Fitness businessFitness trends

Finding a good gym is tougher than you think

So I ran a little experiment recently.

I ‘went undercover’ to a handful of gyms in my neighborhood with the intention of learning how they would try to sell me. I was curious if the goal for the gym was to help me achieve my goals or, and this is what we all expect, that maybe the gym would only be interested in my credit card number.

I visited or contacted (5) gyms of various sizes. Some were small and some were absolute behemoths of the industry.

I’ll tell you two stories that are completely true. I won’t name the gyms because I’m sure that each of my encounters play out daily across the country.

Exhibit A – the big box franchise gym I walked into this gym and was promptly directed to the automated “new member station” where I was to enter my name and address and sign the waiver – all while a member services employee hovered over my shoulder. He then took me to his cubicle where I was to sign up.

I told him that I wanted to try the gym out first and do a workout. Fair request I figured.

I must have said the wrong thing because instead of offerring up the gym for me to try, the salesperson instead brought up the payment screen on his monitor and insisted that I sign up for a full membership first because there was a (3) day refund available. I reemphasized that I’d like to try out the gym prior to paying anything and again he insisted that I buy a membership. I actually had to go so far as to ask the employee if he thought my request was fair! Only then was I granted the opportunity to workout. Ugh.

No membership was sold that day.

Exhibit B – the medium box local gym This gym was far different from the first and blended climbing into their overall fitness concept. Right off the bat I could tell that this was a gym and not because I saw fitness equipment, rather for, ummm, let’s say olfactory reasons. But whatever, I wasn’t looking for a spa.

So, again I was sent to the automated sign-in monitor. Afterwards, I was left to my own devices until an employee noticed that I needed attention. And to be honest, that’s OK, because it was a busy gym and I don’t mind waiting. But then came the real kicker – for me to try the gym – that is, to try it with the intent of potentially joining and paying about $90/month – I was to pay $10.

I about dropped my gym bag.

You see, the way I saw it was that I had given the gym the absolute privilege to potentially debit my checking account around $90 a month. But what I felt when I was up against this fee for a trial workout was that somehow the gym had flipped things on me. And that it was me who was fortunate to be in a position to give this gym my money!

I can fully understand a drop-in rate for a group class, but a trial workout?

Needless to say, I looked elsewhere for a workout that day.

The problem – most gyms treat you like a credit card with a gym bag.

The well cultured film buffs among you may be reminded of the 1976 film The Network – the one with that classic line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Now I’m not really mad as hell about my experiences searching for a gym (it takes a lot to ruffle my feathers), but the above video segment did come to mind. I couldn’t help myself but to think that what if all of the members in the gym that day stopped what they were doing – dropped the weights, turned off the treadmill – and yelled “I’m a human being dammit and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

No more inconsiderate contracts that are seemingly impossible to get out of without buying (2) more months that you don’t need.

No more paying trainers to count your reps and watch TV at the same time.

No more completely unjustified enrollment fees.

And no more [insert your own example here – I know you have one 🙂 ].

So here’s the takeaway: What it boiled down to was this – that none of the places I visited made me feel happy. If I bought a membership at any of the gyms I visited, I wouldn’t feel good about it. Instead I would feel as though the gym had beat me somehow. That despite their poor offerings I was still persuaded to purchase a membership and thereby validating the whole system of nameless members and no customer service.

But there is a silver lining folks!

The era of the micro gym.

Many people think of CrossFit, but there are countless other gyms out there occupying just a few thousand square feet and offering their clients a highly personalized and fair experience. These are gyms where the members know each other – a built in support network of peers and enthusiastic, like-minded people. Gyms that are in the business of helping people reach their health and fitness goals – everything else is just background noise.

These are gyms where the owners and coaches are out attending conferences and continuing education courses because they want to.

Sounds too good to be true, huh?

In today’s world we don’t have to look very far to find a case study on how business owners have gone too far in search of greater and greater profits and left their customers by the wayside.

Take a moment to channel your inner Jerry Maguire – remember that iconic quote?

Less money, fewer clients – Jerry Maguire

Make no mistake these gyms are out there. The problem is that they are hard to find because oftentimes the owners have little to no business background or acuity so it’s up to you, my friend. You need to be an educated consumer so you can not only find a good gym with well trained instructors, but one that is well aligned to helping you meet your goals.

But above all else, remember this – you are a human being and you deserve to find a gym that treats you as one.

Here’s what you can do to help change the fitness business for the better – you can choose gyms that help you to reach your fitness goals. Gyms that treat you like a real person instead of just a source of membership dues.

You can choose gyms that make you feel happy – gyms that put a smile on your face when you walk in and then again when you’re leaving.

What’s more important than that?

By Ryan Wagner 

How else can gyms help you to succeed? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email!

By the way, Fit Mornings is coming in less than (2) weeks!

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2 thoughts on “Finding a good gym is tougher than you think

  1. Love this post! I hate the feeling you are being sold something right away, especially when you get it as soon as you walk in the door. I think gyms would do far better if they focused on the experience or benefit rather than memberships sold. If someone is sold on an experience, they will gladly pay to have access to that experience.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more on this concept. Big box gyms really need to sit down and take a look at how they do business, I certainly don’t see how they will be able to run a viable business with the rise of microgyms. Before having kids I subscribed to a Crossfit gym and it was totally worth the extra money, it sucked at first but what I valued above all else was the personal attention, vision, and goals that were presented to me. I believe that is what so many of us need especially in this day and age.

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