A rare money/finance post vent

This is a rare bitch-fest about the policies and marketing efforts of my big box gym. I find their behaviors and recent changes in fee schedules more upsetting for how it will impact other members more than the blow it delivers to my own budgetary bottom line. Unless you are in my realm and a member of my gym, this will be blander content than usual.

I enjoy my time in my gym, and I give 96.872% of the credit to my fabulous trainer. Teaching me to exercise safely and sanely is what I sought in engaging his professional expertise. Spoon feeding me enough technique and challenge for many small successes that build upon each other has allowed me to fall in love with moving my body via exercise. Graceful? Only if you think of a lumbering herd of elephants or wildebeest as graceful. Stronger? Oh yes, very much so, and it is shocks, amazes, and thrills me every time I finish something with what seems like such a weighty weight. I am competent at my pursuits, and I am doing things that mind would have balked at as way too complicated at best and just plain too hard always at various points in the journey. It has been almost 18 months, 14 of which have been about daily exercise of some sort, and all without any serious injury (frantically seeking wood to knock upon). The yoga and pilates practices I pursue help, of course. But there is no substitute for good education and a solid foundation of safe movement for my particular body with its quirks.

The funds I have invested in sessions and my gym membership – worth every single penny. Any generosity extended to J in terms of gifts or cash tips at replenishing my session balances have not been because I am such a great person who shares, but because he has earned it and deserves the compensation for the extra time and consideration he provides me. The stupid questions he’s fielded, the tearful meltdowns in text, the happy dancing when I finally conquer something that has vexed and dogged me. Mostly though – the inspiration and fascination that has built and allowed me to take control of my overall health and enjoy that significant success. Yes, yes, yes – I do the heavy lifting. For someone who has started and stopped, started and stopped exercise programs as much as I have, this consistency and stick-with-it-ness comes from finding the right trainer at the right time in conjunction with my own readiness to take the necessary steps to improve my health and my life. Money well spent, and if it meant I had to work longer and harder to continue to afford this sort of health-enhancing service, I would either give up other stuff I fritter money away on or work that much harder to earn greater income.

Yep, I feel very strongly about it. I am also not going to apologize for enjoying this luxury. It is not at the expense of my/our future. And believe me, I understand not everyone can afford the services of a personal trainer. Many people can barely afford gym membership at the least expensive option of gym chains. I truly do know and understand how fortunate I am. I give J such lavish credit because he deserves it. Ours is truly a training partnership, one where he has invested in me far more than just a couple of hours that contribute to his overall paycheck.

The gym itself, I have no such loyalty to, unfortunately. I like it well enough; it is conveniently located and I have met some very nice members and staff there that I enjoy seeing every day. But if J jumped ship tomorrow and went to some other club or a private training studio, I would most likely invest my training dollars there.

The training partnership is what makes my gym an asset to me, not the club itself or its facilities.

Because compared to other clubs in nearby communities, my gym is a red-headed stepchild in the chain. Which is odd to me, because the corporate office is in the same building and I would have thought their home club would be a much nicer facility.

It’s clean enough, has a variety of equipment. For what I am presently using it for, it’s perfectly fine and functional and could continue to be so well into the future. However, I routinely see a number of “out of service” tags on popular equipment. Rainy days like today, I can almost guarantee the roof is leaking and there are buckets and towels on the floors in specific places upstairs.

All these things are manageable. The pool is nice, except I never use it. I have no idea what the steam room and sauna are like, because I have never actually been in them. I get hugely annoyed that they continually run out of kleenex in the group fitness room and it seems to take a village at the front desk to get a replacement box. (This is a genuine problem for me – my sinuses seem to sweat in tandem with the rest of me during practice and I continually need to blow my nose.) But while I might very occasionally need to walk the entire gym to find a set of dumbbells in the weight I need (because someone has wandered off and abandoned them), there is plenty of equipment to get my work completed and usually without having to wait and wait and wait for it.

The members in my home gym are older; median age seems to be about my age, plus or minus a few years. There are a larger number of silver (senior) small group training classes because the demographic skews that way. Our community is not as affluent as others where the bigger, fancier, more feature-, equipment-, and floor space-rich clubs were built. It is my opinion and experience that our club has a more friendly, accepting feel to it, far less meat-market than others I have visited.

Unfortunately, our gym chain is a big box corporate monolith, a fully functional one-size solution across the board. And while I understand the bottom line better than many, I also understand the differences between clubs and facilities does not go unnoticed, particularly since we as members are following the same fee scale no matter which club we utilize. As a regular consumer of personal training services, a regular in the club, and an observer of other members utilizing other trainers and participating in body fit classes, I sense a deep unevenness in the skill level presented by the professional training staff, but again, no difference between getting a scary smart trainer like J who actively works to improve his skills versus a newly certified greenhorn who seems to be clinging to a standardized training plan for every single client.

