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Anytime You Start a New Adventure in Your Life, You Should Expect a Beating
Originally Posted 03/28/11

Take snow boarding for example. The learning curve for this sport is fairly vicious. During the first three hours of your first day on the board, most beginner snow boarders follow this sequence: face, ass, face, ass, face, ass, beer, nap. After the nap, most can usually navigate an easy hill and by the next day most can be fairly comfortable cruising large chunks of the mountain. It isn’t a pretty progression, but it is what most beginners endure to get into the sport.

Joining a new fitness facility has the same nasty learning curve; only we have found a way in this industry to extend that curve for weeks instead of hours making the transition from beginner to intermediate last for a painful month instead of a harsh morning. The sequence for new fitness beginners looks like this: embarrassment, soreness, embarrassment, soreness, embarrassment, soreness, frustration, go less often and then just quit because this crap doesn’t work anyway.

The beginner fitness person is the most neglected in the facility and the first 30 days that person is with us is when we are most likely to lose him forever. He is vulnerable because of the newness of the activity, the learning curve is high and because he must endure pain for at least a month without much in the way of noticeable results. Sweat hard now and maybe you will get lucky and something will happen to your body out there somewhere in the future.

A few blogs a go I talked about the induction process and how important it is to slow down the first experience with a potential member and actually teach him something about working out. Once the person is in the system, you then need to make sure the first 30 days is life changing in a positive way. He needs a lot of support and if you can get him grounded and moving forward during this time period, then you can probably keep him staying longer and paying longer as a member.

He will stay because he gets results and because he feels supported in the club. If he fails during the first 30 days, he might keep paying for a while because he is honest but he won’t stay forever and he is definitely not going to refer or become a renewal or long-term extension.

Pain is best endured with a buddy. I refer to pain here in many dimensions. Pain for the beginner is physical as the body reacts to new exercise; it is mental because he must learn new things that makes him feel like a small child again, especially when it comes to swinging that baby kettle bell for the first time in front of an instructor that just set his 28k on the floor, and the pain also comes from the stress of adjusting his life around the need to find time to workout several times a week. Breaking routines, especially when you are replacing the old with something new that is physically challenging, is harder than most of you training geeks remember.

As mentioned above, pain is best endured with a buddy. One of the most important things you can do to keep a new member in the system longer, and perhaps the most important, is to facilitate the opportunity for the beginner to share his first 30 days with a buddy. Sharing the adventure, and the tough parts, with a friend makes it seem more like an adventure and less like you are taking the beating privately and that you are the only loser currently experiencing this process.

Based upon this idea, set a tight system that allows all new members to go through the first 30 days with a friend or buddy every time he works out. For example, you sign up a new member that is a 30-year-old female. Make sure she has the ability to bring a sister, friend or co-worker every time she is in the club during the first 30 days. It can be the same person each time or it can be a different person every time. It doesn’t matter just as long as she has someone in her life to share this new adventure with every day.

Think about is from a different viewpoint. She loses five pounds the first week and is excited but whom is she going to tell: Her worthless husband sitting on the couch at home watching sports and eating crap? This guy secretly hopes she fails because he feels guilty every time she leaves for the club. How about someone at work? Nothing is more obnoxious than having a friend that is getting healthy and you’re not.

If this member, however, experiences fitness during her most vulnerable period with someone that is at her side, she now has someone to commiserate with over coffee after the workout, someone to call during the day to check workout times and someone to shop with for those smaller pants. Sidekicks are not only good support; they become good business for you because they keep your client in your club longer.

Here is a tool you can use today to help your new members become more successful and grounded during their first month with you. Yes, it will provide more leads, but the most important thing is that this system will add more retention over time because your new client had a chance to get grounded during the beginning.

Each new member should get a letter in an envelope that uses some version of the following copy. I have seen someone owners use postcards but I think a letter looks like we are more concerned about the person and less concerned about just getting a buddy in the club. Give this at point of sale and explain it verbally first.

