Do handing out guest passes result in good ROI?

Posted by Brad Spiegel on 8/24/2017 to Marketing Ideas
Offering something of value is a great marketing tool. For health and fitness clubs, often it is a guest pass. Issuing one results in very little financial commitment by the club, while the long-term benefits are boundless –memberships, non-dues revenue classes and even referrals. But some club managers and owners may see handing them out as either a way to lose money or devaluing memberships. For more upscale clubs, it is a free ticket into an exclusive place where their members pay a premium. Jason Reinhardt, owner of Go M.A.D. Fitness in Monroe, Mich., is a whole-hearted believer in passes, which he prefers to call gift certificates as opposed to free passes. Reinhardt, who will actually be touching on this subject in an upcoming IHRSA webinar, feels it is a great way to bring brand and club awareness in the community. “We live in a world where if you step out of the club … you know people know that exercise is important but they are not coming in,” he said “You can build awareness in the community by putting (gift certificates) in their hands and hope it prompts them to reinvest in themselves. “I’ve worked for many athletic clubs - from $150 a month to $15 a month – and I have never been in an environment where you don’t need to go into a community and shake hands. You have to give a little up front to get a lot in return.” On the other end of the spectrum is El Gancho Fitness, Swim & Racquet Club, a high-end club that is akin to a country club. Karen Lankford, front office manager and member coordinator at El Gancho, explains that the Santa Fe, N.M., club is pretty tight with its guest passes. “We’re pretty guarded with our guest passes,” she said. “We want to make sure our efforts are maintained for our members who are paying a premium for the club. They are dedicated to us by paying the initiation fee and dues and we are honoring that by not having a lot of people come without a commitment to being a member.” Lankford said there are three ways a one-day pass can be acquired: prospective members who have taken a tour and have a local address; new members are mailed a pass for a friend; and give-aways during get-togethers like Chamber of Commerce events or fundraisers. “I think (passes) are a brilliant marketing tool for a launch, pre-selling memberships or just opening the door for prospective members,” Lankford added. “I think for clubs where the demographics and market has a high turnover it is a good way to have a steady flow of people through the door.” A Massachusetts club started a new marketing campaign with guest passes about five months ago. Beverly Athletic Club’s Flat 5 provides new members a link where their friends can download a pass and come to the club to try it out. The club does not contact the prospective members – a big turnoff for anyone – but get personal information when the friends visit. And, if the friend ends up becoming a member the referring member makes out, too, like credit toward the retail store or free training sessions. Jason Mason, Fitness director at Beverly, said he didn’t have numbers on the success, but it is going good enough that it is still active. But, he warned that any marketing campaign that involves passes is only as good as those offering them. Beverly also gets out in the community and hands out passes, during a cancer fundraiser walk, school fairs or at the local commuter train station. “Everyone has a different way to get into the club,” said Mason. “Some like a 5-day pass, others like it in their e-mail or while they are out. There really is no one true way to do it.” For Reinhardt, giving out gift certificates, as he calls them, is part of what Go M.A.D. does. He calls them gift certificates because he feels, in a society that often procrastinates, if they were “free passes” then there wouldn’t be any urgency to using them. If they were misplaced or expired then there is no loss. Gift certificates, he explains, has a value to them. With that thinking Reinhardt makes sure the script used by the sales or marketing departments coincide with gift certificates rather than free passes. “In my experience, when you approach someone with a gift certificate there is a completely different reaction than a free pass,” said Reinhardt. “Calling them gift certificates adds value to what you are giving out.”