The Hidden Future Danger Of Your Gym’s ‘Revolving Door’ Member Plateau

July 12, 2023

Are your PT client or gym member numbers static? Do you feel like you’ve hit a membership plateau? Four new people start each month and four people leave?

Do you often see a new client coming in, and at the same time, wave goodbye to an older one?

You probably think, “Well, that’s okay. I’m not losing out. One out, one in, it’s all the same.” But that’s not entirely correct. It’s time to challenge a belief that’s taken root in the fitness industry: the zero-sum game.

Let’s break it down first. A zero-sum game is a concept where what you gain is exactly what another party loses, resulting in no net change. It seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? New clients come in, some clients go, and as long as these two numbers match, your fitness business remains steady. But this idea oversimplifies the reality of the situation.

And if you’re feeling secure in your current set point, there’s a worrying trend on the horizon for your business.

New clients. They’re great. Bursting with energy, ready to start on their fitness journey with you. But think about it. Do all of them stay? How many come for a month or two and then disappear, their once high enthusiasm gradually fading away? There’s a lot of uncertainty with new clients. You just don’t know how long they will stick around, and that makes them a bit of a gamble.

Now, let’s think about your old-timers, the regulars, the ones who’ve stuck with you through thick and thin. They’re not just names in a database. They’re part of your fitness community, and they bring value to your business. And this value isn’t just about the regular revenue (although that’s an important piece of the puzzle). They’re also involved in your community, and chances are they’ve even brought in a friend or two.

So what does all this mean for the zero-sum game? Well, it shows that not all clients are equal. A new client coming in is not the same as a long-term one leaving. The departure of a long-term client is a more significant loss than what a new client can immediately make up for.

To illustrate this, let’s take a closer look at two hypothetical clients. Sarah is a newcomer, eager but still unsure, while Peter has been with your gym for three years. Who do you think will be most likely to still be a client in six months, Sarah (the newcomer), or Peter, who’s proven his worth and commitment? I’d put my money on Peter.

Plus, if Peter leaves, you’re not just losing a client. You’re losing a community member and a source of steady revenue. And Sarah, as promising as she may be, can’t immediately fill that void left by Peter’s departure. Financially, Peter is more valuable to your business in the future, because there’s a greater chance he’ll still be part of it.

So where does this leave your business? If you think you’re standing still with equal arrivals and departures, think again. The reality is, you could be moving backwards. When a long-standing client leaves, they take a chunk of your future business earnings with them—a chunk that new clients cannot immediately replace, and may never replace. The illusion of the zero-sum game can mask this reality, making it seem like your business is holding steady when, in fact, it’s slowly eroding beneath the surface.

Now, don’t get me wrong. New clients are essential. They bring fresh energy and potential. But our long-term clients, they’re the bedrock. They provide stability. And if we ignore this fact, we risk underestimating the value they bring to our business.

So, it’s time to rip off the mask of the zero-sum game myth. Recognise that not all clients are equal. Understand the true value of your long-term clients, and nurture these relationships. Focus on creating an environment that encourages clients to stick around, to become part of your community.

And if your numbers have plateaued, something needs to change – because this plateau is a leading indicator that your future is on shaky ground.

When we appreciate the worth of long-term clients, our businesses don’t just stay afloat, they can truly thrive. The illusion of the zero-sum game doesn’t need to dictate your operations. There’s more to running a successful fitness business than just replacing outgoing clients. Create an experience where clients want to stay, contributing to a robust and healthy business that can weather any storm.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.

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