Retention in 24/7 Access Gyms: Top Gym Owner’s Tactics

Retention in 24/7 Access Gyms: Top Gym Owner's Tactics

Mike Warkentin (00:00):
How do you acquire and retain hundreds of clients at a 24/7 gym? You’ll find out today on this episode of “Run a Profitable Gym.” I’m Mike Warkentin. Every month, I review leaderboards for gym metrics. I talk to someone who made the leaderboard, and then I ask them to share their secrets with you. I’m literally giving away the cheat codes for gym ownership every month. Now please subscribe so you don’t miss any of that because I want you to run a successful gym, too. This month, I’ve got Dixie Burns of Complete Physique Anytime in Kalama, Washington. She landed on our leaderboard for total clients. That Top 10 runs from over 300 to over 700 clients. A lot of these are coaching gyms, some are access gyms. We’ve got a nice mix in there. So Dixie’s gonna share her secret today. Congrats, Dixie. Thanks for being here.

Dixie Burns (00:46):
Thank you so much.

Mike Warkentin (00:48):
I wanna ask you this. We often don’t talk to people who run predominantly 24/7 access gyms. I know you’re doing some coaching on the side, but I understand that’s kind of the business model. Give me the one-minute, 60-second summary. What do you do at your gym? What’s your market? What do you sell? Who are you?

Dixie Burns (01:01):
Yeah, so Complete Physique is a small-town health and wellness center. We have a full access gym, and we also offer personal training, nutrition and hypnotherapy. So, yeah, so that’s pretty exciting to be able to offer the hypnotherapy as well. Cause we don’t really see that anywhere else. Almost 80% of our members are senior citizens.

Mike Warkentin (01:28):
Oh, that’s a good one.

Dixie Burns (01:28):
Yeah, we’re a retirement community, so we have a lot of senior citizens.

Mike Warkentin (01:33):
Okay. So that’s really interesting. And do you have a breakdown or percentage? How many of your members just come for access and how many of them go for coaching and nutrition and more of the coaching services?

Dixie Burns (01:44):
I would say most of them come for access. We’re kinda changing that, you know. This year we’re kinda changing that a little bit and, and we’ve included some group training. So we’ve got a group going right now. We’re trying to get a second group going for that. So just to bring in more members for that one-on-one or even, you know, groups of three to five.

Mike Warkentin (02:06):
Okay, I like it. So we have the basics of what you do there. Now we’re gonna find out how you manage to do it so well and earn a spot on the leaderboard. So talk to me about huge client counts. You can’t have a client count of hundreds of members without acquiring members and retaining them. But tell me first, how you acquire these people? Like what brings your members in the door?

Dixie Burns (02:24):
So with us being a small town, we have several Facebook groups in the town. So we use those platforms for advertising. So just being able to advertise the right way to bring people in the door, that has helped. Also word of mouth, you know. With us being a small town, if somebody enjoys something that’s happening, they’re gonna go tell everybody at the grocery store and the vintage store and all the places around town. So word of mouth is awesome. We get a lot of referrals that way.

Mike Warkentin (02:56):
Okay. So it’s a two-pronged strategy where you’re doing some Facebook ads and you’re putting some dollars behind that, and then you’re doing what we often call in Two-Brain “affinity marketing,” where you’re using your current satisfied clients to find more of them. Is that right?

Dixie Burns (03:06):
Yep. Correct.

Mike Warkentin (03:08):
Okay. So I like that approach, and there are gyms that use that approach in varying ratios with more advertising or more referrals. The one thing I’ll remind you of listeners: referrals is not a passive process. You have to make it happen or it won’t happen. Okay. Now, this is an interesting one. I saw this on your website, but I want you to tell me about it. How do you get these people in? Like what is the onboarding process at your gym, and how does that affect retention? ‘Cause you do something that I haven’t seen a lot.

Dixie Burns (03:31):
Yeah, so we start with a No Sweat Intro, which is 10 to 15 minutes that we spend with our clients. We get to know them you know. First of all, we give them a tour of the facility, find out what their goals are, kind of get to know them a little bit. And then what I think is most important is we introduce them to other members that might be there working out at the time, and we introduce them to other staff that might be there during that time. So it’s kind of like a family. We, you know, we’re kind of like a family, and it’s really cool. And so we want to welcome everybody else by making them feel like they fit in here.

