Teacher and coach

17,000 towels? That must be a lot, right?

I go to a really nice gym.  They have not only a large weight room with a ton of nice equipment, but also two swimming pools, two full-size basketball courts, several racquetball courts, a rock-climbing wall, and two large rooms for aerobics classes and such.  They also have a full-service child-care center, a small cafe, and a place where you can get massages and facials.  (The only reason I get to go there is my wife works at a place that provides a family gym membership to all its employees.)

The locker rooms are really nice, too.  They have both dry-heat and steam saunas, plus they provide towels so you don’t have to bring your own.  Recently, several of these signs were posted in the locker rooms: ltftowels “Holy cow,” I thought, “17,000 towels a day, that’s a lot of towels!”  I figured a lot of people must really be wasting towels and that it was a good thing that the gym owners posted those signs so those towel-wasters would wake up and stop wasting so many towels.  I was also feeling pretty pleased with myself, because I only use two towels every time I visit.

But then I got to wondering just how many towels, on average, people were actually using.  It would depend, of course, on how many people came thru the gym on an average day, but I didn’t have that information.  I asked at the front desk if they could tell me, but was told that that information was proprietary and they weren’t allowed to give it out.  (I guess they don’t want potential competitors to know how many people are using their gym?)

So I started thinking about it.  If 1,000 people a day came thru the gym, that would be an average of 17 towels per person, which would be absolutely outrageous; nobody needs to use 17 towels when they go to the gym.  But if, say, 5,000 people a day were coming thru the gym, that would be an average of only 3.4 towels per person; maybe the people who were using 5 or six towels per visit could stand to cut back, but 3.4 towels per person didn’t seem outrageous.  On the other hand, I couldn’t imagine that 5,000 people a day were coming thru the gym; heck, 1,000 people a day sounded high to me. Without knowing the actual number of people who came thru the gym, I couldn’t figure out whether we were using too many towels, and the gym owners weren’t telling.  So I did the next best thing: I counted them.

No, I didn’t actually count every single person coming into the gym one day, but I did count every person coming into the gym for 30 minutes one afternoon, roughly between 3:30pm and 4pm.  During that time, 115 people, adults and children, walked thru the doors, which is approximately 230 people an hour.  The gym is open 24 hours a day, though I suspect there are a lot fewer people that come during the late night and early morning hours.  So I figured that between 6am and 9pm, 230 people an hour would come thru, and between 9pm and 6am only about a quarter of that, or 58 people an hour, would come thru.  Thus:

230 ppl/hr x 15 hrs = 3450 people

58 ppl/hr x 9 hrs = 522 people

3450 + 522 = 3972 people per day

17,000/3972 = 4.3 towels per person

One could interpret these numbers different ways.  Since I only use two towels per visit, 4.3 seems a little high as an average, but I typically only go to workout in the weight room and use the steam room and then take a shower.  If someone’s going to spend several hours at the pool, plus maybe play some basketball then take a shower, maybe using five or six towels isn’t so outrageous.

There are other things to take into consideration as well.  It’s not clear from the posted sign whether the 17,000 number refers to full-size towels only, or includes the small hand towels which many people use to wipe sweat from their faces and hands during their workout.  If the 17,000 includes hand towels, the 4.3 average towel number starts to sound even more reasonable.  And of course, my numbers are only an estimate based on a single 30 minute sample on a single weekday afternoon; the number of people coming to use the gym no doubt varies from weekdays to weekends, from one week to another, from one month to another, etc.

The larger point, however, is that being told that this facility provides 17,000 towels per day doesn’t give us enough useful information to determine whether we’re using too many towels or not.  I suspect that it costs a good bit of money to wash and dry all those towels every day, and the owners were hoping to get us to cut back on our towels usage by posting a number that sounds really big, thus generating the kind of “Wow, that’s a lot of towels” reaction that I initially had. It would be even better, however, to actually know how many towels we’re using on average.  Then we might be able to decide whether we’re really using too many.

Update: Reader Jennifer was somehow able to get the gym staff to give her the information that they made me work for.  (Maybe she said please?)  The official word is that the average person at my gym is using 5 full size towels per visit, and yes, I agree that seems a little high. For those keeping score at home, if the average person is using 5 towels per visit, and a total of 17,000 towels per day are being used, that means approximately 3,400 people are coming thru the gym every day.

