Premier Fitness continues to frustrate customers

May 11, 2012 - All News

As a former national level triathlete, Mary Jo McCarthy is used to competing over the long haul. But she’s not sure she has enough endurance to keep chasing defunct health club chain Premier Fitness for the refund its owes her.
In March, the Mississauga-based company promised to reimburse members who paid up front for 12-month memberships, but many former members are still waiting to be paid.
While some members received cheques that bounced others received nothing, least of all a simple process to retrieve their cash. For the time and effort required to secure the payment, McCarthy says it’s more economical for her to absorb the $450 loss.
“If they’re not even paying employees, I don’t think they would care to pay members, ” says McCarthy. “It just starts to be a cost, (taking) time off work. People eventually give up because it’s kind of like David fighting Goliath.”
Last December, Physiomed Fitness agreed to take over Premier’s nearly 30 locations and by January had renovated and rebranded several outlets.
But in February the deal stalled. Physiomed says the sale became untenable once they learned the extent of Premier’s debt to leasing companies, landlords and the Canada Revenue Agency. Premier says Physiomed backed out when January sales didn’t reach expectations.
Either way, by mid-February, the club was in a receivership situation that lasted less than two weeks and ended with Premier’s decision to dissolve the chain, selling some locations, closing others and reimbursing members who qualified.
Premier chief financial officer Neil Proctor says the process is ongoing.
“I’m still working through re-issuing them all, ” he said. “I’ve got two (cheques) in front of me right now. I’m continuing to do what I said I was going to do. It’s just not happening fast enough.”
When the first refund cheques were issued in March at least 30 bounced, which Proctor blamed on a delay in transferring funds. He said replacement cheques would go out within seven days. Six weeks later Justin Peel is still waiting.
When his $249 cheque from Premier failed to clear he says he did everything the club asked to obtain another refund.
He emailed a copy of the bank statement showing the bounced cheque, then drove to the chain’s head office in Mississauga to make sure they’d received it.
Two weeks later he received an email from Premier promising a certified cheque, but when he called the number listed in the message the phone was disconnected.
He has emailed several people from Premier offering to pick up the cheque but says he hasn’t heard from the company since April 16.
“Two hundred fifty bucks. I could use that for other things, ” says Peel, a recent graduate of Sheridan College. “For a student, that $250 can make a big change.”
Ministry of Consumer Services spokesperson Bryan LeBlanc says the ministry has worked with several Premier customers to obtain refunds and that several more claims are still ongoing.
“Going to Premier is your first option, ” LeBlanc says. “Contact them and say ‘Where’s my cheque?’ If you’re not satisfied with what you’re hearing from them, for sure you should call the ministry.”
Proctor says he’s still accepting refund claims and plans to reimburse every customer that deserves it.
— Torstar News Service