No one likes rush hour. The crowds, the slowness, the general irritation of having other people block your way — given the choice, most people would go far out of their way to avoid it. In fact, in a recent study by The Retention People, researchers found that the one complaint members of top-performing clubs have most often is that the clubs are too busy at peak times. This, of course, is good news for clubs: Too busy equals successful. But you have to balance that kind of success with retention. If your members become fed-up with crowded spaces and inadequate facilities, they might choose to leave and you’ll be stuck watching your retention rates sink.
Unfortunately for members, many of them do not have a choice about avoiding rush hour. They work regular business hours and tend to families, and that leaves few options for hitting the gym: before work, during lunch, or after work. In other words, rush hour. So what can you do to improve the rush hour experience for your members?
Interestingly, The Retention People study asked members a single question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it that you would recommend your health club to a friend or colleague? Respondents were categorized according to their ratings: “Promotors” gave their clubs a rating of 9 or 10, “Passives” a rating of 7 or 8, and “Detractors” a rating of 0 through 6. Respondents also were given the option of explaining their answer. Researchers then used scores and common phrases to identify issues. As far as the rush hour problem goes, some of the words detractors most commonly used were “crowded,” “changing rooms,” and “equipment,” in explaining their reasons for responding negatively. If you’re looking to improve rush hour, these are the areas you should focus on.
• Crowded: Assess the space in your facility. In particular, watch the flow of traffic into and out of the facility during peak times. Do customers wait in line to reach the front desk? If so, increase your front desk staff or consider whether you need to make staff changes. If employees are not the issue, is there another way to increase efficiency up front? Can you install automatic card readers (if you don’t have them already), so members can flash their IDs and go? What about other spaces in the facility? Where are the crowds? How can you even them out?
• Changing rooms: Assess your changing room areas. First of all, do you have the resources to expand them? If not, can you do a redesign? Ideally, of course, you want changing rooms to offer plenty of locker space, wide aisles for a free flow of traffic, and enough showers, bathroom stalls, and dressing-room spaces that customers never feel like they’re being made to wait. If your changing rooms are cramped or inadequate and reconstruction isn’t an option, can you designate secondary changing rooms (such as family rooms) for specific groups during rush hour only? Can you hire more attendants to ensure smoother operation?
• Equipment: Again, you need to assess your situation: Do you have enough desirable equipment — and enough space for it — that members never feel like they’re waiting for the treadmill, medicine ball, stationary bike, or whatever other item it might be that they want to use? If not, can you acquire more of the most sought-after pieces of equipment? Can you impose a rush-hour only time limit on those pieces?
It’s going to be impossible to give everyone everything they want during rush hour. Some members will have to wait sometimes. Some will have to grudgingly deal with time limits. Some will get fed up and leave. But if you can reduce the chances of losing members, it’s worth trying to do so. One other interesting thing to note about The Retention People study: Promotors at top-performing clubs — that is, members who rated the likelihood of their recommending the club to others very high — said that what they like about their club is the “fantastic staff”, “great service”, and “friendly team.” If reducing the rush hour crunch is too challenging, then you can always compensate with supreme customer service. That goes a long way toward solving every problem.