Feature Article - May 2017
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Fitness Forever

Fitness Facility Design to Meet Changing Demands

By Rick Dandes

Fitness facilities of all sizes are being designed to keep up with the demands of a rapidly growing industry, the requirements of corporate ownership, and the needs, both physical and social, of multigenerational clients.

"The fitness club industry is still very young," said Jeff Nagel, of Nagel Sports, Edmonds, Wash., "but it is very successful, and huge. Everyone wants a piece of that success."

The numbers prove it. According to a 2016 report released by the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), "… global health club industry revenue in 2015 totaled $81 billion, as 151.5 million members visited nearly 187,000 clubs." In the United States alone, according to IHRSA, 36,180 clubs served an estimated 55 million members.

Staying one step ahead of the latest trends and meeting the needs of all those stakeholders keeps designers on their toes. "I see owners moving toward medium-sized facilities, not what I call a big-box gym," noted Jacob Guajardo, Perform Better, West Warwick, R.I. "If you look at IHRSA's numbers, it says that the participants at large gyms are diminishing. That's because of the latest trends, which are the semi-private, group training or camp-ish type training. Those can be done in a medium-sized facility. These are spaces that I call 'cash cows,' anywhere from 1,500 square feet to 3,500 square feet. These cash cows have sprung up as multiple franchises across the country."

One of the boutiques Guajardo works with provides space for a Fit Body Boot Camp. "They can take a 1,500-square-foot space and have tons of people doing functional training, boot camp type workouts and still service their client base."

He added, "These boutiques save the owner a lot of money because their overhead is down. Your mortgage on that property is much smaller than a big-box gym. You save money on employees. You won't need 50 employees to run a gym. You can have one head coach, maybe a program designer."

Fitness Big & Small

"Two things are happening in our business," explained Rudy Fabiano, of Fabiano Designs International. "One is boutiques are trending, no doubt. That is happening. But I'm also seeing large fitness clubs being built as well."

The boutiques will have one, two or three specific offerings, Fabiano said. For example, "You might have a yoga studio. There may be a functional training studio. Or boxing, which is making a big comeback. Maybe a combination of three studios. Or perhaps some kind of aerobics. That is gaining in popularity. They tell the consumer, 'We do one thing and we do it well. We're a CrossFit studio, that's all we do. We're branded for it and we designed for it both from an aesthetic and a programming point of view. So come to us.'"

Fitness facilities of all sizes are being designed to keep up with the demands of a rapidly growing industry, the requirements of corporate ownership, and the needs, both physical and social, of multigenerational clients.

These boutiques in some cases can charge as much for a class as mainstream clubs charge for a month of membership, Fabiano said. "The pressure boutiques are putting on those mainstream clubs is enormous."

The growth of regional players is driving the design and construction of some larger fitness facilities, Fabiano added. "What I mean by that is you might have gym chains that have 10, 12, 15 units, and all of a sudden they get purchased by equity firms or venture capitalists, and they get the financial wherewithal to grow," he said. Most of Fabiano's current projects are big clubs, averaging about 40,000 square feet, with multi-programming.

In some ways, Fabiano explained, gyms are either getting smaller or they are getting bigger. "It's the middle

I'm not seeing much of—the 20,000-to-30,000-square-foot facility," he said. "That traditionally was the middle size. We are doing none of those right now. We are either doing 5,000 to 6,000 square feet or 40-50-60,000-square-foot clubs."

But those large clubs, Fabiano said, are starting to incorporate some concepts used by boutiques within their huge space.

Owners want a little bit of everything, Nagel agreed, creating a gym within a gym, or a boutique gym, at larger facilities. "There is a call for the boutique-size facility and the big boxes," he said. "And now our clients want the boutiques within the big boxes."

One of the reasons for this is that boutiques help create a sense of community—a difficult thing for a gym with thousands of members to achieve.

"When you have a community of a few hundred," he said, "even though those people are paying more, there is a sense of community and that community builds retention, encouragement and a connection."

It is amazing what our handheld devices have created, Nagel said as an explanation. "I'll go to a large facility and see people on their phones in between sets. There is no connection, no social atmosphere. Small group training forces a connection, and I believe that is partly why boutiques are fairly successful. The larger companies … they want a piece of that action."