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Do We Really Have to Ask Why The Box Club is Failing

Hello, welcome to our gym. We would like to sell you a membership here so you can use all of this cool I equipment I just bought. Come along on the tour. I know you have no interest in Step Aerobics but I just paid for the damn steps so you will see them as part of the tour. Over here we have 60 expensive treadmills and over here is the room where we lock up women because everyone knows they get in the way in the free weight area. We offer 50 classes a week in there but I have never really taken one myself so I have no idea what the hell they really do.

So, if you pay $39 a month, here is what you get to do. We recommend you do this at least three times per week if you are really serious about getting in shape. Hey dude, we are here for you and youíre going to love working out here.

First of all, we want you to come by yourself so you have no one to talk to while you are here. If you bring headphones, you can shut everyone completely out and we also have small televisions on the treads so you can walk slowly for an hour not breaking a sweat watching ESPN and watching athletes train hard.

Be careful with those televisions, though, if you jog. They are so small that if you run too fast it is like: TV/where did it go?/TV/where did it go?/TV. We know it is hard to watch and move so just walk slowly and you will be fine, because whatís more important, watching TV or actually getting into shape?

This is our circuit equipment and this is Curt, our trainer. Curt will spend about two minutes with you and when he finds you really arenít interested in one-on-one training, he will be uninterested in you. You will then receive a really cool giant card you can keep in a box over there. Every time you come to the club, go around a circle; donít talk to anyone and when you are done go walk slowly on the tread. We know this doesnít work anymore and your body will adjust in about six weeks but we sell memberships, not fitness and besides a am a trained salesperson who will later amaze you by writing the prices upside down when you sit across from me at the desk getting slammed.

Once you are a member here we will completely forget whom you are so bring this card every time you check in so we know when your membership is up so we can then harass you about signing for another year. This will be, by the way, the only time anyone on our staff will talk to you during the entire year.

Oh, and we also do something a little sleazy here. Once a year the owner needs a new car so we sneak in an extra payment on you. We call it an enhancement fee, which is a pretty cool name if you ask me and of course you will forget you signed for this because the print is so small but donít worry, we will whack you anyway and then look for the owner to pull up in a really styling new high-end SUV about a week after we hit everyone.

One of the drawback here is it is rather difficult to get in shape at our club since none of this shit really works. You see, we are using technology that dates from the late 60ís but the equipment guys tell us it is coming back so what can a guy do. Come on, donít worry, everyone loves to sit on their ass and workout and despite everything you see on TV and every book you read, this is the only way to really get in shape. By the way, if you have read Todd Durkinís new book, any of Alwynís or Rachel Cosgroveís book or anything by Mark Verstegen you officially know more than everyone on our staff. Maybe you could be a trainer here?

If you want to really get in shape, I would suggest getting a Menís Health and doing their workouts like those guys over there in the corner sharing the clubís only three medicine balls. That kettle bell, by the way, belongs to a member who brings it each time since we think those are dangerous and donít let members use them.

Oh, while we are here, here is our leg press and neck machine areas, which arenít as dangerous as they look, unless you want a bad back and our out-of-date trainers will also show you how to do a crunch, which is guaranteed to finish off that bad back if the leg press doesnít do it for you. Our serious members workout six times a week doing a split shift body part because you just never know when bodybuilding might come back.

That 40-year-old man over there the size of an Abrahams Tank is Ed and he is a master trainer when he is not competing as a "natural bodybuilder.Ē Kind of strange that a guy that age still has acne and the balls the size of Grape Nuts but you just canít get good drugs these days. By the way, donít make him mad. If you catch him on a new cycle he will kill you man and I mean it.

Hey, let me introduce you to our young, dumbass front counter girl. This is her first job and if you can get her to put down her cell phone she might help you, although donít expect much since we go through people in this position like free donuts at Krispy Kreme and none of them stay long enough to learn anything. Besides, we arenít really about service here, we are just about selling more memberships so if you can give me the names of all your closet friends I will pretend I am grateful and we will then proceed to call them endlessly referencing your name each time.

Okay, letís get you signed up. All of our deals are three years long and there is a membership fee, card fee, processing fee, starter fee and initiation fee so I can get you started for $199 today but wait, you just happened to catch a deal where we are offering a chance to get started for only $49 dollars and no, not one stupid person has ever paid full price but we have to run something to bring in new members donít we?

This might be funny if it wasnít so sad. Visit any chain club and some version of this will happen. Why is the fitness business so hard? It is because we make it hard. Instead of questioning our business practices, we just lower the price. It is not the member. It is not the price. It is not the trainer. It is the concept that is wrong. We canít patch it, we need to blow it up and start all over again. No wonder the members hate us, leave early and donít refer. What we do is antiquated, insulting and just doesnít work anymore.

Once you read this, look at everything you are doing. Is it a bad habit left over from the last decade or is it something that is ethical and professional and that will lead to new members who will stay longer and pay longer? Start there, the answers are right in front of you.

