One last thought about the 1970s. The decade was good while it lasted for some clubs. The problem now is that too many facilities are stuck in that glorious (although oddly dressed) decade.
Take, for instance, one club that I wandered into recently. In the short time I was there, I saw the general manager change the “aerobics” schedule to the “group exercise” schedule to the protests of what I could only assume was a grossly outdated group exercise director. Although I'm not fully sure of her title in the altered universe in which she was working, 75 percent of her schedule consisted of step and hi-lo classes and was in drastic need of a makeover.
“I'm going to drag this club into the 21st century if it is the last thing I do!” declared the obviously frustrated general manager. But I fear he may be even more frustrated because odds are he'll be lucky to drag that club even into the 1980s anytime soon. (I can't wait until the pro shop starts selling leg warmers and those cool sweatshirts that hang off the shoulder.)
Sadly, though, that club was closer to the current century than another one I stumbled upon while searching for a place to work out on the road. One club, tucked away in a wealthy suburban town in the Northeast, was truly a trip in time.
Once I entered the building, I felt as if I was transported to the back of a Volkswagen bus, complete with shag carpeting. The floors, the walls and even the locker room were covered with wall-to-wall orange and brown carpeting. In fact, the only thing missing was a sign saying: “If the gym is rockin', don't come knockin'” or a bumper sticker that reads: “Keep on truckin'.” (Sigh!)
Passing the front desk attendant, who never really looked up from his black-and-white TV tucked under the desk (I imagine he was watching that new spin-off from “Love American Style” called “Happy Days”), I felt like I should have been wearing a pair of bell-bottoms and some lovebeads. Later, when passing the equipment on the fitness floor that was as old as that black-and-white TV, I half expected Greg Brady himself to be there training for his stint on the football team, from which I believe he was thrown off for having cigarettes in his pocket. (Or was that his alter ego, Johnny Bravo? See how easy it is to get lost in that decade of decadence?)
The problem with the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s is that the sales techniques for this industry often mimicked that of used car salesmen. Everyone was cutting a deal or a corner to close that membership.
At these clubs, it was no different.
“Oh, if you just use the weight room and not the racquetball courts, we can do something for you,” I was told at one.
“If you were to come in tomorrow, you would have missed our special that ends today,” another person told me. (Luckily, I have always stopped in just in time for these deals.)
Meanwhile, at the “shag” gym, the man at the front desk just kept watching TV, grunting and nodding to the price sheet readily available on the front desk.
Today, the temptation to cut deals is still strong — if not stronger — as these time-warped clubs face an onslaught of low-priced, modern clubs of all kinds. While the 1970s may have been a magical time (and I'm not talking about disco), it has left a dark legacy on the fitness industry that was made worse in the 1980s and still hangs over us today.
It is time for these clubs to not only get dragged into a new era when it comes to design, programming and customer service, but it is also time for all of us to do the same when it comes to the sales practices we incorporate. We should all start by getting rid of the shag carpeting.