Friday, June 22, 2018
Business

Gym life under LA Fitness not quite working out for Lifestyle's ex-members

Customers of the defunct Lifestyle Family Fitness chain dreaded the changes they would face when LA Fitness took over the Florida-born franchise July 2.

Well, the other sneaker has finally dropped.

This month, LA Fitness apparently discontinued the Les Mills and Silver Sneakers group workouts — programs wildly popular with Lifestyle's members — at the old chain's Tampa Bay locations, replacing them with the California company's own proprietary classes. Members have also complained that a number of former Lifestyle employees and trainers have been dismissed.

The California company has also been shutting down old Lifestyle gyms, forcing members to find the nearest LA Fitness — or find a new gym. Two Pinellas County locations were closed on Oct. 1. In Hillsborough, the Carrollwood gym closed for good Monday.

Cindy Gold was one of those Lifestyle members who wanted to see what LA Fitness would do with her old gym. For a while, it kept her beloved Les Mills classes going.

But now she's done with LA Fitness. First the company dropped Les Mills, then it closed her old gym at 6690 Crosswinds Drive N in St. Petersburg.

Then there was the way her gym's closing was announced: just a note on the front door.

"How dare they," said Gold, 50, a marketer from Gulfport. "Nothing personal. Not even a letter in the mail. Just a … piece of paper on the door."

"The bottom line is these people have basically no class, no business ethics."

LA Fitness did not return a recent email from the Tampa Bay Times seeking comment. The company has not responded to repeated email and phone messages from the Times since news of the Lifestyle acquisition first broke in June.

Matthew Midyett owns Powerhouse Gym in downtown Tampa with his two brothers. They used to run a gym in California and have seen LA Fitness repeat a pattern: acquire smaller gyms, then impose changes with little communication to the members.

"That's their modus operandi," he said. "They don't tell anyone. Just when you show up."

Powerhouse Gym is among a number of bay area gyms that have added or beefed up their Les Mills offerings to lure away Lifestyle's old members.

"They don't like how (LA Fitness) has handled the transition," Midyett said. "They don't like how they were informed their classes would be shut down."

The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA has pumped up its Les Mills classes at all of its gyms. The YMCA is also attracting Lifestyle's former clientele through its Silver Sneakers program, a fitness program for seniors paid for using Medicare health plans and supplemental carriers. Lifestyle used to offer it, but LA Fitness no longer does.

Former Lifestyle customer Jim Slazas, a Largo retiree, switched gyms because LA Fitness canceled Silver Sneakers. But he doesn't miss his old Lifestyle gym in Largo at all.

"I don't know if Lifestyle was intending to sell for a while, because the club was kind of dirty," said Slazas, 65. "The trainers disappeared. They had a leak in the roof and it took them two weeks to fix it. They just had a bucket on the floor."

Slazas was upset when he got a letter from LA Fitness saying it would no longer offer Silver Sneakers. But the letter also told him that Youfit Health Clubs offered the program. Slazas is glad he found a Youfit — "meticulous" he called it — closer to home.

Many, though, see no reason to leave LA Fitness.

Tampa's Catherine Cole, 37, said she'll stick with LA Fitness because its closest to her home, offers classes for her, free weights for her husband and day care for her 6-year-old.

But she also stopped going to her old Lifestyle gym in Westchase. Under LA Fitness, she said, the gym seems in disarray and has lost too many fitness classes and members.

Now she works out at the old Lifestyle gym in Citrus Park, adding 10 minutes to her commute. She enjoys LA Fitness-style fitness classes — but not LA Fitness-style management.

"You know how when you go into a neighborhood grocery store or a fruit stand and the people there say, 'Hello'?" Cole said. "That's more friendly. This is less that. This is more corporate."

Gold, the Les Mills devotee from Gulfport, echoed that complaint.

Les Mills is a group exercise system that has inspired a loyal following. Gold was part of an especially loyal group. More than 80 members planned one last workout together the Saturday before her St. Petersburg gym was to close for good on Oct. 1.

Then LA Fitness canceled their farewell class, too.

"We're not angry about (closing the club), that's a business decision," Gold said. "But to just ax the classes and not let us have our last class and thank the instructors for all their hard work and compassion is just absolutely inexcusable."

Gold has since led an exodus of dozens of former Lifestyle members to join Kinetix Health Club in Pinellas Park, which now offers Les Mills.

"We were devastated," Gold said. "The way (LA Fitness) shut us out. They're like 'game over.' "

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