MADERA - There are many in this community excited that Planet Fitness is coming to town but none more than the officials at the city of Madera. The fitness chains expansion into the over fifty year old Bethard Square Shopping Center marks the first of what the city is hoping is a complete remodel of this once dilapidated center with mass vacancies and asbestos filled, leaking, moldy ceilings.
The former owner of the center let the property go over the years, but the property was sold last summer following an online auction. The Madera Unified School District Board of Trustees held two closed session meetings to discuss purchasing the property for new district offices but after an inspection tour it was clear to the district that there was just too much damage from neglect to the building to make any remodel feasible let alone economically sound.
So the new owners brought in a major anchor for their planned remodel of the shopping center, Planet Fitness. The gym is a franchise owned by an unidentified owner from Miami, Florida. Now I say unidentified because no matter how many times you ask the corporate offices or the regional management team who are overseeing the build-out, they refuse to answer the question of who their boss really is.
You see each individual gym in this company has its own LLC. The new Madera location is owned by PF Madera LLC. This individual franchisee also owns several locations in Miami. But when trying to identify the owner and contact them, it turns out that all these LLCs are based in New Jersey. So, in short, the Madera gym's contracts for service with their potential members aren't with Planet Fitness at all, but with this LLC (based out of Madera? No. Miami? No. Apparently based out of Forked River, New Jersey). And after an online search of the state of New Jersey's corporate records, we couldn't find any information that this LLC exist. Now you are beginning to see the potential problem.
You might ask what the big deal is about not knowing who actually owns the local gym?
Well, to be a member of this 'local' gym you not only required to give them access to your checking accounts (including your bank routing numbers), but you also need to give an alternative payment option, specifically a credit card. There is no option to simply use that credit card to handle your monthly fees and forget about the banking information. The credit card is only for back-up if they are not able to access your bank account.
The contract you sign gives this unknown LLC access to draw money from your checking account. What you need to know is that according to the Consumer Affairs website, there are over 500 complaints from members and former members of double billing, billings after accounts are canceled or just flat out unexplained draws on member's money directly from their bank accounts.
Maybe after learning those facts, you might agree it's important to know who you are thinking of doing business with?
Wait, you might say.....'If I ever have a problem, I can just call the corporate phone number, right?".
Of course, there is that option and after 45 minutes on hold member services may even answer your call. But the most the corporate big-wigs in New Hampshire will do is pass your complaint or concern on to the franchisee in Miami (or New Jersey?), who may or may not return your phone call. Corporate will tell you that each franchisee is an independent gym. But they won't tell you who owns that gym nor give you a phone number to reach the franchisee directly.
It's like McDonald's Restaurant with no accountability. I mean if I have an unpleasant experience at a Madera McDonald's location, I can call their corporate office and complain, but I can also call the franchisee, Ken Bender, at his Madera County office. With Planet Fitness this is not the case. From the complaints I have seen on the Consumer Affairs website, it you are lucky enough to actually speak to a general manager at the gym level, you may not ever be able to get any further. There is no directory of phone numbers for the company that is available to the member. But you can email an anonymous address on the Planet Fitness website. Yeah....not quite the same as speaking to a representative.
Let's see if I am getting this....You as a member have to trust an unknown franchisee's LLC with access to your bank account, even though Consumer Affairs and other websites have reported that thousands of people have lodged complaints of misuse against this LLC. But the members can never be trusted with a phone number to use in reaching a corporate or franchisee officer with whom you can share your concerns and get answers to those concerns?
So before you sign that contract for this slick new gym with owners in Miami, Florida or New Jersey, take the time to do your due-diligence and research all the complaints on the various Better Business Bureau's websites and the Consumer Affairs organization. Do you really want some stranger to have enough access to possibly clean out your checking account?
I know I don't. And that is why I am joining GB3 in Fresno. They will be breaking ground on their new gym in Madera in 2017 over in the Home Depot area of Madera near the Ellis Street overpass.
I know who George Brown is....and I know he lives right here in our area, not Miami, Florida or New Jersey.
Consumer Affairs :Planet Fitness" Reviews
Complaints Board "Planet Fitness" Reviews
Pissed Consumers "Planet Fitness" Reviews