18 Responses to “17,000 towels? That must be a lot, right?”

  1. Your post provokes a desire in me to confess: I use a small hand towel while working out because I sweat like a dog. I also use a regular towel if I go in the steam room or to the pool. Then there’s another if I shower. Typically I use 2 regular and one hand towel. I was actually feeling like it was the very lap of luxury that the gym provided towels for us; I am perfectly accustomed to bringing my own to a gym. And I would use the same number if I were bringing my own.

    But none of that seems to be the point. You’re right; there isn’t enough information on the sign to be useful to us. But maybe there are some serious towel wasters out there, going through dozens in a single gym session. I see women in the locker room with one on their heads and two wrapped around their body (upper, lower; they aren’t very big towels). If they do that three-towel thing for the steam room AND the shower — plus I see women lay towels down on the benches to sit on, AND they have a handful for when they go poolside, the request makes more sense.

    When I think of all the teen girls who will be filling their time at LTF this summer, I nod my head and think, yeah, they probably use a ton of towels. Still, need context!

  2. Jeff Tippett says:

    So, I agree: context is important. But here’s another angle. Today I went to the pool to do push ups. Since past experience tells me there’s a better chance than not that I won’t find a towel at the pool, I took one from the locker room with me. As I approached the pool, I was accosted (and yes, I do mean accosted) by the new Lifetime Towel Czar and accompanying patrol. I was chastised for bringing a towel out of the locker room. When I told the Czar that I brought one out because–based on my history–chances were slim that I’d find a towel outside, she informed me it’s because “we” are using too many towels. And because of our overuse they had to wash 19,000 last Wednesday.

    During economic downturn it seems like Lifetime would turn up the customer service–not have a rude approach to their service.

    So, in the middle of writing this comment I emailed Lifetime Corporate. The operations manager of the local facility called me back. Kudos to them for quickly responding. Unfortunately, the operations manager bombarded me with how bad they had it trying to wash and replace towels. She told me last Wednesday they had to wash 19,000 towels. She told me that at the end of the pool day they had to wash towels for 8 hours. She told me she has to order 700 replacement towels a week. She told me that half her staff was ready to quit because of our abuse of towel usage. As the client of Lifetime, I really don’t care how bad they have it. Seriously. Our company is paying for an upscale service. She actually told me she wants to put sensors on every towel and place alarms at each door. In effect, she wants to embarrass someone for accidentally walking out with a $2 towel.

    Also, Lifetime should be real about their objective. If they’re trying to be green, then be green. Don’t try to lessen your work load and use green as a cover. The signs may say green, but the discourse says make my life easier and save Lifetime some money.

    The towel saga reminds me of McDonald’s asking me for $0.25 if I want an extra barbecue sauce packet for my kids. Lifetime sold us a club that was to be a spa, that was to be upscale, that was to care for their clients. To the contrary, I feel like I’m at McDonald’s.

    Lifetime, if the goal is towel usage reduction then fine. Just do it in an upscale manner. Don’t tell me, the client, about your saga based on the actions of clients. Find a positive way to reach your goal and keep our club upscale.

  3. Woooo, AMEN to the brother! Speakin’ loud and clear.

  4. Reading this makes me even gladder that we cancelled our Lifetime membership last year (before the economy went south).

    We were early Lifetime members, seduced by the slick sales pitch even before the building was built. We even recruited several friends to join as well.

    The place turned out to be a nightmare for us. Our kids (ages 9, 11, and 11) are too old for the child care center, but too young to use the gym. On several occasions we were kicked out of the basketball gym during “open” gym hours because someone had rented the facility for a party. And nearly every time we went to the pool, the place had to be evacuated due to kids pooping in it. Not to mention the family locker rooms (which are the only way we could take our kids swimming) are WAY too small and totally overcrowded.

    Then there was the Lifetime Cafe, with its overpriced crappy food. And the personal trainers circling the gym like vultures trying to get you to sign up for expensive training sessions.

    And finally, my biggest personal pet peeves: the omnipresent, obnoxious music videos featuring coke-addicted teenage girls, and constant stream of audio ads for products owned by Lifetime’s parent company piped through the entire facility.

    When we presented these issues to Lifetime management, they were completely unsympathetic. So we left, and we haven’t missed it one bit.

    Whew! Thanks for letting me vent! 🙂

  5. bledsoe says:

    Looks like I wasn’t the only one with a complaint about LTF.

    I agree that posting a Towel Monitor at the entrance to the pool doesn’t seem to be the best approach for dealing with the towel issue; not only that, but it’s still not clear to me exactly what the issue is. 19,000 towels a day still only comes to an average of 4.8 towels per person (using my estimated numbers), and I still don’t know if that includes the hand towels. And how many people came thru the doors last Wednesday?

