The No. 1 Way to Increase Client Value and Retention in Your Gym

Podcast-1 (38)

Chris Cooper (00:00):
What is the No. 1 model for increasing client value and keeping them around long term and getting the best results? It’s called the Prescriptive Model. I’m Chris Cooper. This is “Run a Profitable Gym,” and if you wanna ask questions about this episode or just talk about the Prescriptive Model more, you can jump into and ask anything that you want there. My team and I are usually in there volunteering our time for free to answer questions and help gym owners become more successful. Today we’re gonna talk about the Prescriptive Model. We’re gonna cover three big topics. The first topic is what is the Prescriptive Model and why is it so effective? The second is how do you actually walk through this with a client? What does it look like in practice? And the third is where do people usually get hung up? Like why are gyms not just using this all the time?

Chris Cooper (00:47):
What’s really interesting is that after I’ve been teaching this now for nearly a decade, I really appreciate when I see it in other businesses, and you’re going to see why as we go through this. So think of yourself as a consumer when you’re buying another service from somebody else, but also try and place yourself in the mind of a client who’s coming into your gym for the first time. 10 years ago, doing stuff like free trials, it worked because you had this audience in your local market of early adopters. People who were already sold on your service, be that CrossFit or weightlifting or Pilates or whatever that was. They already knew they were going to buy when they came in the door. That doesn’t exist anymore. And building a client-centric business means always adapting your service as much as possible to maximize client results. Client results are what we’re selling here, not a method.

Chris Cooper (01:38):
And so the free trial where people just come in and try stuff, that doesn’t work anymore, and signing people up and just hoping they stay forever because they love the service as much as you do, that doesn’t work anymore. We need to be able to orient our entire business around getting a client what they want instead of just selling the thing that we like. Let’s start with going through the Prescriptive Model step by step. The Prescriptive Model starts with what we call a No Sweat Intro. This is a consultation where somebody comes into your gym, they talk about the goals that they want to get, and then we’re going to offer to sell them what they need to get there. But the first thing that we’re going to do at an NSI after we’ve established their why—after we’ve talked about their reasons for wanting to do this—is measure their starting point.

Chris Cooper (02:27):
That’s an objective measurement, okay? That’s really important. When people come in and they wanna lose weight, you need to know their weight that they’re starting from. When people come in and they say, “Oh, I wanna firm up or tone up or whatever,” you gotta measure their body-fat percentage. Now, you don’t have to do this, you know, in the most expensive possible way. I use an InBody 270. I love the 270 because it’s accurate enough. It’s consistent. So I know that a client is gonna get the same results. Here we go. Here’s an InBody that I did on myself this morning. Okay, they’re gonna gonna get a printout like this. They’re gonna be able to see their progress on these little lines down here. They’re gonna be able to take a picture. You’re gonna be able to talk about it. You can also use a tape measure, a $9 plastic pair of skin-fold calipers—whatever you use.

Chris Cooper (03:14):
Consistency is more important than accuracy. Even if you’re off by 3%, 5% in their first pinch, as long as you’re consistently off by the same amount, you can show them progress, and that’s what matters. So the point of doing an objective measurement is so that we can show progress later on. A lot of people will include mobility assessments and stuff here, and that’s okay if the client says “I need to improve my mobility or my flexibility” or “I’m stiff all the time.” But what’s important is that you come back and do that assessment again later so that you can show them progress. Way too many gym owners will do something like, you know, Functional Movement Screen. When a client’s coming in the door, they’ll test them once. They’ll say, “Oh, wow, you’re really bad at this.” And then never do the test again.

Chris Cooper (03:59):
So the client is left to wonder “am I getting any better? Why did we do that test in the first place?” So that objective measurement is really key because that is going to tell you “here is what you need. Now that I know where we’re starting from, and I know your goal, I am the expert who can map backward from this goal to where you are right now. Okay? I can break it into steps for you.” So you’ve done a couple of things. No. 1, you’ve shown that you’re an empathetic listener at the NSI, and we teach this step by step in our mentorship practice, okay? Then we have established your authority and expertise by saying, “Okay, here’s where we’re starting, and now it’s our job to tell them the truth. Here we go. If you want to reach that goal from where you are now, the best path is my prescription.”

