Auckland gym feud sparked by owner walk out

By Ben Chapman-Smith

Club Physical in Te Atatu. Three Club Physical branches were suddenly rebranded by their franchise owner last week. Photo / Michelle Hyslop
Club Physical in Te Atatu. Three Club Physical branches were suddenly rebranded by their franchise owner last week. Photo / Michelle Hyslop

A legal feud has broken out between the owner of a well-known Auckland gym chain and a franchise owner who suddenly changed the name of three branches.

Club Physical, which prides itself on allowing members access to any of its gyms, was operating nine branches across Auckland and one in Kaitaia until late last week.

At about 4pm on Friday, signs were pulled down at three of the Auckland branches and the sites rebranded as Jolt Fitness. Staff at those locations were fitted with new uniforms.

Members turning up for their usual workout were stunned to find a completely new gym.

Rachel Sturges, a member of Club Physical in Three Kings, said she received a text message on Friday night telling her the gym had changed names.

"I only just joined the gym two weeks ago and I was really looking forward to getting fit.

"And then I went in today and all the classes had changed. Now they don't have any of the classes now that I joined up for."

Sturges said she was given no warning the rebrand was about to take place.

"The thing that's really annoying is we had no choice in this. They've just gone and changed everything."

Club Physical owner Paul Richards posted on the company's Facebook page soon after, explaining his version of events to baffled members.

Richards claims he received a lawyer's letter at 4pm stating that one of his franchise owners, Stuart Holder, had cancelled franchise agreements for Club Physical gyms at Westgate, Three Kings and Botany.

Instructors who turned up to take classes that night, including Richards' wife Tina, were turned away, he said.

"This has come absolutely out of the blue," Richards said.

"These are franchise agreements with years to run on them. This is clearly in breach in many, many areas of that. Now it's in the hands of our lawyers."

Richards said on Facebook that Holder asked to buy all of the Club Physical branches late last year and but was turned down.

Holder, who is originally from South Africa, said he did not want to comment on the situation immediately.

"It would be inappropriate for me to say anything because it's subject to a legal process at this time.

"There are three franchise agreements involved and it can become very complicated."

But he said he was "fairly certain" the matter would be resolved within 48 hours and he would comment then.

Holder did say he was upset by certain comments made by Richards in a Facebook post.

"You don't usually see this type of thing happen in New Zealand - maybe its done in South Africa?," Richards posted.

Holder said the comments were racist and "extremely upsetting".

"It's most unfortunate that he's chosen to denigrate me and abuse me in a public forum," Holder said.

"This is a private and confidential business matter between two businessmen."

The events have sparked a heated discussion on the Facebook pages of both Club Physical and the newly created Jolt Fitness.

"No longer going to westgate. Will stay LOYAL to CLUB PHYSICAL!!!!!!," said Tony Bamforth.

"Enjoyed going to Jolt Fitness Three Kings today you are certainly on to a very good thing onwards and upwards for the future hopefully the brand grows in years to come," said Nick Brown.

Some Club Physical members said on Facebook they have been allowed access to Jolt Fitness once, but have then had to choose to switch their memberships.

Club Physical has assured affected members they can transfer to its other Auckland gyms at no cost.

"For the time being you can use all or any of these Clubs, just maintain your visits with Club Physical until we get this resolved."

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