Episode 274

Enforcing Your Membership Policies with Pete Dupuis

In this episode, Pete Dupuis joins me to talk about enforcing your membership policies.

[00:00:00] Hello, my friend. On today’s episode, I’m speaking with Pete Dupuis, and we’re talking about your membership policies, specifically how and when to enforce your membership policies really strictly and when to be more flexible. I think it’s a great conversation. And if you’re not sure exactly how firm to be in pushing your membership policies, I think it’s a great episode for you.

Also quick note, my audio and video might be a little different this week cause I’m traveling, but I’ll be back to the regular setup soon. But, um, I hope you enjoyed this episode. Have a good one.

Welcome to the Business for Unicorns podcast, where we help gym owners unleash the full potential of their business. I’m your host, Michael Keeler. Join me each week for actionable advice, expert insights, and the inside scoop on what it really takes to level up your gym. Get ready to unlock your potential.

And become a real [00:01:00] unicorn in the fitness industry. Let’s begin.

Hello, fitness business nerds. What’s up? Welcome to another episode of the business unicorns podcast. And today I’m here with Mr. Dupuis. What’s up, Pete? Hello there, Mr. Koehler. Good to be back. Good to see you. Good to see you, my friend. Uh, before we dive into today’s topic, I just wanna give a quick shout out to to Mark Fisher’s YouTube channel.

My friends Mark Fisher’s putting out like multiple videos every single week on YouTube specifically about running your training gym. They’re short, they’re pithy, they’re actionable. So go right now, head over to YouTube and subscribe to his YouTube channel because I think you’re really gonna enjoy it.

If you like this podcast, you’re gonna like the YouTube channel. It covers a lot of the same topics, and if you’re a visual learner like me and podcasts aren’t always that, Best way for you to learn. I shouldn’t say that as a podcast host. You should go over to YouTube, and there’s lots of visuals to pique your visual interest over there.

Let’s jump into today’s topic. Today’s topic actually came from a listener. Thank [00:02:00] you, dear listener, for submitting this topic. And the topic was, how and when do you decide to enforce your membership policies. When do you, when are you a stickler and really put your, dig your heels in and really with your members reinforce what your policies are?

When do you get more flexible and allow exceptions? And I love this topic because I think Pete and I have very different approaches. Like, what happens at Cressy’s might be really different than what happens at MFF, so we open this conversation, we can illustrate for you, there’s not one right way to do this, and we’ll maybe talk about our different approaches, but for context, let me just define some terms, when I talk about membership policies, this person was specifically asking about things like pausing your Missing classes and doing them over, having credits that roll over or don’t roll over.

These are the kinds of policies she was asking about, so that’s what we’re going to have in mind as we have this conversation. But, Pete, you want to talk a little bit about your approach to your membership policies and how much you enforce them or don’t? Yeah, we, during our brainstorming portion of [00:03:00] this podcast leading into it, I said to you, I don’t know about that topic because I don’t enforce them as hard as I probably could.

For us, policies of this nature would be like late cancellation fees, our requests for how clients adhere to scheduling protocols and things of that nature, and billing related. Policies, for example, we offer an unlimited training rate that is easily manipulated by a client if we aren’t super, super clear upfront about the timetable that it covers and how we bill.

So, there are just a certain number of levers that I could pull as far as consequences for people being non compliant, but as I mentioned before, I don’t use them that often. And. In my words to you were, you got to be a pretty big asshole for me to start flipping those switches, be a repeat offender, somebody who is habitually taking advantage, but they are [00:04:00] tools, nonetheless, things that I can use to clean up the way the place operates and in my defense, what I said to you and I’ll stand by it is that if I were in a market like yours.

Doing the volume you do in a space that is, is a bottleneck. I would be an absolute stickler about enforcing policies of this nature. So it’s not that I don’t believe in them. It’s just that they aren’t quite so necessary to enforce in our space. Cause we have a uniquely large footprint and a lot of flexibility and a lot of capacity.

