Building a fitness facility in today’s club environment, says Joe Bendy, General Manager of River Oaks Country Club, is “like watching them build freeways here in the city of Houston: They build them, they open them, and they are congested.”
Bendy, whose club is in the midst of a multi-million-dollar renovation, is currently in the design and development phase for a new fitness facility, which will take the place of two small, unstaffed fitness areas that have been squeezed into the mens’ and womens’ locker rooms since 1994—remnants of a bygone era, Bendy says, when “fitness in clubs was seen as more of a fad.”
|Forsgate Country Club in Monroe Township, N.J., celebrated the grand opening of its new pool and 4,800-sq.-ft. fitness center on June 1, after a three-year planning process. “We tried to customize the facility by asking our members for input on services they wanted to see,” says Det Williams, Acting General Manager.|
Today, no one is mistaking fitness for a passing trend; it now ranks second only to golf in terms of the type and scope of amenities that members are demanding. Yet many properties still underspecify their fitness centers, says one fitness design expert, for fear “they’ll end up investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a facility no one will use.” Those properties, he adds, inevitably find they don’t have enough equipment or services—but do have plenty of members who also still belong to commercial health and fitness clubs.
To be considered “complete—and I don’t mean lavish”—this expert suggests installing a full line of 10 to 12 circuit-training machines; free weights; an open area for functional and core training, and a full complement of cardio machines, including treadmills, stationary bikes and elliptical machines. “You don’t have to have mile after mile of treadmills,” he assures.
The Dallas Country Club opened a fitness “room” in 1998. “They just put a bunch of machines in it,” says Sports Center Director Lizanne Brandt. “And that crowded room saw 35,000 people in a year. A lot of members were complaining that they would like to use fitness at the club, but the room was so crowded they were paying for another membership at a strictly fitness club. But they promised to patronize the club if it had a better facility.”
Management saw it was time to take fitness more seriously, and renovated a separate building on the property into a 21,000-sq.-ft. sports complex. In 2006, the first full year the complex was open, the facility had 66,153 visits (an 88 percent increase over the last year in the old workout room), booked 8,284 personal training sessions (a 76 percent increase), and gave 3,481 massages (up 56 percent).
“Now, we’re even looking at expanding again,” Brandt says. “Our volume is more than we thought it was going to be.” Her growing list of needs and wants includes: the addition of two private studios for pilates and personal training (for a total of four exercise studios); a larger fitness room; more lockers (“I’ve got 40-plus men and women, each waiting for permanent lockers”), and additional spa treatment rooms for offering nail and facial services (adding to four treatment rooms that “stay busy all the time with just massage”).
|“We try to keep classes more intimate by offering a large variety,” says Lizanne Brandt, Health & Fitness Director of Dallas Country Club. “We have 30 classes a week, and yoga at different times in the morning and evening.”|
While nothing has been finalized yet at River Oaks, Bendy hopes his club’s fitness center will be somewhere between 17,000 and 22,000 square feet, to house cardio equipment; free weights; three exercise studios for yoga, pilates and aerobics; mens’ and womens’ locker rooms (both with whirlpool and sauna), and room for personal training, physical therapy and massage.
He has invested much time and effort to make sure River Oaks’ new facility will endure for years to come and accommodate future growth, as fitness trends change and evolve.
“My personal opinion is, if you’re going to suffer brain damage and kill all your brain cells to get [a fitness center] approved, then you need to do it right,” he says. “The cost of building 20,000 versus 22,000 square feet is nominal—but the cost of adding 2,000 square feet in three years is dramatic. You have to look at the value of your dollar today, versus five years from now when you're going to expand. It doesn’t make sense to build it smaller, but it doesn’t make sense to build it too big, either.”
Most club managers and fitness experts agree that the size of the facility is a huge factor, but there are additional considerations to take into account. “It’s not about building bigger,” says one fitness consultant. “Do a comprehensive analysis of what your club needs today and five years out from now.”
