‘Relatively small touches, that need not cost the earth, can make a significant difference to the experience the gym offers,’ is how I like to sign off my emails to Virgin Active, but it’s a message that falls on deaf ears. The transition from the fairly upmarket Holmes Place to Virgin Active, which is happy to be a cheap and cheerful bargain brand, has been quite painful.
The big sweetener, heavily promoted through posters, special staff t-shirts et cetera, was that Virgin Active would be the only gym in the country to offer hula-hoop classes. They soon found out why they were the only ones and didn’t have to tell anyone when the axe fell on the hoops. In keeping with the novelty first approach, Virgin is to be the only gym in the country to have whole rooms dedicated to Powerplates (which the Sun reckons cost £6,995 each). When that flops, perhaps it will become the only gym to offer hopscotch and Space Hoppers.
I’m glad to see I’m not alone in having the odd whinge. Someone in London has started a blog and petition to get sweat towels back. Virgin Active Printworks told me this was a local issue. Naughty. It’s actually part of a general rundown of services not in keeping with the Virgin Active brand.
When Virgin Active took over Holmes Place it was a bit like M&S converting to Asda. To be fair, Virgin Active was good enough to recognise that and drop prices at some membership grades, but there are still some of us who’d be happy to pay a touch extra for the odd extra.
We’re talking towels and locker hire. Taken together you can turn up at the gym with next to nothing in your bag and, for those of us who go in the morning, no smelly towel to lug around all day. And it’s obviously far kinder on the environment for towels to be laundered centrally (although Virgin Active makes the opposite claim on the assumption that gym goers won’t wash their own towels at all).
Locker hire is also too much hassle for Virgin Active, even though there are proper quarter size lockers too small for a gym bag, but big enough for stuff you might like to leave permanently like toiletries, trainers and the like.
Security is the bogus excuse given on this occasion; there’s a fear terrorists could bomb the gym which is above Opus nightclub. That sounds almost reasonable, but it would take a pretty big bomb. More tellingly, there is no evidence that locker security is taken very seriously. Eviction notices like the one pictured are also on large lockers, which should already be empty overnight. And I first noticed that that padlock’s thick with dust eighteen months ago, so expect the bomb squad to be called and the Printworks evacuated on Saturday night.
The odd thing is that Virgin Active is happy to waste money on novelties, while refusing the income nice little extras bring in… relatively small touches, that need not cost the earth, can make a significant difference to the experience the gym offers.