Saunas, steam rooms and whirlpools—these amenities distinguish high-end recreation facilities from the rest of the pack. But unless you have the financial wherewithal to ensure the proper maintenance of such equipment, don't think about taking such a plunge, experts say.
"They are very high-maintenance, and there are always health issues," said Joel Cantor, principal of Cantor AIA Architect in San Francisco, Calif. "I have heard so many arguments from owners against them."
If you are compelled by your customer base, or if you have a desire to attract a higher-paying clientele, you should start with the sauna. Most experts agree that of the three, the sauna requires the least amount of maintenance, space and money of the bunch.
"A steam room can cost three times as much as a sauna, at least," Cantor said.
Steam rooms are becoming very rare because of the upfront cost required, the space needed and the damage the steam can cause to the rest of the locker room.
If you want a whirlpool, consider putting it in an area accessible to both genders so you don't need to buy two or more.
Luxury on the cheap
With the basics in line, facility managers and owners can begin to look at ways to improve their locker rooms while staying in budget. And experts agree that most facility owners should strive to make the locker room as luxurious and amenity-rich as the budget will allow to stay competitive in today's market.
"It is pretty important nowadays," Cantor said. "The people that join clubs want to have an upscale locker room with amenities. They don't just want a place to hang their clothes."
The style of a locker room can go a long way toward creating a sense of luxury for a small price, experts say. Inexpensive framed paintings and switching out bleaching florescent light for indirect lighting can go a long way toward making the space more inviting and homey to users.
To create better style, paint should be the first consideration when upgrading or building new. The color should be calming, but also able to hide the occasional scratch or abrasion.
"You can just repaint a space and make a pretty big difference," Hayes said.
After making sure the paint is up-to-date, take a look at the carpet. Replacing carpet can be a cost-effective upgrade to the room's overall style.
"Even the kind of carpet can make a big difference," Cantor explained.
Beyond the appearance of the locker room, the utility of it can get patrons accustomed to enjoying the facility on a daily basis. Prospective customers even can be lured in after they see quality, unexpected amenities following a tour that highlights the more expected perks of membership.
For example, consider expanding the toiletry products offered. Shampoo and soap should be standard, so look into adding mouthwash, conditioner or shaving cream for an extra touch. Adding these items can even cut down on the proliferation of garbage and grime in the locker room.
"That gives you more control, and that helps on the cleaning side, too," Hayes said.
Experts suggest a small business of selling travel-size toiletries at the front desk could be appreciated by customers, as well as add a few dollars to the bottom line.
Also, how much more would it really cost to add a few hair dryers, magnifying mirrors, an iron or a suit steamer? All of these amenities can really attract the higher-end clientele that is looking to get ready for work or a night meeting after using the facility. And the products don't have to be top-of-the-line, experts say, just clean, operating and useful.
If the facility has the space, a small lounge area can really give the locker room a "club" feel for just the cost of a few couches, chairs and a decent-size TV. Plus, setting up a coffee pot and water stand really just adds a few dimes and nickels a day to the budget, but makes patrons feel important.
"A lot of times (customers) want a lounge they can hang out in with friends or to watch TV while they are changing," Cantor said.
Even upgrading your showers might not cost as much as one would think. In addition to adding the aforementioned partitions, Michael of Prime Time explained that it costs just a few dollars to add a handheld shower head.
"That portion of the shower isn't that much," he said. "And it adds a lot of value for customers."
Landing big-ticket services may also be a lot less expensive than you imagine. Consider partnering up with a local masseuse, barber or dry cleaners for your customers. If you provide a drop-off and pick-up spot for the dry cleaners and a room for the masseuse or barber, the service could actually be paid in full by the customer and the businesses may be happy to get the exclusive sales.