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Common Facility Frustrations

Three scenarios play out over and over in fitness centers across the U.S.

I received a remarkable amount of feedback from my August column on why I sometimes hate owning an independent fitness center. I heard from facility owners all over the U.S. who shared their frustrations, and many wrote enormously funny anecdotes about what drives them crazy. I found it therapeutic to laugh with other owners, and discuss the "dark side" of fitness center ownership. I was also taken with the consistency of areas that caused frustration: childcare, member over-reactions to seemingly simple problems, financial issues and others.

So, with tongue firmly in cheek, allow me to share some of my deepest, darkest thoughts. I'll bet that some of these scenarios ring true for your fitness center, as well.

Childcare issues

What happens: A child is brought into the childcare room carrying his breakfast, complete with pancakes and syrup.

What I say: "I'm sorry, ma'am, but we try to limit the foods we have in the childcare area. As you might imagine, the other kids will want the same thing, and then the other parents will bring in more food. Plus, it can be a bit messy if three-year-old Johnny can't quite eat his meal in an orderly fashion."

What I want to say: "Lady, did this seem like a good idea to you? We've got all these kids running around, some with food allergies, and your kid is going to be touching everything in the room with his sticky fingers - the TV screen, windows and the other kids! Don't you think you might be able to feed Johnny at, you know, your home?"

Group exercise woes

What happens: A member threatens to quit because group cycling is full.

What I say: "I'm very sorry you weren't able to get a bike today. I know it's frustrating. It's a popular class and we do run out of bikes from time to time. We are looking to add additional classes, and we're even considering purchasing more bikes. Maybe there is something else that you could do today. I'd be happy to have one of the trainers take you through a new workout that you might enjoy and find challenging."

What I want to say: "I can't believe we've disrupted your training for the Tour de France! I guess you didn't notice the thousands of square feet of fitness equipment we have here, along with other challenging classes and a staff that can help you try things you've never done before. Let me call Lance Armstrong to see if he can come in and make it up to you."

Fee finagling

What happens: A member is unhappy that he is being billed for an additional month's obligation because he missed the deadline for canceling. He'd like an exception made because he hasn't used the facility in a while, and he has been a "good" member.

What I say: "We have really enjoyed having you with us, and are sorry to hear you have to leave. I understand that you think you should be forgiven this last month of charges because you haven't used the club in a while. But, as stated in the membership agreement you signed, we needed your cancellation in writing by the 15th of the month. We feel that that's a fair policy. We try to treat all of our members in a fair and honest way. If you'd like, I can fax you a copy of the agreement you signed, where we underlined the cancellation policy for you. If I made an exception for you, wouldn't I have to make an exception for everyone?"

What I want to say: "I know you think this is just a gym, but we are a business just like any other, with policies and procedures that help us to stay in business. We have rent to pay and a staff of professionals who expect to be paid. Do you call your cable TV company and say, 'I haven't watched HBO in a while, can I have my money back?' Or maybe you could call Verizon and say, 'I know I agreed to a two-year contract, but, for me, can't you just let me cancel now with no penalty?' Do you tell your landlord, 'I was on vacation for two weeks, so I'm only going to pay half my rent this month?'"

Therapy for owners

These are just a few of my favorites. We've also had members get angry at us for serving free bagels in the morning. ("Don't you know carbs are bad for you?") I heard from one facility owner who graciously shared her home-grown cucumbers with her members, only to have one person demand dip. (No dip? The horror!) So, keep those emails coming! Let it out! You'll feel better!
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