It bothers me greatly, yet I know there is little to be done other than voting with my feet. I personally am not inclined to do that, because again, training relationship and what I want and need from a gym are being fulfilled. But many of the other members I have met, talked to, gotten to know through the months are fixed-income seniors, now going from a monthly flat fee unlimited group fitness program to a pay-per-class schedule that may cause them to move less because of financial considerations.

I begrudge no one from making a buck, or even lots of bucks. But it feels a bit shortsighted right now on the ground, where I am sitting and observing. I understand the group-think workings of a corporate entity, and I have a pretty good grasp of the economics, even if I do not have all the specifics on the moving pieces and parts with regard to the gym’s financial state.

But on the heels of an average 8% increase in training and small group training classes in November and a just announced increase in membership dues, I am quite irritated with the new investment corporation that purchased the chain in early 2016. I get that they are looking to squeeze more return on their initial investment. However, the data looks very different with the charts and spreadsheets and financial reports and projections they have reviewed and tweaked and the various scenarios they have considered before arriving at these decisions than the boots on the ground I see in my gym 6 days a week.

While I do not have the full background of how they arrived at these decisions, I know that it feels like an almost killing blow within my gym town. Had they simply raised prices 8% for training and body fit (small group classes lead by a personal trainer) it would be upsetting but mostly understandable. While I have not actually examined the new pricing structure myself, I have got enough of an eyeful and enough of an earful from other members to know it has changed as well. We are not talking apples to apples 8% increase; they took the basic 3-tier training packages and morphed it into at least double that number of package options. To get the best pricing – which is now 5.27% more – members must purchase a 72 session package, as opposed to the prior 40 session package. Not only is it a big giant chunk of change in one fell swoop, there are also no guarantees that the trainer I love working with will be the same trainer 72 sessions from now. Refunds should J jump ship? I will have to read the contract much more closely, but doubtful.

These things hit us directly in the wallet, and no matter how well they try to spin it, there is a big difference between 40 and 72 session packages in both pricing and commitment. Again, while I have not seen the schedule of pricing, it would only make sense that higher percentages of increase would correlate to the smaller training packages.

Such a shame. In my club, J is worth the cost, and I have no problem committing to another 36 weeks (we meet twice weekly). Training is a line item in my budget, and I save for the expense in advance of each purchase. Personal bias aside, he is the best trainer in the club, hands down. I do not get to see all the others in action, because they tend to work more evenings and I am almost always there early in the mornings. But I see J routinely in the gym at 5 a.m. working with other tribe members. Other trainers? One once or twice a week. The rest just prefer to start later or they do not have clients training before work.

If that were not bad enough, the small group body fit classes are even worse. They not only raised prices, they went from a monthly fee unlimited to pay by the class and buy in blocks of classes. The silver ladies – I see the same bunches of them every week, and honestly, they are amazing, hustling along from machine to machine and moving very spiritedly from station to station. Some of them are in there 5 days per week, and I know most are retired and on fixed incomes. It is a shame that several will likely be cutting back on the number of classes to maintain their ability to belong to the gym.

And of course on top of all that in November, they wait until December to announced monthly memberships are going up in January. The additional $48/year does not really impact me, but it does irritate me greatly. Because the club I use sees few if any of those dollars for updated equipment or facilities. The increase is in addition to the maintenance and facilities fee billed to every member household. Hard to be okay with paying these increases when there is no upgrade to facilities, equipment, or personnel.

It saddens me on one hand, and absolutely infuriates me on another. I am well aware of my personal aspirations for a perfectly fair and just world in which to dwell and how limited the opportunities to effect genuine change. Yet … it does seem like we are getting short changed on these increases. Our club does not seem to have any major renovations planned and no new equipment has been appearing on the gym floor. I have noted no increase in staff helpfulness or training skills being demonstrated.

I do not truly understand how a fitness center’s business model actually works, but I have some idea that those paying dues and never using the facilities anywhere subsidize those of us who are there all the time. I understand the push to sign up new members, sell more training packages and body fit class sessions. I completely understand a financial statement.

If the investment group were on the ground in town and seeing how things work in the smaller clubs, perhaps they would consider not alienating the large portion of seniors who populate my club. Raise prices if necessary – everything else is going up and it is understandable – but leave grandfather the unlimited package for existing members. Same thing for personal training packages – raise the cost if you must, but reward the members who use the gym and their training by offering the smaller packages with just the small increase in cost. New members are already paying more in monthly dues, I’m sure. Present them with the new cost models for body fit and for personal training and leave the rest of us alone.