Other important areas to consider when specifying the size of a fitness center include:
• Membership. How many memberships does the club have? How many family members included in the membership might use the facility? What percentage of the children will be able to use the fitness center (assuming there is an age limit), and how many will mature in the first decade of its life span? Conduct a survey of the membership to find out what programs and equipment they’d like to see included.
• Location. Is the club located in close proximity to members’ homes or workplaces, or in an outlying area, where you may get traffic only on the weekends?
• Industry trends. In addition to visiting other properties that have fitness centers, check out what’s going on in commercial fitness clubs; “they are early adopters of change,” says Bendy. Some of the hottest developments to now consider include:
— “Exertainment,” the latest buzzword making the rounds in the fitness community. Personalized television screens mounted on the cardio equipment are becoming the norm. “It has a lot to do with people adhering to an exercise routine on a more regular basis,” an expert says. Whether you are watching television, or educational programming on strength training or weight loss, or just listening to music, “you can literally lose yourself on the cardio machines.” Some machines even act like video games, allowing users to compete against a computer or other users, in the same facility or elsewhere.
— Group exercise, such as yoga, pilates, spinning and step, continue to be critical components, so there should be enough rooms to accommodate various types of classes at peak times (before and after normal work hours). “I don’t think anyone should build a fitness area without two or three group exercise rooms,” says Patti Coughlin, the Fitness Director at Houston Country Club, who has been desperately seeking space for the club’s two pilates reformer machines
“We had them in our teen room because it was closed, but it just opened for the summer,” she reports. “So now we have them squeezed into the only group exercise room. It’s not comfortable, but people are realizing we have to expand.”
— Physical therapy is a growing segment in a club environment where the average age of the membership is now 55, according to the Club Managers Association of America. Consider offering space in the club to a local physical therapist. Brandt, who previously worked for a rehabilitation facility, has also invested in exercise machines at Dallas Country Club that help members recover from surgery or injuries: a seated stepper for those who can’t put weight over their knees and an arm ergometer (“a bike for arms”) that helps to repair pectoral muscles following open-heart surgery.
— Stretching areas are becoming very popular, especially when stocked with bands and stability balls.
— Personal training is a “sleeping giant,” says one fitness consultant. “There’s a willingness on the part of club members to pay somebody—whom they trust—for personal fitness coaching.” Houston Country Club employs eight personal trainers as independent contractors. “They are all making a great living solely based on our members,” says Coughlin. “And they are here all the time.”
— A growing activity at the Dallas Country Club has been spa services. “A lot of our trainers are working hand-in-hand with our massage therapists, working to help correct muscle imbalances,” says Brandt. “Spa is a repeat business. We have a lot of folks who hold standing massage appointments every week, and sometimes twice a week.”
Working Out the Details
The most exhaustive effort that clubs should be making in the fitness arena is to gather any and all available information, to help create the best possible plan for adding a new fitness center or renovating an existing one.
|The Houston Country Club, says Fitness Director Patti Coughlin, generates money without charging members extra for the fitness facility. “The personal training dollars sustain us,” she reports.|
“This summer, our committee is breaking up and going to pilates studios, gyms, country clubs and every type of fitness facility that we know,” says Coughlin, whose club is currently planning an expansion of its 3,000-sq.-ft. facility. “By the end of the summer, we will know specifically what we’ll need, and we’ll do it right this time.”
Bendy says he has tried to create as much research data as possible—from analyzing other clubs’ utilization trends to seeing how they generate revenue to judging how much space should be devoted to staff offices.
“We are looking at what they’ve missed, and what they do right,” he says. “That way, we can put forth the best plan from day one. Will it be perfect? No—but we will have done our due diligence and fulfilled our duty to the membership to bring forth the best possible plan.”
*-Editor’s Note: This is the first installment f a four-part series on itness in the club and resort nvironment. Part two, in our August issue, will discuss how to equip the fitness center, the space needed for the essentials, and whether buying or leasing equipment is the best way to go.