Feature Article - May 2007
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Dressed to Impress

Fundamental Considerations in Locker Room Design and Maintenance

By Joseph Ryan

Theft Prevention

Many facility owners don't want to talk about it, but theft from lockers is a problem just about everywhere. Discussing ways to curb thefts and protect your customers is essential, experts say.

"I don't think there is a health club across the country that hasn't had a locker broken into at one time or another," said Jim Thomas, director of of Fitness Management Consulting, which works with independent operators.

The first line of defense is the locks on the lockers, of course. One of the biggest problems in many facilities is that customers fail to lock away their valuables.

"I was giving a tour one day (of a facility), and I go to open the locker to show the guests, and here was some family's stuff in there and they didn't even put a lock on it," recalled Keith Hayes, a principal with Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture.

To combat this kind of apathy, experts suggest signage reminding patrons that the facility is not responsible for stolen items and to use a lock. Also, a small service at the front desk to provide locks for a fee can help the more forgetful customers.

To keep an eye out for thieves, the staff should be encouraged to watch for suspicious activity during their regular walkthroughs, which should come at least once an hour per employee.

In addition to petty theft, there have been accounts of organized crime targeting locker rooms as easy pickings.

In late 2003, the FBI put out a report warning about a gang of Yugoslavian, Albanian, Croatian and Serbian criminals using day passes to pillage credit cards from health club locker rooms, and then using the cards at casinos to take out thousands of dollars.

The trend began in the early 1990s, according to the FBI report written by agent Richard Ballezza. In many cases, a group of four to six thieves would sign up for day passes at the clubs or target clubs with free trial memberships. Once inside, they would shimmy lockers open and steal credit cards without leaving signs of a break-in.

Once they had about 15 to 20 cards, they would head to the casino and reap tens of thousands of dollars before the victims even realized the cards were gone. The FBI report recommends clubs require photo identification for all guests and provide a small valuables safe at the front desk for guests wanting extra protection.

"The presence of the small valuables lockers, located immediately behind or next to the front desk, for the storage of a wallet and keys can reduce the chance of any credit card theft," the report suggests.