Chris Cooper (04:46):
You don’t have to use the word “prescription” if you don’t want to. Some people are nervous about it, you know. It might have a connotation to do with the medical field or whatever. I say “prescription.” “Here is your best prescription.” A lot of the time when we’re a gym owner, we filter that prescription before we give it. So we give the prescription with conditions. And what I mean by that is we will apply our own budget. So you think, “Okay, well, what this client actually needs is to see me four times a week and follow this nutrition plan, but that costs $700 a month. I saw what they were driving when they pulled up to the front door. I don’t think they can afford $700 a month. So I’m just gonna present them with the option to do our most basic general group fitness—same programming as everybody else, no additional help, no nutrition coaching program—because that’s the budget I think they have.”

Chris Cooper (05:34):
And this is a massive mistake. You do not get to dictate somebody else’s budget to them. Instead, what you’ve gotta do is have the conviction and the courage to say, “Here is what is best for you.” And then let them decide, right? You don’t control their wallet and don’t make filters on their budget based on your budget. There are way too many gym owners who cannot afford their own service, and they project that onto everybody else. But your best clients are probably making more money than you, and ultimately they have to decide what their priorities are. I see way too many gym owners ranting about people who will pay $4 a day for coffee but won’t pay $3 a day for a gym membership. The reality is you’re probably filtering those people out with your own insecurities about budgeting. All right? So you make the prescription: “Here is what you need, okay?”

Chris Cooper (06:25):
And then you say “now you need three workouts a week, and you need a sensible nutrition plan that you can follow that’s based on habits” or whatever your philosophy is—macros, calorie counting, whatever, keto. You make that recommendation, then you start qualifying what that prescription would be by tailoring it to what the client wants. So here you’re telling the client “here’s what you need.” Now you’re gonna ask the client “how do you want to do this? Okay? So would you prefer to do your workouts in a small-group setting or would you prefer to do your workouts one on one with me?” Okay, that’s the first question. If they say “one-on-one,” you say “okay, great. PT.” If they say “group,” you say “okay, no problem.” We’re gonna talk about their on-ramp process in a moment.

Chris Cooper (07:18):
Your nutrition program: “Do you think that your biggest challenge with nutrition is knowledge or accountability?” “I pretty much know what to eat. I just, you know, I don’t do it.” “Okay. We have an accountability program. So the program that’s gonna work best for you is one-on-one personal training, where we meet up three times a week in the gym, and also our accountability program to make sure that you’re eating on track. But I’m also going to give you some extra help. I’m gonna give you our nutrition guide. I’m gonna give you our shopping guide, our shopping list. I’m gonna give you access to our private app that will let you track food and plan your grocery list. I’m also gonna give you some free videos on how to eat and how to do meal prep and some stretches to do in between our workouts. Sound good? Great.”

Chris Cooper (07:58):
Okay. Now what you’ve done is you’ve made that prescription for them. You say, “Okay, the investment in that prescription is X. Okay?” And again, you’re letting them make the choice based on their budget and priorities. You have no idea what their budget or priorities are. All right? The key, though, is that whatever first prescription you make, it is not gonna be completely dialed in. Like you just met this person. No matter how good you are at programming, you don’t know their entire exercise history, and you don’t know what they like and dislike. You don’t know what they’ll respond to yet. So we often say that the second program is the best program because now you’ve had a time to dial it in. So what happens after three months? You make this first prescription, whatever it is, and you sit down with the client and you do a goal review.

Chris Cooper (08:41):
The goal review is basically your NSI starting with the objective measurement again. So whatever you measured them in the first time—was it body fat? Was it flexibility? Was it strength? Whatever. Blood pressure, weight—you wanna do that measurement again. Now, you don’t have to do all those measurements for everybody. You just measure what they care about. Okay? So you wanna be able to show them progress. So a lot of people, a lot of gym owners, actually shy away from this because they’re maybe subconsciously worried that their clients are not getting progress. But the thing is this creates a virtuous cycle of value for the client, and also for the gym. So you do the measurement. Okay, client lost a lot of weight—wonderful. “You know, do you wanna keep going with what you’re doing? It’s obviously working.” They say “Hell, yeah, 90-day plan, high five, away we go!”

