Focus on Retention


Renovate to Retain: Updating Your Club

When was the last time you renovated? If you just opened or recently renovated your facility (and you did it right), you shouldn't need to renovate for several years. If you didn't renovate or build right, it's going to cost you, because you'll be doing it much sooner than you expected.

You shouldn't just update and renovate as a reaction to physical conditions. You should also update and renovate based on member needs and what your competition offers. Both play a role in determining when to update because they affect your membership and, of course, your bottom line.

This is a service-oriented business, and people want the best. Your club's appearance and maintenance are crucial for membership — both new and renewals.

Physical Conditions (Visible and Invisible)

The obvious dilapidation of your facility is a good indication that it's time to renovate, but don't wait until the roof falls in before you give your club a facelift. By having an effective maintenance plan, you can avoid unnecessary major repairs, and keep members satisfied.

This plan will keep you focused on the club's physical appearance and well-being. Sometimes the simplest of things, like a fresh coat of paint, will make your club look new — and make your members happy. In addition to the physical building, your maintenance plan should include routine inspections of furniture, equipment and technology (e.g., sound system, computers, televisions, etc.). Keep on top of the details.

The invisible systems of your facility should also be included in your maintenance plan. The main areas to address are plumbing, lighting and ventilation. Here are some issues to consider.


The biggest maintenance culprit is usually the wet areas. Showers and steam rooms are responsible for most major damage of locker rooms. Once water gets behind the tile, it's too late. Here are some tips for avoiding that:

  • Regularly inspect grout in all tiled areas. Once grout starts to go, you must re-grout or you will risk losing tiles.

  • If you're already missing tiles, you may not know the source of the problem. Water travels in unpredictable ways. Get a good architect or contractor to help you with the necessary repairs and waterproofing both outside and inside the walls.

    The materials you don't see, and may forget about, are just as important. Use materials that retard water.

  • Inspect your facility for signs of water damage on a regular basis — bubbly paint, mildew and condensation on walls in non-wet areas.


Lighting may be the most important part of your plan. The best lighting designs show off the club, make it sparkle and create mood. Whether you rely on natural or artificial lighting, plan on how to keep up with its care. Burnt-out light bulbs are like missing teeth — it's the first thing people notice. (The same goes for dirty windows.)


Ventilation is very important. Air conditioning is crucial for cardio, and even more so for wet areas. You must remove moisture from the air or it will destroy your club from the inside out.

A general rule of thumb is to have a 15 percent humidity maximum and a 20 percent fresh air minimum. To achieve this, your ventilation system must be working properly. To make sure it is, have it serviced on an annual or semi-annual basis.

While members appreciate a clean, well-maintained facility, you could still lose them if your equipment is somewhat outdated or you don't have an entertainment system.

The fitness industry is a competitive field. People go to a health club to be inspired and motivated to exercise. Your club needs to be ever-evolving in order to maintain your members' interest. Find out what your members want in their club. Most people have very short attention spans, and when they get bored, they move on. Provide variety and modernize. Show members that you care.

Of course not all clubs are the same nor do they cater to the same clientele, but each club owner/manager should keep in mind what factors play an important role in attracting and maintaining members. Step back and look at your club as a potential new member would. First impressions attract members, and upkeep maintains them.

Alex Harrow, AIA, and Jennifer Wehr are both with the New York City-based firm Freyer Collaborative Architects. Harrow has extensive knowledge of health club renovation and maintenance. Wehr's background is in marketing and interior design. They can be reached at (212) 598-0900 or

Hints That It's Time to Renovate

  1. Poor lighting (frequent burnt-out bulbs or dark areas)
  2. Rust on lockers, shower partitions or toilet stalls
  3. Peeling/chipping paint or mildew on walls
  4. Popped or missing tiles on walls or floors
  5. Odors
  6. Condensation on walls or ceilings
  7. Declining membership
  8. Lack of technology (nothing to read or watch)
  9. Old/run-down equipment

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