PT on the Net Research

What Women Want: Attracting and Retaining the Female Client


Women help dictate and shape many new trends in our society (Underhill, 2010). In the fitness industry, women helped popularize personal training and have typically been early adopters of new programs introduced to health clubs. However, some clubs have experienced a decline in the retention rates of female clients/members. What is the reason for this change? Is this trend indicative of a sinister decline for the fitness industry? Or is something much less ominous going on? In this revealing article, you will learn about the reason for this change and what you can do as a personal trainer or gym owner to attract and retain the female demographic.

Learning Objectives:

  1. The reader will learn about the emotional/psychological needs and wants of the female client/member.
  2. The reader will learn about the collective/social needs and wants of the female client/member.
  3. The reader will learn strategies they can implement into their personal training business/health club to meet the needs and wants of female clients/members to attract and retain this valuable demographic.
woman standing

What Do Women Want?

Female members and clients are a valuable resource to the health and fitness industry. In large cities across America women under the age of 35 now earn more than their male counterparts. For every 100 men with bachelor degrees, there are 140 women with an equal or greater qualification. Even unemployment rates for women are much less than men (Underhill, 2010). The bottom line - women have the means to ensure your business remains successful as the fitness industry evolves. So what exactly do women want and how can your products and services meet these needs?

Emotional/Psychological Wants:

Women who hire a personal trainer or join a gym have identified a problem they want help solving (e.g., losing weight, getting fit or improving performance). Unlike men, who once they have identified a problem want to solve it as quickly as possible (and by any means necessary), women first want someone to acknowledge their problem and empathize with their situation (Gray, 2012). Women also want a level of personal control (or at least the illusion of control) surrounding the actions they take and events in which they participate (Underhill, 2010). A woman seeking the help of a personal trainer, for example, wants to be able to provide input, feel as though she is helping control some of her fitness program variables, and feel her contributions/feedback regarding the program is appreciated (Gray, 2012).

Collective/Social Wants:

Women are also social beings who want to interact together in groups. Group settings are useful for promoting the collective communication style women prefer and are conducive for helping them process their thoughts, feelings and/or anxieties (Gray 2012). Additionally, they have a collective desire for the environment around them to be clean and hygienic. Cleanly conditions are tied into women’s nurturing instincts and are part of an inherent want to create and maintain surroundings that are conducive to good health (Maushart, 2005).

Are You Giving Women They Want?

If your female client base is shrinking and/or fewer women are signing up for memberships/services with your club, you should review your service offerings and/or facility to see if you are meeting the key emotional, psychological, collective and social needs of women. If any areas are lacking, this could be the reason behind the decline you are experiencing. Here are some easy tips to help you make your business more appealing to women.

Acknowledge Emotions

Helping women satisfy some of their emotional needs is easily accomplished by employing one-on-one initial consultations in a quiet and private environment. This enables the female client to feel safe to talk about her problem(s), have her concerns acknowledged, and open up to the fitness professional. During these consultations ask open-ended questions like, “What would you like me to help you accomplish?” and/or “Please tell me what brings you here today.” Questioning in this manner and actively listening to the responses encourages the client/member to talk first and promotes an empathetic interpersonal dynamic (Whitworth, 2007). While this strategy seems simple, it is often discounted in today’s competitive “sales focused” fitness industry. Trainers are encouraged to “sell themselves” to a prospective client and spend the majority of a consultation emphasizing their own skills, qualifications and exercise expertise. While this go-getting approach serves to decrease the trainer’s feelings of inadequacy, it does little to help reduce your female client’s anxiety about the situation (Price & Bratcher, 2010). If your company’s initial consultation strategies are too high-pressure or sales-oriented, you may be inadvertently decreasing long-term allure for female clients. 

Develop Partnerships

Personalized consultations satisfy female clients’ emotional needs, but they also enable trainers to satisfy important psychological desires as well; especially the need for a feeling of personal control and to believe their contributions matter. Both of these necessities can be met by working together with the client to develop and create appropriate homework assignments as part of her ongoing program. If your consultation reveals that a client wants help reducing neck/shoulder pain from work-related activities, ask her to identify the variables she feels might be contributing to her aches and pains (e.g., poor postures, extended static postures, work stresses, number of hours worked, faulty ergonomic setup, etc). For example, she might identify that she feels herself slouch toward the end of the day around the same time her neck and shoulders start hurting. Then, rather than tell her what to do to eliminate the pain, ask her for suggestions on how she can resolve issues preventing her from feeling better. Utilize the client’s feedback to help develop exercise (and non-exercise) related strategies she can perform for homework that might improve her situation. 

Begin all subsequent sessions by reviewing the client’s homework with her to see what is working and what program variables need modifying. Reviewing homework in this way enables you to praise behaviors the client has implemented successfully. It also helps you both identify remaining hurdles and overcome problems in the future (Bandura, 1986). This review process is especially important in meeting the psychological/emotional needs of women and should be a routine part of your personal fitness training services.

Make It a Group Thing

As the operator of a fitness business, you may offer group classes in addition to individual training sessions. You can boost these vital group interactions by ensuring you have a regular schedule of group classes and by providing an area for women to congregate before and after class to discuss their experience. You can also consider implementing monthly or quarterly gym meetings where female members are invited to voice their concerns/opinions about new exercise class ideas, programming or equipment. You don’t need to implement all the suggestions made at these meetings; however, the simple act of holding the meetings, considering the opinions, and using some of the ideas will make your female clients feel valued.

woman stretching

While group fitness classes are a great way to help meet a woman’s need to feel like she belongs, adding social elements to your individual personal training programs can also accomplish this objective. Personal trainers can encourage female clients to bring their friends/family to the occasional session to watch. This strategy serves two useful functions. Firstly, your client will discuss her training experience with her friends/family (which serves to remind her of her homework assignments and subsequently increases her adherence to the program). Secondly, this group dynamic highlights you as the topic of conversation and can increase potential referrals.

Keep It Clean

The general appearance of your facility is another important factor to consider with regard to female clients. Most women want to exercise in a clean and hygienic environment. This basic need can be met through some ongoing diligence on the part of facility staff and with little additional investment. A minimum of twice daily cleaning of the studio/club helps maintain a sanitary space. When cleaning is done during opening hours where female members can witness the process, the impact of cleaning efforts is even greater. When members/clients see staff being meticulous in keeping the environment clean, they are encouraged to pay attention to gym rules that enforce regular cleaning habits and the use of sanitary wipes, towels, disinfecting sprays, etc. to wipe down equipment after use. These simple practices can help make keeping the environment clean and hygienic the norm. Providing hand sanitizer and other thoughtful hygiene products lend an additional personal touch that is always appreciated by female clients.

Conclusion

Understanding and meeting the needs of the female client/member is imperative if you want to attract and retain this valuable demographic. By implementing the simple and effective strategies outlined above you can ensure that both your business and your female clientele thrive.

Watch a short video about attracting and retaining female clients:

References

Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Gray, J. (2012). Men Are From Mars, Woman Are From Venus. New York: Harper Collins.

Maushart, S. (2005). What Woman Want Next. New York: Bloomsbury.

Price, J. & Bratcher, M. (2010). The BioMechanics Method Corrective Exercise Educational Program. San Diego: The BioMechanics Press.

Underhill, P. (2010). What Woman Want: The Global Market Turns Female Friendly. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Whitworth, L., et al. (2007). Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life (2nd ed). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.