What is it about health clubs that make them so distasteful to the more than 85 percent of the population that does not belong to one?

If a club is selling an undesirable product or service, then there has to be some missing link that can get people past their dislike of the product and achieve what they truly want — a better life through fitness. The fitness industry needs to fully grasp and use what other industries have learned — the environment that people shop or participate in has a lot to do with how they behave in that environment.

Environmental psychology has been a standard in most industries that deal with the public. Retail, restaurant, hospitality, gaming and others have used this extra ingredient to help maximize sales. Health clubs could benefit far more than any of these other industries by creating an environment that motivates people to act in a certain way.

Think about it — people already love to eat, yet the restaurant industry is always working to create the next optimal place to eat. Health clubs sell a product that most people hate, yet people in the industry have been behind in accepting the need for addressing the environmental aspects of their businesses.

In the future, the fitness industry will need to offer dramatic changes in the environments they provide to the marketplace. As a result, the industry would see increased market penetration as more of the deconditioned population becomes members.

What should a club owner do to create a motivating environment? The first step is to accept that environmental psychology is one of the greatest marketing strengths for a club, even equal in value to advertising and marketing. When you spend on your club's environment, you are spending on marketing. Think about having an environment that is so exciting, fun and stimulating that people actually love being there, and it makes them want to tell their friends about it.

Next, anything that people see has to be well thought out, knowing that image always counts. No more choosing black upholstery just because it is the easiest, most logical choice.

Now consider the process of using a wide variety of colors, lighting, shapes, finishes, materials and furnishings combined to create an inviting and memorable workout experience. This is best achieved by hiring a professional that deals in such variables. However, remember that clubs are selling energy and function. Not all design professionals get this and may create environments that are architecturally provocative, yet ineffective in getting people to join and return.

For instance, a major architectural magazine ran pictures of a club in New York City and indicated how absolutely different this new club was. In reality, the club's gray concrete did not create fun and energy. In front of the dumbbell racks, the designer placed differently sized, individually framed mirrors so that when members did a curl, they would see their body broken into about a dozen pieces — not a view conducive to allowing good form. It's important to make sure your design professional understands the psychology of health clubs.

It has been said that the health club industry is overbuilt. Yet even with approximately 41 million health club members, another 200 million people need the product. Too many clubs don't attract the substantial untapped market because they provide an environment that does nothing to motivate people to want to exercise. These clubs will fall by the wayside and will be replaced with beautifully stimulating environments that people simply can't refuse. Not a single industry can benefit more by environmental psychology than the fitness industry.

Bruce Carter is the president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, a club design firm that has created about $420 million worth of clubs in 45 states and 26 countries.