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Splash: Your Club’s H2O Advantage


featuredA mix of aquatic amenities keep members diving in.  

For many clubs, having an indoor and/or outdoor aquatics facility is a great way to differentiate from the competition. At least, that’s been the case for Merritt Athletic Clubs’ 10 locations throughout Baltimore, Md.

“One of the benefits of Merritt Athletic Clubs’ aquatics facilities is it sets us apart in our market,” said Andrew Barranco, the regional operations and aquatics manager for Merritt Athletic Clubs. “Having both indoor and outdoor pools gives our members year-round exercise and options, as well as a great family and social experience in the summer.”

However, a run-of-the-mill pool won’t make you stand out. Success lies in the details, by boasting unique aquatics amenities not commonly found in health clubs across the U.S.

At Pro Sports Club in Seattle, Wash., 13 bodies of water, each with different purposes, is what makes its aquatics facility stand out. In addition to spas and saunas, the club has a recreation pool, adult lap pool, teaching pool, multi-purpose pool and therapy pool, ranging in sizes from 38,500 gallons to 150,000 gallons.

According to Don Burton, the aquatics operations supervisor for Pro Sports Club, having variety in its pools allows the club to appeal to a wide variety of demographics. For example, in the teaching pool, kids can participate in swimming lessons. In the adult lap pool, older members can get in their weekly cardio. And in the multi-purpose pool, instructors can teach a multitude of water-based Group X classes to a wide range of age groups. “By having pools with multiple purposes, it gives you flexibility in your programming,” said Burton.

In addition to ranging in usage, each pool within Pro Sports Club features a different temperature, specific to what it’s being used for. For example, the adult lap pool is set between 82 and 83 degrees, which is lower than the 89 and 90 degrees of the recreation pool. Of the main pools, the physical therapy pool is set to the highest temperature, at 90 to 91 degrees, for therapeutic purposes.

As a result of these varied pools and temperatures, Pro Sports Club’s aquatics facility is one of the most widely used areas. Around 300 kids participate in its swim team, 1,800 kids a week take swimming lessons and around a dozen water-based classes are held each month.

For New York Health & Racquet Club (NYHRC), which has nine locations in Manhattan, boasting pools is a major differentiating factor — especially in a city such as New York, where pool real estate is slim. In fact, pools reside in eight of its nine locations.

An amenity-filled outdoor aquatics area at Merritt Athletic Club in Eldersburg, Md.

An amenity-filled outdoor aquatics area at Merritt Athletic Club in Eldersburg, Md.

To further differentiate, the club sculpts each aquatics area to provide for a specific experience — one that’s retreat-like, versus just fitness related. To execute this vision, most pools are paired with whirlpool spas, eucalyptus steam rooms and inviting locker rooms. “It makes the whole pool area more comprehensive, in terms of rehab and relaxation,” said Sean O’Hearen, the VP of marketing for NYHRC.

In addition, NYHRC’s pools include a variety of water accessories that members can take full advantage of, including a new product that the aquatics team is currently testing — The Super Swim Pro Hydro-Resistance Training Aid. Similar to a TRX strap, but specifically for water, “It allows you to put a number of people in close proximity with an instructor, who helps refine their [stroke] technique,” explained O’Hearen.

NYHRC’s efforts to provide members with the best possible aquatics experience in New York City haven’t gone unnoticed. “We get great feedback [from members] on a regular basis,” said O’Hearen, who stressed that many members love the fact that the club has transitioned from chlorine to salt water pools. “We have a number of members in the mature age range, and they get a lot of use of the pool — it appeals to everyone.”

Barranco knows that unique amenities make Merritt Athletic Clubs’ locations stand out, and as a result, uniqueness extends to both its indoor and outdoor aquatics areas. “We look to add amenities to our outdoor pools that others in our market don’t have,” said Barranco. Out-of-the-norm amenities include a climbing wall at Merritt’s new build in White Marsh, Md. and two 18-foot water slides at Merritt’s Eldersburg, Md. facility.

“The above features set us apart from the community pools in the area,” said Barranco. “It gives children a reason to beg their parents to come to our clubs in the summer. Another feature to consider is your food and beverages service. We offer pool bars at several locations including our adult-only location in Baltimore. These amenities make for a great summer day.”

Specific to its indoor facilities, Merritt Athletic Clubs has had great success with its learn-to-swim program, the Michael Phelps Swim School, which it offers at three of its locations (four, once the White Marsh location opens for business).

“The Michael Phelps Swim School is a huge market advantage,” explained Barranco. “We align our program and club with the most decorated Olympian. It is a proven way of teaching developed by the swim school director that taught Michael [Phelps] how to swim. It offers us name recognition. The results have been a more standard approach among all of our locations with the philosophy and standards we teach. It is shown in higher retention and revenue numbers since starting with the program.”

The lap pool at Pro Sports Club in Seattle, Wash.

The lap pool at Pro Sports Club in Seattle, Wash.

Although there are many benefits to having unique and interesting features, amenities and programs — such as the Michael Phelps Swim School — in your aquatics facilities, where pools are concerned, there can also be added liability.

To ensure its members are safe, NYHRC relies heavily on its lifeguards to ensure safety inside and outside the pool. In addition to being certified in lifeguarding and CPR, NYHRC employs a group of off-duty lifeguards who travel from club to club to briefly relieve on-duty lifeguards. “It keeps the lifeguards alert,” said O’Hearen.

In addition, lifeguards are given the responsibility of maintaining the area around the pool, making sure accessories are put away, so people don’t trip. “It’s a slightly riskier environment, so you have to make sure things aren’t cluttered,” O’Hearen continued.

By keeping members safe and acquiring unique offerings, members will be hard pressed to not only improve their health and fitness at your aquatics facility, but also have a great time.

“[Members] enjoy having the variety of pools we offer,” said Barranco. “We have found that 20 percent of members use our indoor pools, and our outdoor pools are great because even members that don’t make use of aquatics facilities for exercise, still enjoy a great summer day sitting by the pool.”

By Rachel Zabonick

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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