And I can be super flexible to be nice if I need to. Yeah. Well, I think that’s a great perspective and it works for you all, right? And even though you may not enforce them a lot every single time, right, the point is that you have them stated. There are clear expectations. And if there are people who are abusing the system in a way that inconveniences other clients or pisses off you and your team, you have the ability and will go in and, and make a correction and have that conversation.

So let’s just keep pulling that string. I don’t know if you can think back to [00:05:00] an example of when someone does go over the line, how do you address it? Oh, so I think the most important thing I can say here is You need to communicate these rules so clearly on the front end that there isn’t any gray area.

I don’t want a client saying to me, that was vague to me in the first place. And so if you have any intention at all of executing on, say, a late cancel policy, then you need to over communicate it. early and often. Here are the rules. Please respond, acknowledging that you have seen them, that a type of communication, because if there is any degree of vagueness in it, it’s pretty difficult to pull the trigger on saying, Hey, you’re accountable to this penalty.

But in our case, it is, it’s a multiple strikes and you’re out unless you’ve taken advantage. Like, for example, I don’t actually require advanced payment on booking initial evaluations. I say we’re going to take care of it upon your arrival. I know that I probably should, but we [00:06:00] haven’t always leaned into that.

And once you have late cancelled on an evaluation, you can’t book, you can’t reschedule without paying in advance. That’s an example of where I’d say like, all right, we got to put this rule in place, but I just give people a lot of wiggle room. And I think it’s partially because as the owner, I have the flexibility to get creative at any moment I want with, I could make up anything on the spot.

I could change your price point right now if I wanted to, just because. I’m the one who absorbs the burden of that shift, and it just means more price points for me to track. But it doesn’t come at the expense of our team. Whereas if you are a gym owner who’s also on the training floor and trying to juggle all these things and wear all these hats, I think you need to be maniacal about communicating the rules and executing on the rules right out of the gate with people.

Because you’re gonna get walked all over and taken advantage of, and that’s just not the way that you’re gonna scale this thing. Does that make sense? Yeah, I think it makes a hundred [00:07:00] percent sense. I think because it’s in some part because you’re the one who is in the building most days and you’re the one having these conversations, you’re comfortable with the complexity that being flexible requires.

You can handle that. Right. But for people who, who have, are wearing more hats because they’re also on training on the floor, 10, 20, 30 hours per week, or they’re delegating these conversations to a team member who can’t handle the kind of complexity. of all the exceptions being made, then they might need to tighten things up a little bit, which I 100 percent agree with.

Yeah, 100 percent agree. So I think there’s nothing wrong with doing it your way if you have the capacity to handle the complexity that having multiple price points or multiple exceptions makes, because I think everyone wants to be nice and help each other out. So if you can handle that, fantastic. I think that’s awesome.

And I also think that the, sorry, I was going to say that the need to execute on these things is really dependent upon how close you are to capacity, because if you’re operating at a place where that late cancel would have otherwise been filled because you’re [00:08:00] sitting on the waiting list, then yeah, this is a non negotiable.

Those rules are going to need to be executed on, whereas, as I’ve said before, I’m sitting in 15, 000 square feet of space with a team that can scale up to as many as 10 or 11 coaches at a given time. We have a client to coach ratio of a max of potentially five to one, which means that I could theoretically put 50 to 55 people on the training floor every 75 minutes or so for these long stretches.

So I just, I’m never going to be up against that. I might be up against it for small segments of the day. But then I can just ask people to push by 15, 30 minutes if I know that we have real capacity issues. But for the most part, that isn’t my bottleneck. And I don’t feel resentful of somebody who says at the last minute, I’ve just got too much schoolwork.

I’ve got to push this session. I want people to feel like we give them that flexibility because I don’t want somebody to be adding stress or chaos to their life to force a training session in so as to avoid. [00:09:00] A late payment penalty that wasn’t necessary in the first place, but if I was sitting on a third of the space that I have and we were routinely fully booking out sessions and turning people away who are standing at our door holding money, then this would be a different story, but I just have a little bit more flexibility than most in this sense.

That makes total sense. Yeah, and I’ll lay out the landscape of MFF and why I think we, by design, had to be pretty much on the other end of the spectrum on this topic, which is, from day one, we had limited space. We’re in New York City. We have to use every square inch, and as an example, like, our classroom has 15 mats for 15 bodies, period.

