Choosing Membership Management Software for Your Gym, Plus a Q&A with Zen Planner

When it comes to managing our membership, CrossFit South Brooklyn has come a long way since our days at St. Mary’s Playground in Brooklyn. We started off not with a software system but with the honors system, which included a pencil pouch for keeping cash and a paper log and pen for signing in. In early 2013, with our membership body in the hundreds, we knew two things: we needed an upgrade, and we weren’t software developers. Around the same time that we built out our front desk, we knew we needed to delegate this aspect of our management and we began flirting with some companies and their software systems. Eventually, we chose Zen Planner, both for their software and their people. There are a number of factors to keep in mind when choosing membership management software, but for now, I’ll share our experience and some factors that influenced my decision.

(Given the #SponCon times in which we live, I would be remiss not to mention that this is totally not a sponsored post. It’s just our experience.) 

When CrossFit South Brooklyn started our search, we did some research and spoke in-depth with one company (which I’m not going to name) but as we learned more about their software, we discovered that they didn’t have as many options for modifications. We weren’t looking for a bevy of bells and whistles, but given how much we were growing, we did want flexibility. Additionally, their software only functioned on iPads, which we didn’t own at the time and which I wasn’t interested in committing to exclusively. 

Soon, we found Zen Planner, a company that’s been around for a long time. This mattered to me because it was reflected in their experience, knowledge of the fitness field, and long-time interest in CrossFit. It also mattered to me because many softwares that are newer have bugs and don’t offer as much technical support. I quickly found Zen Planner’s software to be extremely well-rounded in terms of flexibility and ease-of-use. And perhaps most importantly, it was obvious that the company was made up of good people. They were easy to get on the phone, extremely responsive to our questions, and open to feedback.

This matters a lot. As we all know and as we’ve written about on ITA many times before, good people make a huge difference when it comes to the day-to-day operations of our affiliates. Especially as your gym grows, I believe it is extremely important to have a relationship with the people behind your membership management software—for your members and for you. They’re the ones who are processing all your transactions. They’re the link between your members and your income. Their software is the interface with which your members interact and experience as one of the faces of your business. And really, if you have to spend 30 minutes on the phone walking through a software issue when you’d rather be coaching or working out, you’d better be on the phone with someone who will patiently spend those 30 minutes with you, and that someone needs to “get” it. 

I want to leave you with one last reason why Zen Planner rulesthey do their research. In 2016, they released their (free!) Affiliate Gym Benchmark Report, which reflects survey data collected from hundreds of box owners around the world. This is exactly the kind of open-source insight and information that we love on Inside the Affiliate, so we sat down with them and asked some questions. Of particular interest might be their findings about the top three things successful boxes do to make money. Check out the report and our conversation below!


Inside the Affiliate: What is the 2016 Affiliate Gym Benchmark Report? 

Zen Planner: The report is a comprehensive view of financial and operational performance of affiliate gyms across the globe. As a company, our purpose is to make affiliates wildly successful. In order to help create more financially thriving affiliates, we needed a comprehensive view of what truly makes an affiliate gym successful. We went directly to the source and asked box owners around the world to share information about the performance of their gym. It became clear which practices set apart the successful gyms from the struggling gyms, and thus our Affiliate Gym Benchmark Report was born. 

In this report, we identify what the most successful gyms are doing differently. We also provide incredible benchmark data, including everything from demographics and member base size to staff compensation.

ITA: Sounds great! How did you collect the data for this piece? 

ZP: We developed an online survey consisting of financial, operational, and emotional questions. We then asked box owners around the world to complete the survey in an effort to support the community. More than 400 responded, contributing data that created a very clear view of commonalities between successful gyms.

ITA: How do you know the data is relevant to the affiliate community as a whole?

ZP: This data represents an extremely broad array of business owners. With over 400 respondents from 34 different countries, we were able to develop the industry’s most detailed financial performance information. We heard from large and small boxes, boxes in large cities and rural towns and boxes of varying income and size levels.

ITA: What are the top three things successful boxes are doing to make money?

ZP: Great question! Three things: 

1. The most successful boxes charge higher prices.

The median unlimited membership at successful gyms is $172 compared to $133 at low performing gyms. After digging into the data, we discovered that the locations of the two groups of boxes were fairly similar, and there was actually more competition within a five-mile radius of the successful gyms. The way you charge more is by differentiating your gym and providing greater value to your members.

2. The most successful boxes do a better job managing personnel costs.

Paying staff is the single largest expense for most gyms. Properly managing personnel costs is a critical component of running a successful gym. We discovered that successful gyms spend about a quarter of their income on personnel, while struggling gyms spent closer to over half of their income on this.

3. Leading boxes make great use of their space.

On average, we found that successful gyms had more members and smaller facilities than struggling gyms. This is mainly the result of a successful gym’s ability to better utilize their space. The median average square feet per member for successful gyms was 26, while struggling gyms had closer to 42 square feet per member and their gyms were about 24% larger! 

ITA: What was the most surprising discovery you made? 

ZP: We’ve always recommended against discounting your product, but we were surprised to see how discounts led to such a significant gap in monthly revenue between successful and struggling gyms. Successful box owners make closer to 50% more per member, per month, bringing in $141 per customer compared to only $73 for struggling gyms. While we expected to see a gap between the two, the size of this gap was shocking.

ITA: What’s the one metric every box should be monitoring on a daily basis? 

ZP: There are a handful of metrics that you should monitor on a regular basis. However, if there was only one thing to monitor daily, it would be your membership count. As a small business owner, you must know every prospect that has interest in your business and every member that decides to leave. It is critical that you follow up on prospects quickly and sincerely. Since you likely have competitors in a five-mile radius of your location, if you don’t respond quickly, it is likely that one of your competitors will.     

ITA: How can box owners utilize this report to help improve their business this year? 

ZP: This report provides you the five key things you need to do to run a financially successful box. Please check it out and let us know if you have any questions. One owner said it best, “This report kept me up half the night, and made me write down my business goals for 2017 and how we’ll attain those goals.”  

Check out the report HERE.


All great advice, and even stuff we discussed in some of our recent posts. To our readers: please know that I love to answer any other questions you might have about the process of partnering with a software company. Please post to the comments or shoot me a note

More posts coming soon. Thanks for reading!

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Reader Comments (5)

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September 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSoftware Company Indore

Do you know is the size just the training area it the whole box?


December 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClaudia

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December 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterkelly

Nice write-up. It is informative to my vision of eyes. Membership management is crucial and we can say gives a fruitful result. Gym management is the solution for not only gym members but also for the gym admins, A gym management software can save 2 hours a day in admin time, increases revenue by 33% and drive member retention by 25% well iIam not an economist these reports are by some research which is begin done by some great health clubs for their business expansion.

September 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Jones

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