The Missing Link

The importance of architecture and design in running a profitable health club.

“We sell a product that most people don’t like and that is exercise,” said Bruce Carter, the president of Optimal Design Systems International. “People have a hard time starting and staying with exercise, but by making environments exciting, inspiring and welcoming, and creating an environment they love being in, then they are going to be more regular with their exercise.”

When thinking about the important elements of a health club, it can be easy to focus on the obvious — programming, staffing or equipment. But another crucial element of the club that impacts the member experience is the interior design. As Carter emphasized, the majority of people dislike to exercise, therefore it is essential to provide them with an environment that might make the workout experience a little more pleasant.

Carter explained interior design encompasses the architectural layout, which may include elements such as high ceilings or curved walls. It also includes all aesthetic features such as finishings, materials, colors, lighting, graphics and signage.

“Finishings would be the floor coverage like tile, carpet or if you are using vinyl flooring,” said Carter. “Materials might be a stonewall or Plexiglas panel. Lighting can include accent lighting, sconces, ground lighting, LED lighting and all that cool stuff.”

We spoke with several design experts who provided insight on how to make the interior design of your health club stand out.

Consider Your Demographic 

Similar to any other project at your club, when contemplating interior design, it is essential to keep your members top of mind. Before you start painting walls or installing flashy, new LED lights, consider your main demographic — what atmosphere would be most pleasing to them?

“It depends on whether it is an older demographic or a younger demographic, because the millennials are definitely looking for different things than a 40-year-old with a family,” said Brenda Amsberry, a senior interior designer at Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative. “I would say the first thing you need to do is look at the community you are serving. Who are the clients going to be and what sort of offering are you going to have in terms of classes? That is the key starting point in terms of determining what the club is going to look like.”

Let Them Linger

Create a space where your members feel welcome and relaxed, even though they are working out. It should be an environment they enjoy and want to spend time in. You don’t want them rushing in and out of the doors because you club provides an industrial, unwelcoming feel.

“There is a trend towards getting really stellar instructors, which is key, but if it is not an enjoyable place to be, if it is not a good environment, people are not going to want to hang out,” explained Amsberry. “If it is a total package of a great instructor and a great environment, they might stay for a consecutive class. It is about getting people to stick around and not just disappear once class is over.”

Bryan Green, the CEO and founder of Aktiv Solutions, agreed. Members want to feel comfortable and inspired while at the gym. “We are seeing a nice change in terms of the built environment in fitness centers becoming something that has more than just an industrial approach,” said Green. “By that I mean experimentation with wall texturing and coloring that might otherwise be found in a non-stereotypical gym environment. They are largely being adapted for the very same reasons we adopt them into our homes, because we feel better when we are in that environment.”

Think Outside the Box 

As Carter explained, the majority of your members don’t revel in the task of working out, so it is your job to make it as enjoyable as possible. Of course you can do this by hiring top-notch instructors and playing motivating music, but you can also create an energetic workout environment by taking a step outside of the traditional.

One idea might be adding color-changing LED lighting to group exercise classrooms. As Amsberry explained, lighting is one of the elements that commonly gets overlooked in health clubs. “An upbeat class could have color-changing LED lights that pulse to the beat of the music and create a high-energy environment,” she suggested. “When that same studio is being used for Pilates, they can slow down to a soft pink and purple, slow-changing hue that makes it more of an internal experience, versus an external experience.”

It’s All About Space 

It is no secret that functional training has been one of the industry’s top fitness trends for the past few years. Members are looking for a diverse workout experience that involves more than the traditional cardio and strength machines. According to Green, an increasing number of clubs are starting to incorporate more open spaces into their clubs to allow for functional, dynamic training.

“Operators are really creating environments that are designed to invite and retain their members,” said Green. “They recognize that solving that problem can’t simply be done with equipment. Ultimately, we see a strong trend toward supporting the major trends in our industry, which is dynamic training. This encapsulates movement-based training, open spaces and the flexibility in format, as opposed to more traditional categories of selectorized equipment or common cardio.”

Bring in Nature

Let’s be honest — who really wants to spend their time inside the gym when they can be outside enjoying nature? However, sometimes factors such as weather, programming and convenience push you to the gym. Again, strive to create an environment your members want to be in by bringing organic elements into the facility.

“When people move from being outside in the summer, then winter comes and they move into a club that has artificial lighting and hard surfaces, it feels sterile,” explained Amsberry. “So if you were to bring in some more organic elements into the club, that would be a great transition for the winter months when we can’t be outdoors. Maybe there is some kind of rock wall or waterfall that elicits a sense of the outdoors.”

Keep all of this in mind as you plan your 2017 budgets — don’t just set aside funds for programming and equipment; be sure to keep architecture and interior design in mind as well.

1 Comment

  1. Jim Worthington

    December 22, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Excellent article. Brenda and Ohlson Lavoie have done an amazing job for us at the Newtown Athletic Club incorporating these ideas into our club .

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