Thanks A Million!

Customer service, in the way of member appreciation programs, parties and gifts, can help thank members for their support, acknowledge them for their achievements, build relationships in your facility and create good PR in your community.

Competition in the fitness club industry is fierce. People have many choices available to them for spending their discretionary dollars. In any given market, competition comes from other fitness centers, home exercise equipment, outdoor walking trails, exercise DVDs, movie theaters, restaurants, shopping malls, putting gas in the car and food on the table - the list goes on. Each month, fitness centers invest significant dollars trying to obtain new members. However, this effort can be lessened by keeping the members you already have. Letting your loyal members know that you appreciate their patronage increases the length of your relationship with them.

Showing appreciation to members runs the gamut from doing simple things like giving them a small gift or mailing them a hand-written thank you card, to an elaborate gala or a free concert to all members and their friends. What you do for your appreciation effort will depend on the goal you have and the resources of money and time that are available to you. Whatever you do, this form of customer service can bring in additional members through positive word-of-mouth, and help you to keep your current members happy and coming back.

Many ways to say "thank you"

To get the biggest bang for your buck, create an experience for your members that they will buzz about for days, weeks and even months. There are limitless ways you can thank your members. Here are just some ideas:

Hold a sale. Nothing says "thank you" more than a really big sale. People go crazy over huge savings. Offer discounts on services, products or family memberships for a limited time. Have a one-day-only sale in the pro-shop offering a significant percent off all or select items.

Tie your marketing for this members-only event to the message of appreciation. And, if possible, tie it into a milestone - "Club Fit's 10-Year Anniversary 10-Day Member Appreciation Event!"

Offer rebates. Give a rebate (say, 10 percent) for monthly dues for one month. Put the rebate back onto members' accounts so that they can use it to purchase products or services in your fitness center.

Throw in something extra. If members purchase eight sessions of a service (personal training, massage, nutrition, tennis, child care, etc.), they receive three additional complimentary sessions as a one-time thank you.

Create a coupon book. Issue all members a coupon book that includes coupons for most of your services and products. Include area business' coupons, as well.

Get it in writing

One of the most personal and easy things you can do to show your members how much you appreciate them is to simply send each adult member a hand-addressed, hand-written thank you note. Sales reps can also send a hand-written note to new members upon joining. Why not send all members a note of appreciation at least once a year?

If you have 7,000 members and 70 employees, each employee can write to 100 members. That breaks down to five hand-written notes a day (Monday through Friday) over a four-week period. Or, spread your appreciation note mailing out over a 12-month period. The notes can be written during your employees' regular shifts (with no additional payroll costs). Make sure your team uses good penmanship so the notes are legible, and that they keep the message short and simple. Think about scripting five different messages, and instruct your staff to rotate the message they write on the cards. This will ensure that individuals living in the same house will receive a different message. Scripting also ensures that what is written is exactly what you want to say, uses good grammar and contains no spelling errors.

Your costs for this service include stationery and first-class postage. Why not throw in a couple of guest passes and coupons for services while you are at it? In today's technological world, hand-written notes are becoming scarce, and are therefore special.

Say it with snacks

In addition to notes, food can also let your members know how much you appreciate them. Choose a day to offer complimentary snacks in your facility's lobby. Set up a festive table and provide snacks for two to three hours - preferably at a peak time when you will reach the most people (holidays, when people are not working, are great choices). Post the message, "Thank You for Being a Member" on a sign near the table. Have a few staff members stay next to the table to talk with your members. You can use this event to cross promote items you sell for consumption (nutrition bars, bottled water, dried fruit and nuts), or partner with a nearby restaurant or caterer who is interested in your members as patrons. A partnership is a win for you (no cost to provide snacks), a win for the members (they get to enjoy great food) and a win for the business (opportunity to market their wares).

Party down

A more elaborate customer service idea is to host an appreciation party for all members. One plan is to hold a "Workout Party" right on the fitness floor, where members can exercise while they enjoy the high-energy atmosphere you create. Plan your party to be two hours in length on a busy night of the week. Contract with a live disc jockey to provide music. If you need to, rent speakers or use the speakers from your group exercise studio. Decorate the entire fitness area with bright colors or a theme. Rent a portable dance floor and set it up in the middle of the area to give your fitness center a night-club feel. Offer complimentary food and drink, and make sure you have enough to last the entire two hours.

