0 Friday, February 29, 2008

Tanning contract questioned

by Katy King

As summer approaches, buying a tanning package is at the top of many students’ to-do list. However, some students have gotten caught up in unwanted contracts with a local tanning company, leaving them dissatisfied and broke.

At the Beach is a tanning super-store located on 33rd and Broadway in Edmond. Many students are complaining that this particular company has deceived them into signing a two-year contract with no way out.

Before signing a contract, senior Kylie Hill said she asked an employee what she could do if she ever wanted to drop the package. Hill said the employee specifically told her the contract would be completely dropped for a fee of $25.

Three months after signing the contract, Hill decided she wanted out of it, so she called the store. Hill said she was surprised to hear she could not cancel her contract for $25 like she was told from the beginning.

“I learned later on that what he said has never been a policy in their contract,” Hill said. “He lied completely.”

Jeffery Steward, an assistant manager at the 33rd and Broadway location claims this would not happen at this particular store.

“We would never tell anyone that,” Steward said.

Senior Kristin Cumbie knew going into the contract was a big decision.

“I knew there would be no way I could get out of the contract unless it was an extreme situation,” Cumbie said. “I also knew when I signed that the money would automatically come out of my account whether it was a good month or a bad month.”

The customer agreement specifically states: “I understand that my agreement is absolutely non-cancelable.”

After complaining to the corporate office, Hill was told the employee no longer worked there, but there was nothing she could do about it.

According to the manager at an At the Beach location in Oklahoma City, a member can get out of the contract in only one of three ways: moving 50 miles away from an At the Beach location, transferring the contract to another person or presenting a doctor’s note.

“I was told there were only two ways out of the contract,” Hill said. “I was never told about contacting my doctor.”

A doctor’s note is not mentioned on the official customer agreement. It also states: “I understand that no other verbal agreements have been made to me other than what’s been stated on this agreement.”

Senior Melia Turner said she was not told about the 50 mile radius method, which is not mentioned in the customer agreement form.

“After the contract was up, I found out I could have suspended it if I lived 50 miles away, but they never told me that,” Turner said. “I lived far away from a store.”

Turner’s contract with At the Beach recently timed out after two long years of bills and frustration. During her freshman year, Turner said she went into At the Beach looking for a quick tanning deal after seeing an advertisement. The employee offered her free tanning lotion and goggles, two free mystic tanning sessions and an upgrade to one of the highest end beds for $37.00.

Thinking it was a good deal, she signed the contract. While reading through the agreement, Turner realized she had signed up for two years of tanning and decided she wanted out. 

Turner said the employee assured her she could freeze the contract at any time for a small fee. The month after she had frozen the account for a $25 fee, Turner received another bill. Confused, she called the store.

“They said that just made it where I could not go tan, but I still paid for it, and it extended the contract for the amount of time it was frozen,” Turner said. “So, ‘freezing’ basically was a scam.”

Steward said the policy has changed.

“That was the old freeze [policy.] If you signed up before May of last year, you could freeze [your membership time] for as long as you wanted,” Steward said. “We don’t do that anymore.”

Hill is one year into her contract with At the Beach and also felt confused on the freezing policy.

“That whole idea didn’t make sense,” Hill said. “Why would you want to pay to freeze the account when you maybe couldn’t pay that month for some reason?”

Knowing all the details was important for Cumbie who clarified everything carefully before signing.

“If for some reason I was not able to tan for an extended period of time I could freeze my account. This meant that I would still be paying, but at the end of my contract the amount of time that I had frozen would be added on,” Cumbie said. “I could pay ten dollars to freeze and basically tan for free after my contract was up.”

One student who declined to be identified at the advice of her lawyer is suing At the Beach because of her dissatisfaction with a contract.

Turner also looked for legal help to get out of the contract, but she said since the company has had so many attempts to get out, they have their own firm representing them to whom she was referred.

“There was no legal way of getting out of it,” Turner said.

A two-year contract comes with plenty of benefits, but it is also very expensive. After signing the contract, the member is charged around $32.17 per month until the time is up, depending on which package he or she gets.

“I had to get a job to support my tanning habit,” Turner said.

Steward argues that the customer is fully aware of the contract before signing.

“We explain everything, and we have them initial exactly where they know what they are doing,” Steward said. “The main thing is don’t sign something if you don’t read it, and that’s true for anywhere.”

Cumbie felt the terms were well explained and knew exactly what she was getting into.

Not only were Hill and Turner dissatisfied with the terms, they also described the employees as being extremely rude and unhelpful.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t have a complaint about their staff,” Hill said.

Hill is frustrated with the company, and she says she has actually contemplated sitting outside the store and trying to stop potential clients from buying a package.

“I feel like no business should ever make their customer feel this way,” Hill said. “The whole atmosphere is just very unprofessional.”

Turner was more than happy to say goodbye to her tanning package.

“After two years and several telephone fights, I was finally free,” Turner said.

A hectic college schedule has led to Cumbie not getting the best use out of her contract.

“Preparing for my wedding, having the contract was great, but since then my busy schedule has hindered my ability to tan weekly,” Cumbie said. “This has been a great learning experience and I will never forget what it has taught me about contracts.”

Photo by Aubrey Coble

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