September 23, 2007

Fitness Clubs Exercise Your Wallet

Whenever I feel like exercise I lie down until the feeling passes --- Robert Maynard Hutchins

Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness --- Edward Stanley
Joining a fitness club has risks. There's pressure to join. The club can go out of business, taking your money with you. We experienced both with Holiday Fitness in Ottawa years ago.

We've been members of Bally Matrix/Total Fitness since 1992. Apart from the initiation fees, we've been very pleased. Our location, West Metro Toronto, occupied three floors of a modern office building with plenty of parking. Great equipment. Great staff. Great members. Great atmosphere.

The Problem
The big problem was our son. The minimum age for members is 13. So one of us would stay home to look after him. This reduced our visits considerably. We wanted fitness to be a shared event. A family that sweats together ...

Last Christmas, we gave our son, then 12, sessions with an excellent personal trainer (Pino). This was terrific. We all went together and benefited. Then we waited until this month for Jeevan to turn 13.

With excitement, we went to Bally's to get our son a membership. Guess what? The club was sold to Goodlife Fitness a few months ago.

New Owners
The new owners have not made improvements. Some of our favourite equipment is gone. There are fewer staff. Normally, you'd find half a dozen on the main floor alone (mainly to sign up new members). We visited on Saturday afternoon and only found two staff in the whole building --- both at the reception desk. The exercise floors were nearly deserted too. No one was swimming in the award-winning pool. (Disclaimer: we did not check the locker rooms.)

The atmosphere had changed. The energy level had dropped. When life gives you lemons ...

We were not deterred. We had two simple questions
  1. Can a 13 year old join?
  2. If so, what's the price?
The sales rep went to check the minimum age requirements. Upon his return, he started talking to a woman who arrived after us. She was in a rush. So he started attending to her, which would only take five minutes we were told. The five minutes extended to a club tour, extraneous questions, filling out forms. Probably 30 minutes in all. We started leaving but were implored to stay since we'd be served in a minute. We waited.

Sticker Shock
Goodlife does accept children but they need to take 12 sessions with a personal trainer. Since a personal trainer had already worked with our son, this requirement was reduced to six. We figured this could be negotiated down further.

The price? This was a shock. At Bally's, my wife and I each paid $200/yr for a total of $400. So we figured that adding our son would increase the price to $500-600. Wrong.

Here's the pricing for each two weeks (not monthly):
  • one person: $29.50 ($767/yr)
  • 2nd person: $23.50 ($611/yr)
  • 3rd person: $15.00 ($390/yr)
That's a grand total of $68 payable 26 times per year for a total of $1,768 per year. We were not offered any discounts for being Bally's members for 15 years. However some miscellaneous setup fees would be waived, but that was true for any new member.

What Now?
Our excitement vanished. Have prices skyrocketed? Are there other clubs for the whole family? We're investigating. We'll then exercise our options.

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