Feature Article - May 2016
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Design Your Niche

Designing Facilities for Fitness Niches

By Chris Gelbach

Success as a fitness facility often means finding your niche. Design choices can support and enhance that specialization, whether it's in part of a larger facility or by creating an elevated experience in a highly targeted facility for one specific offering or audience.

Elevating the Experience

According to Rudy Fabiano, principal of Fabiano Designs in Montclair, N.J., who works on many recreational projects, boutique fitness has changed the industry in this regard. "An interesting thing happened when boutique fitness came along. An example is spinning with SoulCycle and Flywheel. They took what was actually a component of a club, and they committed to doing it at the highest level," said Fabiano. "They elevated the whole experience."

Architecturally, they energized the room, according to Fabiano. They packed it with more people, they combined the light and sound as a show. And they got 'rock star' instructors to really motivate attendees. As a result, the definition of spinning is different from what it was eight years ago.

"So it leaves other clubs with a quandary," Fabiano said. "Do they elevate it? Some are thinking of getting rid of it. They may not need to elevate it to the same level, but certainly everyone is now looking at it as a boutique element."

Fabiano sees the trend as part of the growing retailing of fitness. He likens it to a department store, where you will find a highly articulated experience in the section where the Gucci bags are that's very different from what you'll experience in the jeans section.

This approach caters to an enthusiast audience—and it needs to deliver to be effective. "If SoulCycle didn't give you a great workout when you were done, you're not going to pay all that money," Fabiano said. "If it's all fluff and no substance, you're not going to last long."

To provide an enhanced experience, even some universities are taking this higher-end approach to spinning. Chicago-based Cannon Design created a spinning room at the University of Minnesota with a tiered floor and a video screen on which people can monitor their heart rate. The space also offers various lighting options to create different levels of ambience in the space.

"We also did something similar at the University of Colorado-Boulder," said Reed Vorhees, senior vice president for Cannon Design. "We've seen spaces that go beyond that with theatrical lighting to darken the room, and shades that come down with a push of a button to provide a different atmosphere."

A similar approach can be taken to elevating any programming space or element. Fabiano noted the example of a recent basketball install, which started with the entry's design to create a feeling of a heightened experience before patrons even enter the court.

"In our latest club, we have a huge 20-by-20-foot graphic blowup of a basketball, and the little dots on the basketball make a really nice wall covering," Fabiano said. "And so it really says basketball without being goofy, but in an interesting and subliminal way." Elements such as a performance floor, good lighting that doesn't produce glare, and colors and graphics are used to enhance the basketball experience within the court itself.

Elements such as onsite referees are another staffing element that can contribute to a heightened experience. "It's really legitimizing every experience at the highest level you can afford so you have one of the best basketball courts to play at in terms of experience," Fabiano said.