The Price of Loyalty

I have a confession to make. I don't belong to a health club. I belong to two. (Hah, bet you didn't see that coming.)

My wife and I have been members of the first club for 18 months, and we go there in the morning. I joined the second gym a few months ago and use it during my lunch breaks. (When Club Industry moved into our new offices, a local club owner gave our staff a generous corporate rate.)

Two gym memberships may sound excessive — even for a guy who writes about health clubs for a living. Well, to be honest, I almost cancelled one.

You see, my wife and I have just settled into a new apartment complex. Its grounds feature a walking path, a large outdoor pool and tennis courts. Oh, plus there's a free fitness center.

I know, I know. The mention of an apartment fitness center conjures up images of rusty bikes, worn cables and toppling weight stacks. This center is different. It boasts two treadmills, an elliptical and a recumbent bike — all commercial quality. On the strength side, the center offers a complete set of dumbbells and brand-name selectorized machines. Furthermore, there is a separate area for aerobics — with mats, ab equipment and television/VCR for watching exercise tapes. Very nice.

Granted, the center is not as comprehensive as a health club, but it did make me wonder if I needed to pay for two memberships. Probably not.

At first, I considered giving up the morning club. I didn't want to — I've always been impressed with the gym — but the commute from the new apartment to the club is less convenient. Besides, I figured I could use the apartment center for morning activities. I would still have the lunch gym to add variety to my routines.

Following my lead, my wife decided that, if we gave up the morning gym, she would need a lunch gym too. (The apartment center, while excellent, is no substitute for the club vibe that we both enjoy.) So she toured a club near her office and left with a guest pass.

Here's where we began to find flaws in our plan. My wife works in downtown Philly, where the real estate necessitates higher rates. We don't object to expensive club memberships, but we do expect more for the money. And, after using the guest pass, she concluded that the club wasn't worth the cost.

My wife felt that the club employees were unfriendly and unhelpful. When she entered with the pass, nobody took any information from her. And when she was obviously confused with some of the club's equipment, nobody bothered to assist her. Heck, nobody bothered to acknowledge her at all.

My wife and I discussed her visit, and, in doing so, reinforced our opinion about the morning club. We decided that, convenient commute or not, we would stick with our membership. Frankly, we never really wanted to leave. The club's people are friendly, and the service is excellent. Yes, it made sense to explore other options. But it made even more sense to stay.

This whole experience has taught me something about myself as a club member. My biggest concern is not equipment; if it were, I would have been satisfied solely with the apartment fitness center. My biggest concern is neither cost nor convenience; if it were, the reasonably priced club near my office would have sufficed. No, my biggest concern is service. My morning club gives it, and, in doing so, kept my business.

If you base loyalty on low rates, answer this: If your members suddenly had access to a free fitness center, would they remain members? Why?

Price doesn't buy loyalty. Friendly service does. It bought mine — a fact that I learned the hard way.

Best regards,

Jerry Janda