Where Have All the Towels Gone?

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Towel theft got you down? If so, join the club. A Wall Street Journal article details the woes of YMCAs and commercial clubs that have been generous enough to offer towel service to members, only to have that generosity repaid with towel thefts. I'm not sure what surprised me more—that The Wall Street Journal would cover towel theft in gyms or that a Y in New Jersey reported losing an average of 50 towels per day at a cost of $50,000 per year, and that The Columbia Association, Columbia, MD, spends about $500,000 per year on towels.

I guess what really surprised me was how many people think taking a towel from their fitness facility is OK. Too many people consider towels to be like the little soap bars and shampoo bottles in their hotel rooms—free for the taking as part of their membership cost. One man in the story who had complained when his facility stopped towel service because of theft even admitted that he has some of the club's towels in his linen closet at home. Doesn't he think about his theft every time he uses that towel?

Of course, towels are not the only thing that members tend to swipe. Some clubs have faced theft of hair dryers, toilet paper, soaps, shampoos and other locker room items. These types of thefts are more likely to be purposeful than the theft of a towel, which I can imagine might inadvertently get tossed into a gym bag. But wouldn't the realization of the mistake hit people when they pull the towel out of their gym bag to wash it? Are they just too lazy to return it?

One of the executives in the story noted that he adds towel theft costs into his budget. Other companies are trying systems that keep track of towels.

If you provide towels for members, how do you deal with towel theft? Have you thrown up your hands and just added the cost of towel replacement into your budget, do you charge people for towels or do you use some sort of tracking system?

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