Friday, September 30, 2011

Beware the Fitness Zombie

Peter Earle returns, four doors down from his old haunt, only smaller @ 3,000 sq ft

After the death of his full sized, full service health club almost one year ago, Peter (the-Duke-of) Earle has arisen from the grave and will soon haunt the Happy Valley fitness scene with a woman only operation, touting "services and programs that make fitness, fun, easy and affordable."

At $14.95/month--affordable for sure--but still expensive compared to Planet Fitness, the 'King of Cheap', at $9.95/month. Or the $50 million UMass Recreation Center, which is free to students, his preferred target demographic:

When Gold's Gym was at its peak (2006) they helped promote a Mixed Martial Arts event at the Mullins Center whereby Earle sent an email blast to young female members enticing them to participate in a "hot body bikini contest."

So the $64,000 question is, can this (re)start-up business survive at low membership price points in an already saturated competitive market when odds are against start ups celebrating a 2nd or 3rd birthday--especially when you exclude half the market?

Considering Peter Earle's checkered past in the field of fitness, about as much chance as a sand castle weathering a tropical storm.

Earle opened Gold's Gym--the gold standard of fitness franchises--on University Drive, Amherst in 2003 with two very experienced partners who owned a handful of successful Boston area Gold's. Only a year later the two experienced partners fled back to Boston. For good reason.Fools Gold

New partner, attorney Joanne Delong, bought in with a 50% deed to a dilapidated business condo in Amherst center that mysteriously burned just prior to opening as a tanning salon, and then years later when Earle tried to cash in that ownership learned the paperwork was never properly filed at the Registry of Deeds, thus making it worthless to him. Did I mention Ms. Delong was an attorney?
Cooper Mine tanning salon: never opened for business

They cut corners by dropping the Gold's Gym name to save on the franchise fee and remade themselves as "The Leading Edge." That too soon lost its luster.

This past October 18, the club suddenly closed with only a couple hours notice to employees and members, leaving behind unpaid workers, unhappy customers--most of them owed refunds--and a whopping $250,000 bank debt.

A couple months later, on Christmas morning no less, Amherst Police discovered Mr. Earle in the shuttered business trying to abscond with truckloads of exercise equipment only five days after filing papers for a new fitness business in Keene, NH. His former partner was not amused.Former fitness room, now Amherst Brewing Company

And neither are his former employees or numerous customers still owed money from the sudden implosion of 'The Leading Edge'. Earle's Craigslist ads for hired help are shadowed by postings from previously burned anonymous victims who issue a warning highlighting Earle's shady business practices.

Of course it makes sense that Earle would wish to hire a manager to oversee Amherst operations for a degree or two of separation, as he would not want to be on site when ghosts from Christmas past stop by seeking repayment.

Indeed, PT Barnum may still be correct about "a sucker born every minute." But now, with the Internet "wisdom of the crowd," the suckers--and everyone else--stand a fighting chance against hucksters like Peter Earle.


Since the demise of Gold's/Leading Edge, 3 fitness facilities have opened in Amherst:

Jazzercise, South Amherst
Personal training center and Aerobics Studio close by, East Amherst

The Deathstar! $50 million UMass Rec Center (free to students)

Craigslist: Personal Trainer (Amherst)

Be advised that Fit Women / Fit Nation are the same people who used to own the leading edge/gold's gym in Amherst. They closed that business very abruptly last October and STIFFED virtually all of the staff, trainers, instructors, and members on their way out of town. They have a lot of nerve to think that they can slink back into Amherst under a new name and open a very similar business in such a small community. People will remember how they were treated and many of us were treated very badly! There are lawsuits and fair labor hearings in progress so you should avoid this one like the plague!


Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Well, as a former step aerobics instructor at Gold's/The Leading Edge who learned that gym was closing 3 hours before I was to teach my 4:30 Tuesday class (from this website, in fact), I hope this new venture goes very well ... so well that us former employees can get our final paycheck, which has now been owed for over a year.

Anonymous said...

"hucksters like Peter Earle."

is that libel or slander? i always get the 2 mixed up

Larry Kelley said...

Truth is the ultimate defense against either.

Anne Roberts said...

As another former employee, I'm disgusted by his latest "hobby". I'm dumbfounded as to how this is ok to Mr. Earle. Does he have any morals or conscience at all? Joanne DeLong was "in charge" when the business closed and the courts "ordered" no Greenfield Leading Edge money to pay for anything regarding the Amherst location but really, how does one justify not paying all of the employees that made the gym as successful as it was for so long? Many of us dealt with the fighting and ridiculous behaviors of the owners on a weekly basis. We covered for them when they embarrassed themselves in front of members. We repeatedly got paid late or incorrectly but STILL stuck Pete and his word that things were going to get better. Look how much good that did any of us! Well Pete, good luck with your next and greatest business. As you screw more and more people over, the pool of people who know of your unmoral ways grows. Maybe choosing to pay your ex-employees before opening your new gym would be a good PR move. Actually, I think it would be a FANTASTIC move since right now many of your ex-employees have nothing good to say about you and your business practices. Amherst is a small town and word gets out quickly. One of your ex-members summed it up perfectly: "I would weigh 400 pounds and never consider dealing with those people again."

Mary E.Carey said...

I was a Leading Edge member who was stunned and upset when it closed, especially since it was about a pool's length from my house, but now I love the Aerobics and Fitness Studio, so all's well that end's well for me.

Mary E.Carey said...

P.S. Thanks for keeping us posted on the Amherst fitness scene, Larry. Would you consider dropping by the Aerobics and Fitness Studio for some BodyPump. The $5 drop-in fee would be on me!

Larry Kelley said...

I'm still working my way up to do Catherine Sanderson's double step class (Donna loves it), but as soon as I get one or two under my belt I'll take you up on that.

Anonymous said...

I love HAC for the hot tub mainly and then the (too cold for me) pool. I also like their water aerobics.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, the UMass Rec Center is free for undergraduates. Graduate students have to pay (guess which one I am? *grumble*)

Larry Kelley said...

And to be real fair it's technically not "free" to undergrads as they pay for it with student fees that they have to pay whether they use it or not.

Apparently a lot of them are using it.

Anonymous said...

Good point, Larry. It makes one wonder, then, why grad students have to pay more than ugrads. I presume it's a difference in fees.

In any case, I guess graduate students are one of the target markets for off-campus gyms. We, too, like to get away from the ZooMass vibe, and with your post maybe people can invest their money in a gym that isn't stiffing it's employees.

Ed said...

Two questions -- first, at what point will the Town of Amherst exercise its police powers to say that it won't give occupancy permits to certain persons because of past problems? Sure they are hiding behind corporate veils, but but in terms of both real estate and these sorts of things, one could word an ordinance relative to "principal agent" and require the same to be of "good moral character" or something.

Second, will his marketing ploy of going to the man-hating feminists be sufficient to overcome all the negative stuff he has to deal with? My guess -- probably so, for a while, and the place will turn into a we-hate-men commune more than a rec center.

The question is how long will that persist before they don't tolerate a man owning it. My guess is not long....

Ed said...

It also will be interesting to see how well this marketing model works when located between a laundrymat and the ABC.

I think that the "I don't want any men seeing me in my sports bra" crowd are going to be demanding a private "gurls only" parking lot which they won't have/get and it really is the wrong location for his marketing model.