Deciding when and how to expand your facility

Are your walls starting to close in around you? Well, before you start knocking them down or looking for a new facility, you may be able to rearrange your club to give you more room. If not, then it's time to expand your horizons.

Typically, there are few reasons to expand, says Rudy Fabiano, AIA, owner of Fabiano Designs International in Montclair, N.J. The first reason to expand is your membership is growing and your facility can't accommodate the increased number of people comfortably.

The second reason is your club has been around for a while and isn't as progressive as it should be to stay competitive. While it may be hard for smaller clubs to compete with larger clubs, they can do it if they concentrate on offering a modern facility that provides top-quality programs and customer service.

Not all growth, however, dictates physical expansion. Fabiano has observed that in smaller clubs the biggest movement in club redesign isn't expansion, but rather adding or redoing profit centers like juice bars, pro shops and check-in areas where they can gain additional revenue.

Here are some factors to weigh when deciding what is best for you.

* Take a good look around. Evaluate your square-foot usage and shift things around to better utilize your space. "We do this by developing a room-by-room program, looking at its size and needs, and looking at non-usable areas such as mechanical room space, storage, etc., and deciding if there is anything we can reclaim from that," explains Fabiano. For example, a club may have a large aerobics room but its class sizes don't require that much space. So why not cut into that? Maybe use some of the space for group cycling or make the room smaller and add a small pro shop, if the location works.

* Add a second level. If your club actually does need more physical space, you may be able to add a mezzanine. Traditionally a mezzanine is used for cardiovascular activities. "It's a cost-effective way to gain square footage if you have the height," states Fabiano. "If you pay to construct a second-floor mezzanine [and you are currently renting your building], you won't pay rent on the mezzanine which makes the financing palatable. And it gives the club a new excitement and energy."

A mezzanine, however, can't be more than one-third the square footage of the room it's in. It also needs to be as open as possible because it's not considered a second floor. It's an extension of the first floor.

* Make a plan. If you're bursting at the seams and internal growth isn't possible, it's time to sit down and make up a clear and concise plan about what it is that you want to accomplish when your expansion is finished. "Whenever you grow you should take time to re-evaluate your existing layout and programming to make sure you're working to maximum efficiency so that when you grow it's more of a restructuring than an expansion," says Fabiano. "Before you get into it take a look around and see what you would like to change or make better, even if it's adding a skylight. It's cheaper to do it all at once than doing one thing at a time."

* Consult with a professional on legal issues. If you are expanding a rented space, there are a lot of technical issues. Fabiano suggests that you have a professional look at the technical/legal issues. Expanding could possibly change your parking, sprinkler and/or firewall requirements.

* Take a peek outside. Once you get into the planning of your expansion, you should look at the natural resources that you are expanding into. For example, you may have a great view to look at so you can add a few windows. "One client, when they expanded the cardio room, looked right out at a major highway so they put in a couple of windows, and it was the best marketing they ever did," notes Fabiano.

* Time to move. If you've examined all the above possibilities and they don't work, then it's time to relocate. When you are looking for a new home, you have to consider the need in your area and the usage of your facility, says Christine De-Novellis, owner of Body Elite Executive Training Club Inc. in Tampa, Fla.: "You don't know what is going to come in, and what you need to do is make sure that you're offering more services to bring the people in to make up for that."

* Think bigger and better. When moving to a new facility, the location has to be better than the one you currently have. Some factors DeNovellis suggests to take into consideration are: is the building noticeable from the road, is it easily accessible, is it in an area where you can maintain a good amount of business for the square footage and does it have the space for good signage so that people will know you're there?

Currently, DeNovellis is in a 10-story office building in a corporate area. Since that area has been so successful for her, it would be hard to top the location unless she moves across the street into an 81,000-square-foot, free-standing building, which she is in the process of doing. "You should definitely triple or quadruple your space, if not even more," DeNovellis believes. "I think anyone who owns a small facility and comes out a winner will have so much confidence that they will make the next one twice as big, because that's what it's going to take to make it successful."