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Follow These Six Critical Steps Before Designing a New Club or Renovation

By: Bruce Carter

Bruce Carter

Whether you are opening a new higher-price club, a low-price model, a specialty/boutique club or plan to renovate an existing club, design is more important than ever in contributing to a club’s success. Most clubs are costing more per square foot to build than ever. The days of a mid-level club costing $40 – $60 per square foot are being replaced by $50 – $80 and more per square foot. Many boutique clubs are in the $100 – $250 square foot range to build, and renovations follow this upward pattern. As a result of these trends, it is imperative to take key steps before designing a new club or renovating an existing club.

What is driving the increased costs? First is the obvious rising costs of building materials and labor, but that is not the only reason. The overall image and inviting environments of clubs are having to be better than ever. Getting a “WOW” or “OMG” response from members and guests alike should be the goal, no matter what your budgets are. Yet, so many clubs still fall behind with average presentations. The critical steps involve asking a number of right questions that will lead to increased success.

The first critical step is obvious but often done inadequately, and that is: create a plan. Start by asking these questions. How will your design affect profits? Know specifically how the design you create will affect revenues and profits. Will you add more revenue-producing programs and need the space to do so? Are you offering the most “in demand” facilities and programs? Do you want to have higher dues or to increase dues in an existing club? If so, how will the design help justify the higher amounts?

Second, ask the question, “How will your design make you stand out from the designs of your competitors?” Is there new competition and you want your club to stay competitive and maintain profits (which can be a solid plan)? Or, or are you planning to stand out from the crowd?

The third step is being aware of the latest design trends in clubs and the hospitality business in general. What will be your colors, lighting and finishes? Will you have a turf area or go with the increasing popular LVT (luxury vinyl tile) for cardio and machine areas? One of the best ways to get a start on this step is to Goggle a variety of things, such as, “health club design, fitness center design, locker room design” and then go to images. Lots of ideas come from this productive approach. Make sure to check out your competition, especially if there are any new clubs or renovations in your market. Obviously, designers and architects who specialize in clubs can make a significant difference. Whatever your visual end result is, it should stand out and get people talking about your design. If you are renovating, the renovation should make the club look significantly different. Why go through the trouble of change unless it really looks like changes have happened? Why open a new club without it looking dramatically different than what is currently in the market place?

After the first three critical steps, now you are ready for the fourth: create a budget. Cost out everything you plan to do. This takes time and effort and cannot be done effectively without working with detailed plans. However, initially, it is good to work with a range for your budget. You may have a number you cannot exceed and work from that. Keep in mind, any and every design ends up having to prioritize certain choices over others. If you are working from a plan, you will make better decisions.

After budgeting, the fifth step may result in asking the question, “Can everything be done initially, or will it be done in stages?” If so, plan for the stages in the beginning, so when they are made, they fit productively into your plan.

The sixth step is critical if you are doing renovations. Based on the scope of your renovations, will you need to apply for a building permit? If so, you will then need an architect to do so. Often, “facelift” renovations where you are only changing finishes and colors will not require a permit. Often, there is a “gray area” with this question. When mechanicals get involved, electrical, plumbing, HVAC and sprinklers, then a permit will be needed. This will add to cost and time. Also, consider this potential aspect of permits and renovations. Often, when a club goes to make changes and a permit is needed, the building department at that time may require that the club become current with all building codes (such as ADA or Life Safety), even though they may not be part of the scope of the renovations. Learn about this ahead of time, for it can significantly change the scope and cost of what you plan to do. Start by checking with a local builder or architect to get an understanding of how the building department will “view” what you plan to do.

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Design can get people talking and remembering who you are. Design can make you stand out from the competition. Design can help justify the fees you charge. Design can get people to come back for more. However, taking a disciplined step-by-step approach can make a substantial difference in the success of all your hard work and money spent.

As published on clubinsideronline.com, May 2019.