lFitness SF has become a popular name, but for all the wrong reasons, and thanks, singularly, to social media, and the gym company’s misuse of it.

This blogger’s video blog explains the story as it seemed to be at the time:

But the truth is much deeper, and doesn’t make Fitness SF look good at all.

To get the full picture, let’s look back to when Fitness SF was the Gold’s Gym franchise for the San Francisco Bay Area. Starting in 2011, when it was learned that Robert Rowling, the CEO of TRT Holdings, which owns Gold’s Gym and Omni Hotels, gave $2 million to American Crossroads, a Karl-Rove Super Pac that backs Republican candidates with anti-gay views, the SF Bay Area fitness organization ran by the made plans to dump their Gold’s Gym brand use and make something new.

In a statement on the company’s Facebook page, Don Dickerson, who represents the Jackovitz family that owned the Gold’s Gym’s in the SF Bay Area, said…

Gold’s Gym San Francisco has long been a pillar of the gay community. We will continue to be. It is very unfortunate that the CEO of TRT holdings has chosen this course of action. We do not support it in any way. Our original contractual obligations to Gold’s Gym International were signed over 22 years ago and TRT holdings is just the latest in a series of ownership groups that has presided over Gold’s Gym….Our contractual obligation with Gold’s Gym expires on September 15th, 2012 and on or prior to that date (our legal counsel is reviewing our options) we will leave the Gold’s Gym brand. It is a major initiative to create a new brand and leave Gold’s Gym which has been our identity for over 20 years but we will begin that process today.

Re-Branding, New Look, Webmaster

The cornerstone of a modern rebranding effort requires a new graphic design, and in the case of the SF Bay Area Gold’s Gym, a new website to go with it. That’s because the SF Bay Area Gold’s Gyms didn’t have their own websites, separate from Gold’s Gym’s network of web pages.

For reasons that were not communicated to this blogger at the time of writing, the Jackovitz Family didn’t look for a San Francisco or Oakland-based design company or person to work on their rebranding. Instead, they chose Frank Jonen, a designer based in a designer based in Dusseldorf, Germany and who says he’s “a VFX freelance sup, experience designer, photographer and writer / director,” on his website. And this is not to dis Frank’s talents in any way, just to report how he presents himself.

Mr. Jonen’s website does not present what he’s done for other clients, or if it’s there, it’s not readily visible. But he does present his Fitness SF work at the AdWeek Talent Gallery, where he writes.

Half a year’s worth of work, weeks of waiting on end because they couldn’t find the fingers at the end of their arms and in the end they try to screw me over by ignoring the invoices. “Fitness SF, we’re not happy, till you’re not happy – Screwing over people since 2012”

This points to the possibility that, for whatever reason, The Jackovitz Family could not afford to pay for a true rebranding effort, lacked the capacity to do any part of it in house, and had no idea of what such an effort normally costs.

Frank Jonen’s Record Of Work Done

At any rate, the only record of the engagement between Jonen and The Jackovitz Family is in a link that Jonen installed from the existing Fitness SF website to his record of work done.

The record starts on September 29th, 2012. Here are the texts he installed, which are not without some humor:

FITNESS SF – Logo Enhancement

My job was to rework their existing 2D logo into something a little more visually exciting.

modo 601, Photoshop
bay area, bubbles, car paint, fitness sf, foam, gym, hot rod red, lettering, lightning, logo, metal, retooling, rework, sparks, water
29-Sep-2012 9:51 PM

That was kind of a raw one. Site launch, lots of client side changes (not to mention my own) just a lot of time constraints to juggle. Completion time about 10 days on and off during conception time. Modo crashed a lot during texturing and preview renders but overall performed fairly well. It’s like making out with a supermodel and she keeps passing out, end of the day you still made out with a supermodel. 🙂 The site is being built at http://fitnesssf.com. I’m using Modo for most of the key visuals there as well.

I kinda learned replicators, blobs and fur control with this one, thanks to one Andy Probst.
29-Sep-2012 11:27 PM

After some delays, which Frank said were partly “client side changes” which is another way of saying that The Jackovitz Family asked for something to be done differently, and partly from technical issues on his end, the work was completed on December 13th of 2012.

Then, on February 6th, Jonen posted his first online indication that he was experiencing problems getting paid from The Jackovitz Family:

If you end up working for these guys, ask to get the full amount upfront, otherwise you’ll never see any money. Don’t repeat my mistakes as “advance” to them means “that’s all we’re gonna pay you”.

The statement released by Don Dickerson, who represents The Jackovitz Family, reads (this blogger was allowed to look at, but not presented with, a hard copy) that Jonen was paid $5,000 up front, and then that he never finished a website and that they had to hire someone else to complete the work. The statement says that Jonen lives in a home with his Mom (which is a really low comment. This blogger’s an only child and in middle age, you have to be with your parents, and in this case that’s just my Mom. The person who wrote that can’t be considered good. Sorry). The letter also says that he was trying to extort money from them and that they contacted the FBI.

In all, the statement’s a sad way to deal with a dispute with a vendor who just wants payment for services rendered, and if you look at Mr. Jonen’s web-based account, he did his work.

Whatever happened over the last week, or until Jonen jumped in and redesigned the website, it became clear to him, he wasn’t going to be paid. So, since he had the username and password to the Fitness FT website he created, Jonen jumped in and created a new design, one that openly communicated his issue and his displeasure.

