Locker Rooms: The Heart of the Club

Locker rooms at Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago.

When you think about the member experience, your mind may immediately go toward equipment, staff and the fitness floor. As a result, there’s a critical area of your club that may be overlooked, one some call the heart of the club: the locker rooms.

Think of your locker rooms as pieces of equipment. Just like treadmills and elliptical machines, they have to be cleaned, inspected to make sure they’re functioning properly, and updated sooner rather than later.

“We try to make sure we have plenty of space, good lighting — so people can see what they’re doing and there aren’t any dark corners anywhere — and good insulation,” said Jon Brady, the COO for Midtown Athletic Clubs. “Obviously, it’s super important to make sure you’ve got good air flow so you can cut down on moisture or anything you don’t want hanging around in your showers or locker room areas.”

Additionally, having amenities in your locker rooms that fall into the “bells and whistles” category will help make a good impression with your members.

“We take great pride in offering all the perks for our members, from cotton balls and Q-tips to every type of curling iron, sanitized hair brushes and three types of lotions,” said Paula Neubert, the president and general manager of Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club in Denver, Colorado. “We make it easy for our members by providing all the amenities they need to shower and get ready after a workout.”

Transforming your locker rooms into a welcoming and functional space will take significant planning and a clear vision. The kind of experience you want your members to have while using the locker rooms will determine the direction of the design.

“The first thing depends on the amount of space you’ve got and how much you’re prepared to dedicate to locker rooms,” said Brady. “One of the things we’ve been very focused on is making sure the wet areas and the dry areas are separated with good drainage. Get good pipes in the shower areas so you keep water in certain areas and away from others.”

Once you have the core requirements for the space planned out, it’s time to add some creative flair. As with any project, creative ideas can come from muses. “Take road trips to other clubs and tour their locker rooms,” suggested Neubert. “Spend time observing what works and what doesn’t. Think about amenities that won’t cost much and will elevate the level of service you offer your members.”

And if you need additional inspiration, calling in an expert can’t hurt. “Use a professional architect who can assist with the process,” said Neubert.

Once you’ve got the basics taken care of, add-ons that are specific to your club and its membership come next. One common crossroads club owners will come to is whether to include a lounge in the locker room area or not.

“If space and funds allow, absolutely,” said Neubert. “It’s a very nice perk for members. The lounge will elevate the ‘luxury status’ of your locker room and help separate your club from the competition.”

Creating a luxury experience at every turn will be especially helpful in retaining current membership. However, there’s a lot to be said for encouraging communal gathering outside of a club locker room.

“We would not recommend that, but that’s just because we have big lounge areas and lots of social spaces for members to congregate in the club,” explained Brady. “We believe that if you’re congregating, you want people to be more community-oriented. We’re focused on our different offerings in those social spaces, so we try to get away from offering lounge areas in the locker rooms.”

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s the best decision for your club. Every business is different, after all. “If you feel your club needs it though, it’s a nice thing to have,” added Brady.

Talking to members is also a great way to evaluate which amenities are “must-haves” for your club’s community. Bear in mind these preferred amenities will change as your membership and industry trends evolve — it’s important to be on top of what your members love.

As an example, Brady referenced steam rooms as a trend members are currently favoring. “Members enjoy steam rooms,” he said. “We like to have good-sized steam rooms and saunas. There are other features members enjoy, like crystal rock walls or salt walls, certain lighting features in a steam room or sauna to create different moods during a different time of the day.”

Trends can range from actual design features of the space itself, to convenient items or small services offered in the locker rooms.

“Our members love the shampoo, conditioner and body wash in our showers,” said Neubert. “We have two different banks of individual showers with different fragrances. Members also really appreciate magnifying mirrors located in various areas of our vanities.”

When putting together the plan for your club’s locker rooms, there are red flags to watch out for. Unfortunately, it seems that for every successful design decision, there is an equal and opposite design flaw.

“I think having too many lockers, especially lockers down the hallways, is a bad design,” said Brady. “People often try to put in more lockers than they really need, and they end up losing the walkways and the clearance in those walkways.”

And of course, looks are very important. “Keep the walkways nice and wide, and make sure that any wall that is walked by often has got protection on it, otherwise you’ll be re-painting that wall frequently,” continued Brady. “We try to keep things looking fresh and new.”

In addition to making sure the locker room space looks fresh and updated, achieving efficient spatial design and great functionality with the lockers is often overlooked — but just as important.

“U-shape sections of lockers make it very tight and crowded,” said Neubert. “If space allows, design locker banks with openings on each end. And opt for 15-inch lockers versus 12-inch lockers so the majority of bags are able to fit with no problem.”

Neubert also advised against a locker option that cuts costs, but isn’t very reliable. “Movable shelves are a great thought, but you will end up losing the pins that hold up the shelf, the holes where the pins go will increase in size and the pins will fall out, or you will see the shelves sitting on the floor outside the lockers,” she added.

When developing ideas for how you want your locker rooms to be laid out, always make sure each decision meets two requirements: it’s functional and aesthetically pleasing.

The magical combination of the two will make your locker rooms an amenity that could immensely help the retention of current members and recruitment of new ones.

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