by Christian Duque
Whether it’s New Year’s, the start of the Fall or Spring semester in college, or whether you’re just looking to get in shape, I want you to read this article thoroughly before you stroll into a gym looking to join up. I don’t care if the place you’re going to is a judgment free zone, I don’t care if they prefer being called a club to a gym, and I don’t care how much of a family or friendly vibe you get from the sales rep, because that’s just what they are. You’re not transforming your life, you’re not embarking on a metaphysical journey, and you’re not on the verge of something big. Take all that wishful thinking out of your mind, stop acting with your heart, and put your brain and instincts to work.
Monthly rates drop over time because you’re committing yourself to longer and many of the services being offered, look nice on paper and may have a pretty cool ring to them when listed off by your agent, but they’re useless to you. If you’ve lived in Mayberry your whole life, then having 24hr access to satellite gyms in Berlin & Tokyo are of no use to you. If you can’t or don’t swim, then a heated olympic-sized pool is also not why you’re there. The problem many people have when joining a gym, is a similar problem to when buying a house. People become very trusting, they let their guard down, and once you’ve signed – they’ve got you! The person selling you the house – they work for the homeowner – they’re not your buddy. The person in the gym shirt, opening up to you, and taking an interest in your life, is for the most part motivated by money and your interests are not a priority at all. In fact, watch as that interest in you plummets the second the ink dries on the document. You’ll be lucky if he/she even says hello to you next time you see them.
Gym memberships are very important contractual transactions that should be entered into by informed parties. Don’t just walk off the street and after one look, make a very regrettable decision. In this article, I’ll discuss how to go about finding a gym you’ll be happy to join, ways you can negotiate, and ways to avoid getting hustled.
For starters, a great, free resource available to all, is this little thing called the internet. Apps like Yelp can be very helpful, as well as reviews on popular websites like Yahoo and Google. Look at when the reviews were posted, analyse the way they’re written, and determine whether or not those leaving comments are real accounts. Sometimes, verifying a reviewer’s activity can be as easy as clicking over their avatar. If the reviewer’s account is new and only has one review, that’s probably a fake account. Fake accounts are key to pick out, because a business with poor reviews may try to improve their standing by pulling a fast one. Mom & pop shops and restaurants try to do this quite a bit. Often times, the fake accounts are obvious because of the fact they have only one review and the writing style is so suspect, that fake reviews have a way of standing out. Reviews also have photos, so be sure to screenshot those, to compare later. Typically shots online will show the best the gym has to offer, so if the photos paint the picture of a POS gym, chances are, it’s going to look even worse when you visit.
When you call a gym – and you should always call or email first – ask for a free pass. The worst thing you could do is walk in blind. The same applies for a car lot, insurance agency, moving company, anywhere where you need a product or service. The reason why, is because if just walk in, you’ll get bum rushed, ambushed, and if you’re not on your game, you’ll make for easy prey. When you call or email first, you’re going in for a stated purpose, you either want a free pass – or – at the very least, a tour.
Tours can be a hustle too, so beware. Guided tours should be avoided. Ask if you can look around on your own. If they say no, that’s generally a red flag. When a tourist visits North Korea, wait, let me rephrase that; when an oddball tourist visits North Korea, the government minders won’t let them see the starvation, the oppression, and/or witness the indoctrination. They’ll show them what little they have going for them. Gyms might have a shoddy AC, they might have poorly lit rooms, they might have mildew and/or equipment in disrepair. There’s no way a gym associate or manager will want you to see that. It’s also likely that photos of any deterioration won’t be found on online reviews, either. Assuming you get to look around, then you say thank you, and agree to call later to decide whether to meet to sign. Do not sign right then and there.
One term should you definitely avoid like the plague, is a “PIF,” short for paid in full. Sometimes you can get an amazing deal over the course of 1-3yrs, but the only one making big money is the salesperson. What if the gym suddenly changes its hours? What if the gym goes fitness studio and all the weights go away? What if that location closes down and now you have to drive 20 miles? You can’t do anything, because your leveraging power is gone. You’ve paid in full and there’s no refunds. You’re …, well, you get it. You never want to find yourself depending on the kindness others. You need to know your role. You’re the consumer; you should have a great deal of power in the equation. Savings can be very misleading and if you let greed get the best of you, you’ll save BIG, and pay dearly for those savings in the long run.
To a lot of people though, $24.95, $29.95, or even $39.99 a month isn’t much. Well multiply that by 12, 24, or 36. Then factor in annual fees – and don’t forget maintenance fees. All of a sudden your trivial matter could cost you $400, $800, or even $1,200+ over the course of 3yrs. What if you move, but it’s not over 50 miles aways, maybe you have to keep paying. Maybe if you move 100 miles away and there’s no provision that gives you an out because of distance, you’ll be expected to continue paying. If you choose to ignore their bill collectors, then most will happily turn your delinquent debt over to a collections agency and then, then the real fun starts; then your credit rating takes a hit. Suddenly, the insignificant gym contract has become the 10,000lb elephant in the room. Actually, it’s not just in the room, it’s on your shoulders!!
The whole concept of parties entering into a contract is that both sides give and get something of value, with neither party at a severe disadvantage. A great thing to do, is take the contract home with you. At the very least, take the contract to Starbucks and eye it over – without the sales rep breathing down your neck, staring at you, or looking at his/her watch. If you’re discouraged from taking time to read the fine print – RUN! If it’s about the sales commission, you can always assure/reassure your sales agent that they’ll get the sale (even if you personally request him when signing at a later date), but that you want to be sure you know everything before signing. Don’t allow embarrassment to get the best of you, either! Embarrassment stinks and making for an upbeat situation awkward is no fun, but no one will go to bat for you in that situation, but you! A big part of sales is setting and controlling the mood in the room. Good salespeople aren’t in a race, but bad or shady sales people, looking for a quick sale and quick money, they’ll do whatever it takes. They’ll even lie to you. I know, who’d lie to you to get money? That’s unheard of!
Also, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Even if they tell you prices are set, they’re set by them. There isn’t a national price for gym memberships. For example, when you walk into a liquor store and it says lowest price in the state – that could be true, because there’s taxes all liquor companies pay; however, there’s no set amount mandated by law for gym fees. Again, please don’t think I’m talking down to you, but every village has an idiot, and you’re floored to find out that gym prices aren’t mandated by law, then there’s probably a village turned upside down looking for you – go back home. If they tell you prices can’t be changed, then you can get up and leave. If they want the sale, they’ll talk, and if they talk, chances are they’ll negotiate. Don’t feel bad, either. They don’t have to accept your counter, but if they want business they might, it’s their call.
I’ve seen gyms with practically no cardio equipment, no dumbbells, and few (if any machines). The carpets were there since the 70’s, mildew was on the walls, and the parking lot was poorly lit and dangerous. They called this dump, a “hardcore gym” and charged $39.99 a month, some fifteen years ago! Whoever paid that, had more than one screws loose.
Hardcore is a mindset, it could be that you have Nautilus machines or that you have posters of all the bodybuilding greats on your walls. Hardcore is not synonymous with dump. If you want to train in a dump, however, you shouldn’t have to pay for training in the lap of luxury. In this situation, comparing prices to other gyms, knowing what other gyms offer, and what the dump doesn’t, can be very helpful. Don’t just negotiate to haggle, negotiate with a purpose. Visit the gym with a purpose.
In the end, if you take joining a gym seriously, chances are you won’t get hustled. If you disregard this article and disregard common sense, especially if you do so b/c you think you’re saving money, you’re in for a very upsetting time.
Thank you for reading my article. I look forward to reading your comments – here and on social media.