This is the message:

Fitness SF preferred to ignore our invoices instead of paying them. As a result this website is no longer operational.

We regret any inconvenience this may cause for you as a customer of Fitness SF, however it is a necessary measure in getting what is rightfully ours.

Half a year’s worth of work, including gallery featured logo renderings with over 35,000 views.

While some of that got replaced in an attempt to cover up our work, other parts, like the base design (CSS) of the site were still used, illegally as they’ve not been paid for.

Normally there is no question of paying one’s dues. It is simply a matter of morals. Having morals and acting upon them or not having any and just betraying the people that got you started. Sadly we’ve come to know what Fitness SF stands for, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

Your word on their Facebook accounts will go a long way. We’re a small company in the heart of Europe, which is probably why Fitness SF believes they can sit this out till we perish. Can you support a company that acts like this?

I am also writing this on the behalf of the tens of thousands of freelancers and small businesses out there facing larger corporations who can afford to starve them out. In the movie / visual effects business this is already prevalent. Large studios awarding work to smaller studios or freelancers in the hope they won’t stand up to them when it comes to loads and loads of unpaid work.

What Fitness SF is trying here is exactly the same ploy. Give a barren advance, rake up a huge bill and ignore every invoice. Rush fees, heavy overtime and weekend work are expected to be free.

In an effort to blunt social media criticism, or any other postings by Jonen, the family took down the Facebook pages representing each one of their facilities in Oakland, Marin, and San Francisco. But that, as they say and you will see, didn’t do squat.

A Viral Story

The website defacing story was picked up Social Times, then Reddit, then this blogger, and now it’s viral, and has been repeated by blogs as diverse as The Huffington Post, SFist, and Zennie62.com.

Here’s some of the takes:

“Web Designer Strikes Back at Fitness SF, Hijacks Their Site” – SFist
“Fitness SF Website Highjacked By Developer” – Huffington Post
“Payment Dispute Leads to Hack of Gym Websites” – ABC News
“Web Developer Commandeers Fitness SF Website, Claims Gym Stiffed the Bill” – SF Weekly
“REVENGE! Freelancer Hijacks Gym Chain’s Web Site Over Pay Dispute” – Business Insider
“Apparenty, Fitness SF doesn’t pay their bills” – TheSFEgoist
“Agency Replaces Client Site With Message Calling Them Souless” – TheDenverEgoist
“Developer Takes Revenge on Deadbeat Client” – DigiDay
“Agency takes down client’s website and replaces with a letter” – WailBlog UK

And on top of that, the social media noise about Fitness FT’s reached Yelp, the website where people read review of businesses and products they’re thinking of using. Here’s a sample of what’s been written on Yelp:

San Francisco, CA
5.0 star rating
To acknowledge the dispute between SF Fitness and this web designer is not only tacky but not helpful to anyone reading reviews. Reviews are meant about your own personal experiences. Not your personal opinions on their webpage problems.

SF Fitness has always been the gym I could lean on. The equipment is cleaned practically three times a day. The staff (ie Ms Miller) is always fun and funny when I go in. If I have a membership question, Troy and Rosie are always on the ball to help out in answering it. Granted the other people that work out there don’t seem too friendly, I don’t go for the conversations. I go for the workout. 6pm-9pm are the worse times to go as the entire gym is packed and all machines are tied up. But that’s a great thing about this gym staying open till midnight, I still get 3 hrs to workout.

Forest Hills, PA
fitness sf didn’t pay the graphic designers hired to makeover their website. (The work is really great). Would never support scumbags like this, wish I could give you no stars.

San Francisco, CA
1.0 star rating

Never will I trust an establishment that doesn’t pay their bills. Pay your bills FitnessSF!!! Your a$$ needs to be reported to the Better Business Bureau.

Oh, nevermind. You’ve never been accredited by them. I can see why.

Arlington, VA
1.0 star rating

If I could give zero stars, I would.

I’ve been a member here for almost 2 years, and the staff is unfriendly, equipment is often ‘out of order’ (for who knows how long!?) – and it’s almost like I have to dodge some of the trainers there as if they are door to door salesman. I don’t PAY to come to a place to be pestered by your promotions and events. If I wanted them, I would come to you with your dozens of signs you post, EVERYWHERE.

Then I came across their website… these guys also aren’t paying their bills? Where are my dues going? They’re not going to the gym itself, they’re not going to your contracts… what are you doing with my money?!!? As soon as my contract is over in 2 months, I will *NOT* be renewing.

If I could give you negative stars, I would.

And it goes on.

As a personal note, since I’m a member of Fitness SF in Oakland, it’s really sad that this issue has fallen on the backs of the staff who work at the facilities. The people at the Oakland Fitness SF are great to know and do work hard.

In closing, Fitness SF should pay Frank Jonen, but then when that happens, Fitness SF has a giant social media cleanup job to do.

Stay tuned.

By Zennie Abraham

Zennie Abraham | Zennie Abraham or "Zennie62" is the founder of Zennie62Media which consists of zennie62blog.com and a multimedia blog news aggregator and video network, and 78-blog network, with social media and content development services and consulting. Zennie is a pioneer video blogger, YouTube Partner, social media practitioner, game developer, and pundit. Note: news aggregator content does not reflect the personal views of Mr. Abraham.