Every reputable gym owner must feel sick when there's yet another story about alleged billing abuses by a high-profile operator. This time, it's Urban Active. The Better Business Bureau gave UA an "F" rating, and several members are suing the company for, among other things, misrepresenting their membership agreement and failing to honor cancellation requests. UA also seems to be guilty of the biggest sin of all, which is being unresponsive to complaints, and even being slow to respond to the BBB.
So it looks like UA has some explaining to do, and it's another black eye for the health club industry. However, as owners, we can offer a little perspective.
UA has thousands of members, and these complaints represent approximately 2 percent of that number. That means thousands of UA members regularly, and without incident, cancel their memberships, receive refunds and resolve billing disputes. Is UA systemically trying to rip off the consumers of Ohio when thousands of them seem to be ending their relationship with UA just fine? So perhaps - just perhaps - some portion of the responsibility for these problems might reside with the members.
Anyone who has dealt with membership cancellations knows that consumers often seem incapable of following simple instructions, and when there is a dispute, some of them invoke selective memory or outright lie. How do we know? It happens to us, and we have the most benign cancellation policies of any health club we know. Members blame us for not canceling them when they take months to send in proof that they've moved, or when they send e- or snail-mail to an incorrect address, or when they want to cancel in the middle of their contract term. And when they think they're right, they REALLY think they're right. Some of our bitter exes include:
• The guy who threatened to report us to the Attorney General if we didn't refund his dues back to July, which is when he claimed to have submitted his cancellation request. As proof, he provided the e-mail receipt that goes to everyone who submits their request via our website. Only he didn't send a real e-mail. He had created this alleged receipt using Microsoft Word, with the typos and incorrect dates to prove it. Sadly, we couldn't report him to anyone for trying to commit fraud.
• The woman who was convinced that our billing company had told her that after her freeze period she would be canceled. But, after her freeze, it took her three months to notice that she was being billed again, and she screamed bloody murder. We assured her that we would refund her money if that was, in fact, what she had been told, and through the miracle of modern technology, we retrieved the recordings of her conversations with our billing company. She was told no such thing. Even when faced with the prospect of us e-mailing her those conversations, she stuck to her story and threatened to badmouth us to everyone she could.
• The woman who just last week berated our staff and sent nasty e-mails claiming that we had misrepresented the terms of our membership when she joined last January. She claimed our staff person had told her it was a non-renewing membership, even though she had clearly been guided through the contract - she had initialed, as directed, the two places where the auto-renewal clause is clearly described. She didn't want to see a copy of what she had signed, apparently because it would interfere with her sense of moral righteousness.
The vast majority of our members are able to cancel easily and efficiently, which is our goal. There's no fine print in our contracts, and we train our staff to underline and explain the cancellation policy. We have various membership options so nobody is forced to commit to a longer term than they'd like. We require only 14 days lead time to cancel, even though state law allows us 60 days. We let people cancel via the web. How much easier can we make it?
Yet, to a vocal minority of former members, we are the bad guys. Is Urban Active a bad guy? Maybe, maybe not. But we can guarantee you that in those 200 complaints against UA, there are some that will not hold water.