Maximize and realize your pro shop's potential - as a value-added service offering and as a profit center - through intelligent strategic planning, innovative design and individual style.

A well-designed, cleverly constructed pro shop can facilitate cost-effective operation, helping club operators make the most out of limited space, boost patronage and offer maximum service with minimum staffing. Key design considerations include the location of the shop and its basic architecture, as well as the color scheme, lighting and display strategies employed.

Of course, different strokes work for different folks. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for success. "Pro shop design is subject to a number of variables; it really depends on the type of project," remarks Donald DeMars, chairman and CEO of Donald DeMars International, Glendale, Calif., which handles project services from research and planning to architecture, interior design, purchasing, construction, management and management staffing.

"A pure fitness facility that is limited to cardio and weight-training areas, along with a couple of locker rooms, typically will have a very small pro shop," DeMars comments. The shop itself, he explains, is often simply a small, semi-enclosed space adjacent to the front desk featuring merchandise - mostly convenience items, such as batteries and T-shirts - accessible to the customers either directly or via front-desk employees, who are pulling double-duty as pro shop staffers. "[This setup] is key in that it allows a club to keep its personnel load and expenses low through consolidation," DeMars points out.

"In the case of larger full-service facilities, where the front desk is apt to become bottled up with people during prime times, the pro shop is usually farther away in its own area, is allocated more space and may have dedicated employees," DeMars continues.

Location, however, remains critical for these stand-alone shops. "This type of pro shop should still be placed on a high-traffic path or right under members' noses," DeMars recommends. For example, he says, at the L.A. Athletic Club you actually have to walk through the men's pro shop to get to the check-in area.

"If consumers don't see [the shop or the merchandise in it], they're not going to buy," DeMars reinforces.

If you really want to entice members into your pro shop, borrow some ideas from retail malls. "If you walk down the aisle of a mall, you'll notice how wide open the stores are; they invite you in," DeMars observes. "Today's pro shops are also designed with openness in mind."

Also like other retail businesses, pro shops are constantly changing their displays, broadcasting store information into different areas of the facility, and so on. In short, they are doing whatever it takes to keep the customer interested and encourage the buying impulse.

Some clubs are using their pro shops to help market themselves as one-stop-shopping service providers. "Club owners are competing for their members' time; they are trying to make it increasingly convenient for members to fulfill multiple needs while at their facility," DeMars states. "There's a facility in Harbor Place in Baltimore where you can even drop off your dry cleaning. And, right now, we're working on a project in which a club is going to merge its retail area with a healthy food cafe." He notes that in a few cases, owners will lease space out to other retailers looking for an area to display their wares.

Joel Cantor, of Joel B. Cantor AIA Architect, San Francisco, has focused almost exclusively on club design - from ground-up projects to additions to renovations - for the last few years. He points out that not only are some pro shops enhancing their scope of services, but, in general, they are becoming a bit more upscale. "It's not like the old days when we were just putting stuff on walls," he comments.

Boutique-type shops are more popular at bigger clubs, Cantor says. "Still, for the smaller clubs, which are short on space, the pro shop probably doesn't take up more than a couple hundred square feet - we're still seeing a lot of wall units and not a lot of sophisticated displays," he reports. "The owners of those clubs want to create an open look, while also being able to secure the merchandise as much as possible."

All pro shops can benefit from good use of color, lighting, layout and other interior design elements. To draw further attention to your pro shop, use bright colors and increase illumination, so that colors expand more, DeMars suggests.

Cantor reports that track lighting is a common illumination solution. "Clubs are taking advantage of new kinds of lamps," he notes. "Halogen lamps, for example, are often used because they provide a greater degree of control: Instead of a simple spotlight, halogens have various types of beams that range from very narrow to wide, depending on the effect you want."

When choosing paint colors and other materials, Cantor believes that less is usually more. "Be careful," he warns. "You want to be fairly neutral with colors, textures and materials because you want the merchandise to stand out in contrast. You also want to stay light, because light colors will make the whole shop stand out, and can make your space appear bigger than it actually is." For example, he says, if you paint a wall green, then display clothes of contrasting colors on it, the effect is not going to be pleasing to prospective purchasers.

Other considerations include types of displays and hanging systems to be used, as well as storage space for inventory. Cantor has had a customer request built-in cabinetwork for shoe storage, for example. "Where are you going to store your merchandise, in the shop or an unconnected space?" he queries, noting that some owners think in-shop storage is a waste of space, while others want the convenience.

Recently, Cantor helped the Prime Time Athletic Club, a 100,000-square-foot, full-service, indoor/outdoor facility on five acres of land in Burlingame, Calif., renovate its lobby area and redesign its pro shop. "Our goal was to increase traffic to our pro shop," says John Michael, president of the club. "Actually, it wasn't even really a pro shop before, just items out on display and a slat wall behind the front desk. Now we have an actual shop, located away from the front desk, that comprises three slat walls, floor racks for clothes and a full-length set of glass folding doors."

