How do you determine what equipment to add to your club’s fitness center—and what to do with it once members are using it?

When Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., renovated its fitness center three years ago, the gym added more than just new equipment—it also added new members.

After the new 1,700-sq. ft. gym and 1,500-sq. ft. class studio opened, Director of Fitness Richard Hollins says he began to see senior members, who hadn’t frequented the fitness facility before, stop by to work out.

SUMMING IT UP

  • If you can afford to buy fitness equipment, buy it; if not, leasing some or all of the equipment is an option. (Note: Cardio equipment tends to be upgraded more frequently than strength equipment.)
  • Leave room for mobility in between machines—and for more machines to be added in the future.
  • Regular checks are key to extending the life of exercise equipment. Quarterly reviews from an external maintenance provider or the company you’re leasing equipment from can help to ward off breakdowns and expensive repairs.

“What I think used to happen was our ‘silver sneaker’ members, who are more mature, were intimidated to come into the fitness center,” Hollins says.

However, bringing in new equipment prompted the fitness center staff to offer frequent equipment orientations and other incentives to celebrate, and become more comfortable with, the upgraded fitness center—such as seniors-only exercise classes where mature members were personally introduced to the instructor.

“We also offer a week of free classes, and that really pumped seniors to get in,” Hollins says. “Some think they can’t do spinning or another class because it might be too challenging, but this gave them the chance to test it out and have fun with the new experience. Now many more members feel comfortable popping into any class they want.”

More Than Just A Gym

Freshening up its fitness center can help a club better meet member needs —and attract new members, who may find it easier to justify joining the club if they can eliminate outside gym fees.

Before opening its renovated facility, Congressional held its workout classes, including Pilates and yoga, in its banquet room during off-hours.

Quail Creek’s fitness center features 6 treadmills, 8 ellipticals, 4 recumbent bikes, 1 NuStep, 1 Airdyne bike, 1 rower, 25 pieces of strength equipment, free weights and stretching benches. Body sculpting, abs and glutes classes, zumba, gold and tone, and mat Pilates are also available.

“We did all we could do,” Hollins says. “But once we opened that studio, with the wood floor, and turned the lights down, a lot of ladies who previously had outside gym memberships have since canceled those memberships and now work out with us exclusively.”

New—and old—members want a functional, fun fitness center. Naples, Fla.’s Quail Creek Country Club, which includes fitness center use with its membership dues, found through a recent member survey that almost 50 percent of both its social and golf memberships were working out at the fitness center.

“Fitness center use has definitely grown,” says Director of Fitness Kate Kerwin. “And it’s continuing to be something our new members are looking to us for.”

Planning a new fitness center or rehabbing part of a club gym requires careful planning, research and execution, however. Adding new equipment or updating existing machines and other workout aids isn’t as simple as just plugging in a few new treadmills. Clubs also need to determine whether it makes more sense to lease or buy equipment; which workout machines will best suit the needs of an often multi-aged membership; where those machines should go—and much more.

If your club is considering a major fitness center overhaul, here are some key considerations to keep in mind from the start to the finish of the process.

Test-Drive the Equipment

When Quail Creek decided to update its fitness center equipment two years ago, Kerwin had help from a volunteer fitness committee comprised of club members.

To research potential new lines and machines, Kerwin also went to several other gyms in the Naples, Fla. area, did online research and went to trade shows to evaluate if certain fitness trends would work within Quail Creek’s membership.

“The trade shows also give you networking access to see what other clubs in other parts of the country are doing, so you can share best practices and get the most for your money,” she says.

The club’s equipment additions included six treadmills, eight ellipticals, four recumbent bikes and a recumbent cross-trainer machine that’s proved helpful to members doing post-cardiac rehab or recovering from a stroke.

When Congressional created its new fitness center, the club added six treadmills, seven stationary bikes (four upright and three recumbent), five elliptical machines, four arch trainers, two rowing machines, 15 spinning bikes—and other workout items.

When Congressional CC opened its new fitness center, complete with a dedicated exercise studio for spinning and other classes, many members who held outside gym memberships canceled them and began using the club exclusively for their fitness needs.

The machines feature built-in TVs, but Hollins says the club didn’t feel a need to invest in cutting-edge technology options that can record member workouts.

