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The Gym Devil’s Contract – Don’t Fail Dale! (Carnegie: Part #2 )

What kind of gym membership deal will a Dale Carnegie sales-wannabe sell you? That depends on what you’re buying…you see,  “A barber lathers a man before he shaves him” (Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends And Influence People).

(See Part #1 at      https://savingboofheads.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/the-devils-contract-dont-fail-dale-carnegie-part-1/

Be assured, though, that a contract with that gym’s  direct debit company will be written in blood.( Your blood. Unless you promise to name your first child ‘RumplesFillGym’.) Signing up for organ donation box on license is easier. It still benefits someone’s health. And it’s simpler. (Plus, you save a hundred bucks in unnecessary ‘sign up fees’. Bargain).

It’s hardly a greasy salesman’s fault if you assume that sign-up fee is imposed entirely by the debit company. Earnest Puss-In-Boots eyes, a wave of the debit company paperwork you’ve already signed, and you can almost believe policy leaves him ‘helpless’.  “It is only once. You’ll have a whole month before it’s due, and you’ll never have to pay it again…The value of what you’ve already just signed yourself up for will pay for itself”.

Yep. Nothing better than paying a fee to get a bargain. Sounds a lot like the things my wife ‘wins’ on Ebay.

Direct debit companies now seem to be continually between a gym and it’s clientele. It is understandable from a business point of view. Who wants to waste their time and resources chasing money owed? All those people who stop working out, then close their bank accounts like they’re in ‘The Fugitive’…You won’t get away from a debit company like that. They know a lot about you. They are comin’ for yo’ fridge  – and it’s guilty contents. It’s also understandable that a gym – in fact, any business – benefits from more predictable income. You want new medballs? Heck, Upstairs have gotta know they can afford it. They have staff to pay. (Or don’t: floor staff are just such a luxury these days. Besides, you can pay for p.t. if you want a spot. A thirty-second form correction that keeps your rotator cuff intact? Whaddya think this is? A paid membership?)

But ‘Admin fee’ my ass. As one ‘walk-out’ said: Lemme me behind the counter for two minutes. I’ll type the details in for myself and save a hundred bucks. Ask how much of that fee goes to the debit company (real administration costs), and how much goes to the gym. This is where you have room to negotiate. Decide for yourself how much it reasonably costs to have the gym’s counter betty put your details on file. I don’t know about you, but for $99 bucks? I’d want a dental checkup and a fruit basket as well.

Now: to the debit company itself. A direct debit company is to be trusted about as much as Aunty Cheryl at a poker machine with Nanna’s pension. Check your statements. Something wrong? Hooray!!! It’s time for the ‘Hot Potato blame game’  (between you, your gym, and the direct debit company).

First, pick up that Hot Potato: ask the gym to fix the error (the one that somehow cost you bank fees). This is the best time for Gym Admin Girl to share that she feels the debit company doesn’t like her very much. She thinks you’re better off to do some yelling at the debit company over the phone to get this fixed. Not a very adult suggestion… but what do you expect when the Head of Admin is 21? She’s inhaled too much spray tan for her tender years.

For the first (and last) time you think: ‘I’m not a yeller. I can keep calm and get this sorted out’. Start mourning that image of yourself as a reasonable person, sunshine. Because it’s got until 5pm to live. Tomorrow, you will be a street lunatic raving about Judgement Day and constitutional rights. The constitutional rights of debit companies to rip you off. Conspiracy theories are making eerie sense now…this is a test of mass intellect, to see who’s smart enough to survive the apocalypse. (There’s only so much air to go around. Sorry).

By match five of Game Potato… Oh boy, is there yelling involved.

You have had bank statements printed. Pink-highlighted them with the help of a sympathetic bank teller. The debit company has admitted to the gym it made a mistake in billing dates that ‘has now been rectified’. This has not inspired the gym to assist you, but at least Admin Girl feels like she is In The Know (as opposed to Any Help At All). In a simply bizarre  stroke of coincidence, the debit company repeats exactly the same mistake the next week. And then the next. Overdrawn fees are growing like tinea from the change room.

Team Potato ‘wreck-tifies’ errors, alright.

