A Red Deer business owner says he’s locked into a “David and Goliath” battle with U.S. chain Planet Fitness over use of the name.
Shawn Freeborn, whose independently owned gym in Red Deer’s Radisson Hotel was named Planet Fitness in 1991, says he’s had no end of problems since the American fitness centre chain also registered as Planet Fitness in the U.S. in 2002 — and then began spreading into Canada.
“I sent them cease and desist letters” as soon the chain entered Alberta, says Freeborn, because “a trademark is a trademark.”
The local entrepreneur says three generations of gym owners are in the family, starting with his aunt who owned the Spa Olympia gym in 1984. He bought it from her and changed the name to Planet Fitness in 1991, and now his son is involved with the business.
Ever since the U.S. Planet Fitness franchises moved up into Canada, people without memberships to his gym have been dropping in with these “little black cards” that entitle them to use any Planet Fitness in the chain. Freeborn is tired of explaining to as many as five people a day that he isn’t part of the chain, and was using the name first.
He says he previously also ran his own independent Planet Fitness outlet in Medicine Hat, but sold it, and licensed one in Leduc. The U.S. chain “started 10 years after us, in America, but because they’re so big, there’s all this confusion.”
In 2017, Freeborn planned to open another outlet in a “sister” hotel in Edmonton. But he says the hotel manager backed off after being threatened with a lawsuit by the U.S. Planet Fitness chain.
Freeborn, who stopped using the chain’s purple colour in his own branding, was told he can’t use the Planet Fitness moniker anywhere else outside of Red Deer — and that the U.S. chain wasn’t happy about his use of the name in this city either. “I’m pushing 60 years old, it’s like, really?” says the business owner, who feels this is unreasonable, since he “founded” the name.
He filed a lawsuit arguing that his expansion rights are being infringed on. Freeborn says the Planet Fitness chain has retaliated with a countersuit. “This has cost me over $100,000…”
Victoria Mattacchione, an account manager at Apex PR, a Toronto-based public relations firm representing the Planet Fitness chain in Canada, stated that a comment on the situation could not be provided on Monday. She added, “We may be able to layer in at a later time.”
Freeborn was offered a chance to become a franchisee with the U.S. chain, but feels he’s philosophically incompatible. Having been obese as a teenager, Freeborn is now a strict anti-sugar, anti-junk food campaigner and objects to the monthly pizza and bagel giveaways at Planet Fitness chain’s outlets — as well as the free candy at their front counters.
According to the Planet Fitness chain’s website, these free treats are given out monthly as a morale booster because an occasional treat won’t wreck anyone’s monthly workout, and moderation is key to a healthy lifestyle.
Freeborn, who notes that personal life coaching is also part of his brand, was repeatedly told by lawyers he’s on the losing side of a “David and Goliath” battle with a multi-million-dollar chain but feels he can’t give up.
“What’s the worst thing that can happen to you at your work? I’ve been doing this since I was 17. It’s all I’ve ever done… Now they are trying to push me out, even though I founded the brand. It blows my mind.”
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