“Our members weren’t looking for those options,” he says. “It’s fine, and it’s fancy, but it comes down to whether or not your members are going to use it. Plus, you’d likely need someone on hand at all times to explain to members how to use those options if you had them.”

Members at Ferncroft Country Club in Middleton, Mass., haven’t requested much new, trendy workout equipment, according to General Manager Toby Ahern.

However, when the club purchased 15 machines during its 2007 fitness center buildout, as part of a $3 million, 5-year capital improvement plan, the goal was to couple quality with simplicity.

“We wanted something low-maintenance that was easy to use and very safe,” Ahern says.

Sort Through the Lease-vs.-Buy Issue

Although the decision whether to lease or buy new gym equipment may be based on a club’s budgetary constraints (or lack thereof), some clubs opt to purchase some new equipment while renting other items.

Congressional, for example, purchased its weight-related equipment and leased its cardio machines. The club’s cardio equipment is on a three-year lease.

“We purchased our strength equipment because you’re going to push and pull that equipment,” Hollins says.

The cardio machines, however, tend to inspire a little more excitement.

“We rarely get members who say, ‘I want to get the new leg press machine,’” he says. “They see something new with treadmills and bikes and want it.”

Quail Creek’s 4,000-sq. ft. fitness center features cardiovascular, strength and balance equipment, as well as a knowledgeable staff.

Organize Your Exercise Space

At Congressional, Hollins determined how equipment would be laid out in his club’s renovated facility with advice from the reps who leased the club its cardio equipment.

The fitness center was designed so there is enough space in between machines to allow someone in a wheelchair to comfortably maneuver around the center.

“People say, if you move these cardio machines down, you can get more equipment in here,” Hollins says. “My goal is to have people be able to get around the left and the right side of our equipment. If someone has a bad hip, why would you force them to one side? Our trainers should be able to walk up on the side of each machine, too.”

Space is a common constraint at many clubs, including Ferncroft.

“At this point, we are kind of at capacity,” Ahern says. “We really couldn’t add anything, we’d have to substitute it for something else. We’ve utilized the space to the fullest—every nook and cranny is being used.”

Give Members What You Think They Want—And More

Performing routine preventative maintenance can aid in providing safe, trouble-free operation of equipment.

Because exercise centers can become one of a club’s most frequented areas, Hollins suggests allowing for extra space during large-scale renovations.

“Build the center as big as you physically can,” Hollins says. “It’s going to fill up so fast, and of all things at the club, fitness is going to continue to build.” (And chances are, you’ll want to add more equipment as it does.)

Quail Creek, where the average member age is 68-70, may not purchase every piece of equipment a member requests—but it has structured its fitness center  around general membership needs.

“Our members are in their prime, living the lifestyle they want to live,” Kerwin says. “And it is our job to help them stay as healthy as possible.”

As your fitness center—and member-ship—grows and ages over time, adjustments may need to be made. Creating a successful club fitness center, after all, involves catering to the workout needs of a variety of ages.

As Hollins points out, more mature members may not use your free weights. However, if you don’t have any, younger members might be prompted to work out somewhere else—which he thinks would be a shame.

“I like seeing 16-year-olds and 60- and 70-year-olds doing Pilates and loading weights next to each other,” Hollins says. “It makes a really nice blend. That’s what fitness is about—there should be something for everybody.”

Keeping Up Appearances

Whether you lease or buy your fitness center equipment, regular maintenance is key—particularly with cardio machines.

“Cardio usually takes a beating,” says Richard Hollins, Director of Fitness at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. “Strength equipment might get a cable jam or a torn pad, but [it ages well].”

Congressional’s cardio machines get examined quarterly. Quail Creek Country Club, Naples, Fla., which owns its equipment, gets checked four times a year by a company that provides preventative maintenance services.

“Cardio is where you have the most maintenance issues,” says Quail Creek Director of Fitness Kate Kerwin. “It has made a huge difference for us to have maintenance done. Machines last so much longer than they would in other circumstances.”

Day-to-day maintenance is still important—but when it comes to prolonging the life of your club’s exercise equipment, there’s no substitute for regular tune-ups.

“You can keep it clean, and the housekeeping and maintenance departments can help you with that,” Kerwin says. “But you need a professional to keep it running.”

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