Mike Warkentin (04:08):
Now that’s in an access gym, right? Like that’s even for your access members?

Dixie Burns:

Mike Warkentin:
See now it’s interesting ‘cause every gym that I signed up to—I didn’t sign up to any 24/7s, but lots of access gyms—and when I signed up, they said, “There’s your membership card, there’s the stuff,” and that was it. I didn’t meet anybody. You put on your headphones for the most part. You do your pec deck in the corner, and you ignore everyone else and try to look cool. That doesn’t seem to happen at your gym. Is that a function of the demographic that you have where the older community wants to be more social or is that a function of how you’ve decided to set up at this gym the community that you want?

Dixie Burns (04:42):
I think that’s kinda what I noticed. I used to teach—we have a senior fitness class that is all 65 and older. I used to teach that class. Now we have others teaching it. And that’s kinda what I noticed from that class was they wanted five or 10 minutes before class started to do their social time. And then after class on Fridays, they all go to coffee together. So after seeing that for a couple of months, I decided, you know, to incorporate that for all of our members. They like to meet people. There’s a lot of them that their only social time is coming to the gym. So we want them to feel welcome and feel like, you know, they have people that they know, and they’re comfortable.

Mike Warkentin (05:23):
See, you’ve hit on a couple things there. You’ve got your target market you know obviously really well, and you wanna provide the things that they want. And then the other thing is that retention is clearly related to your service, your business. But there also is that third prong: other clients and other people. So if they can make connections inside your business and have workout buddies, I imagine that helps retention too.

Dixie Burns (05:46):
Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Warkentin (05:48):
Yeah. Now for group or your access clients, do they go through any sort of on-ramp or intake process after that consultation?

Dixie Burns (05:54):
So a lot of them sign up for either nutrition or one-on-one training. I have a few clients who I do one-on-one training with, and they’re also in the group training. So a lot of them, most of them actually start out with the access membership. So far we haven’t really had success with the on-ramp. So we just have them start out with the access membership. I always offer other things, you know, the hypnotherapy and the personal training and nutrition just to let them know that it’s available. And so a lot of them end up going into that or they’ll get to a certain point and go, “Oh, hey, I think I need something extra.”

Mike Warkentin (06:34):
I have a suspicion that we probably need to do a whole show on hypnotherapy, but can you give me like the 60-second rundown of what that is?

Dixie Burns (06:40):
Absolutely. So hypnotherapy is putting a client in a relaxed state, and you give suggestions to their subconscious mind. Nothing is going to allow them to do anything subconsciously that they don’t wanna do. So it just gives them suggestions to reframe things, like past trauma for instance. Maybe they have a fear about something because of something that has happened to them. So hypnotherapy can reframe that so that they feel differently about it. It just gives them a different perspective so they see it differently and then in turn makes them feel differently about the outcome, and then they can move on and let it go.

Mike Warkentin (07:24):
That is a unique skill set you’ve got there, and I think, like I said, we might have to dig into that in a different episode, but that’s very cool. And now I’ll, I’ll hire you after the show to help me out with my worries about being a good podcast host. We know that traditional gyms and, you know, access gyms and things like that often have an in a lot of people churning in and out. When I went to those gyms, no was no one checking in on me, and I kinda just did my own thing. And when I was trying to leave, I left and so forth. So do you have any retention metrics that you can share to put things in perspective?

Dixie Burns (07:55):
Absolutely. So one of the things that I think is extremely important is I tell my members upfront that, “Hey, I’m here for you. I’m here to support you. Whatever you need, you know, my number’s on the building. Here’s my card. Give me a call, text me anytime.” So if there’s ever any complaints, we don’t get many, but occasionally, I get right on it, and I resolve it immediately so that we don’t have people who don’t feel welcome coming here. So I think that’s highly important to let them know up front that, hey, we’re here to support you.

