Feature Article - May 2013
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Comfort & Joy

Modernize Your Locker Room to Boost Satisfaction

By Rick Dandes

A locker room area that is thoughtfully designed, modern and properly maintained can make all the difference between people joining your recreation center or fitness facility or taking their business elsewhere. And that's true even at a time when some experts contend that locker rooms are being used less and less by patrons who prefer to change clothes at home (or in their dormitories at college).

Most fitness centers offer more or less the same elements: cardio and weight equipment, group exercise, and men's and women's locker rooms. So, a thoughtful design and added amenities can help you stand out from the rest of the competition.

It wasn't always thought to be that way.

Locker rooms used to be an afterthought for most recreational facilities, which focused much if not all of their attention and budget on providing the best and most advanced equipment and programming available. Locker rooms were almost neglected as clubs regarded them as simply a place for members to change and shower. That's not the case anymore.

"One of the things we are seeing a lot of, even when our client clubs are operating on a tight budget, is that locker rooms still need to be warm and inviting so that there is more of an upscale feel to it," said Howard Blaisdell, senior associate architect, Moody Nolan, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio.

In designing locker rooms, Blaisdell said Moody Nolan has learned that this space is a very important part of the fitness center experience for users. When someone is looking to decide what place to go to, what club to join, or what recreation center to bring their entire family to, they look at the general nature and cleanliness of the locker room and some customized areas, where appropriate. "We are starting to see concerns about privacy for changing for people with either body image, or religious privacy concerns," Blaisdell noted. "While many of these people will use the family changing area, we are investigating private changing spaces within the locker room areas."

Cubby areas are also increasingly popular, particularly where security is not an issue. When it comes to cubby holes versus full lockers, "what we've been designing is a mix of the two," Blaisdell said. "It boils down to a culture of use. While we may not provide as many formal lockers in a locker room as we used to, we are building cubbies outside of the locker room. These cubbies might be distributed throughout the building, such as in weight fitness areas or near the group exercise room."

This is a convenience for those people who are not interested in taking a shower, and come to a club dressed to work out, but need a place to keep their valuables during that workout time.

It is, however, important to note that even as designers, manufacturers and facility operators adjust to people's changing habits and expectations, patrons still want to know the locker room is clean, should they ever want to use it. This can be a key factor when it comes to member retention and attracting new memberships.

Adjusting to the New Reality

"It's true that the most persistent trend I've seen in locker rooms for the public, whether that be municipal or educational recreation, is that they are being utilized less and less by exercisers," said Richard Shaffer, director of global business development for a Murrieta, Calif.-based locker manufacturer. "People are arriving at a facility ready to work out."

Designers and facility operators are adapting to less utilization in a couple of ways, he said. "We are not seeing the complete abandonment of locker rooms, but we are seeing additional lockers being spread throughout the recreation centers. Some facilities are allocating less space for the locker room."

An even better way to deal with less utilization is to reconsider the size of the lockers themselves. In the past, it was all about meeting capacity demands by installing smaller lockers. "Maybe this is part of the reason they are being used less," Shaffer suggested. "Twelve-inch wide two-compartment lockers are by far the most common, and the most disliked. In any case, since locker room capacity demand is shrinking, this has made room for larger capacity lockers, which are universally appreciated by virtually all users."