Ed Siegal was surprised when a $25 “enhancement fee” from Gold’s Gym in West Roxbury was deducted from his bank account in early January. He had canceled his membership to the gym in November. Or so he thought.
Ed Siegal was surprised when a $25 “enhancement fee” from Gold’s Gym in West Roxbury was deducted from his bank account in early January. Although Siegal said he has been trying to cut back on spending, his objection to the fee was not about the money. He had canceled his membership to the gym in November.
Or so he thought.
When Siegal (who works for the Transcript’s parent company, GateHouse Media) called Gold’s to ask about the charge, he was told he was still a member. If he wanted to cancel, he would have to send a certified letter to the club’s billing company, ABC Financial Services Inc., headquartered in Sherwood, Ark.
“I have belonged to health clubs off and on for 25 years, and this is the first time I’ve had to call out of state to cancel a membership,” said Siegal. He acknowledged that there had been a clause in his contract about cancellation but said he had misplaced the paperwork.
Siegal is not alone in his frustration — an Arlington man butted heads with another branch of Gold’s last spring after confusion about the cancellation policy led to mounting bills — but in an increasingly competitive industry, many fitness clubs are outsourcing financial matters in order to focus on the real bottom line.
“We are in the getting-people-healthy business, not the paperwork business,” explained George Moses, who co-owns the Gold’s at 1600 VFW Parkway with his brother, Jim. The Moseses hired ABC last summer to handle billing for their growing operation. Membership has more than doubled since the brothers took over the gym in 2003, said George Moses.
Although Moses said he sympathizes with patrons who are confused by the policy, he pointed out that the language in the contract is clear and printed in bold.
Kara Thompson of the Boston-based International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, said before joining a club, it is important to review the cancellation policy, billing procedures and length of the agreement.
“And don’t ever feel pressured to sign any contract on the spot,” she said. “You are entitled to take the contract home and read it before you make a final decision.”
While the case in Arlington prompted a proposal for a law mandating that people be allowed to cancel membership in the same place where they signed up, no legislation was ever filed.
“We found that there was not much we could do,” said Andrew Kelley, an aide for state Rep. Sean Garballey, D-Arlington. “We have offered help on a case-by-case basis — with the Attorney General’s office — for individuals who want to get out of their commitments.”
There have been no complaints filed against the Gold’s in West Roxbury with the attorney general. But Jason Zagami of Solid Body Fitness, in Dedham, said he thinks outsourcing is bad for the industry.
“For a lot of franchise owners, it’s less personal. They run it more in a business structure,” said Zagami. “If somebody is at my gym, and they’re not happy, I don’t want them to feel locked in contractually.”
Billing is handled in house at Solid Body Fitness, but like at Gold’s, a 30 days written notice is required to cancel membership. Membership rates are higher at Solid Body Fitness, which has about 100 members compared with nearly 3,000 at Gold’s, but Zagami said there are no extra fees.
Moses said the enhancement fee has made it possible for Gold’s to manage expenses without raising rates, cutting program offerings or reducing staff. He said the West Roxbury Gold’s employs 55 people, and has not laid off anyone during the recession.
He added that all members were mailed a letter explaining the fee in the first week of November, providing more than enough time for them to meet the required 30 days notice if they wished to cancel membership before the $25 charge was applied on Jan. 1.
“We don’t want unhappy customers,” said Moses. “Our best member is the one who comes and brings in someone new every month — and we give them a free month as a thank you.”
Zagami echoed the sentiment. “You should reward your members,” he said. “Everyone who is here is here because they want to be.”
As Thompson explained, it is up to consumers to “do their due diligence” to determine whether or not a club is where they want to be.