Extreme Fitness

Extreme Fitness, Extreme Ripoff?

Extreme Fitness loves their direct mail. Every month or so another one of their flyers shows up in my mailbox. They all say the same thing: No Annual Contract! Only $8 month. Offer ends [insert revolving date here].

Marketing such as this has become a hallmark of the fitness industry. As consumers, we have become so conditioned to assume that there will be hidden fees, contracts we can't get out of and a variety of deceptive practices that the new marketing tactics many clubs now employ are designed specifically to address these concerns.

The catch though is that while the marketing of some fitness clubs might lead us to believe they have a more progressive, honest, straightforward approach, dig a little beneath the surface and you'll realize that like the past, the promises aren't what they appear to be.

In the case of Extreme Fitness, if $8 a month and no annual contract seems too good to be true that's because it probably is. And as we've noticed on our Extreme Fitness page in our Fitness section, there are plenty of people who are not too happy about it.

A mere sampling of the comments added in the last two months gives a sense of the general reaction:

Their strategy is to get as many members as possible to join. Once in, you''ll have to pay monthly for 9 months (I guess that's what they mean by advertising no annual contract) - Dan C

I was suckered not only into the 70 dollar a month membership, but for 300 dollars worth of personal training. - DanforthDistress

At no point did they EVER make it clear that was I agreeing to a ONE YEAR CONTRACT WITH NO CHANCE OF ENDING IT EARLY. After all, everywhere you look you see the words "NO ANNUAL CONTRACT" stated loud and clear, so it didn't even occur to me that I could possibly be locked in for a year. - Anonymous

There are also now at least two anti-Extreme Fitness Facebook Groups set up to try to attract media attention and provide a forum for peeved current and former Extreme Fitness members.

The Warning: Do NOT join Extreme Fitness gyms Facebook group
The Support MTN in his fight against Extreme Fitness Facebook group

This is in addition to the variety of other Extreme Fitness Facebook groups that attract their share of both positive and negative wall posts.

If you're Extreme Fitness and you're being challenged about your promises of no annual contract and $8 a month fees, what do you do? Well, it appears that you rely on your legal team that helped you craft such messaging in the first place.

Like most flyers that come in the mail, there's usually some fine print. In this case the fine print includes the following:

'No annual contract - $8 per month' offer based on two month prepaid membership. 'No annual contract' month to month membership available after the initial two months.

Clear as mud, right? So I thought I'd dig a little deeper to find out what the actual terms of the membership are. Here is what I found out:

1. The first thing I discovered is that it's an exercise in comedy to try to get someone to quote you rates over the phone. Seriously, just for fun, you should call Extreme Fitness and try to get them to tell you how much a monthly rate is and what it means that there is no annual contract. They won't tell you. The representative I spoke to insisted that she couldn't quote me over the phone and that I would need to come in so they could find a rate that's suitable for me.

2. After much prodding, I was finally told that I would pay a monthly rate between $50 and $100 depending on my needs. I explained to her that my needs were to use the one club at Richmond and John, I didn't have a corporate plan and that I simply only wanted to use the facilities and didn't want to sign up for anything extra or get a personal trainer. So given that, what would the rate be? Maybe between $57-$75 is the most she could narrow it down for me.

3. I asked about the No Annual Contract. It doesn't exists. All memberships are based on a 12 month commitment. The ONLY way you can avoid this is if you cancel your membership halfway through the 2 month promotional period (ie. the one with the $8 rate). But even then, she mentioned I would need to pay a $129 penalty to make the cancellation. I wasn't sure I heard right so I asked her to repeat this. At that point, she became extremely agitated and defensive and sought to end the call.

Wow. So, there you have it. Buyer beware. Extreme Fitness' promised low rates and no annual contracts are definitely not what they seem. And, if my experience is any indication, they appear to have built a sales force who makes it as difficult as possible to find out what the rates and terms of the membership actually are.

What to do about it? Two things:

1. Contact the Better Business Bureau and let them know what you think about Extreme's practices.

2. Join a different gym. Check out our list of the Best Fitness Clubs in Toronto for ideas on where to start.

UPDATE (February 17, 2010):

Extreme Fitness contacted me and has provided me with the following statement they'd like to share with readers of this site to clarify their membership, direct mail and other policies/practices discussed on this page.

Extreme Fitness has seen tremendous growth and success in the past three years doubling in size with the acquisition of Bally's and Sports Clubs of Canada. We employ over 1500 staff and have approximately 90000 members across 13 locations in the GTA. For the most part our members are extremely happy with the clubs and services we provide. We believe that an excellent sign of our members' satisfaction is that even during the past year of instability in the general marketplace, our retention of members annually has improved. We take pride in the fact that the majority of our members are satisfied happy customers that choose to return. The National Post is quoted in a review as describing Extreme Fitness as "Dollar for Dollar the City's Best Gym" and Extreme Fitness won the Toronto Sun readers choice award for the city's best gym two years consecutively, to name a few.

For the most part, our business model is based on an annual membership term. Our level of investment and commitment to facilities, staff and services requires a one year term from our members. Following the expiration of the initial term members are invited to continue month to month. The membership fee for the first year is payable in flexible monthly payments or upfront. Similar to any lease or membership agreement we also have a contract that members are encouraged to read that outlines our mutual commitments. As noted in your blog, a very small percentage of members have taken issue with contractual terms upon deciding to cancel their membership for various reasons. As our investment into facilities and services is dictated by the number of members we have it is important that these agreements are honored by us as well as our members. As a courtesy, we do allow members to cancel their membership in term if they have relocated outside of our service area or for medical reasons.

With regard to Direct Mail, this marketing approach remains the most effective way to support our business model while providing an acceptable return on investment in the acquisition of new members. It also allows us to build our brand presence in a competitive market place. Direct Mail is used by many companies across all industries that enjoy similar results. Our direct mail offer changes regularly with new and attractive membership rates that allow us to remain competitive with other fitness clubs who also use direct mail. These will often include trial periods that are free or at a low monthly rate that provides affordable accessibility for new members considering joining for a longer annual term. This is what we mean by " No Obligation, No Annual Contract, Free Trial or $8.00 per month". The marketing objective is to make it easy and affordable for people to experience our product for a trial term of up to three months at little or no cost. It is our way of providing potential new members with a "test drive" experience of the club before making a longer term financial commitment. Simply put, a prospective member can join on a three month short term trial membership as advertised and then continue on a month to month membership after that. There are no cancellation fees on this or any other type of Extreme Fitness membership. Of course it is our hope that they will have a great experience and join with us on an annual membership if they choose. In fact, the vast majority that begin with a trial become annual members because they enjoy the fitness club facilities and health and wellness services we provide.

Our policy when dealing with member questions and complaints is directed to the local club manager who has the best knowledge of the member's situation and history. Club managers are trained to deal with member concerns face to face with professionalism and courtesy. Many of the comments that appear in response to your Blog review discus issues that can easily be dealt with at the club level. In addition and as a further response to these quires we have provided a distinct head office customer service email to address the concerns of both past and present members "answers@extremefitness.ca". We encourage readers of BlogTo, members and the general public to reach us directly with questions and concerns.

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