How Clubs Incentivized Members to Stay During Closures

We talked to IHRSA members around the world about the new ideas they put in place to keep their members on board through pandemic-related closures. Here are their success stories.

Every health club across the globe has felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic to varying degrees. As the world reopens in different phases, health clubs have had to take a look at their dues structures while they were forced to close. Clubs have had to rethink their membership dues policies and decide whether to allow members to freeze or cancel with or without cost, walking a fine line between trying to keep their business afloat, and potentially burdening members who are equally as affected by the pandemic.

To incentivize members to maintain their membership throughout closures, clubs experimented with new and creative offerings to justify charging dues with a closed club. We talked to clubs around the world about what innovative ideas and incentives they came up with and how their membership base responded.

The First to Reopen Relied on Member Loyalty

In one of the first areas of the world to reopen, Catic Wellness Group with 53 locations across China, encouraged members to return to their clubs with various incentives such as dedicated “bring a friend” time periods, online flash sales offering deals on personal training packages combined with spa treatments and products, along with other lucky draw prizes.

In a stroke of luck (or really solid member loyalty) Xian MegaFit, also in China, didn’t have a single cancellation due to COVID-19 related closures. The gym froze all memberships during the three-month quarantine at no cost to members. One successful incentive to encourage personal and small group training sessions was offering one free session for every three purchased. They also offered a free class pass to members who hadn’t come back since they reopened.

“I always believe the members are our most valuable assets. Once they are satisfied and have confidence [with] us, the business [would] recover gradually…. To us, good attendance means customer satisfaction, which brings more business eventually. The fact is 65% of our annual income is from renewal and referrals,” says CEO Anita Peng.

Strategy and finance bodytech bogota colombia CBI column

A Bodytech Group facility in Bogotá, Colombia.

Millions Go Virtual Across Latin America

Megatlon Group, a 52 location club company across Argentina pledged to compensate their members for each day of closure, by extending membership contracts by the equivalent number of days, which was “very well received,” according to Raúl Wainraich, commercial director. Megatlon offered exclusive digital services to members who frequently participated in their virtual classes including 45-minute personalized training sessions with bodybuilding instructors, and spin classes via private Zoom groups. They also offered a variety of free classes for the entire community via Instagram and YouTube, which increased their number of followers from 45,000 before the pandemic to more than 210,000 followers on Instagram and 80,000 views on YouTube.

Bodytech Group, with clubs in Colombia, Peru, and Chile left all membership plans frozen without any recurring charges during closures. They focused on encouraging their communities to maintain physical activity and healthy lifestyle habits through virtual group training sessions that drew more than 2,500,000 people in Colombia alone.

“We have strengthened our connection with them, always showing ourselves at their side to accompany them in this isolation,” says Gigliola Aycardi, executive vice president and co-founder. “We genuinely care about their health and that of their families. Our medical team called our members to follow up on their health. What we have done sincerely for them...I believe that it will make our affiliates stay with us. That is what we expect. And upon return we will have for them the safest environment we can provide so that they feel safe and confident to exercise at our facilities.”

Strategy and finance dumbbell workout freepik stock column

U.S. Clubs Incentivized with Contests and Prizes

In the U.S., Razor Sharp Fitness, with two locations in Wisconsin, had 350 members offer to keep their memberships unfrozen to support the staff and club. In return, they were given two 30-minute personal training sessions, three small group training sessions, upgraded membership, or a $25 gift card. According to general manager Jacob Thomas, only about 5% of those members actually cashed in on the incentives.

Spark Fitness and Tennis Club in Andover, MA reported approximately 25%t of their members continued paying for their memberships during the closure. During that time they put those names in a hat and chose 50 people that won a Spark T-shirt—“a small token, but greatly appreciated” says operations manager Janelle Boksanski.

“We made a fun social post out of it. Each team leader pulled names out of a hat/bucket while at home and it was recorded. Then we posted it. We are also sending personal thank you notes to those people,” she says.

These examples from IHRSA member clubs show that with a little flexibility and innovation clubs can come out on the other side of this global pandemic with just as strong a membership base as before. It’s worth noting that in almost every response, the club operator stressed that the backbone to their success is their loyal members and that maintaining trust with members by communicating throughout this pandemic is of utmost importance. They unanimously expressed that they had confidence in their communities to return because of the relationships they’ve worked so hard to build.

Related Articles & Publications

Author avatar

Carolynn Jordan

Carolynn Jordan previously served as IHRSA's Member Communication Specialist—a position that developed outreach for IHRSA members to gain knowledge on how to best use their benefits and stay engaged in the IHRSA community.