Life Time Bolsters Retention Efforts

The fitness chain has joined forces with J.R. Watkins as part of a companywide focus on member retention-as well as a broader effort to help gym members live healthy lives.

Chanhassen-based Life Time Fitness, Inc., on Friday announced a new joint venture with Winona-based J.R. Watkins Naturals-a collaboration that Life Time says aligns with its recent focus on member retention and holistic healthy lifestyles.

Under the partnership, Life Time members can get deals on J.R. Watkins products, as the company has been added to the Life Time Member Advantage program.

Freddy Akradi, director of the Member Advantage program, said in a Monday phone interview that the current incarnation of the program was introduced in 2008, when Life Time began a companywide shift toward member retention efforts, as opposed to simply attracting new customers.

The Member Advantage program is a perk for all Life Time members-regardless of membership level-and provides exclusive discounts at major retailers, including Costco, Netflix, T-Mobile, and now, J.R. Watkins.

According to regulatory filings, Life Time had an attrition rate of around 34 percent in 2006 and 2007. According to Life Time spokesman Jason Thunstrom, the company saw the effects of the recession in 2008, sparking the company's shift toward retention efforts. The attrition rate grew to 42.3 percent in 2008, declined to 40.6 percent in 2009, and dropped further to 36.3 percent in 2010.

Thunstrom declined to disclose the total number of individual members at Life Time, but the company had 612,556 memberships at the end of 2010-which includes individuals, couples, and families. That number was up almost 6 percent from the previous year.

Under Life Time's new partnership, J.R. Watkins' products-including hand soap, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion-will be available for use at Life Time fitness centers. According to Thunstrom, all clubs will have J.R. Watkins products, but different levels of clubs will have different items.

J.R. Watkins will also feature samples of its natural products at select Life Time athletic events.

“Life Time Fitness and J.R. Watkins Naturals share a common mission to promote a well-rounded, healthy way of life, making our partnership a natural fit,” J.R. Rigley, J.R. Watkins vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement.

According to Akradi, the Member Advantage program has greatly helped maintain loyal members; in fact, the attrition rate among members who frequently engage with the Member Advantage program is 28 percent lower than for those who have never used it.

Thunstrom told Twin Cities Business on Monday that the company also offers a $10 per month membership that doesn't include access to fitness centers-it's solely a means for members to access perks like the Member Advantage program and Experience Life magazine.

The program has been such a success that the company employs seven people-including Akradi-who devote all of their efforts to the program, including forging partnerships with retailers.

And many Life Time members have “offset most, if not all, of their membership dues” by taking advantage of the Member Advantage discounts on products they would buy anyway, Akradi said, adding that the program usually offers cuts of 10 percent to 20 percent on products, while competing programs typically provide only 5 percent or 6 percent discounts. He says the company is able to provide such deals because they don't employ a third-party aggregator of discounts that would “dip in” to the revenue and reduce the members' savings.

According to Thunstrom, Life Time now has roughly 90 fitness centers in 20 states.