Finding a good gym is hard to find.
Where I live (Valley Ranch, Texas), it used to never be hard to find. The Ranch Health Club has, for years, been the only gym in town. And it wasn’t just any gym. It backs up to the Cowboys practice facility. It attracted celebrity members, such as the Cowboys Cheerleaders. It was a popular place for all the meatheads, but the aerobics girls, too. It had lots of really good trainers, and good classes. And, they treated you right.
Put simply, going to The Ranch made you feel like you were in on a little secret. A special club. They had something going no one else did, but you couldn’t exactly place it. You just knew it felt good to be there.
In just the past 6 months, a 24-hour Fitness and an LA Fitness have opened up in the neighborhood. These gyms are popular, but they’re often too crowded, and they have never seemed personal to me. Lots of people at the Ranch were worried what would happen to it, but I wasn’t. I knew if they just did a little bit more of what they already did, they’d attract the right crowd.
I was wrong.
Seems as though ownership of the Ranch changed since these new gyms appeared, and it hasn’t helped. Instead of ramping up the customer service, the cleanliness, the expertise, they’ve decided to wave the white flag. Here are just a few of the things I’ve experienced consistently this year alone, all signs of giving up:
- Instead of fit mid-20’s to mid-30’s people working the counter, they’ve got high school and college kids doing the bare minimum for their minimum wage. Last night one of them was working on card tricks at the desk between checking people in.
- They never fill up the paper towes in the bathroom. I thought it was just a men’s locker room thing, but my wife tells me it’s the same in the women’s.
- The stereo, just last night alone, played Barry Manilow, “DreamWeaver,” and The Pointer Sisters. I actually heard someone say what we were all thinking – what kind of music is this for a gym?
- There are at least 50% less top-notch trainers there.
- In the lounge area near the locker rooms are the magazine “Aviator Week” and “Deliver” by the US postal service. What is that for a gym?
- Nothing is updated – signs of promotions long past are still flying high.
- There are at least 60% less people. On a Monday afternoon after work, the place was spacious – that should never happen.
- Their website is pretty much broken.
- Most of all, there is no one on staff there that seems to care. They’re clocking in, and clocking out.
Are people leaving the Ranch and trying out the new kids in town? Of course – that’s natural. But I guarantee you that at least 30% of those people would pay extra to come back to the Ranch for the experience that drew them there in the first place. Instead, the new owners are giving those folks more reasons to not come back.
As for me, I’m staying at the Ranch. Partly out of curiosity (rumor has it the owners just aren’t in town yet to do anything about it). Partly because I despise 24-hour Fitness. Partly because I still enjoy what redeeming qualities the club has left. But if something doesn’t change by October, it will be out of business, or sold.
The lesson here? There are too many to count. Maybe the best one is that, if you’re in a market where lifestyle is as much the attraction as your service or product, then protecting how you fuel that lifestyle and impress those who want that lifestyle is the most important thing you can do. And when the competition comes to town, accentuate it even more.