A renovation is an important part of a health club's continued success and often a necessary step to reinvent a club to remain competitive. Renovations can be a facelift, meaning just changing finishes and colors, or they can be major overhauls that involve moving walls and repurposing space as well as providing all new finishes, materials and equipment.
No matter the level of renovation, club operators must keep two goals at the forefront: to stay open during the renovation and to minimize inconvenience to members. Achieving these goals often is possible even with extensive renovations, although occasional circumstances may require a short closure.
Successful renovations come down to two keys: planning and communication.
Planning starts with determining whether the owner (or manager) will manage the renovation or whether a general contractor will do so. Extensive renovations typically require architectural drawings and a permit, which usually involves a contractor, but some owners still oversee the work themselves.
The next part of planning involves breaking down the aspects of the renovation and the order of construction—what will get done first and so on—plus how long it will take, keeping in mind the day-to-day operations of the club and the effects of construction on that. It may make construction and cost sense to do one thing right after the other, but this may not make sense if doing so is an inconvenience to members. The renovation process requires a balance between keeping the club open, minimizing inconvenience and controlling renovation costs. For example, scheduling construction work at night after the club closes (if a club is not open 24 hours a day) means workers don't have to work around members, which speeds construction. However, nighttime construction work requires paying those workers more than daytime work would pay. Club owners have to decide whether paying more for nighttime construction with a quicker turnaround and less inconvenience to members will be better than daytime construction that requires lower pay but inconveniences members more and for longer.
Club operators must be aware of the lead times required to get renovation materials and equipment. Lack of awareness about this may cause construction delays, increased costs and a longer period of member inconvenience. It is easy to overlook the time needed for things such as moving computers to a temporary entry and lobby area if the existing lobby is being renovated.
Part of the planning process involves ensuring the safety of members during construction. Building permits often require that you meet certain codes, such as properly blocking off construction areas. Your contractor can be a guide on this issue, but you and your staff should be aware of safety requirements to help prevent liabilities.
Locker room and bathroom renovations take additional planning. If you have no other bathroom option (such as a daycare bathroom) and you plan to do a complete renovation of the locker rooms or bathrooms, then plan to do one locker room at a time, so women and then men can still use a locker room. If any part of the renovation may be worth doing construction around the clock, it would be the locker room area because time is of the essence in these areas. The lack of a locker room is perhaps the biggest inconvenience to the most number of members.
The second key to remaining open during renovations is communication, first with staff and then with members. Staff members have to be on board with all aspects of the renovation so they can support management. They must be aware of what will happen, when it will happen and how long it may aggravate some members because staff members will field most of the renovation questions. Go over with staff the questions that members will ask (such as what will change, how long will the renovation take and whether prices will increase). Ensure your staff knows how to answer so everyone is giving consistent answers. If you have staff buy-in about the renovations, they can communicate with excitement that, yes there may be some aggravations with the renovations, but it will be worth it when members see the finished result. To help members picture that end result, put a copy of the new layout, 3D pictures and a 3D walkthrough of the end result in the lobby and on your website.
Communication with members involves informing them of the renovation plans in advance, and then keeping them in the loop when construction may inconvenience them, such as when a locker room or the cardio area may not be available. Share this information on signs within the club, through staff telling every member they see and through email/social media.
The vast majority of clubs stay open during renovations, not even closing for one day. This is the goal. However, the other goals are to minimize the inconvenience to members while also controlling the costs of the renovation. Creating a good plan and then keeping staff and members well informed are key. When it is all done, it should be a wonderful celebration of the club operator’s desire to provide members with the best possible experience for improving their lives.
Bruce Carter is the president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, a club design firm that has created about $650 million worth of clubs in 45 states and 26 countries. He can be reached at [email protected].