I have, sadly, been off of the workout wagon for a while. After throwing money in a hole month after month for the better part of a year, I cancelled my membership at Washington Sports Club over the summer. Fortunately, several of my coworkers are members of the new LA Fitness Signature gym next to our office, and I am able to fit in a workout here and there. However, the biggest challenge is being able to fo the gym when my coworkers are ready, usually because my schedule often conflicts with theirs. After a fair amount of hand-wringing, I decided to join LA Fitness. The primary reason for turning to LA Fitness, instead of returning to Washington Sports, is because it’s next door to my office and I am more inclined to come in early or workout during lunch.
I am familiar with the gym membership racket, and tried to arm myself to get the best rate. When the gym opened earlier in the year, a special rate was offered to employees in our building, but I missed that boat. My principal desire was to get a rate lower than what I paid at Washington Sports Club, and not pay an initiation fee. I first went online to see if I could find a special offer on the LA Fitness website. There’s an offer for $9.99 a week with no sign-up fees, but since the club near my office is a “Signature” club, the rate went up to $13.95 per week. Doing the math, that rate added up to more than what I paid at Washington Sports. I decided to go into the gym to see if I could get a better rate.
Perhaps it’s because I have been through the experience of joining a gym, I dreaded walking in to inquire about membership. I would compare the membership staff of fitness clubs to used cars salesmen, but that would be an insult to those humble auto hucksters. From the moment your part your lips to say, “I’m interested in joining,” the hard sell is on. I am not a fan of the hard sell. Even if I’m interested in purchasing something, a salesperson that tries too hard can quickly turn my feet toward the exit. I think the key to being a good salesperson is to listen to your customer. Unlike many other items, most people who walk into a gym are pretty much ready to join. People don’t need to be turned.
Ok. So I announced to the young woman at the front desk that I’m interested in joining the gym. Almost like sharks detecting blood in the water, two or three sales people popped out from behind a wall to shuttle me back to the sales area. One woman, who I’ve seen peddling membership to people eating lunch in Whole Foods, started talking to me like we’ve known each other for years. I interrupted to let her know that we’ve never met. She didn’t even seem embarrassed and continued to rattle on about the gym. I was surrounded by no fewer than four members of the gym staff — most of them personal trainers. (More on that in a bit.) Thankfully, the manager of the gym intervened and invited me to sit at his desk.
I read on Yelp, and a few other sites, that one of the issues with this gym is that there is not clear-cut rate. I quickly discovered how accurate that assessment was. I told the manager that I did not want to pay more than what I paid at Washington Sports, and I did not want to pay an initiation fee. That articulation seemed to be lost on the manager, because he proceeds to — get this — take a blank piece of paper and writes down a series of rates.
- $199 initiation fee — $44.95 per month
- $99 initiation fee — $49.95 per month
- $0 initiation fee — $64.95 per month
- $0 initiation fee — $1330 one-time payment for a three-year fixed rate ($36.95/month)
I reiterated that I did not want to pay an initiation fee, and need my monthly rate to be less than what I paid at Washington Sports — $60/month. After looking back-and-forth at his computer, he turns around offers the $49.95/moth rate with a $75 initiation fee. I ranted a bit about the initiation fee being stupid, and made some analogy to wireless carriers offering cheap, or free cell phones, in exchange for getting you under contract. The manager was clearly not interested in my penny wise discussion, and clearly subscribes to the Glengarry Glen Ross rule of sales.
He mentioned that he was offering me a rate packaged for some group. A less-than-subtle way of saying that he was giving me a hook-up. He added that my membership would be “Signature;” meaning I would be able to use any other LA Fitness club in the country. (The comparable membership level at Washington Sports is $90) Oh…I would also received a free one-hour session with a personal trainer. Maybe I was just not in the mood for a lot of bullshit at the end of the day, but, surprisingly, I yielded and accepted the offer. In retrospect, I regret not holding out to get ride of the initiation fee, which, again, I think is stupid. The manager had a noticeable change of pace once I said “Ok.” Instead of typing all of my information into his computer, he wrote all of my information by hand into a contract. Like the tin salesman, he seemed most focused on getting my credit card. He hemmed and hawed by needing to get a voucher — whatever the hell that is — and hands me a membership card. He tells me that the next time I’m in, they’ll take a picture and give me the paperwork. Fine. At that point, I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Before I leave, I schedule my personal training session with Joe.
I go into the gym on Friday for my personal training session. Before getting started, I remind the manager that I want to get a copy of my contract. He suggests that I start my training session and pick up the paperwork on the way out. Fine.
It didn’t take long to figure out that Joe was not going to use my free one-hour session to set me up with a program that I could use on my own. No…he clearly was treating this session as the first of many. After my workout, I join Joe in the same sales area by the front desk. He sits me down and walks me through the features of the LA Fitness personal training booklet. I knew that I was in for the dog-and-pony about the benefits of personal training. I half-way listened because I was mulling the idea of buying a package of personal training sessions. That interest was quickly squelched when Joe discussed pricing.
- $149 initiation fee/$70 per hour — 3 month commitment
- $149 initiation fee/$60 per hour — 6 month commitment
- $149 initiation fee/$50 per hour — 12 month commitment
What the hell is up with LA Fitness and these initiation fees?!!? You already snookered me with the overall membership initiation fee. Why in the world do you need an initiation fee for personal training? I informed Joe that nearly every other fitness club offers training sessions in packages or bundles, with no fees. Joe gave me some song-and-dance about the fee covering monthly fitness assessments. I told him that I didn’t even know if my budget allowed for training sessions; but even if I can afford them, the $149 initiation fees are bullshit. Like the huckster manager, Joe click clacks on the computer for a few seconds and then presents a revised offer.
- $49 initiation fee/$65 per hour — 3 month commitment
- $49 initiation fee/$50 per hour — 6 month commitment
- $49 initiation fee/$40 per hour — 12 month commitment
Sigh. I don’t know what befuddled me more — the new, arbitrary hourly fees or that Joe can knock $100 off the initiation fee, but not waive it entirely. I’m left thinking that these initiation fees must be pure profit for LA Fitness — kind of like rust proof coating on cars or extended warranties on electronics. I told Joe, who was a nice guy throughout, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Perhaps it was a bit of naïvety on my end, but I was disappointed to feel like the personal trainers were only interested in selling sessions — not my personal fitness.
As I get ready to leave the gym, the approach the manager for my paperwork. He’s sitting at his desk, shooting the shit with staff. He hurriedly gets my contract and shoves it in my hand. I pause for a moment to look at the contract, to make sure all the terms were correct. The rate was right, but my last name was typed incorrectly — LYNOS. After struggling to get the manager to write it down correctly, I politely take the pen from his hand and write it myself. I should have insisted that he sit down at a computer and correct it in front of me, but I didn’t have the patience.