There’s no squeezing them in, there’s no flexibility, and even that is… Insanely squeezed by most non city standards. Even our small group personal training, which used to be three on one is now six on one. There’s six spots. That’s it. Anyway, at our peak kind of pre COVID numbers with two [00:10:00] locations, we had about a thousand active members every month with wait lists for almost everything in the morning and in the afternoon.

And even in our earlier years, we were, had wait lists for prime time in year one. And so for us, we’re dealing with the kind of opposite constraints, which is we have no flexibility. And so we have to really train, give people policies very clearly. And I agree, this whole topic is really a topic of expectation setting.

of telling people from day one, this is how we do things around here. And the reason we do them this way around here is because we need to do this in a way that’s fair for all of us. We’re a tight knit community trying to use this space to the best of its ability, and if we’re all going to get fair and equal access…

Two classes and small group training and access to places to put our coats and our bags and our shoes. Then we all need to use these policies. They’re in place because this helps us all operate efficiently in this space. And then to Pete’s point, we have to reiterate those policies again and again. So for us, it’s part of [00:11:00] an onboarding process with the clients.

There’s a client handbook. There’s an email series. There’s signs in our space explaining our policies. And I will say that we’re not, we’re trying to, we’re not trying to be assholes. We’re not trying to be dicks, right? Given all those constraints, we still have some flexibility. So for us, most of our policies, not all, but most of our policies come with a one time get out of jail free policy.

And so certainly something like we have a 10 no show fee. And so we record in our software, which for us we just use MindBody, the first time someone no shows and the fee goes to apply, and they’re like, hey, wait, I didn’t know about this. Great, we’ll refund it. No harm done. We make a note today on the XYZ day, I refunded this.

But now you can’t say you didn’t know it anymore. And now you can’t say that you didn’t cancel, and you didn’t show, and that mat in class went empty, even though we have a waitlist of 15 people. You can’t say that again, because we recorded that you got one Get Out of Jail Free card. Not knowing is [00:12:00] totally fine.

Once. After that, we all have to be on the same page. And our policies have absolutely shifted and adjusted over time. Certainly in this kind of post COVID era, we had to be more flexible early on because we were ramping things back up and people’s lives were, and still are in some cases, in flux. But then we found a flow in this last year and things are probably pretty strict again.

But I think this comes down to Pete, I think what we’re highlighting here is that this is about your capacity at your gym, how much can you afford to be flexible in terms of how much space and time you have, and how much human capacity you have to track those exceptions. And then it also comes down to this whole thing is an expectation setting game.

The better you are at setting expectations and reinforcing them over time, I think the less kind of drama The less kind of tension filled client conflicts you’ll have to manage. But, but this is something I do think that you want to be thoughtful about and will evolve over [00:13:00] time. Yeah. And if you’re going to be like me, if you’re going to be like me and you’re going to allow for the flexibility, you need to, no matter what on the front end, act as if that’s not the case.

So I communicate. I would say communicate the rules as firmly and definitively as you, Michael Keeler, would at Mark Fisher Fitness, because it affords you the privilege of doing what is perceived to be like a favor or a solid on the back end. If you’re going to be flexible, great. You can be the good guy by, by making every single person feel like you’re making an exception.

Whereas if you say, Hey, these are the rules. But I’ll be honest, I honestly just don’t really enforce any of them. And then when it comes time to do what I said, which is send a message to an asshole, there’s two versions of that. There’s the, I told you that I don’t even enforce these, but you’re such an asshole that here I am doing it.

And then there’s the, [00:14:00] I’m going to, I’m going to execute on these rules because these are the rules. And then you actually do it because somebody’s taking advantage. They’re still going to learn the same lesson without you coming across as super passive aggressive. So I would say no matter what, communicate your expectations clearly.

And if deep down you intend to make exceptions for everybody all the time, because you have the flexibility to do so, and you’re just, you avoid conflict and you’re Mr. Nice guy. That’s fine, but you’re missing an opportunity to be extra perceived as Mr. Nice Guy by making people feel like you treated them uniquely special and gave them a break that doesn’t exist for everybody.

