Cultivating Corporate Membership Programs | Athletic Business

Cultivating Corporate Membership Programs

[Illustrations by Arnel Reynon]
[Illustrations by Arnel Reynon]

I'm not sure there is a health club out there that doesn't target local businesses with offers of a corporate membership for their employees. Some employers simply want to add such memberships to their checklist of employee perks while others are truly interested in improving the health and wellbeing of their workers.

Before we sell a membership or a service to any individual, we first need to assess the needs of that individual. It's the same with a company. We have to assess the needs of both the company itself and the needs of its employees before we know what services to offer them.

We break down our corporate membership options into different categories based on the size of the business (number of employees), and the level of interest and commitment that the company is going to devote to this program.

The majority of our corporate accounts are small, local businesses with anywhere from five to 50 employees. For all intents and purposes, this is a group of individuals who have decided to work out together and support each other along the road to better health. There is usually little or no support from the company itself, meaning each person will be paying their own dues. We like to offer these groups some kind of discount (usually by waiving enrollment fees) to encourage them to join the club en masse.

Small groups such as these still need to go through a needs assessment so we know what type of services we can offer them. We also want to involve these groups in different programs, such as weight-loss competitions or attendance competitions, that pit one company against another. We might buy the winning team a catered lunch to celebrate. The more involved they are, the more the program will grow. As a bonus for us, they often bring their spouses and friends to the club.

We are currently adding a local daycare and a local bank to our list of small corporate members. It can take anywhere from a week to several months to set up this type of account, and we give them a deadline — "Join before Aug. 1 to receive your corporate pricing" — to encourage as many employees as possible to join right away to get the program off the ground.

Another type of corporate account is a group in which the employer takes an active role in the health/wellness program to encourage a healthful lifestyle among employees. The employer is sometimes willing to subsidize a portion of the membership (usually one half or one third) and/or arrange for a payroll deduction option so employees can pay their membership fee directly out of their paycheck.

These companies are large enough (100 or more employees) to have a dedicated HR department that can assist with such arrangements. We waive all enrollment fees and also discount our monthly dues — since we will have a cost savings on billing services, and payroll deductions reduce the likelihood of bounced payments.

Feet in the Door

• Ask existing club members about partnership inroads into their workplace

• Use online research to identify HR contacts at local companies

• Offer membership discounts to employees first, if company involvement is slow-moving

• Submit formal RFP to partner in a health/wellness program with larger companies

• Visit workplaces during wellness days or benefits fairs, or offer your staff to conduct Lunch & Learn presentations

We also insist on "access" to employees so that we can grow the program. We will place an Elevations employee on site for staff meetings to talk about the benefits of regular exercise and to explain how the program works. If the company has an employee wellness day or benefits fair, we want to be there. We encourage different departments to invite us in for Lunch & Learn talks on a variety of health-related topics.

Getting a foot in the door can take time with larger companies. You can start by asking employees who are already club members for a name to contact at the company. Or you can simply go online to find a contact in HR. It can also help if there is a director or general manager who is a "workout person" and believes in promoting a healthful lifestyle for everyone in the company.

Because it may take a year or more to set up the account, you might want to start by offering employees a discount — without any input or effort from the company itself. Once you feel you have a good base of employees, you can then approach the company with a plan to expand your services to all of their employees.

We have a local fire department and two resort hotels that have programs similar to this. Employees go to their HR departments to sign up. They then bring a voucher to the club indicating that they have signed up for a membership. We have them fill out our membership application, but we invoice their company on the first of the month for their dues payments.

The white elephant of corporate accounts is a large employer (several thousand employees) that wants to drive a new/existing wellness initiative and wants your club to be a part of it. These programs are usually several years in the making and you may have to submit a formal RFP (request for proposal) outlining exactly what services you plan to provide and how much it will cost. This employer will subsidize membership fees (10 percent to 90 percent) in exchange for a reduced dues point.

Hopefully, it will be a true partnership and the employer will encourage your input on a variety of health-related issues. However, these large companies often use their buying power to secure cheap memberships, and you could be left managing a program that takes up a lot of time for little return. It's up to you to ask questions and to get a feel for what type of relationship this employer would like to have with your club.

We have one large account like this. We offer this company a significant discount in exchange for access to several thousand employees. Its employees pay a small fee to the club, and we invoice the employer for the balance of the membership fee.

While it is a profitable relationship, it is not without its costs. Getting our message out to their employees can be difficult. We are on site for different employee events several times a year at no cost to the employer. We do this to maintain a good relationship but also to have as many opportunities as possible to connect with employees.

These large accounts are the exception. Getting a foot in the door to even be a part of the bidding process could take years of cultivating relationships. Even then, you may spend months or years getting to know your contact in a company's HR department only to see your contact leave the company or transfer to a new position, leaving you to start over with their replacement. This has happened to us three times in the past two years with one local resort company.

If your club is anything like ours, the vast majority of your corporate memberships are going to be with small companies, so we recommend focusing your efforts on these groups. Take good care of small groups and use their success to market to similar groups in the area.

The local fire department that we have been working with over the past year has helped us to reach out to a few other area fire departments, and we're encouraging these other departments to develop a program similar to the one we already have in place. You'll find that your existing corporate accounts can be a rich source of referrals to other corporate accounts — if you treat them well.

This article originally appeared in the January | February 2017 issue of Athletic Business with the title "The hard work of cultivating corporate membership programs" Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.


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