Mike Warkentin (08:31):
So you mentioned you have staff. Are you by default the client success manager—when people know that there’s an issue or if they wanna talk, they go right to you? Or do you have other people that help you out with that?

Dixie Burns (08:40):
So I do have a client success manager. She’s still in training. Mm-Hmm. So that’s really, really new. She’s been a member of the gym as well for quite some time. So if she’s here, people will go to her. And then she passes on to me. A lot of times I just get a phone call or a text message. So my members who know me well who’ve been coming for quite a while, they still will come to me.

Mike Warkentin (09:04):
Ok. So it’s a role that you, I guess just to quote Chris Cooper, you’ve done the role and you’re leaving some deep, deep footprints, and you’re gonna pass that off to someone else who can do it to your standards.

Dixie Burns (09:13):

Mike Warkentin (09:14):
Yeah. And then what will you devote that time to once that is off your plate?

Dixie Burns (09:19):
So I raise my grandson who is a special-needs kiddo. He has autism. He’s nonverbal. So I just wanna be there to devote more time to him. That’s my number one.

Mike Warkentin (09:33):
Okay. So that’s the idea, gym owners. If you can get rid of things from your plate and create a business where it runs itself, you can start devoting that time to other things–like family or whatever else you wanna do, which is a really cool thing. Talk to me about some of the essentials again of holding onto people in this facility. So you mentioned the intake process where you set people up and connect them and so forth. How do you stop people from running out? Like, again, I’ll give you the example of January people show up, and by February they’re gone. How do you stop that from happening? Do you have any specific stuff that’s really important for you to retain members in this gym?

Dixie Burns (10:06):

So I try to do some type of event or challenge or create a new program about every three months. And I’m always posting things on our Facebook. We have a private Facebook group, and then we have a Facebook page, and I will share those things to the community Facebook pages as well. So always just letting people know “hey, we have this going on and we have this new program.” And just so that they don’t get bored with things, they can move on to something different, you know, about quarterly.

Mike Warkentin (10:37):
Whenever I was in one of these gyms, I never had a private Facebook group, and I never knew what was really going on. I might see something on a bulletin board, but I never actually had this personalized group. And there certainly weren’t local or regular events. Tell me about some of the events that you run. Like what kind of quarterly things are on your calendar to keep members engaged?

Dixie Burns (10:55):
So in January we did a challenge. It was a circuit challenge with our senior citizens, which is awesome to see, you know, people in their 70s doing circuits. And this weekend we are doing a 5K run-walk-bike for autism awareness. April’s Autism Awareness Month. And so that’s obviously really, really important to me. So we are doing that at our marina area. So it’s on the water and we’ve got quite a few members signed up for that. So that’s gonna be awesome.

Mike Warkentin (11:29):
And you make a point of actually putting this stuff on your calendar ahead of time. How far in advance do you plan these things?

Dixie Burns (11:35):
I try to do at least a couple of months. Sometimes it’s just a month ahead.

Mike Warkentin (11:40):
The reason I ask is because Chris Cooper just wrote a series on special events, and he’s recommending that gyms use about four a year. And not necessarily stuff that they host, but like you said, events in the community as well where you can link up and partner with them. And the benefit there is that you don’t have to do all your organization work, which is can be a lot in a lot of cases. The other thing, though, is it gives your members something to look forward to. It gives them a bonding experience outside the gym where they can tell stories about this great thing that they did. And it also helps them stay committed to training. Because if I know I have an event coming like 5K fun walk or something like that, I’m going to keep training. Have you found that that is the case where your members are like, “What’s the next event? What am I training for?” Does it help them set goals?

Dixie Burns (12:20):
Absolutely. Yeah. And I think the other thing that helps is checking in with them. You know, I always make it a point to say hello to everybody that’s here so that they feel that they can come to me, you know, when they’re ready to move on to something else. And, you know, probably every couple of weeks I’ll say, “Hey, how are things going? You know, do you feel like everything’s going good with your workouts?” You know, just kinda checking in with them. And then as far as the events go, too, we do kind of partner with other people in the community. Like our local police officers put on a national night out every summer. And so we are always invited to that, and we’ll do some sort of a fitness challenge for everyone who comes to that. And that’s not just gym members. That’s everybody in the community. So it helps bring in more business

Mike Warkentin (13:08):
Goal Review Sessions. Now we know in coaching gyms they happen a lot. Do you do that in an access gym or are you planning on doing something like that?

