Get the Best Contractor to Build or Renovate Your Health Club

With today’s lingering recession, construction is down significantly in many parts of the country. This trend should translate into lower construction costs for fitness facility operators wanting to build new clubs or renovate existing ones, but that depends on a variety of factors—the main one being how smart you are in choosing the right people to do the work.

Here are key points to consider in getting your project completed on time, for the best price and with quality work.

  1. The lowest price bid will not necessarily end up being the lowest price. In this economy, a contractor may low-ball a bid just to get the job, only to come back later with a reason to charge more. The lowest price also may translate to an incomplete or subpar end result. If a bid seems far lower than others, refer to No. 2, and check their references.
  2. It is best to select a contractor or subcontractor from referrals. Architects and designers often know of good options. If you know, let’s say, a trustworthy plumber, ask him or her to refer you to a good contractor or subcontractors, such as electricians or carpenters. It is better not to choose from service provider recommendation websites. If you decide to look online for contractors or subcontractors, then refer to No. 3. It also is important to select people who have experience working with a similar scope of work. For example, if you are building a club for $2 million, do not hire a contractor who typically takes on $50 million projects because this type of contractor will translate into higher bids to cover their overhead as a larger company. Contractors and subcontractors who have experience only with smaller projects may not have the ability (or personnel) to get your job done on time. Again, refer to No. 3.
  3. Get references and follow up on them. If contractors and subcontractors cannot give you four references, then look elsewhere. Ask about their last job, and then ask to speak with that client. If they do not give you their last job as a referral, ask them why. You are looking to hear that they do quality work and bring jobs in on time and on budget.
  4. Do not ask for any specific prices until you have detailed plans showing all the work that will be done. Any price someone gives you has little validity if it is not based on specific plans. If you get a price that is not based on specific plans, it is a useless estimate, no matter what the contractor or subcontractor says. They may offer you a price to get you to sign with them, but you may later find out the price was just a bad guess. Getting detailed plans with a specific price is crucial to your ability to get work done for minimal dollars as the best bid. Things that are left out of your plans will not be part of the bid amount. While your club is under construction, you will learn what is missing, and that often will require a change order. The additional costs that result often come at a premium.
  5. Solicit at least three bids and review each one in detail. Some companies are hungrier than others and may give the best bid. However, as mentioned in No. 1, low bids can be deceiving, even with detailed drawings. Therefore, each bid must be analyzed in detail to make sure the bid is complete. Have items broken down separately—HVAC, electrical, lighting, plumbing, flooring, paint, windows, finishes, etc. This takes time, but it is the only way to determine the true best price.
  6. Get details in a contract. Once you have selected someone to do the work, all details need to be part of the contract. Again, this takes time, but anything not in writing will cost you extra later on, even if it was agreed to verbally.
  7. Do business only with licensed and insured contractors. Make sure any contractor or subcontractor is licensed and has the necessary liability and workers’ compensation insurance. Without this, you could be held liable.

Recently, a Florida club had three subcontractors go bankrupt during construction, creating numerous and costly problems—and proving how volatile the construction industry is at this time.

Finding a good price is possible, but only if you do your homework and follow a disciplined approach to completing any construction project.


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].

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