Angry gym members plan street protest

By Ben Chapman-Smith

Club Physical in Te Atatu. A legal battle over the rebranding of three Club Physical gyms will have its first call in the High Court. Photo / Michelle Hyslop
Club Physical in Te Atatu. A legal battle over the rebranding of three Club Physical gyms will have its first call in the High Court. Photo / Michelle Hyslop

Furious members of three gyms which were rebranded without warning two weeks ago are planning to hold a public protest outside one of the clubs this weekend.

Club Physical was operating nine branches across Auckland until February 8 when clubs at Westgate, Three Kings and Botany were suddenly overhauled and renamed as "Jolt Fitness".

Many loyal members were left stunned when they turned up to find an entirely new gym brand in place, including a new class timetable and staff wearing different uniforms.

Instructors, including Club Physical co-owner Tina Richards, were reportedly turned away when they arrived to take their regular classes. New instructors have been introduced to the three clubs since.

A High Court judge yesterday directed that a stoush between the owner of Club Physical, Paul Richards, and one of his franchisees who rebranded the three clubs, have an "urgent" half-day hearing next week.

In the meantime, some affected members who want their gyms changed back to the Club Physical brand plan to hold a protest outside one of the new Jolt Fitness clubs.

Jane Haggo, who signed up to Club Physical in Westgate about 15 years ago, said she and other members were angry they were given no warning about the change.

"I'm paid up 15 months in advance but I don't want to go to this new gym because they don't offer the classes I want," she said.

"I now use the Te Atatu and Albany branches which are really out of the way for me."

A protest would take place in the carpark outside Jolt Fitness at Westgate, in west Auckland, at 9.30am this Sunday, she said.

"This is wrong on so many levels but our primary reason for protesting is in support of instructors that have lost their classes and their livelihoods because of this, I think it's unacceptable what's happened."

Haggo said she, other members and instructors started talking in the locker-rooms and decided they wanted to take action.

They hoped a protest would send a message to Jolt Fitness that many members were opposed to the change.

"This whole thing has been done by foul means. We want to see justice done," Haggo said.

A poster promoting the event had been put up in some Club Physical gyms and was also being shared on social media.

About 90 to 100 people were expected to turn out for the protest but it was hard to predict exact numbers, she said.

Stuart Holder, who owned the three branches under a franchise agreement, said he rebranded the clubs to ensure their survival.

"As background, on Friday 8, February we regrettably had to take steps to end our franchise agreements with Club Physical in Westgate, Botany and Three Kings because we believed the franchisor had not been meeting its obligations to us and that this was putting the future of the clubs - your clubs - in jeopardy," he told members in an email last week.

Club Physical owner Paul Richards alleged Holder had breached franchise agreements that had "years to run on them".

Late last week, Richards entered an application to the High Court seeking an injunction to block Jolt Fitness from trading.

Lawyers for both sides appeared yesterday to discuss the application before Justice Rebecca Ellis, who directed an urgent, half-day fixture be scheduled in next week for the case.

Richards today said if he was not able to block Jolt Fitness from trading he would like to open new gyms in those three locations.

"We've just started looking and we've got a couple of offers on the table.

"Two different people we know have got property in those areas and have offered to put gyms into them. We'll see what happens in court first."

The hearing will take place at the High Court at Auckland next Tuesday February 26.

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