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Why Aren't 86 Percent of People Our Members?

Facility operators need to address several issues before consumers will be interested in our product.

In my last column, I discussed how unsurprising I find it that only 14 percent of people in the U.S. are members of fitness centers. This statistic has received a great deal of publicity lately, and I believe that this figure will only improve if independently owned facilities "think globally, but act locally." Following are reasons why independent facilities sometimes fail.

Membership options are too complex or hard to cancel

I cringe whenever I see articles in national publications titled something like, "Things to Know About Canceling Your Gym Membership." Whether it's The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine or online publications, each year brings more articles about how to avoid letting a fitness center rip you off. Several years ago, the popular sitcom Friends even did an episode about Ross trying to cancel his gym membership.

Too many facilities are run like hobbies, not businesses

How many facility owners do not run their operations as businesses that deserve respect? They are likely pleasant facilities that are operated by nice people, but they take whatever cash they can get, discount their memberships at every turn and set a low bar for the value people assign to their memberships.

Service stinks

Several years ago, a fitness facility trade magazine ran an article I wish I had saved. In it, an individual was quoted as saying, "You can't differentiate your club anymore on just providing good service because everyone is doing that." That quote has stuck with me - and is always good for a laugh. I visit other fitness centers as much as I can, and I think most facilities provide terrible service. Just this week, I visited a fitness center in New Jersey to work out for the day. The kid (and I use that word intentionally) behind the front desk was rather annoyed that I had interrupted her phone conversation in order to answer my question about a day pass. And, I guess directions to the locker room would have been too great an effort. That is just one example, but anyone who is honest about the fitness industry recognizes this as a scenario that plays itself out too many times. How would an older adult, someone new to exercise or an overweight individual feel about getting that kind of greeting?
Most of the population doesn't want to work out, and they certainly don't want to join a fitness center.

We might as well be selling cars

Consumers consider our product to be a commodity instead of a service, and they expect (and dread) high-pressure sales. I see and hear it every day at my fitness centers. The only question most consumers know how to ask is, "How much does it cost?" They are out shopping on price, and are loathe to stop in and look around for fear of being dragged into a cubicle and given a heavy sales pitch.

We have a tough product to sell

Most of the population doesn't want to work out, and they certainly don't want to join a fitness center. That's the real reason we don't have a higher penetration rate, and we are working against ourselves if we don't address the issues I've raised here. What I've written may have offended people ("That's not what happens at my club!"). I love our industry, but I see these things everywhere I go. These are issues we need to address if we are going to penetrate the 86 percent of people who are not health club members. When someone is finally ready to give a fitness center a try, we have to do better by them.
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