New research shows that health club members are leery of club contracts-and rightfully so. Here’s how to put together a contract that makes sense for you and your members.
Every club owner is doing his best to create a fitness environment where members will be so happy they’ll want to stay forever. Most club owners spend a lot of time worrying about getting the right equipment, scheduling the right classes and hiring the right personnel-and that’s a good thing. But many owners ignore the fact that health club contracts have a seriously bad rep and may deter potential members from signing on board.
A recent Consumer Reports survey found that 16% of health club members report experiencing some problem with their contracts, whether that’s an unexpected rate hike, difficulty canceling their membership or something else. And attempts to cancel health club memberships are the number-one problem reported to the Better Business Bureau, a fact that put savvy consumers on their toes. And for club owners, it can be incredibly frustrating to deal with an angry member who doesn’t want to honor the terms of his contract even when they were clearly explained to them.
But your contract doesn’t have to be an object of dread for you or your members. Approach it in a common sense way, and you’ll both get what you want.
Outline-and honor-your membership cancellation policy.
Nobody likes to start out a relationship thinking of how it might end, but consider your club’s cancellation policy the ultimate prenuptial agreement and go through it carefully with every single member before they sign. (You may even want to consider including the cancellation agreement as a separate signature page so that new members sign off on it specifically instead of just burying it in the rest of the contract.) Obviously you need a policy that protects you from too-easy cancellations, but don’t make it too hard for members to get out of their memberships-if they’re not happy with the club, they’re going to be even less happy with a tricky cancellation policy. Don’t make cancellations unreasonably difficult-and when a member cancels, make sure you immediately stop any future charges to his credit card. Don’t make a member fight to cancel his membership. Unhappy former members can be very vocal, and no club needs that kind of bad publicity.
If there’s weird stuff in your contact, point it out-and explain it If your club is offering a special deal-one month free membership, for example-but there’s a catch-you have to visit the gym at least four times during the trial period to get the free month-just be upfront about it. Health clubs are a business like everything else, and most people understand that sometimes running a business means running into some quirks. What people don’t like is when they feel like they’ve been tricked, and that’s easy to do if your salespeople play up the great deal but leave the complicated details in the fine print. Members also usually like to have weird details explained-if their free trial membership is only valid if they actually use the facilities a certain number of times, explain the rationale behind that. Sure, every once in a while you may run into an argumentative potential member who wants to dispute your reasons-and in that case, you’ve nipped a potentially problematic membership in the bud-but most people will appreciate your honesty.
Don’t be so eager to grow your membership that you make your existing members feel under-valued.
Those great membership offers may lure people in from the streets, but they may leave your current members feeling a little like chopped liver. After all, they’re already supporting your club-where are their great discounts? Where are their perks? Don’t you feel irritated when you pay full price for your new car only to see its price tag slashed a few weeks later? Your members feel the same way about their memberships. And while it’s not cost-effective to match every incentive you offer new members for your existing members, you should make an effort to show your current members that you appreciate them. A contract clause that guarantees them a price break for one month if the price of your club membership drops below a certain level or that offers them incentives, like free guest passes, training sessions or other perks, for their continued membership can make your members feel valued by your club. And consider letting your members take advantage of any special deals you have going to extend their memberships, even if it’s not their scheduled renewal time.
Be clear about your liability waivers.
Be honest: Would you want to work out at a club that claimed it wasn’t responsible for hazardous conditions, from faulty equipment to dangerous flooring? Of course not-and your members don’t either. While most state courts uphold fitness club waivers when they’re brought to court, do you really want to insist on your right to have hazardous fitness conditions? The nature of the world is such that you can’t run the risk of shouldering the liability for every potential accident scenario in your club, and you shouldn’t have to. But you should make it clear to members that your club takes responsibility for their safety-and back that guarantee up with solid accident insurance and a waiver that protects your club against civil lawsuits.