Feature Article - March 2002
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Stay-Fresh Fitness Centers

Ideas to keep your facility from getting stale

By Margaret Ahrweiler


For many fitness club members, their membership expiration dates seem akin to food freshness labels, with a year or less the average length of membership. In a culture driven by a compulsion for change and a search for new experiences, how can fitness centers stay fresh enough to maintain and expand their membership base? From humble park and rec centers to industry giants with national exposure, fitness center operators are finding new ways to extend their sell-by dates.

Those methods range from the simple cosmetic touches to large-scale additions, from sharper service and staffing to more meticulous maintenance. And smart professionals can learn as well by adapting the latest trends in new construction to their facilities.

A little dab'll do ya

For centers large or small, relatively inexpensive cosmetic and maintenance changes can make a big difference in keeping members from club hopping. A fresh coat of paint works wonders in adding appeal, suggest Michael Bourque and Brian Dunkelberger of Sasaki and Associates, a Watertown, Mass.-based architecture firm that specializes in fitness centers. Lose the pastels, advises Bourque, a principal in the firm and fellow of the International Interior Design Association. He likes what he terms "energy colors, with a vibrating sense to them." For two recent projects for Fitcorp, a Boston-area, corporate-targeted fitness-facility firm, he selected bright blues, yellow and orange.

Life Time Fitness, on the other hand, favors strong earth tones to project a healthy image and bring the outdoors inside. The trend-setting national fitness-center company, based in Eden Prairie, Minn., also uses stone such as granite and limestone, along with other materials, to give clubs a holistic, natural look, says Life Time's Glen Gunderson, vice president of business development.

"We made the decision to stay neutral when we opened our first facility 10 years ago, in part so we could adjust the décor more easily," he says.

Unlike clubs that favored exposed block interiors, Life Time also chose from the outset to cover all walls in sheetrock or slate, enabling them to paint or change wallpaper more painlessly, Gunderson says. While it added to initial construction costs, it reduced maintenance and renovation costs later in the clubs' life.

Life Time Fitness facilities often feature
a healthy dose of natural lighting.

Regardless of the color choice, clubs should paint every couple years at most, Bourque advises, to keep your facility up to date and prevent that battered look.

Beyond paint, Sasaki's Bourque also cautions clients to pay attention to what hangs on the walls. He advises clients to abandon the trite, overused inspirational posters in favor of art and graphics that convey the fitness center's image. For example, at their Fitcorp projects, Sasaki's graphic designers selected a variety of fitness images, zoomed in on them and created a slight distortion. The results included a giant image of runners' feet on the pavement and a bunch of bodies in an aerobic setting.

"They have a Nike feel, to encourage activity," Dunkelberger says.

Along with paint, Sasaki promotes diligent maintenance as a way to keep fitness centers fresh and suggests materials that help ease that never-ending chore.

"If someone whacks a wall with a free weight, get in there and fix it right away," Dunkelberger urges. And to prevent accidents like that from happening, he suggests protective products like Kydex, a plastic sheet good that covers drywall on the walls of weight areas and other clunk-prone spots.

Other fitness centers try to evoke a sense of history and locale. The Apex Center in Arvada, Colo., a 168,500-square-foot showpiece of a community center, used a "Colorado palette," in the fitness area and the rest of the building, says Faith Gregor, marketing director for the North Jeffco Park and Recreation District, with a mining and mountain theme to appeal to the city's historically minded residents.

The Ins and Outs of Fitness Centers
Group fitnessAerobics (it's all semantics…)
Outdoor activitiesHigh-impact basics
Free weights for womenSeparate weight rooms filled with muscle heads
Working toward a goal
(i.e. triathlon training programs)
Mundane exercise
Earth tonesNeon
Adding more programsEliminating old programs
Family-oriented fitnessBeautiful People