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The death of the gym membership
Image © Rex Features
As the credit crunch takes an increasingly large bite out of the average Brit’s disposable income, expensive luxuries are, naturally, the first things to fall by the wayside. And on a list of things that are superfluous and at the same time, a massive drain on your wallet – gym memberships are right near the top.
As a result, gym memberships are falling, and have been for some time. Despite health experts warning that England alone could have 13 million obese people by 2010, tracked gym memberships shrank by 3.6% in 2006 and, research shows, have continued to fall ever since.
A survey by Deloitte found that the drop in consumer spending, combined with rising interest rates, is the most likely factor behind the downturn.
“With conditions becoming tougher in the UK domestic economy, many consumers are opting to cut their discretionary spending,” said Deloitte’s Leisure Partner Adrian Balcome. “The leisure industry, like all consumer-focussed businesses, is entering a tough time.”
For many, there is little doubt that the credit crunch is behind the decrease in new memberships and increase in cancellations. Ed Beesley, MSN Life & Style’s fitness expert, says: “Bearing in mind the current financial climate, there are always going to be ways that people seek to save money. Naturally, you are going to aim to save on things that you think represent poor value.
“Very few people are really getting their money’s worth with regards to gym memberships so if they can save themselves up to £1000 a year by cancelling their gym memberships, then they will.”
(Image © Rex Features)
For many people, the news that gyms are haemorrhaging customers while failing to attract new ones, will be received with a tinge of schadenfreude. Basically, they’ve had it coming.
UK gyms, especially the ubiquitous chains that have spread across the country like a bad case of acne, have been getting away with ripping us off for years now. Expensive monthly payments (anywhere from £40 to over £100), outrageous joining fees (for what exactly?) and, worst of all, an insistence that you sign up to a 12 month contract. And don’t get me started on customer service. It is a well known fact that cancelling your gym membership is the second most difficult task known to man (getting out of your mobile phone contract is first).
Meanwhile, research by Target Group Index (TGI) found that only 27% of gym members regularly use their gym, which means that over 70% of gym memberships are unused. To put it plainly, your gym makes money out of you not exercising.
I know what you are thinking; surely this is the customer’s own fault. And you’re right, to an extent. But instead of encouraging current members to use their leisure centre more often, gym bosses have been guilty of ignoring the absentees and concentrating on making money off new customers.
Despite the absence of the majority of members, most gyms are still jam-packed at peak times because gyms don’t care whether you show up or not, as long as you keep paying. This emphasis on quantity rather than quality means overcrowded gyms, a terrible customer experience and poor value for money.
Beesley says gyms need to snap out of this myopic outlook. “Most people don’t get the most out of their memberships, so in order to retain customers, gyms need to stop resting on their laurels and expect people to be happy to keep paying their direct debits. I definitely think that gyms can be more proactive in getting people back to the gym rather than just watching the money go in every month.”
(Image © Rex Features)
But gyms aren’t just costly and unpleasant, they are also unnecessary. Beesley adds: “Some people are attracted to the gym as it’s a positive statement: ‘I’ve joined the gym’. But for many of them it turns into a nightmare that seemed like a good idea at the time. But the truth is you can exercise anywhere.”
If you feel motivated to exercise, the best place to start is not your local gym. We are not short of green space in this country, and you have everything you need to get fit and stay in shape by exercising exclusively in the great outdoors, especially during the summer months. And it’s free.
You’re the boss now
Alas, that soulless conglomerate that everyone rushes to join on January 1, only to stop going on January 15, will not be closing down any time soon. The UK fitness sector is currently worth £3.6 billion and gyms are likely to remain oversubscribed for some time.
However, the balance of power has most definitely shifted from the gym to the gym-user – and now is the time to use this to your advantage. Say no to joining fees, barter over price and laugh in the face of 12-month subscriptions. It’s your turn to be a rip-off merchant.
So, if you feel a bit strapped of cash at the moment, saying ‘jog on’ to your gym should be one of the first things you do. After you’ve ditched the booze and fags first, of course.