I’m Sorry; It’s Just Our Policy


You probably wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I belong to a gym.

It’s not the fanciest gym on the planet, but it’s reasonably nice and the only gym in town that also has an indoor and outdoor pool. And a big glass water dispenser at the front desk with lemons in it. I’m a sucker for a nice water dispenser. My husband and I joined the gym years ago, stopped for awhile, and then rejoined with our children.

I don’t use it as often as I should, one of the main reasons being it closes at around 8:30pm, which is about the time I feel like working out. I know I could just get up early and go work out before the day starts, but the “get up early” part of that plan prevents me from executing it.

stairsPlus, they keep the women’s dressing rooms upstairs. Upstairs. As in, you have to climb the stairs to get to them. I realize how foolish this sounds, complaining about climbing up steps at a gym, but if you’ve ever walked out of a class on legs that feel like jello, the last thing you want to do is climb two flights of stairs to get to the dressing room. I think an escalator would be nice, but that’s just me.

And, to top it all off, it isn’t cheap. The gym is a little pricey; they know if you want to take a dip in the pool after your workout, they are the only game in town.

Yes, I like my gym, but, I just wasn’t using it enough to get my money’s worth from it, so I went in to cancel my membership. As I mentioned, I’d done it before and rejoined later when life wasn’t quite so hectic. Our gym membership fees are automatically deducted at the first of each month, so on August 3rd, I walked into the office to cancel. I knew it was too late to cancel August, but figured the cancellation would take effect at the end of the month.

Boy, was I wrong.

contractAfter complimenting me on the fact that I was a Long Time Member, the nice gym employee informed me that the gym needs a solid 30 days to cancel, which would mean my membership would be in effect until October 1 and they would deduct yet another month’s fees from my account.

Mind you, it was August 3rd.

When I pointed this fact out to the nice gym employee, that, considering it was only the 3rd day of August, it was a tiny bit absurd to make me maintain my membership until October 1st. After all, as he so accurately pointed out, I was a Long Time Member and had given the gym years and years of membership fees, and it’s not as though I wouldn’t return at a later date.

The nice gym employee listened patiently as I talked and said he understood. He said that he was very very sorry and that he recognized I was a Long Time Member and sure thanked me for it, but when it came to the 30 days cancellation period, there was nothing he could do about. It was simply…wait for it…gym policy.

Now, at this point, I could have ranted and raved and jumped up and down on his desk, shouting that if they ever wanted my business in the future, they would make my cancellation effective September 1, but I didn’t. I simply signed the papers and walked out, knowing full well I would never, ever join that gym again. Ever.

And it got me thinking about policies. And how stupid they are.

Yes, I said stupid.

Because a policy should be nothing more than a guideline; a blueprint to help business owners and those who work for them handle situations. They should not be carved in stone nor unbreakable.

nordstromTake Nordstrom’s, for example. For years, their employee handbook consisted of a card containing only a few words:

“Welcome to Nordstrom

We’re glad to have you with our company. Our number one goal is to provide 

outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. 

We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them. 

Nordstrom Rules:

Rule #1: Use best judgement in all situations. 

There will be no additional rules. 

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.”

How great is this? The only rule is there is no rule; the only policy is there is no policy. An employee’s best judgement determines the course of action.

dmvPolicies can make or break a business, because policies determine the outcome. A list of rules treats you like a number; a faceless, soulless number. It’s like the feeling you get when you visit the DMV and find that you are number 93 and they are serving customer number 22.

A list of rules doesn’t take into account your relationship with a business. It doesn’t factor in future business. It doesn’t incorporate compassion or the human element; it is simply a list of Do’s and Do Nots. Mostly Do Nots.

And policies are waved about like a flag, almost as if a business is proud of its unyielding ways, and it always surprises me when a business stands on a policy and allows a customer to walk away angry. (It also surprises me when a business talks smack about a customer on social media, but we’ll save that for another column.)

“Im sorry, but it’s our policy. There’s nothing I can do.”

There is ALWAYS something you can do; the real question is whether you want to do it. Or not. You know it and the customer knows it. So throw policy out the window and just Do the Right Thing.

As for me, I know that my doughnut eating ways mean I must put effort into exercise, so I’ll be joining another gym September 1–one with a policy geared toward the customer.

And hopefully one with a big glass water dispenser at the front desk with lemons in it.

