Pump up the value

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2012, 12:00am


Bikini season is around the corner and Hong Kong's health clubs are buzzing. Treadmills are whirring, step masters are churning, and the sales teams are sharpening their pitches.

Health clubs are steadily expanding in Hong Kong.

'When I came here in July, I noticed that people in Hong Kong care a lot about appearance,' says Eddie Kang, a professional in his 20s who works at a law firm. 'There was this social pressure and social need to join the gym even though I wasn't much of a gym rat.'

Hong Kong is home to many gyms including home-grown chains such as California Fitness, Fitness First, Seasons Fitness, Physical Fitness & Beauty and Phillip Wain.

So how do you get the best deal before committing to a club? Money Post visits fitness clubs in the city, and discovers that deals depend on who you are and whom you know. The good news is there are a number of strategies to help you get a good deal.

The first step is to shop around and schedule a meet and greet with the club's sales staff.

Ask for a free trial so you can test out the classes and the facilities. California Fitness and Pure Fitness both offer week-long passes.

Word of mouth never hurts. After doing a round robin of visits with various clubs including Pure and California Fitness, Kang signed a two-year contract with Fitness First after a good friend introduced him to the gym. The perks included knowing what his friend was paying (HK$580 a month). The joining fee was also waived in exchange for purchasing three personal training sessions at a discounted rate.

That said, consumers should be aware that pricing schemes are not readily disclosed. When Money Post visited California Fitness and asked for a flier and pricing, staff said they didn't have any and handed us a business card of a representative.

Brace yourself for a litany of questions. At California Fitness, these start with, 'How long will you stay in Hong Kong?' You can prepare by bringing your own a list of questions (see right), but be open-minded: you never know what answer you will get.

When we say we will be in Hong Kong for a long time, and that we are helping get information for a friend who is a foreigner, he says, somewhat bafflingly: 'If you are Chinese, I will set a higher price so when you bargain for a lower price, I can make a so-called discount. But if your friend is a foreigner, then I can sell them the membership at the fixed price as they rarely bargain for discounts.'

Be sure to ask your company if you have a corporate discount since big companies often have special deals with fitness centres.

Sales representatives are trained to push their chosen plan. We visit Physical Fitness & Beauty where the rep flips out a sheet of paper with a picture of a pop star Aaron Kwok Fu-shing and aggressively pitches a plan for new members. The scheme involves a HK$999 enrolment fee and monthly fee of HK$629.

When we show interest in joining classes the sales rep swiftly pitches the 'two-person plan'. When we hedge over the enrolment fee he says he can waive it if we haven't joined courses before. He also points at the red poster reading 'Last Promotion' and reminds us that plans can be 'upgraded but not downgraded'.

At Pure Fitness, a sales representative gives us a whirlwind tour of the facility, and a crash course in what feels like a confusing variety of pricing schemes available at this upscale club.

The rep focuses on pitching the half-year and full-year memberships (See price chart below), and only switches gears when we repeatedly insist on hearing about alternative plans. His enthusiasm for the pitch wanes when he gets to the cheaper plans - for one, three, four or five months - and it is with some pity that he shares details on the daily pass, which costs HK$300.

He stresses the perks of a six- or 12-month membership, and says customers in short-term plans pay more. He also says that until the end of the year, a joining fee of HK$1,999 will be waived for those with an HSBC, Citibank, Standard Chartered or DBS credit card.

The Pure sales rep also says there is no pulling out of the six-month plan. Once you sign up, you are committed to paying for each of the six months. For the 12-month plam, however, a person can exit the plan by paying a penalty of HK$2,400.

Membership costs also vary depending on location. For example, Pure charges HK$7,994 a month for access to its Admiralty branch, while the Mong Kok branch costs HK$5,574 a month.

In conclusion, the best deals go to those who go in with a clear idea of what they want and who are not easily swayed by aggressive pitches.

Some good deals go beyond the price tag. In March, Kang broke his contract with Fitness First and signed up with Seasons Fitness, which is closer to his workplace. He initially thought that Seasons Fitness was too pricey, but in the end he saw that proximity adds much value to a gym.

'You have to think about how it will fit in with your work schedule. Time is money,' Kang says.

Just like getting fit, it takes time and patience.

Key questions to ask your fitness club sales representative

- What are all plans on offer?

- Are there any extra costs outside of a given scheme?

- What does the contract entail?

- What penalty do I pay if I break a contract?