As the new year begins and your clubs swell with members, two consumer publications have come out with stories that should make everyone in the industry stop and think.

The February issue of Consumer Reports features a special report that rates fitness facilities. The article is based on a survey of 10,000 Consumer Reports subscribers who have belonged to a health club in the past six months. The subscribers rated their health clubs on billing issues, classes, cleanliness, crowds, equipment, locker rooms, value and workout options. Chain clubs didn't fare too well, except for Life Time Fitness, Eden Prairie, MN, which ranked second overall just behind yoga/dance/Pilates studios. The other chain clubs included in the survey were Curves International, Waco, TX; Gold's Gym, Dallas; 24 Hour Fitness, San Ramon, CA; LA Fitness, Irvine, CA; Town Sports International, New York; and Bally Total Fitness, Chicago. Work gyms (or, as we call them, corporate fitness centers), community centers, Jewish Community Centers, school gyms and YMCAs/YWCAs ranked ahead of all the chains except for Life Time.

The biggest complaint that respondents had about the chains was that they didn't see their value, according to the article. Often, respondents said they could get similar service and equipment at nonchain locations — often at cheaper prices. It's no wonder members don't think chains offer the best value. In an era of Wal-Mart and Costco, consumers want a lot for a little. Perhaps club owners of higher-priced chains haven't done enough to show their members the added value that they get at their clubs.

However, I think the survey really shows that people want to feel like their club is interested in them. Nonchains are local, which implies to most people that their owners are interested in their members and the community because they are one of them. The impression of chain clubs (even though they are staffed by local people) is that decisions come from a distant location from people who don't know or care about the members and aren't invested in the local community.

Whether the clubs are locally owned or national chains, many consumers still see the fitness industry as a group of strangers making money off of them with no true regard for their well-being.

That perception is highlighted in a recent issue of Smart Money magazine in which an article called “10 Things Your Gym Won't Tell You” appears. The article cautions readers about some of the “dirty secrets” of the industry, such as that club owners and staff don't expect most of the January joiners to be around in April, that fitness facilities are crawling with bacteria, that trainers don't know what they are doing and that it's difficult to cancel contracts. Granted, some club owners may still operate in this way, but haven't most club owners come a lot further than that?

Regardless of how hard this industry works to change its reputation, the sins of our fathers (and mothers) continue their ripple effect today. To fight this, good club owners must work together to rid the industry of corrupt operators, promise to adhere to ethical standards themselves, and cultivate good relationships with the media and members. By doing so, the industry may one day conjure positive thoughts rather than negative ones in a country in dire need of our help.