Rick Mayo 3 years ago
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You are on fire!! Great post.
Ron Richert 3 years ago
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This is awesome! Keep preaching, if you didn't cuss so much I would expect to see you on Sunday mornings. You left off the fact that we will weigh you and pinch you to tell you you're fat, and if we are really good we will check your blood pressure because we are sure you want to feel worse than you did when you walked in here.
Mark Myhal 3 years ago
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Tom, another Urban Active just opened close by, 35,000 sf vanilla big box, small functional area, no pool or track unlike their larger facilities. I train some of their members at another facility equiped for serious functional work, they tell me the other UA not far away is getting run down, about 5 yrs old. Someone in the business told me that by opening a new club, one can generate considerable revenue that will help to fix up the aging units in the chain. Maybe in 1995, can't see that now. Thoughts?
Thomas Plummer 3 years ago
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In theory yes but it seldom works that way. Many of these new box clubs are finding that it isn't as easy to launch a new one as it once was. If your pres-sale and first few months are even slightly off you spend all your new capital covering operational losses. The 20/60/20 rule also applies here. This state that out of 100 businesses 20 percent are making money, 60 percent are breaking even and the bottom 20 are dogs. If every new club was an outrageous success you would obviously see more being built and money easier to obtain. I think this model is dated and I would not expect them to be competitive over time.
Jeff Davis 2 years ago
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Pretty odd post as I saw you speak twice in the last 5 years and though the talks were 3 years and a great recession apart they were essentially the same. And when are you and your posters going to get hip to the fact that functional training is anything but functional and so 15 minutes ago. BTW, harping about "role model/image" is really lame. Those baggy shirts are not hiding your gut at all. FYI, Alwyn Cosgrove is a whore who leaps from one fad to another and spins lingo as if he invented it. "MORE CORE! MORE CORE!" That douche is... well... a douche. Prospects are well read? OMG. Try hopelessly DIS-informed by whatever unsubstantiated B.S. they read on the all knowing INTERWEB. "i saw it on my Yahoo start page so it must be true." Never mind that it's a Jack LaLanne routine from 1958. We'll just repackage it and call it something cool with an "X" in the name so all these morons... oops... sorry members, will think it's sexy. Pathetic Thom. PATHETIC.
Mark Myhal 2 years ago
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Jeff,Give us a couple paragraph summary of your business model and optimcal training program.
Thomas Plummer 2 years ago
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Hi Jeff,I hope your day got better after getting this post off your chest and I a simple blog shouldn't be something that gets anyone so angry.I do refer to functional too broadly merely for the fact that I can't find a better name to use for training that involves getting people up and moving compared to the tired old circuit days. I personally like the term and think it works but there is a need for something more direct. And that is a nice comment on the shirt. Jeff, I travel about 45 weeks a year, am pushing 60 and am thrilled to be in at least this good of shape, which is better than it has been for a long time but still not where i would like it if i was home for more than a week at a time but I get your point. To me, Alwyn is one of the original thinkers, along with Boyle and Gray Cook, in the industry. He has a unique perspective that changes as he learns more, which is almost everyday. Not agreeing with his thoughts is one thing; calling him out personally is so 15 minutes ago and so childish. Disagree, but don't attack personally or no one will listen to you. From the tone of this letter maybe I hit your mother with a cart at Walmart and never knew it. I like a spirited conversation but this note is a little weird even for my readers. I don't like mainstream 1995 boxes, think they do a disservice to the member, and are doomed from a business viewpoint because they are no longer sustainable, which is all this blog was about. Write, comment, get into the discussion but maybe the personal attacks are a little too much Jeff. I think I am going to get a new tee shirt made though: Pathetic Thom, Pathetic. I like it!
wayne carrels 2 years ago
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WOW. I some times shake my head as well when i hear Thomas speak and some of the other guys and i have been called a idiot by Vern Gambetta one time for standing on a stabilty ball back in 2000 at one of his seminars. Did it hurt my feelings..... yea but many of coaches and refs and military officers have pissed me off as well in my past. Take it and learn from it and GROW! FYI I would mow VERNS grass for free if i was his niebor! love that man! I am not smart enough to keep up with some of the blogs and posts by those guys as well but....Jeff keep it real sir. Alwyn, Thomas, we all have our faults, i have more than most. your comment about Functional training is what? Give me 1 weekend with me.. i will pay your air fair to my gym and back and put you up in a hotel. I will show you what functional training is my brotha! now say your sorry to who you need to and give me 100 stability ball push ups..55cm ball. HIPE
Thomas Plummer 2 years ago
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Wayne, you are my hero! Being called an idiot by the great Vern put you years ahead of your time. I also see that the supposed humor in this blog about it being a rant about the stupidity in some box clubs escaped a lot of people. Maybe Jeff should also have added that I am not as funny as I think. On that one he might have been right. Thank you for writing as always Wayne, I appreciate all your comments.
Ty Barrett 2 years ago
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Wow Thom. Even I have never been that mad about anything you said to me.
wayne carrels 2 years ago
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LOL....YEA Thom you dirty Rat, you made me take my fricken hat off in front of 250 hot women at the seminar in 2009 ish...and told me i should not wear it as a uniform. Well i listened to you. If you notice my pics from that time frame on...i know longer wear a hat and LOVE it!!!! It is the little things that add up!!!! NEVER QUIT!
Ron Richert 2 years ago
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I am not a blogger and definitely not a writer, my English teacher mother would cringe at this grammar, but I am enjoying these post. I loved the humor in the blog. Thom does tell some of the same stories, we all could get in better shape, we all have a system that either works for us or does not work for us. I think in 1999 we started doing functional training, and that has progressed each year, changed each year and I even changed my sales and assessment system today to improve. I think Thom has always challenged me to improve no matter how good I get. I have become pretty good over the last 17 years if I do say so myself, but sometimes I still find myself doing things the old way instead of changing. I am excited about "blowing up what I do" every two years and building back a new model that makes more sense. If any of you guys ever get to Texas I would love to give you a tour and see if you like what we are doing. No matter how good it is, I better get better next year. That is why I like going to see Thom. Also, I enjoy the free beer. Good night
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