5 Steps To Fostering Community And Culture In Your Gym

Building a thriving community and incredible culture in your gym or studio is an essential part of any successful business. But it requires more than simply hosting a couple of events for members. Brad Cunningham explains.

A 2023 Wellness Index by Mindbody found that over one-third of people are looking to wellness for connection opportunities. Working from home, online shopping and a reduction in daily face-to-face interactions as a whole, has people searching elsewhere to gain this sense of connection. As a fitness business, whether you are aware of it or not, providing connection is likely a fundamental part of your offering.

Remember, people will be drawn to your gym or studio to achieve results and/or create connections.

Here’s the thing: creating a strong community and fostering genuine connections can’t be artificially manufactured. Hosting a few social events or holding an occasional ‘bring your buddy’ day won’t quite cut it. It needs to be woven into every fibre of your business, from that first phone call or interaction, to how you conduct your training sessions, and even to how you treat members who wish to cancel.

Here are my top five strategies for building a stronger community:

1. Make a great first impression

How someone feels the moment they start doing business with you matters a lot. Did they feel seen and heard, or did they feel like they were being churned through a sales funnel?

First impressions now begin at a digital level. So, how effectively does your digital presence showcase your gym community? It’s crucial to frequently post genuine photos and videos of members enjoying themselves, interacting, and engaging in activities beyond the gym walls. Remember, authentic moments matter. People will see through the forced high fives for the camera. By capturing these genuine interactions and sharing them frequently you will draw more people into your community.

Assuming your digital presence is solid, how does that translate into the first in-person experience for those exploring or trying out your gym/studio?

Focus on doing the little things really well (and authentically):

Understanding their history and challenges is key. Merely walking through the facility, pointing out your top-notch equipment means jack, unless you can demonstrate how it will meet their specific needs.

People no longer want to be ‘sold a membership’. These days, instead, they just want help. They want you to be their trusted advisor and help them come up with the best solution that will work for them. So, to do this, you simply need to get to know them, genuinely care about their reasons for showing up today; and then, once you’ve established what they need, how much time they can dedicate to training, and the level of support they seek, you can then introduce the programs, products and services you offer that will align perfectly with their goals. Then, encourage them to give it a try.

When you deliver an experience that is world-class, you can sit back and watch as they eagerly sign up for more.

Merely walking through the facility, pointing out your top-notch equipment means jack, unless you can demonstrate how it will meet their specific needs.

2. Increase your member lifespan

Your next goal should be to keep them training, of course… and for a long time! We proudly boast an average 4.5-year member lifespan which is pretty rare.

A 2020 IHRSA report revealed that a shocking 50% of all new gym members cancel within the first six months! I can’t help but wonder what exactly transpires (or fails to transpire) for these members during those initial six months.

To significantly extend member retention and avoid this happening in your fitness business, implement a Member Care Plan for the first year. This plan should focus on three key areas:

Help new members feel a part of the community

Introduce them to other members and your team. Personally invite them to upcoming club events. Add them to a private members’ Facebook group and welcome them with a warm post, encourage people to jump on and welcome them too (start this by asking your team and long-term members to get the ball rolling).

Make sure new members have all the resources they need to achieve their goals

Do they know they can book a goal-setting session? Or do you offer testing or measuring? Do you offer nutritional support? How do they get access to this? Remind them to take advantage of these services regularly (people will seek this help elsewhere if they don’t know you offer it).

Encourage attendance check-ins

As mentioned earlier, make sure your members are attending at least 2.5 to 3 times each week. Identify members who are dropping off, and send them a personalised message to check-in. 

3. Relationships first

If we haven’t heard from a member for four weeks, after repeated attempts to contact them, we will cancel their membership. This is because I’d prefer they share with their friends that we cancelled their membership due to non-attendance, rather than complain we kept charging them while they weren’t showing up. Our priority is the member relationship, not the revenue from their absence. This strategy can go a long way to building strong, trust-based relationships and a great reputation.

We prioritise regular, personal check-ins with our members. According to a 2018 IHRSA report, just two genuine staff interactions can reduce cancellation risks by up to 33%. These interactions don’t need to be elaborate or well-systemised; in fact, authenticity matters more. Whether through a quick text or a brief conversation before or after a session, these moments keep members feeling connected to our community.

4. Remove the barriers

Unless there’s a legitimate reason (i.e., they’re moving out of the area), having people jump through hoops to cancel their membership is making it far more likely that they’ll never want to come back. 

From time to time, we have members cancel, it happens. But we make the process guilt-free and simple. As a result, we have a large percentage of members return. 

Imposing hefty penalties, long notice periods, and requiring multiple cancellation meetings only frustrates members. Keep the process straightforward, reassure them they’re always welcome back, and continue to invite them to attend your events 

Outside of financial reasons, generally, people cancel because they’ve lost connection, feel like they’re no longer progressing, or don’t feel like their needs can be met in your facility/with your services. If it’s the latter, you either need to refer out, adjust your offerings (if it’s happening regularly), or accept that you may not be the right fit for that member. 

If you find yourself fixated on cancellation policies and attempting to ‘win back’ members during a cancellation meeting, then you’ve missed the mark as the damage is already done. Instead, aim to consistently provide world-class experiences, and make sure your members feel ‘seen and heard’ at every interaction. Doing so may mean you don’t need to worry about your cancellation policy anymore! 

5. Consistent actions

Building connection and nurturing an exceptional, inclusive culture requires consistent action and behaviour. As mentioned earlier, you can’t just host a single member’s event and expect everyone to be singing ‘Kumbaya’; it’s about engraining these practices into your daily routine, and it needs to be a whole-team driven attitude, starting with:

By committing to these actions, you’ll not only exceed your members’ expectations, but you will turn them into raving fans. And the more raving fans you cultivate, the greater your success will be.


Brad Cunningham

Brad is a coach, author, owner of The Fit Shop, and an advocate for holistic wellness in the fitness industry. Alongside his roles as a proud husband and father to three kids, he’s dedicated more than a decade to pioneering a comprehensive approach to health that transcends the conventional gym model. The Fit Shop is not just about workouts, it’s about creating world-class experiences for our members and community. We believe physical change is an inside out process and creating an incredible culture and community is the vehicle to long-term behavioural change and physical results.