Friday, October 16, 2009

Buyer Beware: Gym Contracts and Memberships

In this day and age, where up-sizing meals is the norm, driving to the corner store is considered acceptable, and obesity rates are rising faster than grandma's famous bread recipe, staying active has never been more detrimental.

For a recent group project, Lauren Feilberg, Lindsey Enns, Nicole Dola and I did some buyer beware research on gym memberships and contracts. We selected four local gyms, and each undertook the task of researching one of the four gyms extensively.

Lauren chose Shapes Fitness Centres, Lindsey chose Curves, Nicole chose Good Life Fitness, and I opted for the YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg (The Y).

While on our field work, assuming the role of potential gym customers, we made sure to pay close attention to customer service; membership and contract options; prices; as well as selling techniques and up-selling strategies used by facility employees.

We each tried to obtain a copy of our respective gym’s contract, for closer examination of contractual membership obligations. (Note: I was the only one who was able to get a copy of a contract; Shapes, Curves and Good Life would not allow us to have one, and Shapes would not even allow Lauren to see one unless she agreed to sign up.)
Our main objective was to find out which gym had the best customer service, the cheapest rates, the nicest facility, and an overall good reputation. As well, we wanted to uncover any beneficial or deceitful tactics used by gym employees, or embedded into gym contracts.

Once Lauren, Lindsey, Nicole and I combined our findings, we were all rather shocked at how different each facility was.

Here are some of the key points we discovered in our findings:

Cost : $22.84 bi-weekly, or the entire yearly sum of $548.16 up front.

Start up fee: $50 (Unless they are offering their free sign up promotion)

Duration of membership: 12 months.

Cancellation of membership before 12 months: Members who sign up at Shapes Fitness Centre must either pay the entire amount ($548.16) of the membership up front, or have money ($22.84) directly taken out of their account on a bi-weekly basis. As well, Shapes Fitness Centre does not offer a discounted student rate.

Once a person signs up for membership at Shapes Fitness Centre, they have seven days to cancel their membership if they change their mind. This cancellation process must be made at the Shapes Head Office location. If the member does not cancel their membership within the first seven days, they are obligated to pay for the full year of the contract, with no reduced buy out option.

If a member wants to get out of their contract after the duration of a year, the member must submit a written letter with their signature on it to the Shapes head office. If a member does not do this, the membership will automatically continue.


Cost: $51.45 monthly ($617.40 annually)

Start up fee: $100

Duration of membership: 12 months.

Cancellation of membership before 12 months: $52.50

Curves only allows members to sign up for 12-month increments. The cost of a Curves membership is $51.45 per month, with a one-time start up fee of $100.

Curves does however have a student plan which allows students (with proper documentation) to sign up for only four months at a time, if they pay the amount of the four month membership (in full) in advance. The price of the student membership is $159 plus taxes.

To cancel a Curves membership, there is a cancellation fee of $52.50. If the membership is cancelled in the middle of the month, members are required to pay for the full duration of the month that they cancel.

Good Life Fitness:
Cost: $19.00 – $24.50 (plus taxes) bi-weekly, depending on location and services. ($456 - $588 (plus taxes) annually)

Start up fee: Typically "just over $100" however they have monthly promotions that see join up fee's as low as one cent.

Duration of membership: 12 months

Cancellation of membership before 12 months: In order to cancel a membership at Good Life, members who have not been in their contract for more than one year must pay $99.00 and give 30-days notice. However, after a year of membership, cancelling a membership at Good Life is free, and does not require 30-days notice.

To become a member of Good Life, a person is automatically locked into a contract for the duration of one year. The charge for the program depends on the type of plan a member opts for, and the specific location of membership.

The member has the option of paying nineteen dollars (plus taxes), bi-weekly for access to only that specific location that they have signed up at (as opposed to all three locations), and the provided group exercise programs. Or members have the option of paying 24.50 (plus taxes), bi-weekly to have access to all the locations, plus group exercises, as well as unlimited tanning for one year.

Membership payment automatically withdrawn from a member’s bank account on a bi-weekly basis; once the member has signed a contract, they are asked to set up the payment process with a void cheque and a bank account number.

The YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg (The Y):
Cost: Various membership types:

*Note: all prices are subject to applicable taxes.

§ Adult (18+) $38 monthly/$456 annually
§ Teen (13-17) $24 monthly/$288 annually
§ Child (12 & under) $19 monthly/$228 annually (Includes access to all Youth programs)
§ Family Casual $58 monthly/$696 annually
§ Family Advantage $68 monthly/$816 annually (Includes access to all registered programs)
§ Full-time Student $28 monthly/$336 annually
§ Senior $35 monthly/$420 annually (60 and retired, or 65)
§ Membership Plus $64 monthly/$768 annually (Downtown location only, includes locker and towel rental)
§ Membership Plus Senior $61 monthly/$732 annually (Downtown location only, includes locker and towel rental)

*The Y offers also offers a Membership Assistance Program for people who are unable to pay the entire portion of their membership fees. The Membership Assistance Program is partly funded by the United Way, and clients are assessed on a case to case basis. The application process is confidential, and requires applying members to fill out an application form, make an appointment with the Membership Sales & Service Desk, and provide proof of income and expenses (paystub, bills, receipts, etc).

Members who are part of the Membership Assistance Program are required to make a commitment to participate in the Y programs; a minimum of twice a week, as well as make a financial contribution towards their membership.

Start up fee: $50.00 (Waived for students, teens, kids and members of the membership assistance program. As well it only needs to be paid once for an entire joining family.)
Duration of membership: Membership will not expire until the member notifies the Y, in writing, that they would like to cancel their membership.

However, memberships that lapse for three months will automatically be considered new memberships, thus the member will have to pay the $50 start up fee again.
Subsidized members under the Membership Assistance Program will have an expiry date determined by the YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg.

Subsidized members must renew one month prior to their specific expiry date by booking an appointment with the Sales and Service Desk to review their financial situation.
Cancellation of membership before 12 months: Members can cancel their membership at any time. The only requirement is that the member request (in writing) that they would like to cancel their membership, and return their card.

Memberships must be cancelled 7 days prior to the next payment date in order to be exempt from paying for the duration of the month. As well, the Y will reimburse any unused portion of the membership fee, less $5.00 + GST to the member.

And in the end, Shapes lived up to it's bad reputation, by providing horrible customer service, using deceitful sales tactics, and being very allusive about the product that they were trying to sell.

The Y proved to be the best deal, because they offered various contracts that meet the specific needs of a variety of people. Plus, their facilities offered the most in terms of equipment. (The Y was the only gym to boast a pool at every location, as well as amenities like a rock climbing wall at two of their locations, and family programs...)

If you would like to read more of our report, please send me a message, and I would be happy to get that information out to you.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I had no idea private gyms were that bad! I've only gone to city-owned centres, the Y or the gym at U of W and never thought to go anywhere else.

    I wonder if any of these gyms offer some kind of new year's resolution special, because a lot of people commit to going to the gym and then don't keep it up for the whole year.