Better Comms With Members Should Be On the Gym Industry’s List of New Year’s Resolutions

Maybe talking to people would be a good business strategy.

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With everyone (for the moment at least) working out to reach those New Year’s resolution goals, the health club business model has been getting a lot of attention. You had this enlightening report from NPR showing that the trend towards low-cost gyms like Planet Fitness (with monthly fees as low as $10) is fueled, from a business standpoint, by the fact that many people sign up for the gym but never actually show up.

But what about the people that do go to the gym regularly? Just a personal observation, but it seems like health clubs could benefit from talking more with the people who exercise throughout the year.

I’m a member of New York Sports Club, part of the Town Sports chain of clubs that operates in a ton of cities. The cost of this gym is more than Planet Fitness, but also offers more amenities, like towels, classes and saunas. On New Year’s Day, in addition to pulling the monthly membership fee from my bank account, I also saw an additional $40 fee had been taken.

Curious, I contacted the gym to find out what the extra deduction was for. I called the facility itself, left a message for the manager who I was told would be back in about 40 minutes, but never received a return call. Then I sent an email through the online system. After checking in again a couple days later (and letting them know that I would be writing something about this for PRNewser), I got an email saying that the fee was part of what I agreed to in my contract and is taken to lock in my rate. (This sounds like shenanigans, but anyway…) They even sent a snapshot of my contract highlighting the portion, one of many clauses in a contract that honestly makes you feel like your signing your life away when you register.

When NYSC was about to change the online system for signing up for classes back in October, they sent an email alerting people about the new process. About three months after joining, I also received both an email and a phone call, both from a real human, inviting me to an orientation event. I was kind of sad I had to miss it. So why wouldn’t they also send a note about this? Why wouldn’t there be a regular newsletter alerting customers about new classes, fees, amenities and such. During spin class yesterday, the instructor tried shouting out some new classes that would be offered this season, but I was too busy sweating and gasping to hear what they were.

I was once a member of Planet Fitness and after signing up, I never heard a peep from them. Many times I walked in and thought the gym was in need of a good cleaning. And on that special Monday when they serve food, the smell of pizza mixed with the odor of sweat was kind of nauseating. Had I had an outlet, I might have mentioned that. If they asked, maybe they would find that members would pay extra if they offered classes and towels.

As for the $40 fee, it’s fine (I guess), I like my gym and I’m not going anywhere, but a heads up would’ve been nice. Maybe it’s also part of the business model not to encourage too much engagement. But for the people who are dedicated to going whether you talk to them or not, a system of communicating could generate some much-needed loyalty. According to Town Sports itself (quoted in New York): “The number of competitor clubs that offer lower pricing and a lower level of service have continued to grow in our markets over the last few years. These clubs have attracted, and may continue to attract, members away. We also face competition from club operators offering comparable or higher pricing with higher levels of service [and] private studios offering niche boutique experiences.”

Simply talking to people — providing that bit of service — could be an edge.