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Always Shop the Competition Before Designing or Renovating a Health Club

By: Bruce Carter

Bruce Carter

The goal for any health club should be to have a positive, unique and memorable “personality.” A club’s design, layout and décor can have the most impact on creating a favorable or unfavorable club personality. With proper design, your club can have a great personality, even if it is smaller or you have fewer facilities than your competition.

Only by knowing about competing clubs―what they look like, offer in facilities, programs and prices―can an owner best determine what the new club or renovation should be. Learning about the competition should not be taken lightly, and it is best to follow a plan on how to analyze the competition and then incorporate what is learned into a design to make your club stand out.

A successful competitive analysis includes two parts: a visit to the competition and a planned checklist. The first part is to have more than one person visit the competition. One of the visitors should be an impartial individual with no ties to any of the clubs (including yours). The second part is to work with a planned checklist.

It is surprising how often a new club is built or an existing one renovated without the owners actually knowing what competing clubs look like. A visit to their websites is not adequate. Many new or existing club owners feel uncomfortable visiting their competition, but this should not prevent the visit (even if it has to be early in the morning or late at night). More than one person should visit the competition, and one of the visitors should be an impartial individual with no ties to any of the clubs (including yours). Get that impartial individual’s viewpoint of public portions of the club as well as the locker rooms. Your architect or designer also should visit the competition.

Before shopping the competition, create a checklist for what to tune in to in specific areas of your competition’s facility. You want to make sure you are better at (or at least as good as) these things than the competition. This is where you can start to create your own club personality.

Three general areas need attention:

  1. What the club looks like
  2. Facility offerings
  3. The amount of space and traffic flow for the different areas

In general, a club and its different areas either make a positive impression, a neutral (no impression) or a bad impression.

Areas to focus on include:

  • How a club looks, such as colors (walls, ceilings, equipment, finishes)
  • Lighting (basic and unique accents)
  • Finishes (laminates, granites, wall coverings)
  • Graphics
  • Signs
  • Flooring (exercise areas and lobby)
  • Tile (floors and walls for locker rooms)
  • Architectural features that grab your attention
  • Furnishings
  • The overall excitement (or lack of) you feel

You want to have a different interior design and color scheme than the competition. Concurrently, take note of the general impression of the size of the areas and type of facilities that are offered.

A few other impressions should be part of the checklist. First, what does the club look like from the outside? Does it have a “presence,” and what do you see outside looking in?

Next, what is your first impression when you walk through the door (both what you see and feel)? Is it exciting, non-intimidating and does it feel like a place you want to be? Is it clean, organized and free of clutter?

What do the workout areas look like? Is there enough floor space for the important newer areas of stretching and functional/core exercises? Is there a dedicated area for group exercise (a strong growth trend in the industry) in addition to the regular group exercise area?

Does the group exercise area have storage so it is not cluttered with items surrounding the perimeter walls? Are there lighting options for different types of classes, such as Zumba and yoga? If the club offers indoor cycling classes, does the cycle room have an energetic personality, or it is just a room with bikes?

Locker rooms are key areas where you can differentiate and stand out from the competition. Do the locker rooms look upscale and have a spa-like atmosphere, or are they just average with overly bright or basic fluorescent lighting? Are the locker rooms designed with materials and colors that make them easier to keep clean? Does the women’s locker room offer changing rooms?

Overall, does the club feel inspiring? If you were out of shape, would you feel comfortable there, even motivated to want to come back again and again?

Nowadays, people often start shopping for clubs by browsing the Internet. Sometimes clubs show stock photos of people exercising or boring pictures of a club. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, so what would pictures of what you are designing or renovating look like―first when they are seen on a website, then when seen in person? Thinking that your club has great service, programs and staff is not enough in today’s competitive, price-sensitive marketplace. What a person sees and experiences is more important than ever.

Remember, shopping the competition is supposed to be an educationally productive process, not a critical process. Good competition should help your club become the best it can be.

As published on clubindustry.com, January 2015.