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Lock in Memberships

Members will take notice if you add a few perks to your locker rooms.

Remember taking gym class in high school? Remember all the adolescent angst it took to get to the showers, strip off clothes, wet down, soap up, and pray that no bullies or gigglers chided in with smart remarks about moles, birthmarks or knobby knees? And after all that embarrassment, students still often had to endure slippery floors and smelly lockers, then stuff sweaty gym clothes in a bag to take home to launder. Then it was time to go to class!

How much different is it now for club members? Are your members content with your locker room? Do members bring their own toiletries with them or do they use the amenities that are provided-if they are provided? Do they leave the locker room clean or soiled? Or do some members avoid using the locker room altogether?

Fern Pessin of The Retention Resource on Long Island, N.Y., knows that first impressions of locker rooms can be critical to the pulse of a club. "So many locker rooms are cold, so clinical," she says. "The first place [members] go when they go to a club is the reception desk. Your locker room is your second impression and a lasting one. If you're not going to go to the expense to upgrade, make it special."

Pessin says one of her most successful retention programs for her clients converts a locker room into a high-end day spa for a weekend. She spends about $50 on name-brand amenities per event, buying soft-music compact discs, fresh flowers, sample cosmetics arranged on a tray, shaving cream, cotton swabs, cotton balls, and even aroma-therapy candles in both the men's and women's locker rooms.

"The response is overwhelming," Pessin says. Not only are the female members often impressed with the spa-like pampering, but the men also enjoy the extra attention, asking, "When will it happen again?"

"You would be amazed at the men's reactions," Pessin offers.

At one club, the weekend spa event excluded children from one locker room, included the extra amenities, and added complimentary rubdowns from the club's massage therapist. "That [event] was huge, too," Pessin recalls. And not just for the club. The massage therapist's appointments picked up after the event.

Pessin says that the locker-room events can actually be used as both a retention and a sales tool for a club. But she recommends that clubs only offer such events either quarterly or one weekend a month. The less frequent such an event is scheduled, the more "special" the event will be for members. And they give members a much-needed change of pace.

"You think of a club as a place to work out-the adrenaline is pumping in a club," Pessin points out. The locker-room events, however, show members that the club is also "a place to relax, and [the event] makes them connect more with the club," according to Pessin.

And connections with members are what counts. Locker rooms are the core of a club. When a prospective member arrives for a tour, the locker room's appearance could easily make or break the sale, according to Jim Smith, president of Peak Performance in Bellevue, Wash.

"A locker room should be used as a sales tool," he says. He encourages club owners to add sparkle to locker rooms, including such amenities as fresh flowers, brass bowls with cotton balls, and the ever-essential soap, shampoo, lotion, and hair dryers.

How important is the locker room to a sale? Smith relates this story: A woman took a tour of the locker room, saw the amenities and layout and said, "Wow! Nice gym!" She hadn't even seen the exercise equipment or any other club area.

"Wow" is just the reaction that Julia Wheatley wants to get from people at her Women's Fitness Center in Harrisonburg, Va. That's why she emphasizes the importance of an immaculate locker room.

"We hold cleanliness to a higher standard because the consumer expects that," Wheatley says. "We want our members to think of this as a home away from home." Not surprisingly, Wheatley has received many compliments from her members on the locker room's condition.

With a small staff, Wheatley says her fitness counselors pull multiple duties at her club. They not only help members with the equipment, but also work at the front desk, perform sales, and help to clean the locker rooms-as does Wheatley. "I don't want my employees doing anything I won't do," she says.

At Women's Fitness Center, locker-room maintenance is a part of each staff member's training-and it is also an important part of the staff's daily routine. In fact, staff members have taken locker-room attendance one step further. Wheatley says she had previously used a commercial laundry service for the towels she made available to members. But when she found the quality of the laundry service diminishing and noticed the used towels stacking up in the laundry bin, she opted for more personal service.

"We had a staff member who wanted to make a little extra money, so she takes the towels home with her to launder them," Wheatley says.

In-club towel laundering is also a staple at Supreme Health & Fitness in Madison, Wis., and has been for 22 years. Owner Joe Wirkus says he had previously been at a club where towels were sent out to a service, but the accumulation of used towels was "enormous" and the service was costly. Cleaning towels in-house is more cost effective, Wirkus says, plus cleaning towels at the club provides a faster turnaround of fresh towels for members.

Towels and other amenities aren't the only things that can create a positive locker-room experience. The actual design of the locker room can also impress members.

At HealthPoint Fitness and Wellness Center in Waltham, Mass., Assistant Executive Director Jeff Linn says the men's bathrooms were a big consideration when building the young, upscale facility. Specifically, the men's bathrooms were built completely enclosed-from the floor to the ceiling-with secure locks, assuring privacy for the club's male members.

Men speak highly of HealthPoint's lockers rooms, according to Linn, and families speak highly of a locker room built just for them. By investing in the family locker room, HealthPoint has allowed mothers and sons along with dads and daughters to use private changing rooms. This concept, Linn says, helps alleviate the sometimes uncomfortable dilemma of having a member of the opposite sex in the wrong locker room.

HealthPoint also provides another locker room for its members. Outside of the whirlpools, sauna and steam rooms is what Linn describes as a corporate lounge. Here members can watch television or plug into a modem line to access the Internet. "We cater towards the corporate market," Linn says.

Even corporate market, upscale clubs, however, have their share of sloppy members. Linn says that the standard comments he has heard about the poor conditions of men's locker rooms does sometimes hold true at HealthPoint. But, he adds, "women are not much better."

HealthPoint uses an outside vendor to handle locker-room maintenance and cleaning, plus the constantly staffed rooms are kept spotless. "It's critical for our members," Linn adds.

Another critical locker-room issue at HealthPoint is health hazards. As a fitness club and wellness center, HealthPoint has on staff a medical director. With 95 percent of its facility being a fitness center, HealthPoint also houses physicians, physical therapists, and dietitians. It is part of a network of six hospitals.

Linn says whenever the staff receives feedback from a member complaining of a skin rash or some unsanitary condition within the club (such as the locker room), staff members collect all the information. Then the medical director is immediately advised and data research is conducted to determine if any health risk is evident for members.

Although club locker rooms are rarely reminiscent of the ones in high school gym, they still must be designed to serve members. After all, clean, safe, well-serviced, amenity-filled locker rooms keep members coming back again and again.

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