Chris Cooper (09:35):
If they don’t get results though, that’s okay. They’re not going to quit because now they’ve invested in you for three months, right? You have sunk costs in your relationship, so they’re better to keep going with you if you give them a new prescription. So you can say, “All right, looking at our results here, there are some positives, but we’re not really where either one of us wanted to go. Agree? Okay? To really get our foot on the gas pedal here, what I recommend is that we add nutrition coaching so that we can really focus in on that.” Or you might say, “I’d like you to add in some non-exercise activity like walking every single day. We’ll see where that gets us. Okay?” So you’ve upgraded the program. Now your advice is actually more valuable than it was in the first place because anybody else that they start over with, they’re gonna have to go through this same process of trial and error to figure out the best prescription for them.

Chris Cooper (10:29):
And knowing you, you’re a great coach, you’re gonna get there. You know, if you don’t hit the target on your first try, and few of us do, don’t worry. You’re gonna get there on the second try. Or at least you’re gonna get closer and closer, and ultimately you’re going to have the best prescription for this client. As a client progresses, their desires change, their body changes, right? So their goals change. And having this goal-review process means that you can stay on top of them. The worst thing that you can do is bring a client in, sign ’em up, and then never track their progress, never change their prescription—just assume like, “Oh, they love doing my yoga, they love doing my CrossFit, and they just will forever.” When in reality, they need to see progress, and they need to have their prescription changed. Sometimes, you know, some clients leave your gym and they’ll say, “I just want a break,” but what I’ve learned over time is that a change is as good as a rest.

Chris Cooper (11:23):
And so you give them something different to do, like a new goal: “Hey, you’re gonna do a Spartan Race.” Or, “Hey, it’s February. Let’s really focus on dropping body fat between now and June, where normally you only care about performance.” You know, this is great, right? You’re keeping the client engaged. They’ve got new goals, new areas of focus and new progress. And so they go through that prescription, and three months later you bring them back in for another goal review. “How are we doing? Did we do even better? We’re on the right track. We’re making progress. We’re getting closer. You know, I really wonder if maybe we should tweak your exercise prescription. I’m gonna have you start wearing a heart-rate monitor. I want you to do two days a week in Zone 2, one day in Zone 3, one day in Zone 5—you’re gonna come to class for those.”

Chris Cooper (12:08):

And as you build trust over time by using this model, then the value of the client increases, and so does the retention because your value to them increases. You have invested time and energy into them. You’re starting to see the results, and you continue to invest in them. You are pouring value into them, and they will continue to pour value into your business. Signing somebody up—”Here, you go. Go do my workout program, my high-intensity interval-training boot camp. Stay as long as you can”—that is not what creates long-term retention. If the client isn’t being measured, they won’t know if they’re getting results. You know, they might see some if they’re measuring themselves, but they won’t see all of them. It’s too hard when you’re in your own body to see results. If you’re not measuring their progress and then adjusting their plan, they might just say, “Oh, well, this, you know, boot camp doesn’t work. I’m gonna go do something completely different. I’m gonna try weightlifting or something instead. I’m gonna try running or jogging.” And if you’re not talking to them, then they’re just gonna have to make that decision on their own. Your job is to act as a trusted coach. It’s not just to put out the best programming. It’s to adjust the prescription when it’s not working to optimize it so that it is. You know, we teach business owners all the time. You go through this process of systemization, then optimization, then growth, and then scale. It’s the same with a client. When a client comes in, your first prescription is like the workout system that they’re going to have, right? And so you’re building habits. They’re coming to the gym three times a week.

Chris Cooper (13:43):
They’ve got the foundational habits down. The next step, though, is to optimize it. You have to make it even more effective so that they’re getting better results in faster timeframes, right? And that’s what the Prescriptive Model is all about. So there’s many, many places where people screw this up. The first is they don’t do it an NSI. They do a free trial. They think that “somebody who comes in and tries my thing, CrossFit, is just gonna love it … ‘cause that’s what happened to me.” But you are not your best client. You were an early adopter. You fell in love with the method, be that boot camp or Pilates or yoga or whatever it was, and that was enough for you. That is not enough for them. You need to be able to say to a client “let’s talk about your goals, and then I’ll tell you whether I can get you to those goals or not.”

Chris Cooper (14:36):

There is a percentage of people for whom you are not a good fit, and you want to filter them out here because if you let them just jump into your group class and then try to filter them out, you’re just gonna create bad feelings, and you will never get that client back. Instead, what you wanna do is say “we can’t help you right now” or, you know, point them to somebody who can. As a gym owner in a coaching gym, you have a service to which people will ascend. That means you’re the top of the pack. So maybe they need to start with a walking program, or maybe they need to start with just a couch-to-5K program. Maybe they need to start with a personal trainer somewhere else. But eventually, if you’re running the best program, they will listen to you.