Dear new member,

We know from our years of experience that your first 30 days are always the most exciting and difficult part of a new routine. You will start to feel better, look better and changes will happen.

We also know that this will be your most trying time as you adapt to a new routine in your life. Fitness may be new to you and it will take a full month before coming to the club becomes part of your normal routine. We can tell you now that you will feel a little frustrated because you are learning new things, you will feel a little stressed because you are changing your life to make fitness a core thing you do at least twice per week and you might also feel a little excited as you see your first changes in your overall fitness.

Members that get the most out of fitness are the ones who get grounded during their first month with us. You will simply be more successful if you can get the most out of your first 30 days with us. Give it 30 days and we can change your life.

We also know that you will get more involved and perhaps work a little harder if you have a buddy who will share your new experience; therefore, we strongly encourage you to bring a friend or relative with your every single time you workout during your first 30 days. Use the same person or change support people if that fits your schedule better. Sharing your new adventure with a friend will simply add more to the experience, give you someone to talk to also eliminate the excuse that maybe you don’t feel like it tonight. It is hard not to go today when your buddy just texted you that he is on his way.

We want you to get the most out of being a member and get the best results you can, therefore, we do not charge for your guests during your first month. Come on, think about it; you’re going to lose 10 pounds and get into your best shape in years, you need someone to tell.
Control the first 30 days and they will stay longer and pay longer. Make this personal, worry more about the client’s experience rather than just tagging a buddy deal and you will have members who are more grounded and happy in your system.

Original Comments:

Wayne kosbe-

Thom, thanks for all your great ideas and getting me to focus on getting better every day, I have been following you and getting a dose of your reality !! for over 15 years, and you are the most honest straight forward "friend” in our business, sometimes brutally honest, yes I fired "Freddie” today and paid more for somebody better (got me again) thanks again, next bottle of wine is one me !! your friend, wayne kosbe, Atlanta

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Thomas Plummer-

Wayne, I didn’t even know you were still alive!

The only thing worse than Freddies are relatives you can’t fire because you could never go to a family event again.

We are in Florida in two weeks. New material for the year and you might be due.

Thanks for all the support over the years.

Thom

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Joseph-

This is Brilliant Thom. Excellent Integration and retention idea for newbies!

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Chrismrowlands-

If we’re offering 30 day trial for 19 how could we work this in?

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Kym Wimbis-

Hi Chris,

I am a big fan of the paid trial, especially the 30 day trial; I would be interested in hearing of your experience with them.

In our experience Trial Memberships are overwhelmingly used by beginners who can really benefit from the social support…

One of the recommendations that we make in our report "The Leading Box is Dead…Long Live iPos” (soon to be released) is for a FREE PASS to be included with a New Member Welcome Letter.

The FREE PASS is a bit different to your other free passes… one side is a typical Free Day Pass but on the other is a paid Trial guest Pass (which confers all the benefits on the Trial Membership). The Trial Guest Pass is priced at around 50% of the Trial so for you it could be 9.95.

The rationale is that it is even better value than your Trial Membership and so the Trial Member will tell all of their friends and do their best to try and "recruit” someone to the club with them to improve their own experience (there is safety in numbers) and take advantage of the great value Trial Guest Pass (They don’t want it to "go to waste”).

The friend gets to elect which offer they will take up when they present at the club. Of course most will opt for the better value Trial guest Pass over the Free Day Pass and those that don’t were probably not a high quality lead anyway (you will still collect their details so you can market to them in the future).

In line with Thom’s philosophy of allowing everyone the opportunity to have someone with them for every workout during the first 30 days… if their friend does elect to take up the Free Day Pass you can simply return the Trial guest Pass/Free Day Pass to the Trial Membership member so that they can use it again for their next workout (say something like "it seems like a waste to use it for one session ..see if you can get someone else to tri it”).

Let me know what you think…

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Thomas Plummer-

Hi Kym and Chris,

We just finished our Atlanta three day and handed out your first report Kym. It started a nice discussion.

