Not sure which treadmill to purchase? You may think, why not throw a few different brands on the cardio floor and let your members give their two cents? Who knows if your members will like the new bikes you are considering. Line up a few brands and let your members cast their vote. Sound familiar?

As someone who has marketed various fitness and health products my entire career, I have always appreciated the value of garnering feedback from customers (or potential customers) as a means to avoid costly mistakes or improve weaknesses in a business and increase profits. Properly executed solicitation of feedback through surveys or focus groups involves using a prequalified group of participants who are carefully screened and selected. It is Marketing 101 and People 101. Who doesn't like to share their opinion when asked? (Or, even when not asked?)

In the health club setting, conducting regular member surveys has become fairly standard practice. Whether it is as simple as keeping a suggestion box at the front desk or executing online surveys, the data gathered allows club operators to hear how they are doing in key areas, such as parking, equipment availability, cleanliness, food selection in the café or why you ought to reconsider the new paint you chose for the locker room. No doubt, reading the additional comments area of a member survey is always enlightening. Isn't it?

Although your members could be considered experts in these areas, how far do you take their expertise? Are they qualified to assist you with making decisions about new fitness equipment purchases?

Cue the in-house fitness equipment demonstration, a seemingly logical and democratic exercise that some club owners and fitness managers conduct to engage members when considering new products.

However, this process can be a can of worms for which you should prepare if you dare open. Likely, you will hear things such as: "I like the treadmill with the iPod dock best." "I like the seat better on this bike." "I don't want new bikes. Why can't we just keep the bikes we have?"

In situations like these, somehow club owners have become distracted and seduced by fitness equipment makers. And who could blame them, quite frankly? Today, most commercial equipment manufacturer sales reps or local equipment dealers are happy to promptly ship out a few units of their latest model for your members to test drive. As a club owner, complimentary equipment demonstrations can make you and your members feel special. It can make you feel that your business is important to the seller.

An equipment demo in which a small percentage of your members fill out a form that is likely found hanging on a clipboard with a comment section is not a trusted source of opinions that you should rely upon to make expensive buying decisions. Why? Because when it comes to evaluating the benefits of a new piece of equipment—biomechanically, physiologically and functionally—the most valuable feedback for the ownership, the management and your members should come from you.

After all, you are the one with years of experience and education in the fitness industry. You attend and participate in workshops, certifications and seminars to increase your knowledge and skills in all aspects of health, wellness and fitness. You are the one probing the equipment manufacturer to understand the true cost of ownership compared to the initial purchase price. You are the one asking the manufacturer for customer references and calling them to discover their marketing claims are true. You are the one attending industry trade shows and trying every new piece of fitness equipment plus listening to what your colleagues have to say. You are the one reading the latest peer-reviewed, scientific research articles and journals relating to diet, exercise and wellness.

You (or your trusted top-level staff members) have an understanding about service and maintenance requirements for various fitness modalities.

As for your members? They are busy living their lives, doing what they do best—and all the while looking to you for your trusted expertise and guidance as to which equipment will serve their fitness and health needs best. They expect that every exercise product found in your facility is safe and effective and has been granted your stamp of approval.

So the next time that smooth-talkin' salesperson offers to ship you their latest product so that you can gauge your members' feedback, consider this: "A camel is a race horse designed by committee." You do the research. Complete your due diligence. Trust your knowledge, experience and, most of all, your gut. Then make your decision and sell it to your members with great passion and confidence. If you genuinely believe in yourself as a trusted resource for your members, you cannot fail.

Jackie Mendes serves as director at RealRyder International LLC, makers of the RealRyder Indoor Cycle, an indoor bike that offers a functional, multi-dimensional training experience. She is a passionate marketing communications and brand management professional, specializing in the fitness and health industries. She holds certifications with RealRyder Indoor Cycling, American Council on Exercise and Baptiste Power Yoga. You can reach her at jackie@realryder.com, 800-976-6280 or at www.RealRyder.com.