Chris Cooper (15:15):
They might not be your best client right now, but eventually they will be. And so if somebody comes in and does an NSI and you’re way outta their budget or they’re just like, “Wow, I am not ready for that,” that’s fine. What you can do is say, “In that case, if I were in your shoes, I would recommend this. Start a walking program for three months. Okay? I’m even gonna give you a walking program. Here you go. Let’s book an appointment for three months. You’ll come back in, we’ll reassess, see where you’re at, and we’ll see if you’re ready. Then how does that sound? Okay?” The thing is if you are actually the best, people will eventually want to be your clients, but they might not be ready right now. And so if they’re in front of you for an NSI, you can do that.

Chris Cooper (15:58):}
If you’re not doing an NSI and they just come in, they try your thing and they’re like, “Wow, no, this wasn’t for me,” they’re not coming back. Okay? So an NSI is when you start the coaching relationship, even if you’re not gonna be coaching them every day. The next mistake that people make is they don’t do any objective measurement. So they’re not measuring what the client cares about. What they’re doing is selling the thing that the coach cares about. We’re gonna build a client-centric business, so we wanna make sure that the client is getting the results that they want. If you’ve owned a gym for a while, I’m sure you’ve seen this client comes in: “I wanna drop 30 lb.” “Great, we’re gonna sell you CrossFit.” Three months later the client is like, “Wow, I’m stronger. I’m faster. I feel good. I’ve got these new friends. Still don’t fit into my jeans. Geez, I don’t know, this is, this is okay, but like, it’s not really getting me what I wanted, you know?” And within six months they’re gone. This is why the retention rate in microgyms is so low. It has nothing to do with price. It’s us trying to force what we like onto the client and the problem that they’re trying to solve instead of asking the client and then actually measuring our results. Okay? The third thing that gyms don’t do is change their prescription. So whether the client’s getting good results or not, they never say, “You know what? You would do better on a nutrition program.” Or, “You know what? I think that two days a week you should cut down to like Zone 2 heart rate and become a little bit more metabolically flexible. You’ll burn more fat.” You know, they don’t do that, and the reason is that they don’t wanna undermine themselves or they just don’t want to take the time to do it.

Chris Cooper (17:30):
The other thing that happens right here, the big opportunity that a lot of gyms miss, is they flip around from program to program, right? So they’ll go like NCFIT—“Oh man, that was awesome.” Then they’ll go to like Box Programming—”Oh, that was good. Yeah, so good.” You know Beyond RXD—”Oh man, that was awesome, right?” And they’ll jump around, but they don’t have a reason for jumping ever. It’s just like, “Well, the clients like this. I like it. It’s fun. It’s not fun—it gets results.” Whatever. What you should actually be doing with your programming is taking the sum of all of your clients’ results and saying like, “Hey, are we getting what we want here?” Right? It’s not like “how spicy is the workout?” It’s not even like “how good are the coaches’ notes?” It’s “is this programming getting my clients’ results in my most basic general group-class option?”

Chris Cooper (18:17):

And if it’s not, that’s when you switch programming. But if you’re not bringing people in, doing objective measurements on them, looking at results and kind of zooming out and looking at like the meta result for the gym, you don’t know if you should switch programming or not. You know, maybe you’re bored with the programming but it’s getting amazing results. Keep it. You know, maybe you’re thinking about going to Level Method, but you’re not sure. Are you really going to change the client results at all? I mean, that’s what you should be looking at, right? So this objective measurement gives you a viewpoint into whether your clients are getting results or not. The next thing that gyms don’t do enough is make nutrition a secondary prescription. In the old days, you know, we would just talk about nutrition and macros and Zone or whatever. Paleo in those days. We’d just talk about it in class, and then we’d kind of like, you know, leave the client on their own to figure it out because we were bored of it. We didn’t feel like nutrition experts. We didn’t open a gym to talk about macros, and so we just kind of left it off to the side of the road. The reality is, though, that most clients need that, and what they need usually is a little bit of knowledge and a ton of accountability. Okay? So knowledge, right? Which you could deliver just through a seminar or YouTube videos, and then a lot of accountability, like five times a day, maybe not that much, three times a day, checking in: “Hey, what’d you have for lunch? How was it? Send me a picture.” At 8 p.m.: “Hey, before you go to bed or start winding down, why don’t you go enter your stuff in MyFitnessPal.”

