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Lockdown: The Lowdown on Locker Rooms

March 10, 2009
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The health club locker room may not be your club’s biggest profit center, but it’s amazing how a few dropped towels, bad odor or leaky pipes can cause the most loyal of members to take their business elsewhere. Like any other aspect of a club’s facilities or services, the state of a locker room communicates a message to clients about your concern for cleanliness, convenience and keeping their business. In fact, it may be the first destination a member seeks out when they enter your club and the last thing they use before they leave, says Roberta Duguid, general manager of Lakeshore Athletic Club’s Illinois Center in Chicago. “It’s the first impression someone gets of a club, which will determine whether a club gets the business of that person or not.”

You can leave a positive lasting impression by putting some extra thought into the finer details of a locker room area, according to Jim Scurto, national director of Operations for Life Time Fitness. “We strive to create an inviting and warm environment in the locker room. Having a clean and neat locker room is essential to the member’s experience.” From the beginning planning and design stages to the daily upkeep and amenities you provide, it’s important to keep in mind exactly what members want and need to determine what kind of impression you want your business to make.

Planning and Design
Before you think about how your locker room should look and feel, you’ll want to consider your core clientele, advises Daniel McGee, director of CTA Sport for CTA Architects Engineers. Who are you catering to-bodybuilders, families or the yoga crowd? Each has unique needs to be considered during the design process.

In general, club owners today are moving away from the utilitarian idea of a locker room as a storage space. Instead, many create the area to be calm, convenient and visually-pleasing by adding more natural light, decorative features and environmentally friendly materials, says David Phillips, designer for New Jersey-based Fabiano Designs. Careful planning should be used when trying to maximize the use of light while maintaining privacy.

Dan Potter, senior principal for Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative in Denver agrees that careful design can make an enormous difference in the locker room. “One of the essentials for both men and women is a bright, inviting environment that makes guests feel safe and clean,” Potter says. This can be achieved in the design process by creating well-lit areas that are neither too big nor too small. Different locker configurations can give gym members a greater sense of privacy while changing, Potter adds.

If you want create the “wow factor” in your locker room, and have the budget to do so, designers suggest using some of the total space for a lounge area. Soft seating and a television will let members relax and unwind, catch an important news item or sports score. “Adding a lounge may not be appropriate for your club, but the locker room should have a lounge feel to it,” Phillips suggests. Other high-end extras to consider are private changing areas, more vanity space for grooming, or waiting areas set off to the side from the main locker room area. Whatever your choice, make sure the space emphasizes simplicity and comfort, McGee says. “You want to provide your members with the best of what they expect for their dues,” he adds. “Give them the level of finish that is justified by their membership.”

As important as the layout of the locker room area are the construction and design of the lockers themselves. In today’s market, companies who make locker cabinets offer a wide range of products that make use of the latest technology in manufacturing materials, according to Allison Bass, president of Partition Systems Incorporated of South Carolina. Columbia lockers, a division of PSISC, aims to reduce the spread of infection by offering benches and lockers manufactured with a permanent antimicrobial agent that inhibits bacterial growth on surfaces. Such materials have an efficacy rating of 4.0 and kill 99.99 percent of bacteria, including E-Coli and MRSA, on contact, Bass says. “We are all worried about MRSA, and locker rooms need to address this concern,” he adds.

Lockers should also be durable, long lasting and able to withstand many years of regular use. Instead of traditional wood or metal, newer plastic lines on the market are made from 100 percent, post consumer recycled materials. Another newer design feature, Bass says, is the frameless door, which increases the opening space of a locker by as much as 50 percent. This may not seem like much of an investment, but members will appreciate easier storage of and access to their belongings.

Costs for locker room design or rebuild can range greatly, though McGee recommends club owners commit about 10 percent to 15 percent of their total construction budget to the locker room area, especially if their aim is to create a quality environment members will want to take care of and maintain. Phillips suggests allotting the same amount of space-as much as 15 percent of a club’s total square footage-to the locker room area.

Amenities
From a member’s point of view, perhaps the most noticeable features of a locker room are the amenities provided. Being able to shower and change at the gym without having to bring along soaps, toiletries and hair dryers may be a big plus for busy people and could keep them coming back to your club. Alternately, failing to provide products for members’ convenience may keep some members from going to the gym altogether. Julie Goldberg, director of Sales and Advertising for Chemco/Multi-Sport in Massachusetts, believes attention to detail not only helps club owners save money but turns even the most basic locker room into a well-oiled machine. When ordering amenities such as soap, for example, making the switch from a proprietary dispensing system (think of pre-bagged soap refills) to a ready-to-use refill system can prevent waste by eliminating unusable leftovers, Goldberg says. Saving a little on a day-to-day basis can add up to big savings over the long run.

