One last thought about first years. This month marks my first anniversary at Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro, and I've learned a lot about the business in just a short time.

I've developed a great respect for the men and women who make a living in the fitness industry and whose mission is to improve the health of the people who come to their facilities. However, some of the problems that have hurt the industry's reputation (many of which I've reported on) are some of the same problems I've experienced first-hand this year.

I don't consider myself a club shopper, but one day, on a whim, I took a quick tour of a well-known fitness club. All I wanted was a tour, but the manager at the front desk was eager to show me the club's membership rates. He even did the classic cross-out-the-price move and circled what would be my discounted price if I joined that day. This was the same tactic I saw spoofed in an episode of “Family Guy.”

While I was talking to the club manager, a member walked up to him and asked if his coat had been brought to the club's lost-and-found box. The manager could not find the coat, so I could only assume that it had been stolen. I've reported on many club thefts in the past year, some more serious than a missing coat. So, in the 10 minutes I was in the club that day, I experienced two ills of the industry: the fast-talking, aggressive salesman and a lack of club security.

Recently, I attended a grand re-opening of a local nonprofit fitness facility. I had heard about its multi-million-dollar investment in equipment and its upgrades to its locker rooms. Still, as I self-toured the facility, I felt as uncomfortable as most non-gym goers do when they walk into a club for the first time. Overall, the facility was a confusing place in which to walk around, with long, narrow hallways and cramped stairwells. Plus, the amount of new equipment just didn't excite me, and the locker room didn't have nearly the “wow” factor I had anticipated.

Surprisingly, my favorite fitness facility experience from the past year came at a hotel fitness room. The room wasn't too big but had plenty of equipment, especially for me. There was a short wait to use the treadmills and ellipticals on the Friday morning that I was there, but on Saturday morning, the room was pretty wide open.

After my second workout, I went into the locker room (with a key given to me at the front desk), took a shower and used both the steam room and hot tub. It helped that there was nobody around at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday, but I felt comfortable, especially since most of my personal belongings were locked away in my hotel room. There was a small fee for the use of the facility, but it was worth it.

I hope to broaden my club experiences by visiting more clubs this year. The only way to truly know what's going on in the industry is to get out there and do it.

But I still have trepidations. In this issue, we have a follow-up story about more fitness franchisees continuing to struggle. Also, with recent reports of for-profit clubs receiving low marks from gym goers and member complaints increasing at an alarming rate, this industry still has a lot of room for improvement.

Quite simply, knowing what I know after reporting on the good and the bad in this industry for a year, I would not want to join a fitness club right now, and I certainly would not want to own a fitness club. If I think that way, then how do you think the general public feels about fitness clubs after reading about thefts, unexpected closings and bankruptcies? Before I will change my mind about this industry, I need to see some change. After all, I'm from Missouri, the “Show-Me” state.