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How To Design The Perfect Club Entry

By: Bruce Carter

Bruce Carter

Imagine someone new walking into a club, and the moment he steps through the door, he is surprised. This is not what he expected. He feels comfortable but excited. This place could be the answer to his dream of improving his life with regular physical activity. This should be the goal for designing a health club entry.

However, before deciding how to design the perfect entry, it is important to review a few key facts:

First, people “buy” an experience, and what they see accounts for so much of what they “experience.”

Second, it is important to understand who is coming into a club. There are typically two general types of people entering clubs, whether they are a member or a guest looking at the possibility of becoming a member.

The first type, about 20%, feels good about how they look and usually likes exercise. The second type, about 80%, often feels uncomfortable with how they look (especially in exercise clothing) and don’t like exercise, although they agree on the potential value of exercise in their life.

  • Shula's Athletic Club Lobby - Before
  • Shula's Athletic Club Lobby - After

So, designing the best club entry needs to address what people are thinking, feeling and seeing the moment they walk through the door and how that will affect how they feel about themselves, exercise and the club.

If these aspects are proactively taken into consideration when designing a club entry, then the chances of keeping a member and getting more new members will definitely increase.

Now, think of the concepts of welcoming, non-intimidating, exciting and “OMG.” Can an entry be all of these but “without breaking the bank?” The answer is “yes;” it just takes some thought and detailed planning. The following are some takeaways.

Key Points to Consider

Whether you are dealing with a new club design, or a renovation of an existing club, ask the question, “What will people be looking at when they enter?” Obviously, a reception desk of some type, possibly a lobby or seating area, maybe some offices and most likely exercise areas. So, one of the first things to think about are sight lines to minimize any intimidating view or experience.

One of the key points that research has shown is that people are easily intimated in a gym, and if there is exercise very close to the entry, people right away may think they will have to use that same equipment and “be on display,” and therefore, feel uncomfortable about the gym even though they have just entered.

In general, equipment can often be seen from the lobby, but it should be far enough away or have some type of minimizing sight lines, such as plants or partial walls. The old thinking that seeing a lot of equipment right away will “blow people away” may have a far different effect on many people entering a club.

Something else that should not be easily seen from the entry are sales desks. Once again, this is intimidating, and although some operators may think it is good to have sales right by the reception desk, this is more for the club’s convenience and function, not a potential member’s comfort level.

The next key points are cleanliness and clutter. No matter what your entry looks like, having it dirty and cluttered will do more to lower sales and retention than just about anything. This may seem like an obvious point. But, an owner seeing a club daily after a while can actually “no longer see” the obvious wear and tear and clutter. Having multiple signs and items throughout the entry area and on top of the desk is distracting and unwelcoming as well.

Now, let’s review the all-important esthetics of the first impression experience. An entry area should be exciting, creating very positive emotions with people coming and going from a club, and this can be accomplished with almost any budget.

First, look at finishes, which includes flooring, reception desk sides and top and walls. Floors stand out with stained concrete, ceramic tile or luxury vinyl tile (LVT). The choices are wide, but consider a clean look or possibly a wood look (real wood is not recommended for it does not wear well, but the other options look like real wood). Next, the decorative options for a reception desk are significant with laminate, Plexiglas, tile and stone choices for the sides. For desk tops, granite and solid surface materials are great for image, yet extensive choices are available with less expensive laminates. Avoid using a “busy” top, such as a lot of colors and shapes with “busy” sides, and go for a cleaner look.

Walls can be painted, and there are also wonderful heavy duty vinyl wall covering options. Other dynamic products include wavy walls, and for durability, consider FRP board with special laminate color options for a high-end yet durable and cost effective result.

Lighting is as important as any aspect of an entry, yet it is the most often ignored as a valuable aesthetics asset. Lobby lighting should be distinct and different from lighting elsewhere in the club, which should be different and have its own dramatic statement. Consider drum lights, pendant lights, wall sconces and cove lighting. Cove lighting under the top of the reception desk shining down on the sides is an inexpensive yet exciting aspect to an entry. An overly bright entry is not recommended.

Architectural features such as ceiling heights and accents, added wall structures, curved walls, soffits above the desk and water features in the lobby can add to a substantial WOW factor.

Large graphics, maybe the size of an entire side wall can inexpensively add attention-getting excitement. However, stay away from the token gesture approach of basic pictures of people exercising in a gym, for all someone has to do is look into the club to see the same thing. Abstract images or nature-oriented scenes (they can even be black and white depending on the design theme) with people being active is always a good option, and countless graphic options are available online.

Colors can vary greatly and depend on the club’s overall décor theme. A monochromatic environment can be effective, or a variety of colors can also achieve desired results. The key is to coordinate everything so nothing looks improperly out of place.

Furniture in entry areas is often an afterthought with basic pieces being selected. Consider comfort chairs where you can select the upholstery for more exciting options. The cost is a little more, but it’s well worth it. Also, stay away from fabric and use only leather or vinyl, because people sweating and sitting on fabric will eventually result in stains that cannot be removed.

The majority think exercise is a great idea, yet it is actually loved by a much smaller percentage. Loving your club the moment someone walks through the door is the goal. This helps significantly in getting people to want to become a member and then keeping them coming back for more and more.

As published on clubinsideronline.com, December 2016.