Other things to think about when you are considering amenities for your club’s locker room include potential timesavers, members’ daily habits and needs as well as cleanliness and disinfection. You may want to create a “touch-free” environment, which means choosing hand dryers over paper towels to reduce waste and the number of times a member comes in contact with locker room surfaces, suggests William Gagnon, director of marketing for Massachusetts-based Excel Dryer. “Owners should strive to offer reliable, hands-free appliances whenever possible,” he says. “Potentially, you could leave a restroom without ever touching a surface.”

When it comes to the amenities members use daily, you should decide whether it’s important for your club’s image that you supply additional products like body lotion, disposable razors and other beauty or hygiene products in and around the shower area.

Some high-end clubs offer extras like hair gel, cologne or aftershave for their men’s locker room and hair curlers, dryers and cotton products for women’s locker rooms, says Laurie Schmidt, president of Dallas-based amenities company Sports Solutions, Inc. “Providing shaving cream, razors and a separate body lotion in the shower area for easy access prevents ladies from accidentally exposing themselves in the dressing area-a common issue for most women.”

Cost is likely to be the biggest determinant of the kinds of amenities a club provides its members, Schmidt acknowledges, so money-saving measures like using concentrated soaps as part of a mixing system or buying refillable containers and items in bulk is something to be considered. Just keep in mind your choice of amenities could add a lot of perceived value to the overall quality of your club’s business. For example, giving clients separate shampoo, body wash and conditioner options is cost equivalent to purchasing the same amount of all-in-one product, and will be used at the same rate, though some gym members may walk away feeling more satisfied with a club that has recognized their individual needs in the shower area. Before stocking your locker rooms, consider the amenities you’d like to offer from a member’s point of view.

Cleanliness and Upkeep
Proper maintenance and disease prevention are crucial in often-used areas like a locker room, where dampness and poor ventilation can cause the spread of airborne illness and other transmittable viruses, says John Purcell, director of Business Concepts at Arizona-based Kleen Concepts. “One of the top reasons for members leaving clubs is the perception of an unclean facility,” Purcell adds. “Locker rooms can be breeding grounds for microbes, so a staff needs to be diligent about cleanliness.”

Scurto suggests staff members regularly walk through the area to clean and tidy up as needed. In this way, employees act as role models for members, who will follow suit and keep the environment clean out of respect. “On the contrary, if there is a pile of towels in the corner, members will just keep adding to it-you have to lead by example,” he adds. In addition, Sally Schomp, business development manager for Plastex Matting, a U.S. manufacturer of open-grid matting, points out that standing water and water drips can also pose a safety issue in both public and private facilities.  The importance of anti-slip matting with sufficient height and drainage capability in locker rooms cannot be understated. Not only does this offer secure footing in wet and slippery areas, but the antibacterial and antifungal additives provide a clean and healthy changing environment for all.

Jacqueline Bell, customer service representative for The Amenities Company in Illinois, strongly encourages clubs to provide the same antibacterial wipes or foams in the locker rooms that are commonly used to keep things sanitized out on the floor. In a high-traffic area where people are trying to keep clean, disinfection is especially important. Extra strength detergents work, Purcell says, but can introduce chemicals and harsh fumes into the environment. New technology being used by companies like Kleen Concepts incorporates a more “green” approach to cleaning and may be ideal for clubs and facilities with high-volume traffic areas.

An increased awareness of harmful viruses like MRSA has a lot of club owners thinking more about maintaining proper ventilation and reducing bacteria through the use of wet-area matting that prevents slippage and the build up of standing water. Air quality, given the size and space of the locker room and the intensity of foot traffic, should always be a priority, says James Hogan, product development engineer for Montreal-based air purification company Dectron, Inc. At any time, the humidity level of a locker room should be kept between 40 percent and 60 percent to keep members happy and healthy and costs low. -

AMENITIES RESOURCES:

The Amenities Company
www.theamenitiescompany.com

Chemco/Multi-Sport
www.multi-sport.com

Dectron, Inc.
www.dectron.com

Excel Dryer
www.exceldryer.com

Kleen Concepts
www.kleen-concepts.com

Partitions Systems Inc. South Carolina
www.psisc.com

Plastex Matting/Tepromark
www.tepromark.com

Sports Solutions
www.sportssolutionsinc.com

DESIGN RESOURCES:

CTA Sport
www.ctasport.com

Fabiano Designs
www.fabianodesigns.com

Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative
www.olcdesigns.com

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