Feature Article - May 2007
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Dressed to Impress

Fundamental Considerations in Locker Room Design and Maintenance

By Joseph Ryan

estled on six sun-drenched acres between San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, Prime Time Athletic Club has a lot to offer its upper-crust customer base: 120,000 square feet of amenities, including two heated pools, four lighted tennis courts and nearly 400 pieces of top-of-the-line equipment. The list is inviting. But CEO John Michael says it is actually Prime Time's locker rooms that keep 2,000 customers a day paying top dollar.

"Everyone is going to use that area twice, when they come in and before they leave," Michael said. "This is the first and last impression you get. It is real important."

So, Michael has invested in top-dollar locker rooms—six of them, each bigger than most homes. The largest locker rooms are 5,000 square feet. The smallest, which are being upgraded this year, are about 1,600 square feet split on two floors.

Solid wood lockers, granite countertops on multiple vanities, indirect lighting, pristine tile, three-head private showers, 42-inch plasma TVs, lounge areas with couches, saunas, whirlpools and limestone accents beckon customers to stay for the day.

"With the growth of these chain clubs, we really have to set ourselves apart," Michael reasoned.

Why are locker rooms important?

Of course, not every facility can afford to go that upscale. But Prime Time underscores the importance of locker rooms in setting the bar for the entire facility, and it highlights just how critical that space is for patrons.

Super-luxury locker rooms like Prime Time's can cost big. Michael said he has spent as much as $1,000 per square foot in his locker rooms, compared to $10 to $15 per square foot for gyms or racquetball courts.

"The locker room is the most expensive space you are going to build," said Keith Hayes, a principal with Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture in Denver. "And the challenge is always in making it more luxurious."

Yet, while most facilities don't have the budget for solid wood lockers or giant flat-screen TVs, designers and managers agree there are a number of cheaper amenities every facility can consider using to give customers a better experience and keep them coming back.

"You are always working with a budget, and it has been our experience that if you are going to skimp in any area, don't do it in the locker room," said Jim Thomas, director of Fitness Management Consulting in Coppell, Texas, which works with independent operators. "They get a lot of wear and tear, and in a couple years that locker room will look very old. Spend as much as you can."

Even if prospective customers occasionally overlook the locker room as they decide whether to sign on to a recreation facility—at that time they may be more focused on equipment—the patron will soon find it to be a chief concern after regular use.

When they don't believe the showers are clean or private, when their belongings are stolen or when they constantly bump into people changing clothes, then patrons may start to gaze at greener pastures elsewhere.

"I think the locker room is the single most important thing in getting them to keep coming," Thomas added. "When they use it they will notice if inferior products are used in that locker room, and that will have a big effect."

Of course, not all locker rooms need to have top-shelf amenities, but competition in the recreation industry is ever-increasing. At the very least, a clean, well-appointed locker room can give an edge.

"If you have a really abusive clientele, then the nicer finishes with the club environment will just get beat up, and you won't realize the benefit," Hayes said. "But if you want to compete with pricey private clubs, that might be a good thing to look at, or if you are looking at a big fee increase, will people pay that premium?"