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Attrition: On Members Who Leave

2018-08-18T18:04:19-05:00 July 11th, 2018|Community, Gym Owner|0 Comments

One of the biggest mistakes we have made as gym owners has been focusing too much on our losses.

On more than one occasion, we found ourselves dwelling on the people we lost each month, trying to get to the bottom of why they left and how to make up for it.

One of the hardest things about being a gym owner is watching people cancel their memberships and leave.

Retention is something we are obsessed with in the fitness industry. Our ability to retain as many people as possible speaks to our product’s value, our ability to separate ourselves from our competition, and ultimately our success as business owners.

It’s a metric we live and die by. Not literally die, but sometimes it may feel close, when low retention numbers may signal our inability to provide for ourselves or our families.

Not only is it tough from a business perspective, but because our gyms become such tight communities, it’s not easy to see people no longer be apart of them.

We are in this business out of love, but we precariously balance that love with the nonnegotiable demand to provide a living for ourselves.

It feels a lot like dating sometimes. You show your members enthusiasm, and you try to put your best foot forward. But you also have to be comfortable that rejection can happen, and that when it comes to fitness options, there are “plenty of other fish in the sea.”

Being in the sales role is especially challenging. Lee, being the face of the gym, mainly deals with our prospective members, and he also prides himself in cultivating and sustaining those relationships as those prospective members become long-time members.

But when people go, it’s hard to not take it personally. It’s also tough to not become callous and view people as “numbers.” That’s a difficult reality gym owners face.

How do you balance being emotionally invested in people… but with boundaries? How do you balance caring about the revenue your memberships are bringing in… but value the relationships, too?

There’s a story I heard a long time ago, and upon Googling it, I came across its origin: a poem by Saxon White Kessinger, from 1959. It’s called “There is No Indispensable Man.”

Sometime when you’re feeling important;
Sometime when your ego’s in bloom
Sometime when you take it for granted
You’re the best qualified in the room,

Sometime when you feel that your going
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions
And see how they humble your soul;

Take a bucket and fill it with water, 
Put your hand in it up to the wrist, 
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining 
Is a measure of how you will be missed.

You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop and you’ll find that in no time
It looks quite the same as before.

The moral of this quaint example
Is do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There’s no indispensable man.

I am reminded of this analogy whenever we develop special relationships with members one day and see them go the next.

We eventually realized that when you focus on the people who leave, you neglect your loyal customers who are still around and happy to be there.

To retain our sanity and keep in perspective what is important over the long run, we realized that we must approach our gym like a bucket full of water.

Small gyms are communities before anything else. It is the communal “glue” that often keeps people around, and it is also that glue that makes it worth it for us and our coaches to do what we do.

Seeing people’s transformations at the gym, laughing with them, providing perspective on struggles they might be having, and even sharing beers with them – these are the moments that make it worth being gym owners for us. These are the moments that bring tears to our eyes and answer the question “Why? Why? Why?”

But to avoid the despair that comes with the inevitable departure of our members, we have to be in the business of quickly moving on.

Why? Because to do anything else is a disservice to the rest of our members.

Focus on the positive. Be in the moment.

All these sayings apply when it comes to handling attrition at your gym.

To take care of your current, loyal members and to alleviate any anxiety you might have about the members who leave your gym, have a short memory. Like how water in a bucket behaves when you pull your hand out of it, the second a member leaves, ensure you and your gym flood back into its place.

To alleviate attrition, focus on retention. Dwell on the people right in front of you. This will continue to serve not just your gym but you as a gym owner, too.

The summer is typically a slow season in the fitness industry. How do you offset it, or at the very least, endure it?

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I run CrossFit Lobo with my boyfriend Lee in San Antonio, TX. Writing about my journey as a gym owner and entrepreneur helps me to: appreciate where I am today, gain objectivity on my past experience and future decisions, and hopefully provide others with some perspective.

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