Through well-managed expectations and thoughtful program implementation, Royal Oaks CC has built its new fitness center for the long haul.
Expecting instant and dramatic results from weight-loss or bodybuilding programs inevitably leads to disappointment, after those initial, full-of-anticipation looks in the mirror reveal that all of the extra pounds haven’t magically vanished, or the biceps haven’t turned into anti-aircraft guns overnight.
Royal Oaks CC
Fitness Facility Opened: 2010
It’s no different when building a new fitness center for a private club—a scenario where, in fact, expectations may often be the most unrealistic of all, among members who approve major expenditures for a new facility and then look for activity of Bally’s-like proportions as soon its doors are opened.
So when a new two-story addition was planned to create a new fitness facility, as part of a $16 million clubhouse remodeling and expansion project at Royal Oaks Country Club (ROCC) in Dallas, the club’s General Manager/COO, Dave Stuckey, CCM, and its Fitness Director, Gina Raybourn, knew that much of their energy needed to be spent from the start on creating a realistic rollout plan and properly managing expectations for what they were confident could eventually become one of the finest fitness structures, and programs, in the club business.
“We had to make it clear this was never going to be an LA Fitness operation,” Stuckey told fellow club managers during a Design & Renovation Insights seminar, sponsored by Club & Resort Business and CCI Club Design, that was held at Royal Oaks last November.
“We had to continually stress that establishing a fitness operation in a family club culture is very different, and that making it work was a five- to seven-year proposition,” Stuckey explained. “We needed to prepare everyone for the fact that the new fitness facility would not be a profit center, and probably even lose money, in its first years.
“We knew we had a significant core of existing members who would use it right away and regularly, but it’s a mistake to think you’ll get all 1,200 members to change their habits and leave their fitness clubs overnight,” he added. “The real payoff would come from the added value and attraction the new fitness center, and its related programming, could have long-term, not only through relationships that our staff would develop with a broader segment of our existing membership, but also for how it would help to attract the prospective new members of the future, who won’t even consider clubs that don’t have top-of-the-line fitness facilities and programs.”
Stuckey drew the courage to state, and stick to, his convictions about these realities of building new club fitness facilities from three sources:
-He’d gained enough assurance, while being recruited from Austin Country Club in 2007 to become ROCC’s new GM/COO shortly before the clubhouse renovation and expansion was submitted to the membership for approval, that this long-range approach to fitness would be supported.
-He knew that other parts of the project, such as creation of a new casual grill and lounge, and a remodeling of the club’s pro shop, would prove to be very popular out of the gate, thus further diffusing the pressure that might otherwise be brought to bear on the fitness facility to yield immediate results.
-Most of all, he knew that while he didn’t yet have an adequate fitness structure, he already had the right team in place to make sure it would work, led by Director of Fitness Gina Raybourn, who already had a devoted following among the ROCC membership, despite having limited facilities to work with since coming to the club in 1989.
Once the project was approved, Stuckey pretty much turned all aspects of developing the new facility over to Raybourn. At the Design & Renovation Insights seminar, she outlined key considerations for properly creating a new club fitness center, and then building an effective—and enduring—program around it:
- Emphasize variety, both in programming and equipment: Club fitness departments must provide programs to support the wellness and performance of golfers and tennis players, and provide an equally high level of service for twenty-somethings as well as seniors. Selecting the right equipment calls for offering a wide range of cardiovascular and strength-training machines and related peripheral “tools” that can serve the greatest scope of the membership population. At ROCC, as at many clubs, this meant providing equipment for members who climb mountains, as well as those who need to use it for orthopedic and cardiac rehab. Data from past usage at ROCC, as well as peer-researched projections from similar clubs, helped Raybourn make the final equipment selections.
- Give the groups what they need. Creating the best group exercise experience in a club setting calls for not only providing members with an inviting and safe space, but also for creating group exercise rooms that will attract the best instructors. So Raybourn was adamant about installing a solid maple floor with shock absorption layers below it. “This type of flooring reduces the risk of compression injuries to members and instructors,” she notes. A ballet barre and mirrors were also must-haves. “A year and a half later, word has gotten out among local instructors that our 1,200-sq. ft. aerobics room and 400-sq. ft. studio are great spaces to teach classes,” Raybourn reports.
- Extra touches. “Some often-forgotten additions to your building design will go a long way in creating a first-class fitness facility, by giving your desk staff and instructors extra tools they need to provide members with the expected level of service,” Raybourn says. These include a washer and dryer in a room with extra storage, and an instructor’s office, which Raybourn cites as “a key element in enhancing the relationships with your personal trainers and group exercise staff.” Providing designated space where instructors can develop member routines, study, and stow their belongings lets them know the club values their efforts, Raybourn notes.
- Be first-class all the way. “All first-class facilities must provide first-class creature comforts to their members,” Raybourn says. “The men’s and ladies locker rooms must accommodate your particular membership’s expectations and needs. Attention to detail is critical when designing your locker rooms.
“For example,” she notes, “lockers must accommodate hanging dresses as well as suits. Benches need to be set at logical and strategic places. Full-length mirrors are a must. A first-class facility should provide an offering of toiletries specific to men and women.
“The main feature of any locker room is the shower,” she adds, “and extra time spent on shower design will be time well spent. Two showers per locker room should be your goal.