Image credits: Gym by Casa Velas Hotel, Endless Stairs by RomainBihore, CONTRACT by Steve Snodgrass, Nordstrom in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by Fan of Retail, 404 by antigone78

  • Paul Frederiksen

    uhhhhhh, wrong blog?

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    Granted there are policies in the camera world. But I still see no real connection to the photography world…

  • tom

    what does this have to do with anything

  • DrMookinstein

    As per my policy, I shall now respond with sarcasm to your nicely written but useless blog post.

  • Michael Zhang

    Cheri’s article is geared toward photographers who run their own business :)

  • Paul Frederiksen

    There is absolutely nothing there regarding photographers that run their own business. 95% of this was complaining about her gym’s policy, then ending with a wishy washy “well, policies can either hurt your business or do good for your business!”

    Come on. This is a serious reach. I hope you didn’t pay her per word.

  • tyrohne

    Well Played PP.. well played on the click bait…

  • Joey Duncan

    I would LOVE to know where you think this “click bait” is. Everytime I see people use that term it’s usually due to their own self loathing and being pissed that they didn’t get what they wanted out of the article. Don’t get me wrong the writer could have given more than two sentences to bring her point home.

    But “click bait” is like when I used to work retail and people would start literally screaming ‘BAIT AND SWITCH…. BAIT AND SWITCH” because they would come in on the 10th day of a sale expecting an item to be in stock.

  • hail___hail

    Using Google Chrome’s “find” feature, I was surprised to find the word “photography” exactly zero times in this article.

  • Persio

    I really like this blog, but man, this is going so out of the way. There should be a policy say that a post should contain at least 51% of photography content to be featured here…

  • Paul Frederiksen

    The title of the posts gives the reader the assumption that it is concerning PetaPixel’s policy. That’d be more interesting to read than an essay on why gym memberships suck.

  • Derek

    Rambling, overwrought, incomprehensible — classic Cheri. How did she get a gig writing for a top photo-blog? Does she have some kind of incredible contract in which she gets paid by the word but also submits to no editing?

  • Paul Frederiksen

    It’s PetaPixel’s policy not to disclose that information.


    Someone needed a soapbox… Still can only make loose connections as to what this has to do with anything photo related… Even the “small business” angle is pushing it.

  • Michael Zhang

    Well, the main gist is that small business owners shouldn’t put non-essential (or selfish) policies ahead of the interests of customers. Cheri writes a weekly column here, so that’s the style in which she shares her thoughts on this (i.e. with personal anecdotes and a touch of humor).

    I understand where you’re coming from, though. Thanks so much for sharing your feedback, Paul :) Cheri reads these comments as well, and I’m sure she’s going to adjust her style based on feedback.

  • pgb0517

    This is a great reminder about both sides of business. When I was a cog in the wheel of a big IT department, I knew I could stand on “policy” – up to a point. And believe me, I heard about it if I went past that point. When I deal with businesses and the policy tripe oozes out, I immediately tell them that I am not responsible for their policies, and to let me know who I can talk to who will resolve my problem. I win more than I lose. … As to whether this article “belongs” on PetaPixel, good grief, people, lighten up. It would take less time for you to click through to another site and read something you want to read than it does to bust your baffles about it here. Or, just wait a few minutes and something new will appear here to read.

    Baffle: A device used to restrain the flow of a fluid, gas, or loose material or to prevent the spreading of sound or light in a particular direction. … In other words, restrain your loose material, please.

  • John Mueller

    I think this article was intended for people who run a photography business (as I do). I have a very well thought out contract which I’ve updated several times over the years to include policies in there which protect my business and inform the clients on what is expected on both ends. It’s there to protect me if I need it. BUT, my contract is made with Microsoft Word, which means I’m able to edit it for specific people and circumstances. Any business that uses policies to defend itself should realize that there are always reasons to break them if they want to stay in business.

  • Uriel

    This is what happens when you have someone who isn’t a photographer (she’s the customer service person for her husband’s photo business) writing for a photo blog.

  • Nick

    I read the damn thing all the way to the end hoping that SOMEWHERE I’ll find ANYTHING related to photography, but nothing…

    I can tell you – I live in Croatia, but even here-across the ocean, this article still stinks.Bad.

  • MarvinB7

    I found the article helpful to me as a small one-man show business owner. Not a word about photography, but so what. Good business policy is needed no matter the genre.

  • pgb0517

    You could always cancel your expensive, prepaid subscription to PetaPixel and demand your money ba– … Waitaminnit. Hmm.