The guest letter was designed for new members only and we have not tested it on trials. It seemed at the time to have more impact on someone who had moved one step further and who was now committed. I would still use it for new only however try it with trials and see if it works. Maybe you are on to something here.

It does need to be formal and not look like a cheap throwaway to get referrals so use it with real people who you are actually trying to save. Remember, it was designed to keep retention high, not just to get guests. Following Kym’s thoughts, this seems to help move them along the path faster from newbie to intermediate.

The trial marketing is designed for all levels. One weird thing we found early was that it did attract experienced people who were currently grounded in other clubs. The trial gives them a chance to try your club out at a low risk and then if they like it they come back when their current membership expires. We didn’t expect that response but it was interesting.

Thanks for the comments.

Thom

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Chrismrowlands-

We’ve been running the 30 day trial for 19 for some time with great success for our ‘tryers’.

However, how do we try and avoid ‘buyers’ using them as getting a cheaper first months membership>

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Kym Wimbis-

I think that this is a perceptual problem… it feels like we are getting ripped off when "buyers” use trial memberships (it’s quite natural to feel this way… although not terribly productive).

In fact, it is actually positive. Depending on who you listen to member acquisition costs run somewhere between $100 and $200. If you have more experienced members joining on a trial (to save a few dollars) your acquisition costs will be only a discounted first month… well under the industry average.

Furthermore, buyers will, on average, stay longer and require less service than tryers, so their lifetime value will be significantly higher than your genuine tryers.

My advice is to embrace them… overcome your natural tendency to feel exploited and to become antagonistic towards them, chances are they will be some of your most profitable members… and you’ve got to love them for that.

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Kym Wimbis-

Thom… I think it might be an artificial distinction to say that trial members are less likely to benefit from social support in the club, in fact I believe that they would benefit the most.

It is interesting that more advanced members do use trial memberships, in your assessment what percentage are more advanced?

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Thomas Plummer-

Maybe as high as 30 percent in more sophisticated markets. We try to do everything we can to get everyone involved in the culture of the club during the trial

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Bwiningar-

This is so true I love the letter.

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Kym Wimbis-

Hi Thom… you are 100% right. In fact, in my next (soon to be released) report I make the distinction between referrals (which the club does to generate leads) and recruitment (which the member, especially the beginner, does to improve their own experience i.e. make it less intimidating, stressful, confusing, etc).

By providing the beginner with a means to "recruit” the club perceived to be doing the member a favour rather than, more self-servingly, expecting new members to refer their friends… especially when they haven’t even decided if they have made the right decision for themselves yet. I wrote a post on this last year that you can check out here http://accessfit.typepad.com/a

The beginner will willingly recruit (even without additional inducements) because it benefits them, but will less willingly refer because it is quite obviously intended to benefit the club.

And as you quite rightly point out, the scientific literature overwhelmingly demonstrates that people with social support adhere better to their exercise programs and consistently achieve better outcomes.

I would suggest that if it is the same person each time that the beginner "recruits” it will increase the chances of turning that person into a member as well… meaning better lead generation (for the business) and better retention for both.

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Thomas Plummer-

Thank you for the comments Kym. It was you who started me down this path of thought with your first repot. As soon as the next one is out let’s get some of it posted here so everyone else can get a taste and then order it themselves. Everyone who missed my first comments on Kym should read the first report as a base tool to start thinking about your members and how they go through the process as a new member and how we should help them progress.

Thom.

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Kym Wimbis-

We have had to push back the release date to the end of April but I’ll give you a sneak peak right now… if you check out my response to Chris above. I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts

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Matt-

Great ideas Tom. I’ve got to believe the guest signs up in a high percentage of instances so a win for all!

Once upon a time I would reject it but we’ve had great success with getting people in our programs via gift cards. This idea just takes it to the next level.

Thanks for the idea and letter.

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Frankkole-

The letter to the members is really good! Thanks!

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