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Fitness Facility Industry Needs to Project Better Image

If something isn't done soon to clean up the public image of the fitness facility industry, I fear that the lack of growth in membership numbers will continue.

If something isn't done soon to clean up the public image of the fitness facility industry, I fear that the lack of growth in membership numbers will continue. Our industry is getting increased attention about its lack of care for its members. This attention is showing up everywhere - on the Internet and in the press. And, it comes down to one issue: customer care. The public's perception is that health clubs simply don't care enough about their members to serve and protect them. My local newspaper today ran a story titled "Car Burglars Get Own Workouts in Gym Parking Lots." The story centered on one woman, Marla Leinio, who left her purse, with her engagement ring in it, inside her car while she went inside the facility to work out, only to return to find her car window smashed and her purse gone. Both fitness center operators and local law enforcement officers testified in the article to the rampant thefts of valuables from cars in fitness facility parking lots. In fact, one Riverside Police Department officer, named Steve Frasher, even "met with various gym managers just before Christmas of 2006" to discuss the problem. "We made a pitch to the gyms about hiring private security guards," Frasher said. "Most of them took up on the suggestion and really had quite an impact." But, not all heed such advice. Lieutenant Ross Cooper of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department's station in Norco, Calif., contacted LA Fitness management about the number of thefts in its parking lot, and urged them to place more surveillance cameras in its parking area and to add a stronger security presence. "Unfortunately, they have been resistant to do so," Cooper said. Theft is only one of the complaints about fitness centers, and it is only one of the items in the article "10 Things Your Fitness Club Won't Tell You," which is posted on AOL's Money & Finance page (now stored in its archives), and which is not complimentary to fitness centers at all. Here is a sampling of the 10 things:
  1. "If you're still here in April, it'll be a miracle.... That's when well-intentioned souls trying to stick to their New Year's resolutions flood their local gyms, often resulting in long lines at the treadmill, overtaxed gym staff and towel shortages in the locker room. But it won't be long before the throngs thin; most resolution-makers trip up in the first 90 days.... And indeed, that's what clubs expect."
  2. "Don't touch anything - this place is crawling with bacteria.... That makes the gym, with its sweaty bodies in close proximity, a highly conducive environment for catching everything from athlete's foot to the flu."
  3. "We're not equipped to handle health emergencies.... Almost one-third of sudden cardiac arrests outside of homes and hospitals occur in fitness clubs or sports facilities.... yet, most health clubs aren't fully prepared for such crises."
  4. "Our trainers don't know what they're doing.... Trainers need no standard certification, and the credentials some flash require only a quick online course or a fee."
  5. "We won't let you quit.... Trouble canceling memberships is one of the top complaints against fitness clubs logged with the Better Business Bureau and states' attorneys general offices."
  6. "Be sure to read the fine print on our contract. The devil is in the details, and it's never truer than when it comes to fitness club contracts."
  7. "Our equipment can be downright dangerous. Unlike many businesses, fitness clubs do not need a license to operate."
  8. "Everything is negotiable."
  9. "If your wallet gets lifted, it's not our problem."
  10. "Go ahead and sue; you'll never win. Fitness clubs sure do know how to watch their backs, legally speaking. It's nearly impossible to visit a fitness center without signing a waiver that absolves the club of liability."
That's a lot of negativity with a lot of opportunity for exposure. And, that's probably the least of it. Unfortunately, there's no denying that all fitness centers are guilty of some of these things. How does your facility fare? This should be a wake-up call to us all - in case we're not already awake. While it may not be possible to reverse the public's opinion about some or even all of these things, it's most certainly time to start creating some positive press.
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