  • Gman

    Now go into your bank and cancel the account they take the money from, it’ll be worth it.

  • MarvinB7


  • Rahber

    What an irrelevant post?? how did I end up reading this.. !!!

  • tyrohne

    i guess i self-loathingly expected something tangentially ‘photography’ related.. What do I know…

  • MarvinB7

    As a small photo business owner, I find value in this article. I do sometimes have to use my policies as a shield to protect me from whiners and people who have forgotten what our agreements are, but mostly it’s just a guideline. I probably break my own policies more often than I enforce them, because I know what will be best for my clients and my business. Polices can’t think or reason. Just like a door is made to prevent movement, sometimes you have to open it up move what SHOULD be moving.

  • Paul Frederiksen

    Change is also a good policy.

  • KevinNewsome

    You must not have been in photography very long, or you would recognize the message as one many photographers should take to heart.

  • KevinNewsome

    Hahaha. It’s a customer service article, written by someone who knows customer service, and you’re complaining about it. Take your complaint to the customer service desk. I’m sure they have a policy they’ll gladly name after you.

  • Horatiu

    Interesting, but WTF? This site is about photography (correct me if I’m wrong and it’s in your policy).

  • tyrohne

    Everytime (sic) I see people use that term it’s usually due to their own self loathing and being pissed that they didn’t get what they wanted out of the article.—/endquote

    That’s the most hilariously ridiculous thing I’ve read this week..

  • Paul Frederiksen

    The fitness (gym) business models are completely different than the photography business. There is no relevance between the 2.

  • pgb0517

    Are you being serious?

  • pgb0517

    Well, thank goodness it’s only Monday. Surely you’ll find something more hilariously ridiculous by Saturday.

  • Paul Frederiksen

    There is absolutely no connection between the business models of a gym and a photography business (of any kind).

  • Nick Agri

    We should check PetaPixels policy on this type of post…

  • pgb0517

    Wow, why didn’t I think of that? All I did was actually read the dang thing.

  • Scott M

    Twenty bucks she signed an agreement to this cancellation policy. Didn’t read it? Tough. Didn’t like it but still signed? Tough. People need to either stop signing things they don’t agree with, or complaining. Whichever occurs first.

  • Suz

    This relates to photography as a business. It doesn’t, literally, have to say the word photography to still be relevant. This article is a good reminder that policies are not people and the great customer service actually serves the customer, and the business owner in the end. The problem with people today is that they truly lack an understanding of what customer service really is. If you always rigidly follow your policies, you eventually won’t have any customers to serve.


    Says the guy who is replying to anyone that doesn’t like this article?

  • Suz

    Everyone takes things so literally. It’s not about business models, but valuing your customers and providing great customer service.

  • Paul Frederiksen

    There are good legal reasons to rigidly follow your policies.

    Either way, the business model between the two industries are vastly different.

  • Paul Frederiksen

    Easier to say that than write an epic about why you don’t like your gym’s policy. The piece comes off as whiny, and ends wishy washy. It’s poorly executed. It’s bad customer service by Petal Pixel for tricking me into reading it.

  • Paul Frederiksen

    Not to mention, this is a policy of just about every gym on earth.

  • Kim

    Is this is a right blog?

  • Suz

    However, good customer service is something that should be universal.

  • CurrentCo

    Hey! Great r̶a̶n̶t̶ post on………..

  • KevinNewsome

    Go a bit deeper Paul. Photography businesses (if you have one) often set policies meant to protect the business from people who would take advantage of them. Sometimes those policies actually get in the way of providing a continued relationship with a good client.

    If, however, you’re a hobbyist with no connection to paying clients, then maybe this article just isn’t for you. As a business owner, I can easily see how it relates to photography.

  • Paul Frederiksen

    haha, the old passive aggressive assumption that I’m just a hobbyist and don’t know any better.

    Open up your latest Sports Illustrated and look for my name.

  • Mikey

    Ok, so I get it. I get how one could draw an analogy between running a gym and running a photo business. But if that was the writer’s intent, then she should have illustrated that analogy by providing specific examples she’s encountered while running her own photo studio. Draw on your photographic experience, Cheri, and help us learn.

    Without any connections in the written copy, it’s just a generic — and poorly written — business article that has nothing to do with photography. Or it’s a poorly written personal rant against her gym, I can’t really tell.