Still, the shop's total size is less than 1,000 square feet. "We needed to have a shop that would be available and accessible to members, but we didn't want to dedicate a lot of square footage to it since it's not that much of a profit center, although we have made it profitable [since the renovation was completed in November]," Michael notes. "However, if we continue to enjoy more growth, we might dedicate more space to the shop in the future."

As part of the project, "we set up a concierge desk - like you'd see in a hotel - farther back in the activities area of the club just opposite the pro shop," Cantor reports. The concierge desk also is in visual range of the pro shop so the customer can bring purchases to the concierge if the shop isn't staffed.

"We designed the pro shop so that we don't have to staff it all the time," Michael stresses. "It's really well lit and, thanks to the glass doors, even when the shop is closed, people can still see what they want, ask for an item and have another club employee get it for them." The doors also add a measure of security, he adds, allowing the shop to reduce merchandise loss.

How did Cantor and Michael come up with the idea for the glass doors? "Joel asked me to make a list of everything I wanted in a pro shop, and the doors idea evolved in our brainstorming session," Michael recalls. "I was definitely concerned with staffing costs: No matter how much you sell in retail, staffing is still more expensive."

In addition, Michael acknowledges that he broke a retail rule by using metal (stainless steel), rather than wooden, slat walls. "We have a very high-tech modern decor, and the stainless steel blends nicely with the shop's surrounding lounge area," he explains. "We didn't want an offensive, in-your-face display." Cantor describes Prime Time's decor as a "scuffed aluminum look."

While Michael is extremely pleased with the outcome of the redesign, he admits that everything wasn't perfect on the first try. "Don't neglect your lighting; use a lighting designer and retail lighting," he advises. "We had to go back in and tear out what we had done because we weren't happy. Initially, we wanted subtle lighting that wouldn't detract from the decor, but we ended up being too subtle - the merchandise didn't stand out. The second time around, we used some halogen track lighting. The nice thing about the track is that the wattage of the bulbs and the directions in which they're pointing are adjustable. Whether we want a larger flood of light or a narrow beam, the track can do it all."

Another club that has updated its pro shop in response to customer needs is Sports Core, Kohler, Wis., a full-service facility that boasts a membership of about 4,000 and also serves as an amenity to a nearby four-star resort. The pro shop, located at the main entrance of the facility, comprises about 1,000 square feet of the complex's total 100,000 square feet.

Sports Core changed the look of its pro shop to complement its re-merchandising strategy. "We used to be more of a women's shop, selling a lot of sweaters, dresses and similar items," says Roxanne Kalota, pro shop supervisor. "Now, we're featuring more women's active-lifestyle wear, competitive swim wear and workout clothes. We're concentrating more on wellness lifestyle merchandise, including a lot of relaxation wear, and wellness books and tapes."

According to Kalota, the club neither moved the location of its pro shop nor expanded its area. It did, however, give the existing shop a complete makeover. "As far as design goes, we really just wanted to lighten up the shop," she reports, noting that the store employs track lighting and ceiling lighting. "We changed the color scheme completely from bright white to warm cream. And we went with wood tones in our flat wall for a more inviting look."

In addition, the shop updated its mannequins and changed its display racks from chrome to black to achieve what Kalota refers to as a "more chic" look. The pro shop re-merchandises on a monthly basis, and always features new items at the front of the shop, she adds.

Again, nothing's perfect. "We do wish that we would have gone with wood slat walls throughout the shop, which would have given us more versatility," Kalota acknowledges, adding that additional shelving wouldn't have hurt either. Overall, however, the project was a great success, she says.

Unlike Prime Time Athletic Club, Sports Core did not seek outside help for its pro shop redesign. Both, however, leveraged their own understanding of their business practices and goals to achieve what they wanted in terms of pro shop design. "Overall, in the case of pro shops, owners have a fairly good idea of what they're looking for," Cantor asserts.

In any case, whether you're looking to start up a pro shop, or revamp your existing shop, DeMars offers this final piece of advice: "You need to go out and see what other clubs are doing. It's a good idea to query members of other clubs, asking them: 'Have you purchased anything from your club's pro shop? Why or why not?' Their input can only help."


Talk Like A Pro

Whether you're opening a full-scale pro shop or just setting up a few racks at the front desk, here's some basic product display lingo to help you through a conversation with someone more design-savvy.

Dump Baskets: Larger, wall-mounted containers for mass merchandising larger amounts of one type of product (such as discounted fitness shorts or socks).

Dump Bins: Floor-mounted containers for mass merchandising of one type or related types of products at a special price.

Grid Baskets: For holding products to be displayed on grid wall display systems.

Grid Hooks: Accessory items that are used for hanging products or display baskets for baskets on grid wall systems.

Grid Wall: A less-expensive display wall system that is also used for maximizing wall display merchandising.

Slat Wall: A pre-manufactured display wall system that is used for maximizing wall display. Horizontal grooves allow attachment of display fixturing and products.

Track Lighting: Perimeter display or "focal point" lighting that operates on a versatile, ceiling mounted track system.

- D.G.