Most fitness, sports and health club owners and general managers will tell you that the two most important areas in their facility to impress current and potential members is the lobby and the locker rooms.
Of course the gym floor, class space, courts and other spots are important, but there is only so much you can do in those areas to pull away from your competition down the street.
So – not unlike the return on investment of your home’s bathroom and kitchen – money spent well in the locker room and lobby can, in some cases, make a break a sale, retaining a member or positive word-of-mouth.
And as far as the locker room is concerned, in some cases it needs to knock people’s socks off (before they take them off themselves, I guess).
“You want people to go to the locker room and say ‘wow’,” said Pam Guyer, owner of Taos Spa & Fitness in Taos, N.M. “The ‘wow’ factor, for me, means a lot.”
“(Locker rooms) are one of the best places in club where you can differentiate from the competition,” said Robert Brewster, owner of The Alaska Club chain. “So much equipment is generic, but a locker room is one of the environments where people can tell if it is a budget club (or not).”
Bruce Carter, president of Optimal Design Systems International, a consulting and design firm in the fitness and recreation industries, creates all areas for clubs all across the United States and abroad. He was told a story, while at his booth at an IHRSA Convention and Trade Show, where prospective gym members just had to convey what they were seeing.
“We did a prototype (locker room) for a (fitness) chain in an upscale spa-like way,” he explained. “The owner (of the chain) did a tour and the three women were in the locker room and had to stop and call their girlfriends to tell them about locker rooms.“
When it the right time?
In some cases a change to the locker room is not about “wowing” those who use it. Sometimes it is a necessity.
For San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club owners, it may have come down to no longer walking in and no longer seeing the late-1970s orange tile.
“I think locker rooms are important. We are doing one in October; we haven’t changed them since we opened in 1980,” said Scott Slade, general manager. “It is one of those things that has been on the back burner forever and we are finally getting around to it.
“I think when it gets so outdated, like ours, it can make or break a membership. Our members deserve better than what we have now. It was nice back in the day.”
Slade said that the bones of the men’s and women’s locker rooms are strong, so the three-week project will be more aesthetics than knocking down walls or gutting areas and starting anew.
The orange tiles will be replaced with more neutral and natural colors, while the walls will be painted, lockers refaced, new lighting, carpet removed and new mirrors.
“The renovation is going to be expensive so we want to make it nice and appealing, but also timeless, so we don’t have to think about it for awhile.”
Carter said he didn’t have a suggestion on how often locker rooms should go through thorough renovations, but he did say every 3 to 5 years should see something new.
“If you have good tile work, you don’t have to necessarily do that every five years,” Carter said. “But you might want to think about painting or change the lighting.”
He went on to say alterations is about the customer as much as the look.
“(Many) people get bored with exercise,” he said. “They already do not like to exercise, what we sell. It is important to keep the environment changed for variety.”
Guyer, at Taos, had little choice when she and her husband purchased their club 11 years ago. Most of it was in disarray, but the locker rooms were “hideous.”
“The club needed so much but I was adamant about the locker rooms,” said Guyer, who said she spent $250,000. “It was a huge renovation, probably more than anywhere else in the club.”
We require ourselves to spend each year on refurbish clubs. Just this year we remodeled four sets of locker rooms,” Brewster said.
High and low
Sometimes you have to, putting it in sports vernacular, play to the level of your customers.
If you are a $10 a month club you certainly don’t have to go out and buy high-end finishes and gut your space. On the other hand, if you are a country club or a multi-purpose club where entire families come and spend the better part of a day on the premises, then consideration for an overhaul has to be considered if your locker room is outdated and insufficient.
“It really depends on the expectation of your clients,” said Brewster. “It doesn’t matter what your club is like, you need to know what the people coming to the club are paying for.
“A lot of clubs in the industry are trying to separate themselves from the low-price clubs. I think if you are a mid- to higher-end club …locker rooms have a significant affect in the manner in how people will feel about your club.”
Trailhead Athletic Club, in a planned community of 3,600 homes in Mesa, Ariz., often sees the residents spending more time in its locker rooms than their own bathrooms, even when that could be next door.
To that end, Director Jennifer Graffice has to ensure the locker rooms are stocked with shampoo, razors, shaving cream, towels and the like. And, there are extras that she feels is imperative – lemon- and cucumber-flavored water, washcloths sprayed with a eucalyptus scent and placed on an tray of ice and oils in the steam room, to name a few. There are even TVs.
“We feel our members do appreciate the locker rooms,” she said. “It id what they come here for. We feel they pay a premium for amenities like the ones we have.”