“A common thought is that one shower in a women’s locker room will be sufficient in providing needed facilities to your ladies. However, experience shows this not to be the case. All possible adjustments to your plan need to be explored, so each of your locker rooms can accommodate two showers.
“Additionally, if you have the luxury of installing multiple showers in your locker rooms, design the spaces so that each shower is a separate entity,” Raybourn adds. “Although ADA compliance and local codes are a reality when designing public buildings, every effort should be made to separate the showers and create the personal space that showering requires. Keeping each shower and drying area self-contained offers the needed privacy for your members.
- Spare nothing on the spa. “If a construction budget allows for the inclusion of some level of spa amenities, their addition helps you to provide a first-class facility for your members,” says Raybourn.
“Massage rooms are the most cost-effective addition to your plan. When designing these spaces, provide cabinet storage for sheets and supplies. Including plumbing to the room for a sink, which will be a bonus for masseuse and member. Adjustable lighting is a must, for creating atmosphere.
“When planning for your massage rooms, the old saying about retail success rings true: ‘Location, location, location!’ “ Raybourn adds. “Space permitting, the massage rooms must be placed where they will receive the least bit of outside and inside noise. Be very deliberate on the placement of these rooms. For example, massage rooms need to be placed as far away form toilet plumbing as possible. Nothing disturbs a massage faster than a flushing toilet!
“Additionally, take the extra time to study your floor plan and project the eventual traffic flow for that particular layout,” she says. “To the best of your knowledge, identify what will be the least-busy part of the building. This is the ideal place for your massage rooms. Ultimately, an integral part of massage is silence. The noise of opening and closing doors, the muffled voices of members just outside the treatment room, or the rush of water through plumbing disrupts this essential element.
“We all understand that the reality of any building plan is that you only have the space to work with that you are given,” Raybourn notes. “If your physical space is 1,000 square feet, you can’t plan for things that would require 1,500 square feet, and expect it all to fit. Although all that you want in a facility may not fit within the confines of the physical space and budget, be deliberate when prioritizing needs versus wants. Remember, your fitness facility is ‘behind-the-scenes’ support service that enhances your member’s club experience.
- Go with the pros—and leave the “muscle-headed narcissists” behind. “You can offer a first-class facility with all the bells and whistles that your budget can provide, but it will not benefit your members if your fitness director does not also bring together a top-notch fitness staff,” says Raybourn. “From the hourly support staff to your personal trainers, each member of the fitness team has to have the heart and willingness to serve others. Several current motivational speakers call this ‘having the heart of a teacher.’
“An often forgotten fact of the fitness industry is that fitness is a very personal matter,” she adds. “Keep in mind that as your fitness director develops the fitness staff, he or she should look for professionals who will respect the fact that they will be privy to the often private health issues of your members. To provide effective and safe programming, personal trainers and group exercise instructors have to know all medical conditions.
“All instructors must be certified by a recognized and creditable association in their field,” Raybourn says. “For example, our personal trainers at Royal Oaks must be certified through the American Council on Exercise, American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength Training Association, Cooper Clinic or International Dance and Exercise Association. Group Exercise must have a certification from one of the above agencies or a recognized leader in their particular discipline, such as Power Yoga, Zumba or Classic Barre.
Raybourn also adds this caution: “Some professionals may have all the required degrees and certifications, but they may not be a fit for your club. Unfortunately for the fitness industry, we fight the stereotype of the ‘muscle-headed narcissist.’ But while the fitness industry does indeed have its share of those personalities. I strongly advise you to not bring that personality into your private club.
“First, these instructors do not have ‘a heart of a teacher,’ “ she explains. “Secondly, their personalities will lend themselves to creating disunity among your staff for personal gain. Honestly, neither you nor your fitness director has time to deal with the trouble this can cause. Your members expect a staff that they can trust with their health. They are expecting positive personal attention—and they are not using the fitness facility to participate in a soap opera.”
- All On the Same (Personal) Page. “Providing a positive personal experience is at the heart of your fitness facility,” Raybourn concludes. “Personal trainers develop individualized programs for their clients. Group exercise instructors offer modifications to their classes as needed. Your desk staff should know the members’ names and greet them every time they see them.
“In this vein, we utilize club-wide fitness challenges to provide positive experiences, develop member unity and encourage participation,” Raybourn adds. “We offer four to five club-wide fitness challenges a year. Each challenge has its own set of guidelines and goals. For the entry fee, the members receive a challenge tee shirt and, if they complete the contest, any other premium that is specific to that challenge.
“Additionally, private country club fitness directors have a unique opportunity to network with the other department heads and create a symbiotic network that adds value to the country club membership,” she notes. “For example, being able to have fitness staff order a heart-healthy meal for a member and have it delivered to the fitness center certainly adds value to that member’s club experience. Extending the team concept beyond the fitness walls not only creates opportunities to enhance fitness offerings, but also creates opportunities for extended services throughout the club.
“Overall,” Raybourn concludes, “the layout of your fitness facility should provided the best plan for your staff and membership to create the sense of community, provide the best environment possible for wellness/fitness gains, and create a valued-added destination for your club.”
View Royal Oaks CC’s full equipment list here.