The three experienced trainers who opened Soho Strength Lab just six months ago are going to have to flex some serious muscle this year—in court.
Equinox, one of the most powerful players on the fitness scene, is suing the owners, Albert Matheny, Andrew Speer, and Ryan Hopkins, all of whom were trainers at Equinox Soho in Manhattan prior. The big-box gym claims they violated their contracts by establishing a competing business while still employed by Equinox, stealing "trade secrets" and clients.
Matheny and the team's lawyer, Robert Ottinger, say the charges are unfair and are hurting the new business. "They’re definitely being bullies," Ottinger says. "They’re trying to remove their best competitors, and there’s a slim reed they’re hanging onto and accusing them of things they didn’t do."
That includes setting up Soho Strength Lab less than five blocks from Equinox Soho, soliciting Equinox members to quit and come train at their facility, and using proprietary client and training/educational information in setting up their gym. Matheny, who has multiple degrees in exercise science, nutrition, and human performance and is a registered dietician, claims the last point is the most absurd, especially since while at Equinox, he was often talked to for not following the Equinox training model.
"Each of us were collegiate athletes, we all came in with experience, we had all trained before, and we left to train the way we wanted to train," he says. "That was a big reason we left." In addition to a different style of training, Matheny says their small facility does not offer the same kinds of services as Equinox and it was not their intention to compete for business. "We actually recommend Equinox as a gym. We are not a gym in the same sense as Equinox. There is no membership at our facility, you cannot just come work out," he says.
Equinox did not respond to our requests for comment.
Now, the battle has gotten even bigger, as Soho Strength has filed a counter-suit against Equinox for unpaid overtime wages. "They’re saying they broke their contract, and we’re saying you can’t enforce a contract that you yourself broke. It's called the doctrine of unclean hands," Ottinger explains.
Matheny says they'd much rather settle everything and get on with their new business, but that they felt they didn't have a choice. "It costs a lot, it’s a lot of stress. We’re already working as hard as we can to open a gym, provide the best service to our clients, train people—and this is just another drain, physically, emotionally, and financially."
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