You see that $15 or $20 charge on your bank statement every month.
You like having that gym membership, but as money gets tighter, the realization sinks in that you don’t go enough to justify the expense.
This scenario has played out in many place throughout the country, although not quite as much in Western New York. As people suddenly find their gym membership expendable, meanwhile, fitness facility owners are using some creative methods to counteract the cost-cutting.
Gym memberships nationwide, which showed their first decline in a decade in 2007, have continued to dip, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sports Association.
Fitness19, located in North Tonawanda’s Mid-City Plaza for less than a year, has seen a slight dip in membership, but owner Michael Hobbs said he’s not too concerned.
“We have seen a very small percentage of members cancel due to the economy,” he said. “We’re the type of gym that’s month-to-month with no contracts. We’re also not a huge gym with huge overhead.”
The time of year also plays a role, he said, as people are more likely to think about personal fitness once it’s time for them to consider New Year’s resolutions.
“With the holidays, no one thinks about joining the gym,” he said. “People forget about their health.”
Membership has not dropped much at the Ken-Ton Family YMCA on Belmont Avenue, but the facility has given financial assistance to 200 more families as of Oct. 1 than in all of 2007, director Rick Presutti said, giving away nearly twice the money that was raised for that purpose this year.
“From January to march we saw a little bit of a decline, but for the most part we’ve since remained about status quo,” he said. “We’re continuing to give away money to make sure people that have had problems … can continue to use their memberships.”
Financial aid is not the only tactic used by gym owners to entice members to stay. A Gold’s Gym program deemed ”Fat-O-Nomics” enters on money people can save by shedding excess weight. Being 50 pounds overweight, for example, burns nine extra gallons of gasoline per year.
“The cost of a lot of goods has gone up,” says spokesman Dave Reiseman. ”We’re aware that there are stories out there asking, ’Is the gym membership worth it?’ ”
At Bally’s Total Fitness, which has a location on East Robinson Road in Amherst, a friends and family discount previously only available to employees has gone public. Coupon-holders are eligible for a three-year membership at $25 per month with $55 enrollment and card fees.
And Lockport’s Lifestyles Health Club, located on Lockport Olcott Road, has started offering a free month’s membership with the purchase of six or 12 months, general manager Marsha Flynn said.
“I would say we did have a slow time,” she said. “But we’ve been using specials, so that helps.”
Businesses listed on spa directory service are slashing prices. The number of discount deals offered is up 25 percent to 30 percent versus a year ago.
Beyond discounts, some are adopting a recession spin: touting services as stress reducers, not indulgences, and highlighting the economic benefits of “wellness.” At the Lockport Athletic and Fitness Club, owner Amer Abdallah has touted the benefits of physical fitness in tough times.
“Here’s the beautiful thing,” Abdallah said. “Health and wellness relates hand-in-hand to (customers) mental being and state of mind. (Exercise) is not a luxury. This is a necessity.”
And the Westin New York in Times Square has turned layoffs into sales opportunity. A “pink slip pick-me-up” spa promotion gives 20 percent off a facial from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.
”If you’re unemployed, you need a pick-me-up — and you need to look good on your interviews,” spa director Nicole Morris said.
And then there are the additional benefits some facilities offer. The Ken-Ton YMCA, for example, has added additional family and senior programs, such as a group outing to see a stage show in Buffalo and holiday luncheons, to give people more for their money, Presutti said. The facility will also upgrade its cardiovascular equipment in the spring to “keep our members happy,” he said.
In addition, the Buffalo-Niagara YMCA will begin a Jump Start membership drive in January, which Presutti said will include a membership discount and other offers, as well as tout the extra benefits the YMCA offers.
“We upgrade member service things to keep the people happy and give people some extras that they don’t normally get in everyday life,” he said.