul Bedford revealed that 87 percent of clients who received more involved onboarding were still active in six months, vs. 60 percent of clients whose onboarding was less involved.
In addition, many successful gym owners are finding that longer onboarding processes (including Two-Brain’s No Sweat Intro consultation sessions) assist in higher conversion and gym member retention rates. (Check out Two-Brain Radio for details from a real gym owner.)
Reaching Out to Former Clients
Former clients share several attributes with your current clients. For instance, they bought your membership, experienced your services and have a relationship with you (even if it’s not “current”). These are good reasons to reach out to them and have a conversation. In addition, you may find that many former clients might be pleasantly surprised to hear from you.
You could take two or three occasions out of the month to reconnect with former clients. When you make the call, avoid the appearance of being self-serving: Don’t coordinate the call with a membership drive or some special promotional event. Instead, simply have a casual conversation that includes questions concerning present fitness levels, exercise routines and goals.
In the course of the conversation, you can share any new developments at the gym, offer free exercise tips or general healthy habits advice, or help them clear any obstacles to their return. The two primary purposes of the conversation are to show your interest in them and provide an easy gateway for them to re-engage with your brand. Then, if they seem ready to start again, you can schedule a one-on-one appointment with you or one of your coaches.
Many Two-Brain clients have had impressive results simply by sending this email message to former clients, then continuing the conversation it starts: “Do you still want to improve your fitness this year?”
Make no mistake: Retention involves contacting former clients. They paid you money before, so they’re highly likely to pay you again. Consider departed clients “absent for now” and take steps to get them back—then ensure they don’t leave again.
Two-Brain data has revealed that regularly scheduled check-ins and goal-setting sessions boost retention and adherence rates for several reasons. They help you:
- Thoroughly assess clients’ progress and adjust the plan to ensure success (sometimes with services that increase ARM).
- Tailor your service package to the client’s ever-changing needs.
- Provide more accountability for clients to reach their goals.
- Nurture a one-to-one relationship with your client.
- Celebrate successes and highlight milestones the clients might not have noticed.
- Discover any “pain points” that can be removed to ensure retention.
In top Two-Brain gyms, all clients generally meet with coaches every 90 days for an in-depth discussion according to a plan that’s documented in the staff playbook. But for high-touch services like personal training and customized nutrition coaching, client meetings occur much more often—certainly monthly but often weekly or biweekly.
If done correctly, the regular check-ins will deepen your bond with your clients, keep them engaged longer and help them reach their goals faster. Be sure all incoming members know these check-ins are part of the service package, and be sure to book 90-day reviews as part of your intake process.
Goal setting is a critical part of retention, and many gym owners forget about it. If clients don’t have goals, why should they keep coming? And what if they aren’t moving toward their goals?
Your clients’ goals are the foundation for improving your adherence and LEG metrics. These goals become the focal point for their motivation to adhere to the program. For this reason, you should establish short-, medium- and long-term goals because clients who accomplish goals regularly are more likely to stay engaged.
Goal setting helps people accept their current state while striving to achieve their ideal selves, which boosts self-confidence and creates a feeling of well-being. You can capitalize on this dynamic by celebrating all your clients’ achievements, big or small. These celebrations can be in the form of a physical bulletin board, an in-person high five, a social media post, a blog article or a gift from the CMS.
Solid operations ensure a stable, consistent environment that benefits your clients and staff and encourages everyone to stick around. You must have specific retention systems, but don’t neglect the day-to-day elements that stimulate optimal performance and generate long-term engagement.
For most people, the ideal gym would:
- Be clean and safe and meet current hygiene standards.
- Be upbeat, fun and accommodating, with encouraging staff.
- Have consistency in equipment function, facilities, pricing and coaches (low staff turnover).
- Make you feel like part of the gym family through a one-on-one relationship—even if clients participate only in group classes.
- Provide a stress-free experience with a variety of group and personal exercise options.
When dealing with the fundamental elements of gym operation, list-making is a powerful tool to get things done. A study done by the Dominican University found that people are 33 percent more likely to achieve a goal if they commit on paper (or digitally). A task list provides you and your staff with a systematic way to ensure that you stay on top of routine and periodic jobs like cleaning, equipment maintenance and supply management.
For Two-Brain’s “Done-for-You Hiring Plan and Detailed Job Descriptions,” click here.
When Your Gym Retention Improves
A rising gym member retention rate is a vital part of your gym’s profitability. It also serves as validation for everything you strive to do with your gym.
When a client has stuck with you for 14 months or more, it shows they have bought into your system, achieved results and committed to more. It’s great for their health and your balance sheet. Everyone wins.
Imagine having 10-year clients like Kevin Woods does at CrossFit Moncton. What would that do for their lives and your business? Ten-year engagement is possible if you make gym member retention a priority now!
About the Author: John Burson successfully ran a personal training business for over 20 years, and he has written volumes of published articles on business entrepreneurship, finance and the fitness industry.