Dixie Burns (13:16):
So I do goal reviews, specific goal reviews with my one-on-one training clients and my group clients. So as far as just the access members, I don’t necessarily schedule the goal reviews, but I do check in with them periodically just to say, “Hey, how are things going? You know, are you getting everything you need? Fitness wise and nutrition?”

Mike Warkentin (13:39):
It’s an interesting question because we know, like, say in a model of 150 coaching clients at a high value, goal reviews are a little bit easier to do, but if you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of clients in an access gym, it’s a little bit of a different story. So I’ve never run into this before, so that’s why I’m kind of asking about this. Could you see a scenario where an official Goal Review Session would work for access clients? Or is that something that you wouldn’t consider?

Dixie Burns (14:01):
I think it would be difficult with as many members as we have right now. We’re at over 360 members right now. So I think it would be difficult. So I just kind of let them come to me. That’s why I check in periodically, and I always tell them, “Hey, if you feel like you need something different, just let me know.” And, you know, I always let them know again, reminding them of what we have available for them.

Mike Warkentin (14:27):
Yeah. And I think, like when I worked in commercial gym, this is years ago now, but when I did, I don’t think it would’ve been feasible for the staffing levels to manage goal reviews with all those people. But at that gym I was at, people bled out very quickly because they’d show up in January, like I said, and they’d be gone by March. And so that was a big problem there. And in those gyms we never really tried to solve that because honestly in those gyms the business model isn’t trying to solve that. It’s just trying to get the membership payments, and if they leave, they leave. But you sounds like you’ve got a very different plan. So the focus there for you is making sure on intake they know people, they know how to reach you, they know how to get their problems solved if they have any, and then also to connect with other people, and then they’ve got these events. Are those like the three main pillars of retention for you?

Dixie Burns (15:14):
Those are, yeah. I think that that’s definitely what has worked. I’m noticing a difference, especially over the last year with you know, come March, February, March, we aren’t having a lot of people dropping off.

Mike Warkentin (15:27):
Oh that’s a big deal.

Dixie Burns (15:28):
Yeah. And even summer, you know, it used to be everybody wants to be outside in the summer, so we would lose people. We haven’t had that happen the last couple of years.

Mike Warkentin (15:38):
So what changed? Why over the last couple years? Can you put your finger on anything?

Dixie Burns (15:41):
I really think people feel comfortable. I think that’s the biggest thing is people feel comfortable when we let them know up front, “Hey, I’m here for you.” They know that when they call me with a complaint, it’s gonna get taken care of. And I think that is huge. And then the other thing that I think is important too is we have placed a no-bullying policy. And we’ve only had this happen once or twice in the last seven years that I’ve owned this gym. But so it does happen occasionally. And so that includes any type of intimidation, whether direct or indirect. If somebody feels intimidated, I go to that person, and I, you know, I’ll tell them, “Hey, this is not tolerable here. This is your warning. This is your last warning, one and only warning. If it happens again, you get canceled.” So we don’t tolerate that. And I think that helps with, you know, making people feel comfortable. Like they don’t have to worry about, you know, somebody else intimidating them when they come to the gym.

Mike Warkentin (16:44):
So if I walk into your gym right now, what is the vibe? And I mean, like again, back in the day when I went in, it was like the bodybuilder over there with the headphones on, and this person over there on the cardio machine ,and kind of just these like very fractured groups, maybe a couple of training partners, but mostly individual stuff. What is the vibe if I walk in? What do I see in your gym?

Dixie Burns (17:02):
So the vibe coming in here is “this is home.” Like, it is like a second home to people, you know. Everybody says hello to each other. You know, even when I come in, it’s “good morning Dixie,” and I’m onto the next person on the treadmill. “Good morning, Dixie.” And it’s just—it’s very family-like. It’s very comfortable. It’s very positive and bright, and I love it. And this is what I want for all of my members to feel as well. And I think they do.

