Council not playing fair, says gym owner

Matt McDowell from Simply Class Gym. INNT 27-016-PSB
Matt McDowell from Simply Class Gym. INNT 27-016-PSB
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A Whiteabbey business owner has accused Newtownabbey Borough Council of trying to steal his customers.

Matt McDowell started up the Simply Class gym in Whiteabbey village three years ago. The 33-year-old from Carrickfergus and his business partners invested more than £150,000 in setting up the venture in a disused former restaurant unit at Shore Road.

He has worked hard to build up the business since 2010, and the gym now has around 900 members. But he says the erection of a new billboard advert right outside the door of his business advertising the council’s Zest Fitness gym memberships is a blatant attempt to steal his members.

Mr McDowell, who recently opened a new fitness club in east Belfast, called for the council to remove the poster immediately.

“Business is pretty good at the minute, but in this day and age it’s still a tough challenge,” he told the Times.

“We have 200 to 250 people coming through our doors every night, so it’s not hard to miss. They’re promoting their student membership and that’s something we’ve been promoting this month as well. But it’s very frustrating as we don’t have the same resources as the council or the endless pot of money that they have. We can’t compete with them in terms of advertising so we have to look at other ways of letting people know about our offers.

“We have run events for the council for the Olympic Torch Relay and a Zumbathon event in support of the Mayor’s charities, so it’s very disappointing that the council would do this.”

Simply Class is already competing against other private gyms in the area, and Mr McDowell believes that the council is trying to poach his members.

“We pay a high price for our rates - a premium for this size of a building in this area,” he added.

“The council has a responsibility to local businesses and it’s always saying that it does its best to promote and help local businesses, but this is completely contradictory to that. They are making life more difficult for a local business.”

A council spokesperson said the marketing campaign promoting Zest student membership has included advertising on buses and billboards.

“Four billboard sites were selected to include the top of the O’Neill Road, Whiteabbey village, Shore Road and Ballyclare. The sites were chosen in locations that would maximize exposure to the student target market,” she explained.

“The billboard campaign runs for a limited two-week period from June 17 - 30.”