I’ve always loved the gym. During my adult life I’ve worked in them, worked out in them, managed them, raised money to build them, designed and operated them. I love the atmosphere, the banter and the sense of purpose. I don’t always like the music. I’ve never really experienced the trepidation that some people feel when entering a gym for the first time.
I’ve always loved the gym. During my adult life I’ve worked in them, worked out in them, managed them, raised money to build them, designed and operated them. I love the atmosphere, the banter and the sense of purpose. I don’t always like the music. I’ve never really experienced the trepidation that some people feel when entering a gym for the first time. That’s probably because I come from a Loughborough PE/Sports Science background and have always been comfortable with the functional requirements of training and the creation of personalised programmes. Many others are not, and with good reason. The very best gyms understand this issue and approach the prospective or new member carefully and with a great deal of support and empathy. From the initial sales enquiry through to the tour of facility and the initial consultation the very best gyms work hard to make people feel comfortable by breaking down the barriers to participation, perceived or otherwise. The most common concerns usually relate to body image, wearing the ‘right’ kit, and the fear of not knowing what each piece of equipment is for. It can be a daunting experience. The very best gyms assess members on an individual basis and avoid the one size fits all approach to health ‘MOT’s and the creation of programmes that are heavily CV reliant. Programmes should be based upon specific individual aims relating to gains in size, strength or fat loss. Too often these are confused, are not produced on a bespoke basis or underpinned with sound nutritional advice. The very best gyms get this right. Most don’t. The very best gyms are welcoming, well equipped, and staffed with interested and qualified professionals who possess people skills. They require their gym instructors to be interactive, to walk the floor, advising and encouraging, listening and improving techniques. Too many gyms have staff who sit at the gym desk reading, playing with their phones or drinking coffee. I was a member of a ‘corporate’ gym for seven years and worked out five times each week. By the end of that period there were still members of staff who didn’t know my name. They had never asked. That should be the minimum requirement, even in a large gym with many members; learn the members’ names. It’s no surprise that industry member retention figures are still much lower than they ought to be. The emphasis seems to be on attracting new members rather than simply retaining those that exist. I wonder why? I’ve heard gym staff say that they prefer the gym to be ‘quiet’; I’ve heard gym Managers say that the ideal scenario is where there are lots of members but that they don’t use the facility! Retention figures are low but ‘churn’ seems to be everything; new members often pay joining/introductory/admin fees so losing existing members is not seen as an issue as long as new ones sign up. What other industry allows customers to walk out of the door in that way? Perhaps the ‘no-frills’ chains will continue to shake things up? They can offer value over price, longer opening hours, and appeal to those not interested in saunas, Jacuzzis, cafes or pools. They don't always have 12 month commitment periods. For some the lack of specialist gym staff is of concern and for others it is not an issue. The trend in some of the ‘chain’ gyms however appears to mirror what is happening at the lower price point facilities; increasingly gym floors are losing their identities as instructors are encouraged to be Personal Trainers. You might think that I, as a Personal Trainer, have a vested interest here – and you might be right – but my concern is that the traditional role of the informed, proactive gym instructor is under threat. As a gym member I expect to receive personalised advice and support; I don’t believe that the very same staff who should be providing that service should also be punting PT offers instead. There surely ought to be a strict demarcation between the roles? Taking off one t-shirt and putting on another mid-shift doesn’t swing it. Whilst Personal Trainers offer a different service to that offered by gym instructors there are overlaps. The development of ‘micro-gyms’ owned and operated by Personal Trainers, offering bespoke services to clients, is an interesting development. In these premises the quality of equipment and programming is controlled, the equipment is specifically fit for purpose, the ethos is clear and members are treated as customers. This is all provided within the member fee. They require initial capital, and on-going revenue support, and thus there are barriers to market entry, but I feel we will see more and more of them. If the traditional gym is to survive and prosper perhaps there needs to be a revised approach to satisfying the needs of the customer? The gym member surely has to be placed at the heart of the customer experience; treated with respect, guided, nurtured and supported. The very best gyms do this. In my experience most have yet to catch up.
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