Yeah, I think that’s such a, it’s a key kind of customer service tactic there, which is, if you’re going to be flexible, make it seem like you’re making an exception. Make it seem like you’re going above and beyond for them. It’ll make them feel special. It’ll let them know they can’t do this all the time.

And to add on to that, the thing I used to say to the MFF team all the time when I was their day to day, was, let’s save our exceptions for the things that are really exception worthy. Just people like, I don’t know [00:15:00] if I can make it, I’m just, I’m just having a long brunch right now, I don’t know if I want to leave in time to get to class.

I don’t know. It’s, you want to have an extra mimosa, like the thing that means we should change the schedule, as opposed to people calling and saying, I’m in the hospital, or my dog just died. Those are the things we really want to bend over backwards and make exceptions for. Even at MFF, when we have very hard and strict rules, we still make exceptions for real life emergencies.

Real life happens. We’ll make exceptions for those. Obviously, uh, but we also want to give the impression that your mild inconvenience is a reason to break our rules. Yep. That’s, you have to draw a line somewhere. And that’s, it’s arguably more art than science, but I think I agree with Pete 100%, which is regardless of how flex you’re going to be, you’ve got to communicate them like they are written in stone.

And there’s one whole other conversation that we couldn’t do justice during this remaining time, but that is that you need to really make an effort to help your team. Understand where the options [00:16:00] and flexibility lie, because I’ve also run into the problem of having an employee trying to do the right thing.

This is the rule that Pete laid out. Sorry, the rules, the rule deal with it. Whereas then I have to pop out of my office and be like, no big deal. We’re going to give you a break here. And that’s not the employee’s fault. If I didn’t do a good job of saying, Hey, here’s the advertised rule, but this is the only circumstance where I’m going to ask that you execute on it.

And so you got to coach your team on having the feel, the awareness of the circumstance to know when and how they can finesse it. Yeah, I think that’s a great point. It’s similar to a sales strategy, right? There’s a sales conversation. You want everyone to sell everything at full price, but often in your back pocket, you will have that extra special deal that, that offer that is extra special that no one knows about.

But you want to make sure your team is trained to know in your back pocket, this is some options you have if you really need it to make the client feel special, to go above and beyond, to exceed their expectations. [00:17:00] So I think that’s really smart. Anything else you want to share about this topic as we kind of wrap things up?

No, I only say no because, like I said, I’m embarrassingly under effective at executing on the rules in certain circumstances. So, makes me, I, and then when I do charge people late cancels because they definitely deserved it, I still feel guilty about it the whole time. So, I’m soft. Yeah, yeah, again, I think there’s, it works for you, and I think there’s some people even listening to this that can probably get away with that, uh, and for those of you who can’t, it’s time to get really clear about what your expectations are, hold people accountable, give them a one time get out of jail free card, but then they gotta follow the rules.

I think that often, maybe this is a Maybe fuel for a whole nother podcast, but I can also record like a one just of me talking, but there’s a, there’s an approach to having these conversations that we didn’t really get to cover in our time today, but there’s approach to having the conversation to say, listen, here’s the policy.

Let me tell you [00:18:00] about why it matters. Let me tell you about how I want to meet you in the middle this time, but moving forward, let’s talk about why this thing needs to be in place. So I think it’s often something that’s missing from these conversations with clients is explaining the why behind the what often goes a long way for them to understand why their behavior matters.

Yep. Please record that. On the team. Yeah, I will. I will. Funny enough, we’re, this is, we’re recording this podcast the week of our Unicorn Society Philadelphia retreat, and my presentation at this retreat is managing client conflict. So it’s very top of mind, and maybe I’ll record a version of that presentation as a podcast.

But thanks for a great conversation, Pete. I thought this was, I think, I hope we really covered the topic and answered the person’s question. So thank you, dear listener. And if you enjoyed this podcast yourself, please leave us a five star review. Everywhere you listen helps us find other amazing listeners, just like you.

Thanks for a great chat, Pete. I’ll see you on the next one. Good talk. See you soon.[00:19:00]