Planet Fitness has built a nationwide network of fitness centers based on simple economics: $10 per month. For the well healed, a Black Card membership at $23.99 entitles you to use any Planet Fitness location, have unlimited guests, and use the massage bed. Everyone also pays is an annual “equipment fee” of $69 to cover equipment maintenance. Still, the root appeal of Planet Fitness is strong: $10 per month.
I used to belong to a full-service gym, with a pool and a basketball court, yoga and Pilates classes, as well as acres of machines. It went under during the pandemic, so I joined my local Planet Fitness. I opted for the Black Card, as I frequent locations all over Greater Boston.
Plant Fitness is the McDonald’s of gyms: every one is the same. Yellow and purple walls with stone-age font supergraphics and gear logos. Lots of machines, an area of free weights, the 30-Minute Fitness corral, and the Black Card ‘lounge.’ Nothing less; nothing more. The speakers play the same music, the screens display the same ads touting convenience and low cost, with emphasis on our current fixation on clean, clean, clean. Plant Fitness facilities are, in fact, super clean. The staff is super nice. For ten bucks a month, Planet Fitness is an awesome deal.
The exception, unfortunately, is my home gym in Cambridge, where the staff is spotty and the space is, frankly, filthy. My experience there hit a low last Saturday morning. The gym was open, the lights were on, people were during their thing. However, there was no one at the desk, no one monitoring the workout area, no one cleaning the locker rooms. I checked in, changed, and did my workout. Trash cans overfull, paper towels scattered on the floor, locker room floor slippery with water and random coils of body hair. Still no sign of staff. I slipped behind the reception desk and helped myself to massage chair coins. In the lounge, I encountered a staff person draped over a massage chair, engrossed in a cell phone conversation. (A sign states no cell conversations, but let’s not quibble.) He chatted with whomever throughout my entire massage, still at it when I finished. I showered, dressed, and left. The check-in desk was still unstaffed.
Clearly, the gym had inadequate staff, and what staff there was, was negligent. What’s a person to do? Confront the guy chatting with his chum instead of working? Complain to non-existent management? File a report on the Planet Fitness website? None are satisfying options. Yet, my experience did not match Planet Fitness’ advertisements. At all.
Fortunately, I had just completed a good workout, so was mellow enough not to confront the lackadaisical non-worker. In fact, I tried to see things from his perspective. The Cambridge Planet Fitness often advertises for staff. Recently they posted $14.75 per hour. That is a pittance in an area where Target starts at $17 per hour, and Trader Joe’s is pushing $20 per hour. You’re not going to get chirper check-in folks and fastidious mopsters for $14.75 an hour. Maybe unlocking the door and turning on the lights is all we can expect from a person receiving that kind of wage.
The crux of the problem spans the full range of Planet Fitness’ operations: from a lowly unsupervised, disinterested employee right up to a national policy fixed on $10 per month. Fewer and fewer items sell for a dollar at Dollar General. Motel Six only cost six dollars per night, when I was six years old. Today, the closest Motel Six to me is a hundred bucks a night, even though I am decades away from my century mark. Eventually, Planet Fitness is going to have to raise its prices. I for one, am willing to pay more to go to a clean, well-staffed gym.
I don’t want to let Cambridge off the hook. I often go to the Planet Fitness in Dorchester, also a busy urban gym. Yet, Dorchester has friendly staff, neat workout areas, and gleaming locker rooms. Cambridge needs to clean up its act: be more like Dorchester. Which, if you know anything about the neighborhood dynamics of metro Boston, won’t happen anytime soon. Cambridge emulating Dorchester would be like intellectuals actually listening to workers. A topic for another day…