They say, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” and this proverb holds true in both business and social interactions. Did you know that our minds form their first impressions of others within the first 7 seconds of an interaction? Similarly, consumers often either fall in love with or are completely repelled by a product based on their first interaction with it, and beginners at a health club are no exception. Research has demonstrated a distinct correlation between unsuccessful onboarding programs and canceled memberships, pinpointing the first month of attendance as the key to member retention. Members are most impressionable at the start of their journeys, and their success is contingent on getting off to a running start.

Onboarding begins with expectations. Each new joiner harbors expectations of the staff, the facilities, and themselves. They probably have their own goals and unique metrics by which they measure success, and they may or may not require support and intervention by staff and trainers. In turn, gyms have expectations of customers, namely, their loyalty and further investment in their services. So how can a fitness center properly set the groundwork for this highly conditional relationship? Although many clubs have the best of intentions, there are 3 things that many of them get wrong about onboarding new joiners:

1. When it comes to member experience, one size does not fit all

People join gyms for many different reasons, from marathon training to fitting into a wedding dress, learning to swim, or easing anxiety with a weekly hour of yoga. They also have varying levels of previous experience.  Maybe they’re joining a new club because they grew tired of the facilities at their previous one, or maybe they’re seeking out a more affordable option. Just as often, the start of a membership might be the very first time someone is making a deliberate investment in their health and wellbeing. These member archetypes are not at equal risk of disengagement or quitting, nor are they equally likely to purchase additional club services. Identical onboarding experiences may draw one person in while intimidating another and pushing the third away entirely.

Personalizing a member’s journey is never more vital or more difficult than at its start. Since you cannot meet a customers needs until you’ve determined what they are, effectively gathering information is as essential as effectively utilizing it. What inspired the member to join? How long ago did they set out on their fitness journey, and do they have a particular goal for this stage? Personalized content and marketing drive sales, and personalized member experiences drive retention, referrals, and secondary spend.

2. Clubs set expectations too high

Most clubs start their new members off with an induction led by one of the facility’s trainers.  The trainer is enthusiastic about the new member and excited to help them achieve their goals, so they make a plan guaranteed to help them hit their goal weight by summer: three 60-minute sessions per week, a yoga class on the weekends to aid recovery, and a rigorous diet plan that will have them shedding a pound a week for 36 weeks.

The problems start to arise when, in the second week, the member misses a day because they have to work late.  Now they’re frustrated at losing momentum, so they treat themselves to some fast food on the way home.  Two weeks later, it’s been almost a month and they’ve only lost a pound from where they started, and suddenly the program that had them so excited seems insurmountable.  This is the exact moment when their motivation fails, they say “Oh what the hell,” and resign themselves to failure, promising it will be different next year.

In fitness, commitment breeds success and success inspires further commitment, meaning that novices should focus on consistency and achievable goals.  Fitness clubs should initially set the bar for success at one or two short sessions per week, helping members earn small wins and establish momentum.  Exercise is a Keystone Habit, so members who succeed in getting into a regular routine will have a much easier time adopting more rigorous routines, improving their diet, and more further down the line.

3. Clubs upsell too hard and too early

Many gyms treat newcomers as fresh opportunities to sell additional products and services. Since they cannot predict the duration of a novice’s commitment, the staff rushes to extract as much value as possible up front. They have mastered up-selling and cross-selling, enticing consumers with fashionable gym wear, a new training package or a drink from the café.

But in this way, the fear of short term membership can become a self-fulfilling-prophecy. While an aggressively sales-oriented staff might earn a quick buck from secondary spend, they will discourage membership renewal just as fast. Few things are more off-putting to a new joiner than feeling like they’re being ripped off.  While some of the accessories and ancillary services offered by a club might genuinely bring value to a member, for most, a jug of protein powder won’t be the thing that helps them achieve the goals that brought them there in the first place.

As we established in a previous article, long term members are a worthy investment - not only justifying the cost of acquisition, but also spending far more on additional services than any walk-in or newcomer. If a gym really wants to extract maximum value from novices, it’s actually more effective to provide top notch service and help them succeed, thereby turning newcomers into a loyal customer base.


New members are often testing the waters, curious if paying membership will finally motivate them to stick to a fitness plan. If they discover it won’t, it’s all too easy to give up and try again somewhere else next year.  Design a club that fosters determination, consistency and sustainable motivation, and your members will pay you back in spades.

CoachAi provides new members with a personalized experience that helps them build the momentum they need to achieve their goals. Learn more 👉