Same is true of dues. Why am I paying the same fee if I only use my tiny, less modern club? Granted I could drive across town to the big jewel in the crown, but I’d happily pay less and only ever use my home gym. Given the opportunity, I imagine others might feel the same.

Marketing, how I loathe thee. They package it as membership offers use of any of the 19 facilities! Except I’m not going to drag my sorry butt clear across town to use another gym at 5 in the morning, and that is when I choose to get my practice done. Why am I paying for something I never use? Sounds wonderful in the glossy brochures, but reality is I have not been in another facility in years. Come 2017 I will probably branch out and go to the swanky place in the next town over, just because. I should get something for the extra $48 I’ll be paying each year.

Because while I know they need a steady stream of paying members, I would hate to see them lose existing members. Or referrals from existing members. Next month I am restarting design of a health and wellness program, and I am feeling very angry with my gym’s corporate masters. I work with people working off their law school loans, and while I know the club offered pretty good rates for corporate membership, I’m not feeling too inclined toward them right now. Probably I will get over it, but still.

While I am in a ranting mood toward the corporate overseers of my gym, my reaction is more because their shortsightedness hurts those who need and use the services most. I actually love my little facility, and I genuinely enjoy the people I see and interact with daily. However, I would love to pay these kinds of prices and have a team of really engaged, trying hard trainers leading classes and working with clients. Instead I see J and a couple of others working hard with their folks, and the rest sort of punching in and out and watching the clock while working with the members. I don’t get it, and this could be a shortcoming on my part, having worked in consulting the bulk of my career. In consulting, you become extremely conscious of the billability and building, maintaining, and enhancing the client relationship by doing consistently high-quality work. At the firm, my “clients” are the lawyers, parallels, and even my receptionist as well as the clients paying our fees. If I have high standards of performance for them, expectations for myself are higher.

One of the best decisions I made in my own career was to leave large corporations in favor of small firms and companies was because I began to question my own commitment and expectation of excellence. The level of personal satisfaction and success I have enjoyed cannot be compared to being one of many hundreds or thousands of managers at the same level in a large organization and having no voice either up or down the food chain. Years ago when I was a civil service employee, there was a saying: there’s never time to do it right but always time to do it over. Talk about crazy-making! For me and my personality type, it was a form of slow suicide to stay there and be stifled that way.

The career decisions I have made all rest upon my strong internal locus of control. Right now, I am my own boss in my own little firm or I am the administrative manager for a small law firm. In both cases, I have access to and direct influence with the final decision makers, and in a lot of areas I am the final decision maker. I am part of the body the sets and enforces standards of behavior, and while I am willing to work with just about anyone to achieve success, there is a strong expectation of personal responsibility and doing whatever it takes to achieve personal success. Each person I work with is an individual, judged that way and on standards based loosely their personal/professional strengths and abilities.

I guess my very length rant again big corp is that I am again disappointed by this big box gym not giving two shits about service as long as the members continue their ACH payments every month. In my vision of a more just and perfect world, the gym’s corporate decision makers would look more closely at individual clubs and recognize that the blanket decrees and decisions made are not always in their best long-term interests of maintaining a steady revenue stream.

And I also really want a living, breathing, glitter-bombing unicorn of my own someday.

To add insult to injury, right after reading about how my dues will be increasing by 4.44% next year, I receive another email survey from the marketing team requesting feedback on slogans under consideration. Are you fucking KIDDING me? I have long said the club’s marketing people are dumb as a box of rocks, and after that thought flitters through my mind I immediately think I owe the rocks an apology. Why on earth would they ask me, already a dues-paying member about their marketing slogans? And for goodness sakes, why on earth send me THAT email immediately after the modest 5.27% increase in personal training session fees (IF I purchase 80% more sessions at once than I have to now to get the best pricing available) and a 4.44% increase in monthly membership? My best theory is the marketing people are hoping for raw and honest feedback, because I suspect the pushback is going to be heated and angry.

I may write the gym’s big boss, because I suspect the condescending response I could receive in reply would be worthy of scathing mockery well above the my present level of supreme irritation, likely resulting in yet another 3200 word rant. But so worth it!

 

One thought on “A rare money/finance post vent

  1. I hope you did write. I dunno, but in a very low inflation world, those kind of price increases (even forgetting the extra commitment to sessions) is just unacceptable. On what basis are they basing them? I know you are committed to J, but certainly these kind of increases must shake your faith in whether he will will stick around as he may lose other clients to this cash grab.

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