Gyms wringing out towel losses

GYM users at the Fitness First chain will have to stop "accidentally" taking home the gym's towels and clothes starting this week.

The 16-outlet chain has sewn trackers into its linen which include towels, shirts and shorts.

Walk out of the club with one of these items and its radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag will beep. Lights will also start flashing at the club's entrance and staff will be alerted.

After a two-month trial at its Market Place outlet, the gym will decide whether to extend the practice to other outlets.

Meanwhile, the True Group, which has 11 gyms and yoga centres here, has tagged the towels at its Suntec City and Djitsun Mall outlets. Linen at its Great World City gym will be tagged by year-end.

While there are no official figures regarding towel thefts among gyms in Singapore, True Group said an estimated 1,250 towels went missing last year - or about 100 towels a month. Towels tend to go missing when the chain gets a new batch.

This cost the group about $12,500 - money that would otherwise have gone into enhancing facilities at its centres and staff training, said marketing manager Lynette Manimaren-Woo.

Fitness First said it loses about 10 towels a month.

The towels cost gyms $3 to $10 each, depending on their size and quality.

In 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that YMCA gyms were losing an average of 50 towels a day - costing it nearly US$50,000 (about S$69,600) a year. It eventually went towel-less.

Fitness First said the new RFID will also help its staff with stock counting of towels and gear which now takes them about four hours, which is a "massive waste of time", said managing director Anthony Tottman.

Not all gyms, however, are keen on such a system.

Amore Fitness, which has 17 centres, said its simple system of handing towels to members in exchange for their membership cardshas worked so far.

"We don't experience an issue of towel loss. Numbers are insignificant," said its spokesman.

Mr Edmund Tan, the operations director of Physical Abuse and Defitnation gyms, said the centres lose about 40 towels a month, but he is not considering the RFID system.

"Sometimes customers take towels back unconsciously," he said, admitting that he has accidentally bagged towels from his own gym.

"If you buzz them, it makes them embarrassed and they will feel like they stole something."

This article was first published on Mar 16, 2015.
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