Gold’s Gym, Part 2: Ballroom Dancers and Bodybuilders

Last week I wrote about mixed messages at my local Gold’s Gym as it tries to appeal to both bodybuilders and soccer moms.

It’s a real-life example of what happens when your business strategy and marketing tell one story, yet customers experience something quite different.

Here’s what happened next (and don’t miss the broccoli ad at the end of the post!): 

I went to my Gold’s the same day that we published our newsletter.  After I finished my workout, I headed towards an empty group fitness room to work on flexibility and balance.  (The sales guy specifically told me when I joined that any member could use those rooms if no classes were in progress.)

As I reach for the door, a passing Gold’s employee says, “Oh, you can’t go in there.  They’re measuring something.”  I said, “No, I see a boom box and other customers are in there.”

This time she says “Oh, I think there’s a bodybuilder practicing in there.” And pauses, as if the meaning of this statement should be obvious to me.

I looked at her blankly, and finally said “So that means I can’t use the room?”

And she said, with great doubt:  “Well, if you’ll feel comfortable you can still go in.”

Now, here’s what so funny about this.

I decide to live dangerously, and enter the room. 

Guess who’s in there?  Well, OK, there is a bodybuilder over in the far corner practicing his poses.

The boom box?  Oh, THAT’s being used by a couple in their 40s and 50s practicing ballroom dancing moves!

The irony is overwhelming.  This is exactly what Gold’s is hoping for, right?  The perfect scenario.

And yet an employee is shooing people away from the room. Definitely didn’t leave a good taste in my mouth.

Talk about shooting your business in the foot.  But this kind of mixed message is what happens when you want your health and wellness business to be all things to all people.

Meanwhile, here’s Gold’s broccoli ad.  Isn’t it terrific?  Original, creative and really sends a strong message about the connections between nutrition and physical wellbeing. The one that pairs orange slices and weight plates is equally good – if anyone sends it to me, I’ll post it here.

Gold's broccoli ad


  1. says

    I have enjoyed reading your recent posts on your experiences at Golds Gym. I agree with you that your marketing has to match your services and atmosphere. However, I think that you are (perhaps not incorrectly) making too many generalizations based on a select few interactions.

    I think most club owners would agree that one of the most difficult tasks that we are faced with everyday is trying to get our staff members to treat our customers the way we want them to be treated. Most of us work hard every day to provide a positive experience. And we hope that if we can do this ALMOST every day, that on that one occasion when things don’t go as we would like–that it won’t undo all the other positive experiences.

    We’re trying but we aren’t going to be perfect.

  2. says

    Rob, and anyone else interested– Have you read the E-Myth? It’s most potent point is that in order to be successful, a customer’s experience should be the same every time that they come into the business. There should not be one expectation and result one time, and something totally different the next time. Of course, you cannot guaranty a staff member’s response to a customer. However, good staff training and hiring practices will be helpful, as well as clarity in how customers are to be treated. And, no business can be all things to all people, including Gold’s Gym. Part of that is a shift in perception about older people, and treating all clients with respect, regardless of the fitness level, and a business being clear about who they can best serve, and how to best serve them.

  3. says

    Food for thought for Rob, Michaela and everyone else:

    1) Is this indeed a staff training issue? If so, what should have been different about the training?

    2) What if the staffer observed in the past that some members DO feel uncomfortable about being around bodybuilders?

    I initially reacted negatively to her because I thought she was poking her nose in and stereotyping me. Then I thought, wait, I bet she’s trying to help me avoid something she knows from experience members often find awkward.

    Either way, it’s not her fault that her employer has created a situation where oil (bodybuilders) and water (sedentary overweight people) mix with less than positive results on occasion.

    3) How do you decide which customer experiences absolutely MUST be consistent, and which ones can be less than optimal (since we’re talking the real world here, where perfection is hard to achieve )?

  4. says

    I find myself, again, agreeing with everything being said on this topic. No club can be all things to every demographic. Each club should focus on what it does best–and then do that better than their competitors. But every club will have members that are not from their target demographic and they should be treated with the same respect as everyone else.

    I think what we are discussing is most definitely a staff training issue. We need to get our staff members to ask the right questions and explain things IN FULL. We need them to understand that how they say something (and how the customer PERCEIVES their words) is just as important as the message being delivered. If, as Leslie mentioned above, this staff person was trying help, and said, “You’re welcome to use the room, but another member is using it to practice their posing for an upcoming contest. You might find it interesting but some members prefer to avoid using the room while that is going on.” then I’m sure Leslie’s perception of the situation would have been much different. She wouldn’t have had to “guess” as to the intentions of the staff person.

    At one of our corporate sites, a member told a staff person that the cardio theater unit wasn’t working and wanted to know when it would be fixed. The staff person replied, “I don’t know.” Wrong answer (true–she didn’t know, but . . .). It didn’t take more than 30 minutes for me to get a phone call from our contact within the company wanting to know why there was a problem. We use this example often when working with new staff members. When a member has a problem/complaint show the member that you understand and tell them what you CAN do to help them, not what you can’t do. “I’m sorry, I know it can be frustrating when you can’t hear the TV’s. I will check with Steve and find out when that will be fixed.” An answer like that (along with the proper follow-up) lets the member know you care about them and that you are working to try to make things better.

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