    Plus, LTF has a lot of locations around the country. What’s the towel usage like at the other locations? Are they having problems washing all their towels? Are their staff people also threatening to quit? Or do LTF members in Cary have some need for towels that far exceeds the national average?

    I’d love to have someone from LTF weigh in here. I’ll let you know if I get any more info.

  6. Getting paid minimum wage to fold towels for 8 hours. Sign me up! Seriously, how hard can it be?! No people to deal with just the hum of laundry and folding.
    Lifetime continues to sell memberships, are they expecting new clients not to use any towels? (thus keeping the numbers down) Did they think the original 10,000 (or whatever) number of towels would last two years? Doesn’t someone account for the occasional forgotten/lost/stolen towel? (for the record this has never happened to me). And I agree w/ the person who asked if the Cary location uses more towels than the other locations. A more effective sign would be, “Please limit yourself to two full-size towels per person”.
    And how did you get that picture of the sign, since there are signs posted NOT to have cameras or cell phone’s w/ camera’s in the locker room. 😉
    Good points by all. And to Michael- did your family join a different gym? Where? do you like it?

  7. Jennifer: no, we didn’t join a different gym. We’ve considered joining the Y, but it’s not in our budget right now. As a Jew, I wish the JCC were closer to us, but alas.

    I will admit the water slides at the Lifetime pool are a blast for the kids, but until our kids are old enough to use the facilities themselves, we probably won’t be rejoining.

  8. Jeff Tippett says:

    So, Lifetime Fitness responded to my tweet. They said that they read the post but questioned how the service was poor: “I am still curious however, what was wrong with the customer service?” To which I responded: “@myLTcom 1) rude 2) placed burden of situation on consumer 3) chastised me 4 taking towel fm locker rm 4) blamed “us” for no towels at pool.” If only I had more than 140 characters…

    They should read some of my older posts about The Omni Hotel. The Omni gets it. And they received TONS of free press through my Twitter network of 12,000. Almost 400 people clicked through to see a pic of the handwritten note they left me.

    When the incident with Lifetime first occurred I told the operations manager that conversation about the towels was occurring on Twitter, Facebook, and a blog. She said: “OK.” Instead of asking for more information or ways that she could be part of the conversation she opted to correct some kids at the pool. I understand that the kids needed to be told how to behave at the pool. But engaging in online discussions is important as well.

    Lifetime just responded on Twitter: “@jefftippett A lot of companies need to consider customer service all the time. We will continue to try our best. I am sorry about your exp.” It reminds me of my kids saying, “But, daddy, all the other kids on the playground are doing it.” However, I appreciate their apology for my experience. For that, I am thankful.

    I think our efforts are futile. If someone doesn’t get it–he/she just doesn’t get it. I am resigned to accept Lifetime for what it is to me: a great facility with poor customer service. I will remain for the facility, but I will not recommend it to friends nor will I take business contacts and have someone chastise them for taking a towel to the pool from the locker room. The allusion of an upscale, high-end spa is gone for me. It sorta reminds me of the new McDonald’s: more upscale environment but it’s still McDonald’s style of customer service.

    One final note…Omni Hotels once again noticed my tweet about their great customer service and posted this response: “TY!! RT @jefftippett @myLTcom u shld read my tweets abt @omnihotels they get customer service. i did a presentation abt their cs last wk.”

    I love Omni Hotels.

  9. I have enjoyed reading all of the comments left here because I understand the importance of customer service. Before joining Life Time Fitness, I worked for seven years with a marketing services company that prided itself in the practice. That is what I am hoping to bring to LTF. Good or bad, I respect all of the comments.

    I assure you that every day we talk about posts like this and what can be done to correct it. We are growing, and with that comes tough responsibilities to keep clubs consistent with our overall strategy and model. It’s tough, but we are working hard to try and accomplish it.

    And Jeff, to your point… I do get it. That is why I am employed here. It is my job to get it. I am hoping that in the short-term customer service improves for you. I know that I hear a lot of great things about our clubs, but I respect the views of the negative ones as well.

    Again, I am sorry about the experiences or mis-communications we may have had in the past – with all of you on this comment stream and readers of this blog. I hope that we can continue to improve moving forward!

    Regards,

    Robert Stanke
    Interactive Community Manager
    Life Time Fitness, Inc.

  10. Good luck to you, Robert. You’ve certainly got your work cut out for you!

  11. So, I got the scoop.

    The average person is currently using 5 full size towels. If they post a sign asking people to use 2-3 it comes off as telling people what to do. Their answer to “how many towels do you want or expect us to use” was “as many as you need”.

