Let’s Discuss: Should Towels Cost Extra at the Gym?

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A friend who’s gone to a few RowZone classes in the past forwarded me a string of emails that went out to the studio’s Rittenhouse and Newtown Square members this week explaining a new towel policy—that effective immediately, towels, which were once handed out for free, would now cost a dollar.

Here’s the first email, in full. Subject line: “Towel Service Reminder”

I thought I would address this in a separate letter so everyone is aware of the new towel service policy. While we certainly understand the disappointment, we simply are not in the towel cleaning business. The option is there for you to rent if you do not want to bring your own towel. But it’s simple really …. when you remember to pack your workout clothes and sneakers, remember to pack your own towel. When your workout clothes need to be laundered, be sure to include your own towel too.

If you forget your water – no worries we have it for $ 1.00
If you forget your towel – no worries we have it for $ 1.00

It’s typical of studios not to include either item free of charge. It is not our goal to be in the water selling or towel renting business either but knowing there is a charge is usually incentive enough for people to remember their own while allowing us to keep our membership pricing competitive. If however, you forget either item, we will not leave you out to dry. The service is available – at a cost – as it does cost us too to purchase and manage the items, launder towels, or even keep the water cold. The option is yours – bring your own towel (BYOT) or bring your own water (BYOW).

We do our best to keep our membership pricing competitive, and for most people, they are spending 20% less than they were paying last year. While we will always have towels available (we will not run out), the service will no longer be free of charge. The cost of our classes or membership options do not include water or towels and that is pretty typical of most studios.

Thank you for your understanding.

And theeeeen, a few hours later, a follow-up. Subject line: “Towel Service Apology”

I learned a big lesson in communication. The day was long with personal concerns topped off with many complaints about the new policy.  I was trying to address the “why” but clearly I missed the mark big time.   While running a small business has it’s challenges when you are attempting to do what is best for all,  I do know I owe everyone in receipt of my prior email an apology.

My humor was off. My tone was off.  I was unprofessional.  It was uncalled for.

I apologize for the mishap and the unprofessional way I attempted to communicate the “why”.   It won’t happen again.

I should hire someone to do this stuff for me and I’m not even sure if sending a follow up email is the right thing to do but felt it was necessary to apologize.

My friend included in her email to me her thoughts on what had apparently been a drama-filled day for the RowZone crew: “Funny, because they charge for towels where I do yoga (I bring my own), and I never thought twice about it. Who knew it was so controversial? I didn’t even think anything of the RowZone email explaining the policy … until I got that apology email!”

I have to admit, I agree. While the tone in the original email might have been a tad mom-like (“I am not your maid, children!”), it was hardly something warranting an apology. And as for the policy itself, they are fairly common, but …

Hmm. I’m on the fence, because I can see it from both sides.

Which makes for a worse experience, when you’re paying for the privilege of a workout: being charged an extra, a la carte fee for things like towels or yoga mats (lots of yoga studios do this), or including the cost of those things in class prices and memberships by charging a bit more for those things? On the one hand, charging a la carte could make members feel like their gym’s a bit stingy, but inflating class prices to cover those costs could make the classes seem overpriced, which could drive away business.

It’s a delicate balance, for sure, and I’m curious to hear from both students and studio owners on the subject: to charge extra for towels or not? Let’s discuss.

POLL: Should Towels Cost Extra at the Gym?


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  • RachelM

    RowZone isn’t really a gym. It’s a boutique indoor rowing studio and in general, studios don’t supply towels or water. Most yoga studios don’t even provide mats. I think gyms should supply towels, as they have many more memberships and a more routine cash flow.