Complaints of local gym memberships skyrocket

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The new year is here, and many students have a resolution to get in better shape. However, without proper research, contracts can make or break a person’s gym experience.

The number of complaints about gym contracts doubled from 2011 to 2012, according to the Utah Better Business Bureau. It received 330 complaints dealing with either broken verbal promises or unknown clauses in contracts last year.

BYU student Alyssa Petty works out in a local gym. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection noted that gyms were one of the top 10 most-complained-about industries in the past year.

Brad Coons, an exercise science major from Alamo, Calif., is one of many students who found unexpected requirements with his gym contract. When Brad served his mission he was locked into a two-year contract with an option to “freeze” his membership while he was abroad.

Coons paid all of his fees for the two years up front and expected that when he got home from his mission he would be able to sell what would be left of his contract. Coons found out, however, that he did not fully understand all of the stipulations.

His contract had expired upon his return, leaving him nothing to sell and forcing him to stay at this particular gym for a year and a half to get his money’s worth.

Coons was also promised he could use all of the gyms nationwide, which he later found out was limited to 10 visits outside the gym in Provo.

“It’s been really frustrating because I can’t get a straight answer and you can never trust what they are saying because many gyms work off commission, so their salespeople just want to make money,” Coons said.

Coons’ wife, Rachel Coons, is a personal trainer at another gym in Utah and says many people choose to workout where she works because there is no contract.

“People come in all the time and ask if we have contracts. Once they find out that we don’t, they are ecstatic and tell me about how unhappy they have been with recent contracts they have been in,” Rachel Coons said.

Most of the issues that arise come from members not fully reading the contracts and not knowing all the details. This comes from either being rushed into a decision by a promotion, having a sales representative tell the client something different than what is in the contract, or members simply not taking the time to educate themselves.

Jane Driggs, president of the Utah Better Business Bureau, says most of the complaints the BBB receives on this matter relate to people being stuck in a contract or their sales representative telling them something other than what was actually written. She offers this advice: read the fine print.

“Complaints made to the Better Business Bureau used to be that the gym was too crowded or unclean; now they are mainly about contracts. Probably 80 percent of the complaints we get could be avoided if people took the time to fully read what they are getting into,” Driggs said.

Along with this advice, she says to be sure everything promised by a salesperson is in the contract. If it is not, she advises to have the salesperson write it in and initial it.

“Oftentimes, these people are on commission, which leads to a lot of complaints of people getting promised things that are not actually written into the contract,” Driggs said.

Another complaint Driggs noted was that people sign contracts and then cannot afford the monthly payments.

“Once you have signed it you have a legal responsibility to hold up your end. If you can’t afford it, don’t sign up,” Driggs said.

Mike Tait, a psychology graduate from Phelan, Calif., has been a member of a local gym since 2007 and is satisfied with his gym membership. When he first signed up he heard many reviews that his particular gym scams people, but Tait chose to do his homework.

“I went into the gym to sign up, (and) I did something that I am pretty sure the vast majority of people who get memberships don’t do: I read the contract,” Tait said.

Tait said he learned many gyms have an auto-renewal clause in their contracts. Unless otherwise stated, memberships remain active even after contracts expire. He made a conscious effort to remember the dates he agreed upon, finished out his contract, signed off, and has had no issues.

“I think the moral of the story here is that you need to know what you are getting into when you sign a contract and how that contract is going to end, whether it be by your efforts or automatically. I understood what the contract said and therefore left my gym a happy customer,” Tait said.

The BBB said consumers should take their time reading any contract. If the deal seems rushed or is presented as a limited-time offer, it is smart to walk away.

A BBB spokesperson advised people to research a gym before signing a contract. Take into account the budget needed for the membership and check out the gym at peak times. Watch out for salespeople’s pressure and carefully read the contract and understand the policies.

Before consumers sign a contract, they should understand it can last for months or years, some gyms require cancellation fees, and it can be hard to transfer a membership when moving.

The BBB said it successfully resolved 94 percent of complaints about Utah gyms last year. However, consumers can avoid most of the confusion and frustration they face if they do their research before signing a binding gym contract.

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