    A couple of situations that the person specifically mentioned were people taking a stack of 4-6 towels outside, they get wet (from a puddle) and the entire stack (unused) goes to the laundry basket. Members using one full size towel to blot their face and sending it to the dirty bin. People at the pool lining their deck chairs with 4+ towels and then putting them in the dirty bin on the way to the locker room. Children who grab new towels during each pool break and toss each one in the bin.

    Jeff, I think your situation may have been from an employee who was misinformed about the actual problem with “too many towels”. Earlier this week I walked from the locker room to the pool and back with one towel around my waist and the towel czar said nothing (nor the two lifeguards at the door). For the record I then used that same towel for my shower. 🙂

    I think most of us use towels responsibly. I think that (outdoor) pool season = more laundry is obvious. Honestly, I’m surprised that this is an issue. Apparently some people (none on this thread) equate upscale with the option to waste. For the record the shine was off upscale when I saw how they treat their employees. Great facility and I’ll probably still go, and pay, but I feel badly for contributing to a company that doesn’t take care of it’s staff.

    That’s it, I’m out! 😉

  12. At the risk of beating a dead horse…

    I really don’t blame Lifetime for trying to get folks to conserve on towels. They need to come up with a better way to do it, like maybe instead of leaving towels around for folks to just grab, they should simply issue each guest a limited number of towels when they check in. I guess that might be seen as Draconian or not in keeping with their “luxury” image, but it would at least be fair, and would not create situations like the ones Jeff described.

    Most of the problems I have with Lifetime have simple solutions, if only they would listen to their customers.

  13. Jeff Tippett says:

    Robert,

    Thank you for engaging in the conversation. I appreciate your response.

    Lifetime Fitness has a wonderful facility, and my kids and I enjoy using it. I think you do have some issues with staffing as evidenced by this sampling of customer service complaints as well as the willingness of your staff to openly discuss their disappointments in working for Lifetime. I hope this situation will move beyond rhetoric to action.

    Have you ever considered sending someone out to thank your corporate accounts? My company is a charter member of Lifetime and pays for employees that chose to use the facility. Perhaps you could consider sending someone around once a year to corporate accounts–just say thank you for your support of Lifetime. While it may seem like a laborious task, it could be well worth the effort. Your salesperson found time to come over numerous times when he was selling your facility. Perhaps someone could find time just once to stop and and say thank you. I know it would mean a lot to the owners of my company.

    My best to you in your endeavours with Lifetime.

    Jeff

  14. bledsoe says:

    As long as we’re offering ideas for improvement, I’ll offer one on behalf of the data junkies and suggest that simply letting people know how many towels are being used, on average, by each LTF member might be a good place to start. Just knowing that we’ve been using 5 full-sized towels per person is enough to make me stop and consider my (and my kids’) towel usage habits. I’m not sure a bunch of prominently placed signs in the locker rooms is necessarily the way to go, but perhaps some kind of appropriately-worded “Did you know…” flyer on a bulletin board (including stats on towel usage at LTF-Cary as well as other LTF facilities) would be good. Heck, if LTF were to post monthly updates (“This month’s average towel usage down to 4.6 towels per person! Keep up the good work!”), I’d actually feel like all of us, LTF staff AND members, were working toward a worthy goal.

    Many thanks to all who took the time to leave comments, and especially to Robert of Lifetime Fitness; I appreciate your willingness to participate in the conversation.

  15. Alice says:

    No matter how you look at it, 17000 towels a day is a lot. Usually I just use two, I don’t see the use for more than two towels. But as long as they make a profit by me going to the gym, it shouldn’t matter how many towels I or anyone uses.

  16. bledsoe says:

    Actually, I think it does matter how you look at it. 17,000 towels a day is a lot if only a few hundred people are using them, but it’s not that much if several thousand people a day are using them. Context is really important in this situation.

  17. anonymous says:

    Was recently told by staff member that in the past year over 3 million had been spent on towels alone

  18. M says:

    Well if ppl don’t care how many towels are wasted then they can’t complain about the price hikes. After all they’re a business and need to cover for the expenses. At my lifetime there’s only two staff maybe three and we r a big club. So minimum wage just to fold towels. Um no. They clean and take care of members and often have multiple areas they’re responsible for. I asked a staff member that is what they told me. Just because it’s free does not mean u can make a mess and waste stuff. Respect the fact that they’re providing luxury by not wasting everything. Jeez.

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