In the House

How many times have you as a club manager waited days for someone to come to repair a piece of equipment or the shower in the locker room? In the meantime, club members are unable to use that equipment or shower. Not good for business. However, some club owners are taking care of business with in-house maintenance crews.

New York-based Town Sports International maintains a facilities management department that covers the physical plant of each of its clubs. The company, which owns 130 clubs in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region, used to farm out all its work on equipment. However, last year, the club performed a study comparing in-house vs. outside servicing of equipment in its 38 New York City clubs. The study found that for these clubs, the company could save 32 percent by servicing in-house, says Val Paese, regional vice president of facilities management at the company. So, last July, the company began performing in-house servicing of equipment in three clubs, saving the company 38 percent on parts for those clubs. Since January of this year, TSI has been servicing equipment at all of its New York clubs in-house and has saved 40 percent on parts in January and 35 percent in February.

In TSI's suburban clubs, the equipment repairs are still outsourced because the clubs are further apart.

“This same formula doesn't work everywhere,” says Paese. “If you have clubs very far away from each other, it doesn't make sense that you have a van with two guys driving around.”

For facilities repairs, TSI uses both in-house and contract repair people. The TSI employees do non-mechanical repairs, such as carpentry work, faucet repair, painting, replacing doors, repairing walls, etc. For electrical, plumbing or heating, ventilation and air conditioning work, TSI prefers to hire out to a licensed worker.

Frank Stash, maintenance supervisor at The Clubs at River City in Peoria, IL, also prefers to contract out electrical and heating and air conditioning work. However, he performs the facility maintenance himself and many of the equipment repairs.

“You get more familiar with your equipment on the floor,” Stash says about doing repairs in-house. “If little things pop up, you can fix them really quickly.”

Stash is the only maintenance person employed at the large facility comprised of four buildings including an adult facility, a youth facility and two buildings with tennis courts.

“It is a full time job for me,” Stash says. “Every day I have some sort of project working.”

While Stash is a one-man crew, TSI employs eight people in New York City alone for equipment repair. For facility repairs, the company employs four people in Washington, D.C., four in Boston, seven in New Jersey, two in Connecticut, one in Pennsylvania and 17 in New York.

Because of the large number of clubs in the TSI family, the company maintains a centralized number that club managers call when work is required. That call is routed to the proper regional manager who then determines whether an in-house person or a contracted person will perform the repair on the equipment or the facility. Each repair has an expected resolution time and the status of all repairs can be tracked.

Doing the repairs in-house saves time and money. The in-house maintenance employees know what is under warranty so the company doesn't end up paying for parts that it doesn't have to, Paese says.

“The service is just that much more timely,” she says. “Besides that, I don't know what is more important than to make sure that the equipment is up and running for the members.”

Paese has suggestions for club owners considering in-house maintenance:

  • Do a thorough analysis. Before jumping into in-house maintenance, a club owner must analyze whether going in-house is feasible. The analysis must include the cost for vans, gas, insurance, benefits, salary and training. It must also take into account how much downtime the crew may have and how many crew members the club will need.

    Club owners with multiple club locations might find in-house maintenance more feasible than those with just one or two clubs, unless those clubs are large. In addition, club owners who own multiple clubs that are large distances apart might think twice about the expense of in-house crews shuttling back and forth over long distances to each club, Paese says.

    “In Boston, some of our clubs are so far apart that it doesn't make sense [to do it in-house],” she says, “and we don't want to hire just one guy to sit in a club.”

  • Consider whether you will need a full-time or a part-time maintenance crew. If you are a small club, you may not have enough repairs to keep one maintenance person busy in a full-time capacity. However, a large club or a club owner that owns multiple clubs may be able to justify one or more full-time maintenance people to cover all the clubs. As long as the clubs are close enough, the same staff may be able to cover all the clubs.

  • Ensure your in-house crew is certified to repair equipment. Most equipment manufacturers won't allow in-house crews to work on their equipment unless the manufacturer certifies them. That means the crews will need training from the manufacturers. However, the classes are worth the expense in the long run, says Paese.

    “We can do our own warranty work now,” she says about the crews that have been certified by manufacturers. “Before we were certified, we couldn't do that. Now, it's all under our control. It's up to us.”

  • Create a list of which repairs the in-house staff can and can't perform. For TSI, the in-house staff cannot perform electrical, plumbing or HVAC repairs. That decision makes it simple for the staff to decide whether a repair job requires contacting an outside repair person or one of the in-house employees.

  • Start on a small scale. TSI started small by initially going to in-house crews in just three clubs. Once that proved to be feasible, the company expanded to include additional clubs for the in-house maintenance. In addition, Paese may now look into expanding the in-house staff to include a licensed electrician and plumber.

  • “I'm sure I could keep one of each busy in our clubs,” she says. “I might be looking at that pretty soon since the equipment went so well.”

    Paese has seen only benefits from going inside for maintenance. Since the call center went into action in March 2002, the center has taken 25,000 calls. That system has made a big difference to the clubs.

    “All I know is from the club's perspective, which is our customer, the feedback is that things are getting done a lot quicker,” Paese says.

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