Two weeks prior to the party, have your staff wear "Workout Party" T-shirts - make sure they are so cool that members will want to know how they can get one. Award these "cool" T-shirts during the party to those members who complete the Workout Party Challenge (whatever you decide that will be). Give away a lot of shirts. Include additional give-away prizes to promote your services and products.

Make this a free guest day to generate leads for sales. Publicize the party in the facility via posters, flyers and the T-shirts. Send an email to all members and, if your budget allows, mail them a postcard. Pick a theme, and make sure your marketing clearly tells members that this is an event to honor them in appreciation for being a member.

Find their niche

It is not necessary to acknowledge all of your members at one time. Although all members are important to you, members who use your fitness center regularly should be acknowledged for their support of your facility, and to keep their motivation levels up. Think about hosting a small appreciation event each month that targets niche groups. Start with the groups that exhibit the highest level of camaraderie, such as racquet sports participants, older adults who attend aquatics exercise classes, group exercise class participants, sports league participants, or participants enrolled in a paid group program, like weight management or nutrition classes.

Danke! Gracias! Shukran! Merci!

If finding ways to show appreciation leaves you tongue-tied, there are companies and events that can help you say "thank you" in any language.
  • Too busy? No resources? A company called Thanks-a-Billion ( offers a hand-written thank you note service.
  • Need a reminder to thank your customers? National Thank Your Customers Week is the first full working week in January.
  • Thinking about planning a large member appreciation open house? Hire a public relations firm or consultant who has experience in staging and organizing large events.

Since these members have a current relationship with each other and with the instructor/trainer, marketing the event is easy. A simple invitation and word-of-mouth advertising is all you need. Email and phone follow-up is recommended, as well as asking for an RSVP. The awards banquet concept works well with these groups, such as awards for perfect attendance, most years as a member, most weight lost, etc. Always provide food and drinks that will last for the entire length of the event.

If individual departments, such as aquatics group exercise instructors or racquetball coordinators, organize holiday luncheons for participants or a potluck dinner as a follow-up to a tournament, why not provide support to these groups by allocating to them a budget and a team of people to assist them in planning?

While niche group events work great individually, think about maximizing your effort by combining all of your groups into one larger party. Involve the instructor/trainer for each group in the planning and execution. Task them to be responsible for motivating their members to attend the event.

Mark the milestones

In all fitness centers, there are special members who contribute to its success. These individuals warrant special thanks for their contributions. For example, honor members who, in the past 12 months, have exercised in the facility 50 or more days, referred five or more members, spent an average of $500 per month on products and services, or lost a certain amount of weight or body fat.

Members who have achieved personal success in your facility become your biggest fans, and talk about your fitness center to everyone they see. Hosting an invitation-only event like a cocktail party, wine tasting, barbeque or night out at the ballpark for their family will certainly make them feel appreciated. Or, deliver a high-quality gift to their home or office with a personal card that expresses specifically how they have helped to make your fitness center better.

Focus on infrequent members

It is tough to get members who use your fitness center infrequently to attend any of the events mentioned above. For the most part, infrequent users have failed to establish a connection to your facility, other members or staff. These people need to feel that they are getting value from their membership. Since they are not using the club regularly, what type of event would they be most apt to attend?

The answer is a really fabulous party. A party done on a large scale that is strictly social in nature can get their attention. Provide even more impact by combining your member appreciation party with an open house. This event is designed not only to thank your current members for their support, but it allows them to bring their friends as a guest (remember, infrequent facility users have no strong connections in the club, so they will need their friends at their side). When done correctly, you will gain new members, and generate revenue as a result of the party.

Remember that large parties require an adequate budget and are time consuming to organize. They take months to plan, and require a committee of people to make everything happen as it should. If you are going to take this on, please, do it right. A poorly planned and executed event can actually hurt your reputation more than not having an event at all.

Have an annual plan

Member appreciation programs and events can be simple or elaborate, inexpensive or lavish. You know your members, and are aware of your available resources. Choose what works best for you, and create an annual customer service/member appreciation plan that includes consistent and sincere acknowledgement of the valuable people who keep you in business.
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