Mike Warkentin (17:31):
Do you see your members actually kind of connecting with each other to train and keep each other accountable? And I don’t mean like in a structured sense where you have groups, but like do these friendships and training partnerships grow up organically because you’ve created this community feel?

Dixie Burns (17:45):
Absolutely, yes.

Mike Warkentin (17:46):
That’s cool.

Dixie Burns (17:47):
Yes, I will see members when I’m training somebody one on one, I’ll see other members helping each other. It’s, it’s really cool.

Mike Warkentin (17:56):
I could see this happening say in the seniors community because it’s a little bit different, but do you have younger members, and does it happen there, too? Like is there a younger demographic in your gym as well?

Dixie Burns (18:06):
There is. So we, we allow kiddos supervised from age 11 to 16. Once they’re 16 they can be unsupervised. We do have probably a handful of high-school students that come in, you know, and they’re fully aware, too, of being respectful, especially with their music, you know, around the older population. So that’s something that I really make that important for them to know is “hey, we’ve got older members here who don’t like your type of music.” And so they’re really respectful of that. And so, I’m sorry, I lost track of what your question was.

Mike Warkentin (18:44):
No, I’m just curious. The reason I ask is because when I had a seniors group at my gym—and it was small-group training with like, you know, 10 to 12 people—hey were very tightly knit. So I could see that vibe transferring over into an access facility where people are coming and they really kind of look at it as social time plus workout time. But I was curious if some of the younger demographics bought into that as well, or if it was like when I was 20, I was bench pressing in the corner. Like do the younger people buy into that community vibe as well?

Dixie Burns (19:13):
I think it’s a little bit different. You know, we do have people in their 20s to 40s as well. I would say that group is a little bit different. A lot of times they’re the ones with their headphones and just kind of doing their workout, but they will get involved in conversations. They are friendly you know to the rest of the population in here as well. So I would say not as many, but there are a few that still do.

Mike Warkentin (19:41):
Yeah. And that’s not a fault for them because in a 24/7 access gym, some people just wanna do that, and that’s what they’re there for. “I’m gonna work out at 2 a.m. at the end of my shift, and I’m just gonna get my stuff done and go home.” That’s totally cool. I’m just curious about this because you have such an interesting kind of unique situation, and I’m curious what other gym owners can learn with your younger demographic. Do you find that there’s more churn with them? I’m curious about that one.

Dixie Burns (20:04):
Yeah, a little bit. And I think a lot of that has to do with that social aspect. You know, our older generation, they do this mostly—number one, they wanna keep moving, and number two, it is their social time. So I think that the younger population, they get social time in other places, you know. Most of them work. They still work, so it’s a little bit different for them versus our 80% of the senior citizens.

Mike Warkentin (20:31):
So what would you say for the younger group, what would you say is your main retention tactic there? Do you have something that you do to keep those guys that are more likely to walk out?

Dixie Burns (20:41):
The events, and again, just letting them know, reminding them periodically, “Hey, we’ve got this new program going on. So anytime we have new programs, and I’m constantly creating programs this year, so anytime that happens, I let them know, whether it’s through Facebook or I’m walking in and I see somebody, you know, who’s just on the treadmill and they’re chit-chatting, I’ll say, “Hey, hey, did you hear about our new program?” And usually they’re excited about it. Yeah. So just keeping people up to date about what’s going on.

Mike Warkentin (21:14):
So gym owners, I’m gonna put a link in the show notes to Chris Cooper’s series on how to make money at other people’s events. It’s really cool, and it’s four quarterly events that you can either host yourself or link up with someone else. This is a really cool way to get people fired up to train and stay at your gym, especially during down times. Chris has ’em spaced out about four times a year, and it looks like this is working well for Dixie. So I’m gonna put a link in the show notes. You guys can click that and take a look at that stuff. Dixie, the last thing I’ll ask you is a question that Chris and I have discussed offline a few times. How many clients can you acquire and retain? Like is there a limit? Meaning if I just dumped 150 people into your gym tomorrow, would you be able to keep them all? Or would you feel like,
“Wow, I just can’t hold onto these people” and they kind of bleed out? And you would be back to your current 360. Like is there a limit to how fast you can grow?