It’s okay. You can’t pay any fees that you don’t owe, even if you try. You see, the debit company has now accidentally emptied your account. In response, the bank has frozen it. You discover this when you are paying a cabbie by card, and he suddenly scans your face like it’s on an Interpol poster … “CARD DECLINED”. A No.#1 suspect for the card fail box-leaps to your own mind. (In the meantime, you can’t pay a cabbie in suspicions. Hot Potatoes. Or protein bars).

Sneaky tip: Get wise and investigate whether the gym franchisee has a financial stake in the direct debit company administering membership payments. You want to know if it does. Because a franchise with a related financial interest is going to profit from you, whether they get it right or wrong. Pay em or don’t, this (low)-fat man is singing a certain ABBA song all the way to the bank (#1 Germany and Australia 11/1/1976).

It’s just the amount that changes.

* You can pay the amount you agreed to. (Has anyone mentioned this can be indexed upwards by the gym? With notice, of course. The kind of notice you don’t receive, that is. Hot Potato #2).

* You can pay your membership, plus a penalty fee & a bank fee through any ‘error’ (theirs or yours: Hot Potato #3).

* You can also pay your membership, plus multiple penalty fees. These companies debit the entire contents of your account, if their mistake ‘entitles’ them to it. (Hot Potato #4).                                       Remember: once an error is acknowledged, the refund of what (was) your entire grocery & bills account will take 10 working days. (“What do you live on in the meantime? Can’t help you, I’m sorry. It’s called an ‘billing error, not a ‘billing solution’!”)

Hmmmn. Your tinned tuna stockpile just became fair game to the entire household.

Finally…? 

* You can pay an ‘exit fee’ of a couple hundred bucks, to never again be fiscally penetrated against your will. C’mon, you know exactly what I mean by that. (Think: that prostate exam you said no to, and got anyway).

The Hot Potato game will leave you spitting chips. It’s enough to make you wish for ‘the good ol’ days’, when the local rust-bucket gym shed shut at a moment’s notice, taking your pre-paid membership with it. At least owners ripped you off to your face. Much more the personal touch.

THE POINT IS:  Do you want to be very well informed about exactly who you are signing a contract with, when you join a gym? About where joining fees go? You will have to ask. (They may not like it. They may avoid  specifics). But this information could get you a cheaper joining deal. And  in the face of your gym lacking reasonable commitment to sorting debit problems out? Talk to other clients (unless you are a savvy tracker of companies). Clients are those most likely to tell you if the gym has a financial interest in the debit company. (Besides, it’s fit-fam-bonding to share direct-debit horror stories).

Boofheads: know that your personal trainer does not like the direct debit company either. They get us screamed at. Cost us business. We still have to make the same rent each week if our clients walk. Half the time, we’d like to come too.But when it comes to anyone’s hard-earned muscle, it only intimidates companies within a 100 yard (metre) radius. (That’s why the gym needs a debit company, and why that company uses an interstate call centre. You’re just too buff, man.)

Salesfolk:  When a ‘membership consultant’ is more interested in the member they don’t have, than the member they do? That “draw to win a free iPad’ is not enough to get you five contacts. Ain’t nobody gonna let you piss five of their friends off.

Managers: Back up your sales team by prioritising client retention. (This may involve actually attending the members’ Christmas party. Besides, if you’re coming, the food improves rapidly.) If your gym memberships are seen as a lack-of-value purchase? People throw away your ‘shiny but cheap’ steak-knives-with-purchase attitude (as soon as they can be bothered going through the whole process again). Fitness clients take it very personally when they don’t get the service they paid for. At the off-contract point, newbies will move on to another gym. (Your regulars are still mustering the effort because they know they’ll have to go through the sales process again. I promise you now, some of those familiar faces are tarting about, inspecting other gyms. You’ll find out next time the debit company takes their money. )

Gyms: Direct debit companies provide a business with a service. If you want that service to be ‘infuriating your clients til they leave’, you may well be on-track. Otherwise, hold direct debit companies accountable for the quality of their interactions with your clients.

Before you stick another gold star on the board (then complain about your next lot of membership statistics) ask:

Why would clients stay with you, when they could be ignored down the road for as little $6.95 per week, no contract?

Heck, if they show up there five times a week? Free entry into the draw to win ” Actual Assistance from Admin Girl”.

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