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Keeping Members Happy During Peak User Times

Do you have lines of people waiting to use your cardio equipment during peak times? Here's how other fitness centers deal with this issue.

First it's foot-tapping. Then their arms cross, and their mouths drop into tight frowns. They stare meaningfully at the clock, and finally let loose loud and dramatic sighs. These are the signs of an increasingly angry member waiting for a treadmill, and if the situation isn't diffused, it can escalate into a manager's nightmare. Here's how to keep tempers in check when there's a wait for the treadmills.


General Manager Mark Connor says that, because it is a corporate facility, the Vonage Fitness Center, Holmdel, N.J., doesn't deal with the periodic influx of people that many other fitness centers suffer. As a result, there isn't much of an issue with treadmill wait times. However, his previous employment at other facilities tells a different story. "At the YMCA, we had sign-up sheets, and a 30-minute time limit," says Connor. "There were time slots that people could book three hours in advance. But, if they didn't show up for their time slot within 10 minutes, they lost their spot." If the previous exerciser shortened their workout, the next person could jump on the treadmill early. "That actually worked pretty well," says Connor.

At theClub, managed by Plus One Health Management and located on the 14th floor of the Hearst Tower, New York, N.Y., a more indirect method of prevention is at work. An aromatherapy feature on its treadmills sends the scent of orange blossoms wafting toward runners, according to General Manager Nikki Carosone, and theClub has never experienced an irate member. "Our treadmills are all Technogym, and come equipped with an aromatherapy 'fan' option," says Carosone. "This feature is meant to further enhance the exercisers' experience on the machine (maybe it is working, seeing as how we have no irate members)." It also adds to the energy and overall feel of theClub, Carosone says.

However, even the best prevention systems can be ineffective when dealing with thoughtless or overly scheduled people. "One time I worked a morning shift. It was very early and I'm not a morning person," Connor says. "It was just about 6:30, and a woman came up to me and said, 'She has to get off now.' According to my watch, she had more time. But the member was insistent, so I asked the other woman to get off the treadmill. Later on, [the complaining member] apologized to me. She said time was tight. I told her it's not worth the stress of getting upset about 30 seconds on a treadmill."


Connor takes advantage of overbooked treadmills and uses those potentially explosive moments to encourage people to try out other cardio equipment. "I always offer people alternatives, something that might not be used as much, like an elliptical or rower," he says. "Some people are stuck on the treadmill. By showing them that they can use other equipment, it does expand people's program a little bit, and it diversifies what they do. This is a good thing."

Carosone says that staff at theClub take a similar approach. "Typically, our most active time frames at theClub are the morning, lunch and evening times. These are also the times when we offer a wide variety of group fitness classes," says Carosone. "If the training floor is busy, we encourage members to join a class, such as cardio kickbox or Spin, to kick up their cardio programs. ... The members are used to being directed onto a different piece of equipment, because we always did that from the time the site opened," says Carosone. "It's another customer service we offer to members, as we are very aware of their time limitations and the importance of their workout."

End of the line

Depending on the size of your fitness center, or your budget, there may never be enough treadmills to go around. How you choose to handle inevitable wait times will say a lot about your facility and its commitment to customer service. The best method involves preventing a situation where members deal with long lines. If that fails, redirect them before they get angry and start looking for a new fitness center to join.
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