THE Jackie Skelly chain of fitness clubs confirmed it remains open for business after it was granted High Court protection.
A judge was yesterday informed the business had run into financial difficulties but still has a good prospect of survival.
The directors of Map Dance Ltd, trading as Jackie Skelly Fitness, successfully applied to the court for an interim examiner to be appointed to the company which operates 10 clubs, five in Dublin and the other five in Meath, Wicklow and Kildare.
In a statement last night, a spokeswoman for Jackie Skelly Fitness said all the fitness clubs would remain open and it will service its 18,000 members as normal. It will continue to sign-up new members, with prices dropping over the past 18-months to around €49 per month in the majority of clubs.
The company will continue to be run by its executive team, which includes Mark Tooke and Jackie Skelly, and looks forward to exiting examinership at the earliest opportunity, the spokeswoman added.
The chain operates under the name of Jackie Skelly, who opened her first gym with business partner Mr Tooke in the early 1990s. Ms Skelly worked with Aer Lingus and as a fitness instructor before venturing into the gym business.
The court heard an unnamed party was willing to invest in the company, which would ensure its survival.
Counsel for the firm's directors told the court that if any of the clubs have to be closed as part of the examinership process, membership fees will be returned. Court protection was also required because an examiner would be able to reassure the chain's 299 employees during the examinership period, counsel said.
The court heard the company had made a small profit up to November last year but there had been a fall-off in membership of 15pc since then and no significant new memberships in January, the main period for people joining fitness clubs.
An independent accountant has projected another 15pc drop in membership in 2010.
The company had a turnover of €19.8m in 2008 but this fell to €14.4m last year.
It now has a debt of €12m, owed mainly to Ulster Bank which, along with shareholder investment, was the main source of the funds used to expand the chain since 2002.
Its current problems were also due to the fact that its premises are mostly subject to upward-only rent reviews.
Kieran Wallace of KPMG was appointed interim examiner and the case will come before the High Court again later this month.