A couple of Saturdays ago, Tim Durkin drove to Cinnaminson Health and Wellness to workout.
“It was about 7:30 a.m.,” said Durkin, of Cinnaminson. “On my way, I drove past a friend of mine, also a gym member, who was jogging. I found that strange, given that she was in the gym almost every day, and it was 45 degrees outside.”
Durkin pulled into an inordinately empty lot.
“Then, I knew something was up,” said Durkin.
“When a health club facility closes,” said Jeff Lamm, a spokesman for the NJ Division of Consumer Affairs, “the first thing operators should do is try to resolve the situation with their clients. They should reimburse a client’s gym fees or make alternate health club arrangements.”
According to Lamm, if a situation cannot be resolved with a health club, consumers can file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs.
“Customers have rights, and an investigation should be pursued,” said Lamm. “If warranted, money can sometimes be reimbursed to the member.”
Health club owners, who devote more than 40 percent of their space to health club services, must comply with the specific mandates outlined in the Health Clubs consumer brief of the NJ Division of Consumer Affair’s Regulated Business Section. The brief states: owners must register with Consumer Affairs and renew their membership biennially; and owners must provide a bond or line of credit, assuring reimbursement to clients if necessary.
"If the club does not have a bond,” said Lamm, “then we will determine if the owner has any assets to be pursued.”
Health and Wellness apparently did have a bond and was registered with the state, according to Lamm.
“They were in compliance with the law,” said Lamm, “I’m not sure why they closed, but we have had several members call our office.”
The health club, which was formerly a franchise of Gold’s Gym, was owned by Cinnaminson's Bob LePage, and an investment group.
Sam Balducci, owner of Giant Fitness in Delran, ironically in the space previously occupied by Health and Wellness when it was a Gold's franchise, was approached last week by the investment group. He has agreed to honor the Health and Wellness gym contracts, which, according to Lamm, would be an appropriate remediation, given that Giant is located within 25 miles. Anything beyond that distance would be considered a hardship for Health and Fitness members.
“I am ready to make something positive out of this situation,” said Balducci. “These customers did not get what they paid for, and I am willing to work with them if they want to come to my gym. If they don’t, I’m willing to cancel their memberships.”
Platinum memberships at Giant are $19.95, on a similar scale with Health and Wellness’ rates, but Giant does not offer any exercise classes.
“I have other membership plans that are $10, which I would be willing to offer to these customers,” said Balducci, who has been in the health club business more than 25 years and owns two other facilities.
The Cinnaminson gym was fraught with problems almost immediately, and some customers were growing suspicious and impatient with management’s operations.
“I joined Gold’s back at the old location,” said Michael Mushenski, of Edgewater Park. “When he [LePage] moved to the new place, there were days without electricity or heat. Some days, his staff didn’t show up to open the place. I complained to the corporate offices, which didn’t do anything.”
Most gyms abide by the codes, but some gyms are ripping off, instead of getting members ripped into shape.
“Some health club businesses are shady,” said Jen Contreras, operations manager of EverFit in Cinnaminson, located in the industrial park behind Walmart. “We carry a health club policy that covers prepayments. A lot of clubs don’t. Some gyms need a credit card to lease equipment from suppliers because they can’t get a line of credit. That’s not a good sign.”
Some health clubs practice a hard-sell approach to sign up members but, after the members contract, the personal approach is dropped. Younger members, who are savvier about physical fitness equipment, may prefer a more hands-off relationship, but mid-life clients may want or need more personal service.
John Johnson opened EverFit nine years ago, combining his physical therapy practice with a fitness center. The facility now has three physical therapists and personal trainers on the premises.
“We are essentially a 40-plus facility, although younger people and kids do come for physical therapy. Before a client starts, our staff will give a full medical screening, learn about the patient’s physical conditions and detail any problems. We give a great deal of one-on-one attention,” said Johnson. “We have fewer members, but we can address needs more intimately.”
Before joining a health club, according to Lamm, anyone can ask whether a health club is registered with the state or has violated any standards by calling Consumer Affairs at 973-504-6261.
“I have had about four complaints about the Cinnaminson gym closing,” said Renee Borstad, director of Burlington County Consumer Affairs. “Anyone seeking help should call my office; we have jurisdiction over any current violations.”
There is current pending litigation regarding Cinnaminson Health and Wellness, according to Dave Lauer, head of the investment group, but details have not yet been released.
Members of Cinnaminson Health and Wellness who want to file a complaint can call Burlington County Consumer Affairs at 609-265-5054.