Dixie Burns (21:59):
So with our building space, I believe there is a limit. It does help that we are a 24-hour gym. That definitely helps because they can spread out a little bit more. Like we, we have our current local fire department as members, and a lot of them are coming throughout the night. So that definitely helps. I would say still in the current building that I’m in, we’re about 3,200 square feet, so I probably wouldn’t want more than about 450. I am, you know, currently I’ve got my eyes open for a larger facility, which is difficult to find in the area that I’m in. But I do have some goals set up for that so that we can grow larger as well.

Mike Warkentin (22:43):
If you hit that 450, would you do anything differently with retention? Was there anything that you’d add on or change?

Dixie Burns (22:48):
I think I would keep everything the same. I may be here a little bit more often just to make sure that people see a face and know that they’re supported.

Mike Warkentin (22:59):
Last thing I’ll ask you, your client success manager, you said she’s in training or he’s in training, I forget what you said.

Dixie Burns (23:04):

She is in training. So she is learning to, you know, do the signups, the NSIs and all of that.

Mike Warkentin (23:10):
So that was my question: What’s she gonna be doing? And so you said she’s gonna be doing the No Sweat Intros, free consultations. She’ll be signing people up. What else will she do?

Dixie Burns (23:19):
She does a lot of the restocking. She’s kind of that middle person for like phone calls. She’ll be doing scheduling eventually. We’ve only got one other trainer on board right now—looking for another—so she’ll be scheduling for them eventually.

Mike Warkentin (23:35):
Would you ever have her, and this is just me kind of throwing things at the wall here, I’m curious, would you ever have her just randomly reach out to clients like say, you know, 30 a month and just say, “Hey, how’s it going?” Is that something you’d ever consider?

Dixie Burns (23:48):
Absolutely. whether we send a card or just reaching out to clients, absolutely. I do run reports every month. So we get lists of those clients who haven’t been in in a while.

Mike Warkentin (23:58):
There’s a big one.

Dixie Burns (23:59):
Yeah. We do have like an automated email that will go out to them. Like, “Hey, how are things going? We haven’t seen you in a while.” But eventually the goal is to have her kinda reach out to those people, too, in addition to that email just so it’s more personal.

Mike Warkentin (24:14):
Yeah. And that’s something I was really curious about ‘cause again, that never happened at any gym that I worked at or trained at until I got into the coaching gyms. And if you do that in access facility, I’m wondering if even just a small contact like that, like a quarterly “hi, how are you? How are you enjoying the gym?” I wonder if that would measurably improve retention. You’re tracking retention, right?

Dixie Burns (24:34):

Mike Warkentin (24:35):
Okay. So this is good ‘cause we can revisit this conversation eventually and figure it out. Because I would love to know what a client success manager does to the retention in an access gym, especially when it’s 24 hours. So keep close numbers.

Dixie Burns (24:46):
Yeah, definitely.

Mike Warkentin (24:49):

All right, Dixie, thanks so much. I love milking you for information here on a thing that we don’t often talk about, which is these 24/7 access gyms with coaching and hypnotherapy. Did I get it right?

Dixie Burns (24:59):

Mike Warkentin (24:59):
Yeah. So there we go. That’s a really cool service. Thanks so much for sharing your numbers. I really appreciate it. Congratulations on making the leaderboard.

Dixie Burns (25:05):
Thank you so much. Thanks for inviting me here.

Mike Warkentin (25:08):
Well, it is my pleasure. That was Dixie Burns and this is “Run a Profitable Gym.” Thanks for watching and listening. Please subscribe wherever you’re at. And now here’s Chris Cooper with a final message.

Chris Cooper (25:19):
Hey, it’s Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper with a quick note. We created the Gym Owners United Facebook group to help you run a profitable gym. Thousands of gym owners just like you have already joined the group. We share sound advice about the business of fitness. Every day, I answer questions, I run free webinars, and I give away all kinds of great resources to help you grow your gym. I’d love to have you in that group. It’s Gym Owners United on Facebook, or go to to join. Do it today!

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