Sunday, February 26, 2012

But the Y Has a Pool!

A prominent billboard on the Connector, as well as my sister-in-law, who is a proud new member, remind me that Mill City Fitness offers a membership for $9.99/month with no contract or other commitment. A look at their website shows me that Mill City Fitness (MCF) offers state-of-the-art equipment and hours that are slightly better than those at the YMCA.

And even though the Y offers a monthly rate that makes my Boston/Cambridge friends envious, it's still more than three times the rate offered by MCF. So what's keeping me from going ahead and making the switch? My rational side tells me there are two major reasons, both of which appeal to my irrational side.

(1) The Y has a pool. This is the big one. I love water, particularly when I'm in it, and the prospect of working on my swimming is part of what drew me to the Y in the first place. Swimming is right up there with jumping rope as one of those rare exercises that uses nearly all your muscles. Plus, it's a zero-impact activity on joints, bones, and other parts that aren't getting any younger.

(2) The Y has a nifty reciprocity agreement with all the other YMCAs in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. So in other words, I can be anywhere in the Commonwealth, or even in nearby Rhode Island, and grab a workout without having to pay anything extra.

Here's where the logical rubber doesn't fully meet the road, so to speak, with respect to either of those reasons: As much as I like the idea of a pool being at the Y, the actual number of times I've ever used it during the four years that I've been a member is very, very tiny. The treadmills and the free weights? I've used 'em tons of times. The reality is that the extra effort needed to go swimming (a change of clothes, the time needed to dry off, remembering to bring goggles, finding a time when there isn't a class going or a swim team practice going on, etc.) just means I haven't really taken advantage of the opportunity on more than a handful of occasions...which means that rather than pay the extra money for the Y, as opposed to MCF, because of the pool, what I'm really paying for is the concept.

Same for the reciprocity thing. Yes, I've taken advantage of it in Wareham and Reading when Guard duty pulled me in those directions, but those were, yet again, a very tiny number of actual times. While I might imagine myself as a worldly (or Commonwealthly?) traveler who stands to benefit from the reciprocity deal, the reality doesn't really bear that out, at least if I'm using the past as prologue.

I've given myself a short trial period, during which I'll see whether I start taking advantage of what justifies the extra expense of the Y, or just acknowledge that I was just paying the extra surcharge for the idea of who I am and what I do, rather than the reality.

And I'll also bet that if you and I sat down and tried to scratch out a list of other products, services, and *extras* that people pay for more because of the idea than the reality that they provide, we could do it. One I'll start with is subscriptions to The Economist. The Economist has done an excellent job marketing itself as a mark of sophistication, refinement, and intelligence, which has helped its subscription base in the US boom over the past couple decades, even as other newsweeklies have seen circulation plummet or have just gone out of business altogether.

I don't know if such a study has ever been carried out, but I would bet that if you could find out the entire percentage of subscribers who regularly read a majority of the magazine's content week-to-week, it would be very, very tiny. Like less than 10 percent.

So why don't more people go ahead and cancel those subscriptions?

Because that would mean making a concession that they're not ready to make. And what makes me so certain about that?

Well, it's the stack of unread issues sitting on my kitchen table!


Jon and Kate said...

Great post.

The New Englander said...


Glad you liked it, I just have to think of a product I can *sell* that's really just an idea!