Gold's Gym Applies Fitness Shrink Ray To Membership Privileges

Most complaints that we receive about gyms involve memberships that refuse to die (even when the customer does), but Laura in Indiana has a different problem. Her local Gold’s Gym is changing its services and membership structure with no regard for the facility’s current members.

The franchise has decided to change their membership structure and to discontinue some programs and services that were included in memberships when Laura joined. Even worse, the club’s management have chosen not to fully explain the changes to current members, and is charging the same price while reducing services. Is this the Fitness Shrink Ray?

I’ve been a member of Gold’s Gym for about a year. I’m about as happy as one can be with a gym- it’s within a mile of my house, has great classes and instructors, and TVs on all cardio equipment. I pay $40 a month for this gym, with privileges at the other Gold’s on the west side of town.

A week ago, I headed into Gold’s bright and early Saturday morning for a quick workout. Above the doors was a new banner- “$14.99 a month, no contracts, no gimmicks.” What?? I pay more than twice that now, so I went in and talked to one of the front desk employees about it. He said that he had no idea what was going on, other than there were changes coming. He knew that new members paid $14.99 for a gym-only pass, and $24.99 to include the basketball/racquetball courts and pool. He said that they knew about as much as I did because nothing had been communicated to them.

I went to several group exercise classes this past week, and the instructors all said the same thing- they had no idea what was going on. Some thought group classes would be canceled, some thought there might be an additional fee. Still, a company that lowers its prices during a recession- sounds great!

Here’s the kicker: Many members pre-paid as late as July for an entire year, at the higher, full-service rate which included all classes, child care, the pool, and longer hours. It does not seem that Gold’s will refund their money, instead charging them a $93 “conversion fee” to transfer to the new lower rate. However, if I walk in off the street to join, it’s only $79 to join.

Many other members had already voiced their concerns to C., the manager, and said he was a jerk/a—hole/etc. but I thought speaking to him calmly about what I wanted (reduced rate immediately or free passes to the classes to make up the difference) would help my plight. After all, I am a paying member, right?

C., frankly, did not care. He placed all of the blame solely on T., the aerobics manager, for her lack of communication to members. He likened it to buying a car, and then three weeks later the car is on sale. Well, that’s kind of a different situation because he didn’t pay more for a car that now is missing the radio, seatbelts and works only half the time.

I explained to C. that I had expected a letter detailing the changes to my membership plan (as these were material changes, and could invalidate my contract), but it seems that C. thought word-of-mouth and rumor was a better way to handle it. This was further reinforced by an instructor, who told our class that she was told that by C. himself.

Consumerist, I’ve been an avid reader of your site for many years, and I deal with customer service issues daily in my job. The right answer is to have explained this to all members ahead of time, but instead it seems they are relying on rumor to inform members of the new policies, and alienating them in the process. Call me crazy, but that’s no way to do business.

My contract is up next month and I have until Wednesday to cancel it without being billed $93 + the new monthly fee. I’m only stuck at $40 for a month (although on principle I would like to cancel), but there are dozens, if not a hundred members, who are stuck paying the higher rate. What would you do?

We would start by contacting Gold’s Gym corporate, and explaining the situation—it would be nice to know whether they condone this sort of thing from one of their franchisees. Maybe this is acceptable, but it’s worth asking about.

Next, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, and/or ask someone there whether the changes Gold’s is making are acceptable under Indiana’s laws regulating health and fitness clubs. You can read a consumer guide to those laws here, but it doesn’t cover a situation like Laura’s.

Many gyms have lowered prices or enrollment fees to entice new customers during the recession, but keeping current members is even more crucial. Why make this change, and why charge continuing members $93 for the privilege of not quitting at the end of their contracts?

Consumer Guide: Health & Fitness Clubs
[Indiana Attorney General]

(Photo: Jun Acullador)

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