What is in this article?:
- Club Closings without Proper Membership Transfers Can Create Liability Issues
- Potential Legal Problems
When it comes to closing or transferring ownership of a health club, an owner’s largest liability could be ignorance. Knowing what you need to do can help prevent lawsuits in the end.
When it comes to closing or transferring ownership of a health club, an owner’s largest liability could be ignorance. Knowing what you need to do can help prevent lawsuits in the end. Although billing companies and consultants may be able to help club owners facilitate transactions and run reports, it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual owner to handle contracts, answer members’ questions and comply with the law.
Many club owners do not want to think about the possibility of having to close their facility, but proper planning on the front end will pay dividends if it ever happens, says Bob Riches, president of ASF International, Highlands Ranch, CO.
ASF has assisted thousands of health club owners in managing their businesses for more than 40 years. Watching health clubs come and go has given Riches a unique perspective on why some transitions go smoothly while others end in litigation.
“The more communication, the better,” Riches advises his customers. “It is preferred that they let us know in advance because we may be able to alleviate a lot of the headaches they may get along the way.”
As soon as a club owner decides to close or transfer ownership, they should contact their billing company to see if reports can be run to show the business’s current liability, Riches says. They need to know if they are collecting fees in advance or arrears and what their liability is to members who have already paid for services, he says.
Matt Zagrodzky, vice president of Houston-based iGo Figure Software, says that club owners should be aware of their billing company’s billing cycle so they can cut off billing well before they close their business. Doing so prevents drawing the ire of members who paid for another month only to find the club closed. The billing portion of the iGo Figure system must be triggered each month for billing to occur, Zagrodzky says, which helps club owners retain control and prevent a billing from happening if they are going to close.
Equally essential as communication with the billing company is communication with internal staff and members, says Sid Nelson, senior vice president of Paramount Acceptance, Holladay, UT. He advises club owners to prepare their staff for the objections and questions they will receive from members. Staff should be told what to say and what contact information to give out to inquirers.
“The big key is knowing that everyone will respond with the same response to the member,” Nelson says. “Every one of the staff members needs to have the number of the person who can respond to questions they can’t answer.”
Another critical step is to contact the state attorney general’s office.
“If the attorney general gets a complaint before they know about the closing, they may automatically think you are a criminal,” Riches says.
Consumer protection laws for health club patrons vary by state, so club owners must be aware of the laws in every state in which they operate. Many states offer information for owners and members on their websites, along with contact information for advice and counseling.