One last thought about competition. While the competition for members may be tough within the health club industry (you mean another club moved just down the block?), the battle going on between your members inside of the club may be just as fierce.

Don't believe me? Watch them. By “them” I mean your regulars, your diehards; what I like to refer to as your intimidators. They're the ones who have been scowling at your newbies since they started streaming in Jan. 1. They scoff at those having trouble adjusting the hamstring curl machine, and they usually think they're above the club's rules (of course I can change the television station; I've been a member for 10 years).

Besides walking around with an air of arrogance and ownership, they also wage a somewhat silent battle against one another for the ultimate fitness title: king/queen of (enter your club's name here). Unless you have studied them closely, you may not notice. But if you watch them, the symptoms are obvious. Garnered from my years of experience as a group fitness instructor and trainer, here are a few of the tell-tale signs:

  1. They take it as a personal insult if someone is on “their” treadmill

    Ever sit at the wrong lunch table in middle school and quickly learn that sometimes ownership doesn't have to be explicitly spelled out? It's kind of like that — but with fitness equipment and those over the age of 12.

  2. They will not be outrun/out-biked/out-elliptical-ed/out-lifted

    Take note the next time intimidators hop on a treadmill and unsuspecting newbies jump on next to them. Most often, intimidators will nonchalantly glance over at the newbies' consols and consequently speed up to match and beat the newbies' pace. Intimidators also won't end their workout until newbies do, giving up a battle that they probably don't even realize they are waging. One word of caution though: beware of intimidators working out in close proximity to each other. It almost never ends well, if at all.

  3. They take what they want, when they want it

    You know the time you spent differentiating the personal trainers' stability balls from the group exercisers' from the members'? It doesn't matter. They'll take any of them, use them and put them in the wrong spot — if they put them away at all.

  4. They have two sides

    They are buddy-buddy to your staff, referring to the club as their second home. They are also the first to convince your new members that there's a signup sheet for the showers and that front-row parking costs extra.

  5. They put in more hours than you do

    They're waiting for you to open the doors at 5 a.m., and you're kicking them out at midnight. In fact, you might know them better than you know your top sales associate or even your significant other.

The intimidators are part of the reason the deconditioned market hates gyms. Although cleanliness, programming and location are important, the intimidators aren't helping. So what can you do (especially since the intimidators are typically your most loyal members)? Create a safe haven that doesn't appeal to the intimidators. Fill a room with light weights, easy-to-use equipment and minimal technology. Then, talk to them. Like most intimidators, they're probably already on a first-name basis with you, so use that to your advantage and let them know that some change is good, especially when it ensures that the health club is kept open, and you're financially able to invest in good equipment. With all that competition out there, you can't afford to let your guard down.

Do you have a funny story about your club? If so, e-mail jshaver@prismb2b.com by March 31 with your best one. The top five stories will be featured online, and winning authors will receive a free Exerflex Flooring T-shirt.