Why a gym membership doesn’t equal results

Sam Theyers is an experienced fitness director with two decades global industry experience. Most recently Head of Fitness at Anytime Fitness Australia, Sam has been instrumental in the development and rollout of new products and services which increase participation and results while supporting retention, across more than 450 clubs. As former National Head of Fitness for LA Fitness, UK, Sam was responsible for growing attendance to its highest level, without exceeding budget.

We spoke to Sam about:
– Delivering products and services which keep members engaged
– The alternatives to personal training when it comes to retention and secondary spend
– How to get more members achieving results


How would you summarise the typical gym offering and what would you say are the limitations?

Within the standard gym offering, products and programming typically engage around 40% of members; roughly 30% will take part in group fitness and a further 10% will have a PT. This means 60% are left to fend for themselves. Whilst some may be motivated, confident and engaged, the majority will flounder without support. Member retention is heavily linked with results. If members aren’t seeing results they become disengaged and you risk losing them from your club.

“We should be mindful that traditional group classes don’t generally result in a change in body shape”

Group fitness is considered to aid member retention, but we should be mindful that traditional group classes don’t generally result in a change in body shape. Whilst it’s great social motivation, the inevitable lack of progress can result in disengaged members. Group exercise can also be intimidating for new exercisers or those with body confidence issues, failing to engage them in the first place.

It’s fair to say that if PT was free everyone would want it, so we have to consider why 90% of people are saying no – and that has to come down to price. I believe we should be offering more PT-style products at an affordable price to engage more members and ensure they get the results that will keep them coming back.


What are the best ways to engage members in a gym environment?

Have a multitude of offerings; competitive, social and educational:
– Competitive = hardcore fitness like Insanity or Crossfit.
– Social = people meet others and have fun, like in a Zumba class.
– Educational = science-based sessions, involving data/ heart rate monitors, run by an exercise physiologist.

This applies to gym floor programming and your group exercise timetable too, they need to cover all three areas to be well rounded. Employ PTs suited to teaching the different types of offering and who come from different backgrounds to appeal to all types of member.

I believe there is also a huge opportunity in bringing back dedicated fitness instructors who walk the floor, engaging with members. This is a great stepping stone role into PT but it doesn’t have to be a feeder role. We shouldn’t be afraid to employ fitness instructors for the longer term. Members love consistency and being able to say hello and chat to the same team month in month out is a big plus.


How can a club build on their PT or group fitness model to engage more members?

Talk to your members. Find out what additional fitness programming they want and develop more products to fit. Avoid anything too niche because it has a sell by date, and aim to build your products out into a broad offering.

“A gym owner should always know the percentage of members who have a PT”

When it comes to group fitness start by identifying what is popular within the market. This should be the foundation of your timetable. Build on this to catch the outliers – people who wouldn’t normally do group fitness – look at strength, physique, rehab, calisthenics and other emerging trends.

Spend time and energy upskilling your staff. Whatever your PT model – and whether they are contracted or employed – strong staff management is key to ensuring your PT team feels supported and is performing well. A gym owner should always know the percentage of members who have a PT and there will always be a massive opportunity for growth as there will be a large percentage of members not engaged.


As fitness becomes more synonymous with technology, should we be embracing more high tech experiences?

Tech helps take experiences to the mass market but we often use tech to replace people. What we really need to do is bring back human beings and then use tech to amplify experiences. Although we are using more technology within the gym environment, I don’t believe it will be truly successful until it can monitor a range of data without our input. Who has the time or inclination to input every exercise they performed or food item they ate?

Humans can listen, connect and motivate – the fitness instructor on the gym floor can hear about your difficult day and find a way to connect with you and motive you through your session in a way that tech can’t. But tech plus a person… that’s a success story. For example, it can be hugely effective when used by PTs for tracking and monitoring client progress.


How important is customer service on the gym floor? What opportunities do clubs have to develop their customer experience?

There is still huge validity in walking the gym floor to engage with members. A good fitness instructor should be able to scan the gym floor, recognise who needs a ‘how was your day’, who needs help and support and who not to interrupt but just to give a thumbs up.

This is where tracking or CRM is invaluable. If your instructors can say, “Hey Sam, I saw you were in here yesterday and completed a 5km run on the treadmill – great work!” Or “how was your squat session yesterday?” It makes the member feel part of the club, and believe the staff are invested in their journey.

This sort of activity is essential in building bonds with your members and makes a massive difference to attendance and retention. It should be entirely separate to selling PT.


What do you think is the perfect gym floor experience/ model? And what do you think is the gym experience of the future?

For me they are the same. The perfect gym would have active games, group fitness and OCR. It would be a huge playground where I can choose from a selection of activities under one roof, based on how I feel on a given day. I turn up, someone interacts with me in the right way, and I can train however I want.

At some point, someone will gather together a range of different fitness facilities and put them into one mega space – like a shopping mall of fitness – where we can browse and make our selection based on our mood.


Posted in Gyms & Clubs, Interviews, The Fitness Network.