an example of a typical gym membership advertisement
an example of a typical gym membership advertisement

The Australian consumer rights organization CHOICE recently conducted an undercover investigation of the gym/fitness center/health club industry.

And they weren’t impressed.

CHOICE sent two secret shoppers into 9 different gyms in and around downtown Sydney posing as potential new members.

And here’s some of what they found:

Fitness First, consumers last

Of the two Fitness First gyms visited by our shadow shoppers, one in particular stood out for the salesperson’s intensity. “He couldn’t believe I didn’t want to sign,” reported one of our shoppers. “When I said I needed to speak with my husband, he said, ‘I thought you said he was supportive of you being here’. He said it was only $35 today and if I go it may not be available when I call back.”

Our second shadow shopper said: “He just kept asking me what the problem was.” At two of the four visits to Fitness First outlets, our shadow shoppers reported difficulty in ending the consultation – something they did not experience at any of the other gyms.

What Should You Do?

I have been in this business for years and I have worked with some pretty shady salespeople…scumbags really. They are a big part of the reason why I started my own personal training business and why I recommend people stay far away from any health club chains.

But, if you are determined to work out at a major health club, here’s what I would do:

  • Put together a list of potential health clubs – do a little research into each – check out their profile on the BBB website or complaints.com, etc…
  • Go gym shopping at the end of the month – all salespeople have quotas to fill.
  • Decide what kind of membership you want – do you need daycare, personal training, massage, etc..Be Prepared like a Boy Scout
  • Take control of the sales meeting – Once they get talking, you are more likely to get hypnotized by their sweet words.
  • Try this approach…. After you have had the grand tour and have been ushered back into the salesperson’s office…tell them that you ARE going to buy a gym membership in the next couple of days. Not maybe. Definite sale. You just need to decide which gym is best for you. This way, you avoid the speech about how important it is to exercise, yadda yadda.  Then tell them that what you need is their absolute best price. They will try and get you to stay seated and listen to some more B.S., but you won’t. Tell them that you have an appointment in 20 min with one of their competitors. Request their “best price” again. If they hesitate, stand up and head for the door. Don’t worry, they won’t let you walk out that door. Take their “best price” and head to the next health club on your list.
  • Always be prepared to walk out that door.
  • Don’t worry about hurting their feelings. They’re salespeople, they don’t have any feelings. Don’t believe me? See Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Creative pricing

One thing most of the gyms had in common was a creative approach to pricing. Some had printed prices, others handwritten only, but ultimately all seemed to have flexibility in the discounts and incentives they offered. Costs such as joining and administration fees were magically waived or halved as an incentive for our shadow shoppers to sign up.

One Curves consultant and one at each Fitness First outlet even asked leading questions to ascertain how much our shadow shoppers could afford to pay. In the case of one Curves outlet, one shopper was told she couldn’t take the handwritten prices away with her, as a matter of “company policy”.

gym-membership-offer

Fitness First National Operations Manager, Michele Harding, concedes the pricing structure varies from club to club, depending on customer demographics and location. Fernwood Sales Manager, Jo Stagg, says prices across the Fernwood network also differ depending on location, as franchise owners set their own prices.

Our shadow shop revealed that while both Curves and Contours had consistent pricing across their outlets, there were variations in what was waived or charged in terms of joining and administration fees. One Curves outlet quoted a joining fee of $30, while at another it was $199 but a $99 discount was offered.

At a Contours gym, one of our shadow shoppers was quoted a “set-up” fee of $195 for a 12-month contract which was reduced to $95, then an “admin fee” further reduced to $45 during the consultation. At the same gym, our other shopper was told this joining fee would be waived totally if she joined before a certain date. At the second Contours gym, a set-up or administration fee was not mentioned to either shopper and they were both told that the “joining fee” would be waived if they signed a 12-month contract.

What Should You Do?

  • Take your own notes.
  • Add up all of the different charges to determine what the total cost of a 12 month membership actually is. They will try and trick you by dividing the total cost up into a bunch of different smaller charges.
  • Be prepared to walk out the door.

Cancellation

We have all heard the horror stories of people trying to cancel their gym memberships.

  • Cancellation penalties
  • Debit/Credit cards being charged for months after membership cancellation
  • Threats of legal action for breach of contract.

What Should You Do?

  • Read your contract before you sign
  • Know the contract cooling off period in your area
  • Know the laws regarding cancellation due to relocation (if you move)
  • Consider paying a little more for a month to month membership
  • If you need to cancel your membership, do it in writing, in person, at the gym, with the club manager.
  • Be prepared to pay. They will screw up your credit rating
  • Don’t assume that just because they agreed to cancel your membership, that they won’t continue to draw money from your bank account or credit card. Check your statements

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