How the Gym has Failed

(My intension to this article is meant to complain to whole industry practice, and not meant to call out any particular franchise, so I will withhold its name and site. Also, any names shown on this articles are pseudonyms.)

The story begun when I received a little voucher by the mail — free gym membership through November. That sounds good, I probably can use some more exercise. But long story short, I ended up wasting 2 hours.

It turns out that the “voucher” was intended for other set of locations of the same franchise, and I wasn’t eligible. Fair enough — I don’t know why it was delivered to me, but that’s fine, just turn me down. However, things turned a bit different.

About the time someone at the counter was to decline the voucher (like she’s supposed to do) and I was about to leave, John, the sales rep, probably a trainer, too, approached to me and introduced himself, trying to be accommodating. So I started sit down and chat with him. Along with the topics like, what’s the most important aspect of gym membership, as then he gave me tour of the facility.

The facility was great, and after the tour, we sat again after taking weight, height. At this point, I was not necessary interested signing up for the paid membership — after all, all I was after was the voucher. Instead, he tried to make me sign up for commitment. For the fairness, they were not necessary attempting to sign me up for long commitment, but commitment is commitment, long or short.

They use fear in attempt persuade you — fear that you will be unhealthy if not signed up. Then they bring out urgency. “If you don’t sign up now, you’ll be ending up paying $100 more for sign up.” and when that doesn’t work, they starts introducing bundling, such as “you’ll get this and that if you sign up for it without additional cost.” Another thing I found common to sales in this industry is that they also use confrontation to prevent people from “thinking about it.” They claim that it is excuse of getting away from your habit. The person would say something like “You won’t be coming back if you leave now.”

Closer to the end of the conversation, perhaps knowing that the his sales pitches are going nowhere with me, John started “politely insulting” me gradually shifting to real insult, then I get pissed off, and that was over. Not only his greed didn’t pay out, he had to spend 2 hours for nothing. He perhaps also lost an outlet for opportunity of monthly membership, should I have decided to join.

John may have his own story to it, but to the myself as a customer, it is nothing more than confrontation by pressure. Bottom line is, I’m not coming back. I may consider gym membership elsewhere, but not there. The problem is that there are probably many people out there who falls for it with that “tactic,” and that’s probably exactly why he attempts this — I actually dealt with same class of people elsewhere, and their tactics were largely same.

From my experience, and observations, here are some of my personal tips to people who are thinking about joining a gym:

  1. Know that the person is trying to sell you something. When they say something like “I care about you” read “I care about you, because I have to pay my bill.” Remember, they advise you just because they are paid to persuade into joining. After all, they are sales representative and not your best friend.
  2. They may present you with information such as “your true age” — take that with grain of salt. Yes they might be presenting with you with decent ballpark figure, but they use this tool to drive your decision. It was also interesting to note how John’s attitude has changed from objective remarks (“You would look older than you really are in this figure.”) to more subjective word (“That figure is just scary!”) before and after my hesitation to commit and sign up.
  3. Apparently, hearing experiences from others, even at same place, some people get “targeted” more than others. It sounds like if you look unhealthy, more likely you will be targeted. (after all, they don’t want waste time selling sands to desert dwellers.)
  4. Assume you are under their control at the moment you step in. Don’t be afraid to walk out if you don’t like it, they can’t prevent you from doing it. (and I should have done that before wasting 2 hours there myself.)
  5. If you are dealing with someone preventing you from “taking it home” to consider, or rushing you for signing up, be very cautious.
  6. If you encounter questionable practice of how they try to sell you their membership or any products, contact your state’s attorney general with details.
  7. (I’d be very surprised if you would come anywhere close to this at any legitimate businesses but…) if they are confronting you to the point you feel you are not safe, call 911. Especially if they are preventing you to leave.

Also to service providers:

  1. Just say yes or no to whatever I ask for. If you can’t offer exactly what I’m asking for, decline. (In this case, you even had a legitimate reason to decline, and you didn’t and you ended wasting 2 hours with me.) You don’t need to introduce me to X if I’m asking for Y.
  2. When I say I need to think about it, I need to think about it. I don’t care it’s $2 a day or $100 a day, when I say I need to think about it, I meant it. And it is none of your business if I don’t return. And don’t you ever call that “excuse to get away,” as I don’t even need to convince you to walk away from it, and I’m entitled to make any decisions anyway I want, and that’s not your job to decide for me. It’s my money and not yours. (And don’t even say that you care about me, because that’s totally wrong. If you really meant by that, why don’t you pay for me?)
  3. Know not everyone’s goal orientated. When you ask me, what the purpose of the membership, that doesn’t mean I’m setting it as short term goal. Your “ideal” concept of exercise doesn’t always mean I’m up for it. If I’m coming in to the gym for certain goals, I will ask you about it.
  4. Know you can’t always sell things upfront. That’s why those trial vouchers are there for. You have plenty of opportunity to up-sell, but you just destroyed that opportunity by force feeding me with your ideals.
  5. More pushier you are, more likely you are failing. See:
  6. And…never, ever, insult or piss off your potential customer. This will not only damage your reputation to one person, but the word spreads. I’d tell my worst enemy to don’t bother going to you.

I guess just like everything else, there’s no such thing as free lunch, or free trial membership to the gym.

By Hideki Saito

In the video game industry for for more than 15 years. Currently working for Nintendo of America Inc. as a Localization Engineer, developing the translation solutions.