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Design Mistakes That Can Cost You Big

By: Bruce Carter

Bruce Carter

Health club design has come a long way in recent years. Spaces that once existed to house equipment have evolved into more inviting and energizing environments, adding to the fitness success of a club.

Having a team that has cumulatively worked on approximately 700 projects over the course of 30+ years, there are certain things that consistently stand out as design weaknesses. Some are small, some are big, but they all can clearly have an effect on the bottom line. However, just a little attention on these can make all the difference in creating a highly desirable experience when in a club.

So much of what design does is to affect how someone “feels” and what they “experience” when in a club. This can be good, bad or neutral. If our experience is good, we are more likely to join and keep coming back for more. If it is bad, we don’t join or we don’t continue as a member. If it is neutral, then it’s almost the same as bad. Remember feeling is what gets us to act, one way or the other.

Sensory Adaptation

If you are in a club regularly, keep in mind the psychological principle of sensory adaptation. This means that, if our senses regularly experience something over and over, after a while, the things that we recognized no longer will continue to do so. This could be smell, sight or any of the other senses. If certain design flaws are observed over and over by an owner or staff, after a while, they will no longer be “seen” as a problem, yet they still remain. So, taking a “new” look at a club is often necessary to understand what some of the design problems are. Here are some key design weaknesses:

  • One of the major design mistakes is not putting extensive focus on the first impression coming into a club. Whatever that experience is, it carries throughout the club. Often, the experience is disjointed. There are all kinds of things on the desktop, too many signs of either information or trying to sell something. This is often a lack of storage or space to properly display things, such as digital display monitors. There may be no attractive place to sit, use a laptop or charge a cell phone. Tasteful branding of the club is often lacking, and collectively, the space with its lighting, finishes and colors do not create a positive experience.
  • Related to the above, a lack of proper storage throughout the club is a major design flaw. Clutter produces a negative response by so many. Proper storage does not take away space; it “adds” space. Whether in a functional training area with medicine balls, mats, foam rollers, battle ropes, bosu, etc., they all need to have a neat place to be stored. Group exercise rooms with class items all around the edges is purely “old school” and detracts significantly from the experience. Storage cabinets or shelves can help clean things up. Even consider adding a wall (with two openings) on one side of the room to hide most, if not all, that is used for classes. The difference is profound. Even offices that members see are also part of the “club experience,” yet messy spaces with a lack of the proper storage units are common.
  • A lack of adequate space for comfortable traffic flow and usage is another key issue. In an effort to get more –more equipment, more rooms, more programs, more lockers, etc.– the result is often a negative experience for members. Not enough space in front of lockers to change or having to move out of the way when someone walks by are just a couple of examples. Use the five-foot rule in design for locker rooms. In any flow in or out of a locker room or flow within the locker room, leave five feet width for the flow.
  • Two other design problems in locker rooms are slippery floors (extra grip tile is available), which results in ugly mats to solve the problem, and too much bright lighting. Less lighting gives more of a relaxing “spa” type of experience. Lighting in workout areas can also be too bright. Combine that with too many mirrors and the “out of shape crowd” can feel uncomfortable. Lessen the brightness and mirrors, and the experience can get better.
  • Often, a club can look dirty and unkept because poor design finishes have been used. Walls that will get easily scuffed up should get covered with some type of solid surface material, such as laminate, tile or FRP panels. White can look great, but don’t make that choice if you are not strongly committed to keeping it clean, no matter what the finish is.
  • Music in rooms, such as group training and spin, can be part of the energetic experience. Yet, too often, this sound transmits undesirably to other areas of a club. So, added sound absorbency materials, such as insulation and sound proofing walls become a must. Yes, there is additional cost, but why create a good experience with one space while also creating a bad experience for people in an adjacent space.
  • What about colors? Can the wrong colors be a bad design choice? The answer to this is not that there are “right” or “wrong” colors, but often, there are colors that don’t go well together or are used too much. Some colors can also be too bright, overwhelming the senses.
  • As a side note, a common design mistake is to create an interior that you personally like. A club is not a home, so personal tastes often have to be put aside in order to create something that the majority of people (your market) will like.

• • •

In designing a club, space planning, layout and selection of finishes and colors mean making a wide number of decisions. This is a great deal of work when done right, but the end result is rewarding to club owners, staff and members. Making sure that you address common design mistakes will help in achieving your desired end result. Clubs, any type or size, are continuingly evolving into finely tuned state-of-the-art environments. The result is people are happier and more fulfilled in these well-designed facilities.

As published on clubinsideronline.com, February 2020.