Chris Cooper (19:50):
“You know, I noticed that you snack a lot between 8:30 and 9, right?” Like, this is my nutrition coach talking to me: “Coop, at 8:30 p.m., why don’t you open up MyFitnessPal and track your food for the day? Because what that’ll tell you is what’s available if you need a snack.” And a lot of the time after tracking my food, I’ll say, “I actually don’t need a snack,” or, “I’ve got about 30 grams of carbs left. You know, maybe I’m just gonna have an orange.” Or, “Boy, I really need to up my protein, you know. I’m gonna go have some of this instead.” And so at least it’s like guided snacking, and it’s a cue to stop, but this is really high value. And then, of course, most gyms don’t do their goal reviews often enough. Look, if you think that doing goal reviews is gonna take up a lot of your time and you might not have the bandwidth to do it yourself, you gotta ask yourself “how much time is it gonna take to replace these clients?”

Chris Cooper (20:42):
Because the reality is it’s so much easier to retain a client by having a 10-minute goal review with each one each quarter than it is to learn marketing, try to bring people in, try to set them up for NSIs, do lead nurture, try and sign them and then fight to maintain them for the first 90 days. It’s so much easier to just meet with your top clients, at least, minimum, if not everybody, every quarter, review their goals, measure their progress, and give them a new prescription. You will build trust, you will build sunk costs in your program. Ultimately, even if you have to tell a client “hey, I think you should take two months off,” then you can still bring them back afterward because that can be your prescription. Craziest prescription I ever made that people just don’t believe, this woman named Robyn came into my gym, and she’s an accountant.

Chris Cooper (21:30):
It was March. She was completely overwhelmed and burned out. The high-intensity interval training that we were doing at the gym was not solving her stress problem, which was her biggest problem in life. She wasn’t sleeping. Her meals sucked. I said, “Robin, you need a break. All I want you to do is five days a week, you walk. Any day that you do any accounting work at all, at home, at the office, you have a walk.” And I sent her some videos on easy walking meditation. She did walking for 30 to 45 minutes. And I said, “Okay, you’re gonna do this for two months. At the beginning of May, you’re going to come back. So let’s make an appointment right now. And if you’re still overwhelmed and stressed at that appointment, then we’ll think about what to do from there. But we’re going to assume that by May all the taxes will be done and you’ll be ready to work out again.”

Chris Cooper (22:18):
And guess what? She called me two weeks earlier, said, “I’m feeling really good. I think I’m ready to come back right now.” And I said, “Okay, if you’re sure, let’s go.” That built a ton of trust because it showed that I wasn’t constantly trying to sell her on the other thing, which brings me to my last point. When you’re doing these remeasures and making new prescriptions, a lot of people will talk about the value, the increasing value of the client. And it’s true, about 30% of the time, 30% of your clients will upgrade the service that they’ve got. That’s usually because the service that they bought in the beginning was the wrong service in the first place. They chose the budget option or you recommended the budget option. And so they’re doing something that’s not getting them results, right? But this is an opportunity to get them on the best prescription for them.

Chris Cooper (23:06):
All they can say is “I can’t afford it.” And if they say “I can’t afford it,” you say, “Well, okay, with your budget, the best option for you is to continue with the general group programming.” But sometimes after some trust is built, that’s when they’re more likely to say, “Yeah, actually I do wanna add nutrition to my program, so let’s tick that box now as well as increase my exercise.” Now, the gym owner might think things like, “Oh, this is an upsell,” but it’s not. It’s just a course correction. You know, like the example I just shared with Robyn, that was like a down-sell. She didn’t pay me for two months. But the key is that you’re giving the client the best prescription no matter what the cost, no matter what filters or, you know, mental barriers you have. You are using your expertise as a coach to say, “This is what will help you fastest.”

Chris Cooper (23:56):
That’s our duty to the client. And the Prescriptive Model gives you a way, a process, that you can think through all of that and schedule it out, systemize it, then optimize it. You’ll keep your clients getting lots of progress, keep your clients around and keep them high value. Hope this helps. If it does, please subscribe to this channel, and we’ll get you more videos twice a week to keep helping you grow your gym. If you want to talk about it, go to That’s our free public Facebook group where we chat with 7,000 gym owners worldwide, and we often jump in to give some data-based expert opinions. Take care.

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