When Alex Louis decided to join a gym six years ago, he put convenience above all else. It had to be near his home in Egg Harbor Township, and it had to be open at all hours of the day since he works in the casino industry.
He found those qualities in Tilton Fitness, a 24-hour facility on Hingston Avenue in Egg Harbor Township, and he has been faithful ever since.
"I'm not going to leave anytime soon," Louis, 31, said as he lifted weights on a recent morning. "Not unless they kick me out."
When most gyms are requiring customers to sign one-year contracts and fork over monthly membership fees, knowing whether a facility is the right fit is essential. While there is convenience to consider, other factors also come into play: price, cleanliness, amenities, customer service and atmosphere.
Michael Raiker, director of member services at Tilton Fitness, said choosing a gym is a lot like buying a car.
"You really need to test drive it first," he said. "Get under the hood."
His gym, for instance, offers guest passes to potential members. At the Egg Harbor Township location, the perks include a heated pool, a spin-class room, martial-arts studio, boxing ring, racquetball court, workout center for women and even a hair salon.
But those extras aren't necessarily what convinces people to join.
"Customers want a facility that is clean, especially with all the different flus and bacteria going around," Raiker said.
Aside from cleanliness, he added, customers want to know that equipment is well-maintained and that the staff is attentive.
"They want to know that we know their name and we have a relationship with them," Raiker said.
Price, however, was the deciding factor for Jaimin Gallagher, who switched gyms a few months ago to join the AtlantiCare Life Center in Egg Harbor Township. As an AtlantiCare employee, he learned he was eligible for a discount. Many gyms partner with different companies to offer employees discounted rates.
But while Gallagher was pleased with the price point, he had to give up one thing he liked in his old gym: the atmosphere.
"It was a younger crowd there," said Gallagher, 30, of Mays Landing. "And the lighting is darker in here."
While the AtlantiCare Life Center is open to anyone, it also caters to people going through rehabilitation and seniors who have problems with arthritis.
Still, Gallagher said, the gym does have a lot of amenities many other facilities lack, including a pool, a track, spa treatments and taekwondo.
At the World Gym in Vineland, the large, warehouse-like space with various separate rooms, a fact manager and personal trainer Patrick Fanning says members appreciate.
"The women that come in don't want to hear guys grunting and slamming weights," Fanning said. "You can keep the bodybuilders and power lifters separate from those doing cardio. People like to be in an enclosed area with certain type of people."
But when talking to prospective members, he added, he isn't afraid to suggest they gym elsewhere if their priorities aren't in the right place.
"I wouldn't want someone to join here and not be happy, and be frustrated and quit," Fanning said. "Trying to be healthy is not something you do for a day, a week or month. It takes commitment."
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