Posted By Clod on July 27, 2012
What ever happened to leg warmers? Thong leotards, banana clips and wrist sweatbands all went the way of that once-ubiquitous trend.
New trends burst on the scene all the time, and hopping on the latest bandwagon often seems like a good idea. But how do you tell the fabulous from the fad? After all, no owner or managerwants to look at their fitness facility and ask the same question that comes to mind when viewing their high school yearbook photos: “What was I thinking?”
“Fitness clubs are similar to a fashionable restaurant or bar — customers want to go to the ‘in’ spot,” says Michael White, senior partner at HLW International in Santa Monica, Calif. “Therefore, clubs are constantly updating their facilities to stay current and fresh.” According to Robert D. Keeler, AIA and partner at Langdon Wilson Architects in Irvine, Calif., “this industry changes exponentially each year, if not every six months.” Unfortunately, trends don’t come with expiration dates, and freshness often expires sooner than you think. A look at past design trends is a quick lesson in caution. Renovations aren’t cheap, and smart gym owners want their investments to last more than just a few years. Avoid falling victim to design fads by gaining insight into what actually motivates trends in the industry. This approach can not only help you capitalize on the latest ideas, but keep you ahead of the curve.
Members motivate trends
Obviously, members are the major force driving design trends. Today’s exercisers are sophisticated, educated and demanding — but don’t give in to the temptation to buy what’s hot just because you fear members might look for it elsewhere. “In the ’80s, a lot of racquetball courts were put into facilities; in the ’90s, rock climbing walls were hot,” says Bryan Dunkelberger, an associate at Sasaki Associates Inc., Watertown, Mass. “Now racquetball courts are being turned into [group exercise] studios,and rock climbing walls are being re-evaluated depending on the demographic of the club.” Doing a little research about who your members are can help determine what they want, and help you avoid spending money on a trend they don’t actually want, or won’t want for long.
Remember that members will always expect the latest advances in specialized training at your club. However, building a steam-heated Bikram Yoga studio could backfire if members’ attention turns to Pilates next year. According to White, “Planning and catering to specialized training that is not an afterthought” can give members the dedicated spaces they want, but keep your options open for accommodating future trends. Dunkelberger agrees: “The more versatile the space, the easier it will be for the club owner to adapt.”
It’s also important to re-evaluate the wants and needs of your membership’s special populations. For example, owners targeting serious athletes may be inclined to focus entirely on buying and maintaining the highest-quality equipment, often at the expense of the facility’s appearance. But, according to White, “Given the choice, even the most hardcore athlete who demands the best equipment and training would choose a well-designed club over a lesser environment.” By going for the obvious every time, you could be shortchanging your members and your facility’s appearance.
The role of the owner
As anowner or manager, don’t overlook your own role in creating trends. After all, you actually implement changes in programming and facility design. Being aware of the importance of facility design takes you one step closer to determining what influences current trends. This allows you to follow those trendsthat will be investments instead of mistakes.
Sometimes, moreso than clever slogans or a low monthly fee, “the look of the facility attracts the type of customer you want — cool, affluent, educated, health-conscious, etc.,” says White. However, interesting architecture has benefits that go beyond happy members; it extends to another all-important area: customer service. “Owners are recognizing the aesthetic value of good design, but even more importantly, they are recognizing that a well-designed facility can enhance the functional performance for staff,” explains Dunkelberger. “Gaining efficiencies for day-to-day operations can allow staff members to dedicate more time to the members. This increase in service can make the difference in member retention.”
Where your club is located should greatly influence design decisions. Urban facilities have a clientele with needs different from clientele of facilities in suburban or rural areas. For example, peak times at urban locations are early morning, lunch and after work. Members need to change into and out of work clothes; therefore, during peak times, locker rooms are in high demand. Dunkelberger says some facilities renovate to “increase the locker rooms by 5 to 10 percent, just to keep members happy and moving through the facility.” However, in a suburban or rural fitness center, most members arrive at the gym in their workout clothes, and mayonly use the locker room toilets. “Their trend is the complete reverse,” Dunkelberger says. “Instead of more locker room space, they want more fitness space.”
To take awareness of your facility’s surroundings one crucial step further, consider reading between the lines of your community. Some cities have well-known personalities — think New York City, Boston or New Orleans — while others require deeper digging to find their soul. “It is important to note that most customers live within about a 5-mile radius of [their] club, and presumably chose to live there because they like the character of that particular neighborhood,” says White. An example is theEquinox clubs, where architects take this concept to new and successful heights. “I believe Equinox is unique in its approach to the local community,” says White. “The design of Equinox fitness centers [are] not the same from one club to the next. The architecture caters to the local character.” Equinox Pasadena, Calif.,picks up on the local architecture, and caters to a highly educated and affluent population; the design of theEquinox on Wall Streetcaters to a more conservative, corporate clientele.
This unique branding approach can affect almost every design decision — tailoring trends to the character of your fitness center and its community can help owners avoid making costly mistakes with design choices. “The goal is to create an experience that is an integral part of the customer’s neighborhood experience,” says White. “This means that not only does the look of the club change from location to location, but also some of the … services provided.”
“We have been approached by a number of smaller-market clubs looking to upgrade their facilities, because a chain or franchised operation is moving in down the street,” says Dunkelberger. Knowing what you’re up against can help guide design decisions, but if the massive club opening down the block is installing a stories-high climbing wall, following suit won’t necessarily keep you competitive. If you don’t have the space or budget to build bigger and better than your competition, then don’t try; members know a knock-off when they see one. Instead, determine your facility’s strengths, and build from there.
Reminding members that good things come in small packages is easier than you might think. “An increased demand for fitness centers and an increased level of competition in the fitness industry has raised the quality of the fitness experience,” reminds White. That said, if the competition seems too big to beat, remember that getting back to thebasics is always an option. “Paying attention to detail is important,” says White. “Color, choice of materials, quality air conditioning, creating a comfortable environment, softening and warming surfaces that people touch, and quality lighting are the fundamentals.”
It’s easy to get caught up in what’s hip, new and fresh, but smart owners and managersknow that leading has more value than following. Get to know your members, community and competition — avoid becoming a slave to the latest design trends, and you can keep your facility looking current and classic.
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