The dirt on keeping a clean facility with properly maintained equipment

The No. 1 feature that most people love about new cars isn't the gas mileage or the powerful engine, or the roomy interior. Nor is it the four-wheel drive, crystal-clear sound system, or side air bags. Oh, sure that's what they tell the car dealer they're looking for when they go on the lot, but when they get home, nine times out of 10 they're grooving on that new car smell.

The same holds true for your fitness facility. You can have all the weight machines, cardio equipment and personal trainers in the world, but the first thing your members will notice is if your gym smells like unwashed sweat socks. They'll notice the soggy towels lying around the locker room floor or the free weights left lying helter skelter. They'll notice the upholstery patched with duct tape or lack of toilet paper in the bathrooms.

In short, your members might be tough on themselves during their workouts, but your facility had better be gentle on all five of their senses or they won't be back.

To keep things spic and span, as well as safe, industry leaders recommend the following maintenance tips:

  • Keep a paper trail. Not only is improperly maintained facility an aesthetic eyesore, it can also be unsafe. Therefore, clubs must stay on top of the cleaning and maintenance schedules.

    “When things are not maintained, whether it's cleanliness or equipment upkeep, then it's always detrimental because it tells you a lot about the club,” says Karen Dosse, general manager of California's Foster City Athletic Club. “It just shows a lack of caring.”

    Plus, it could very well be libelous. If a member falls off a treadmill because the belt wasn't working properly, or slips on a wet floor, there could be grounds for a suit. That's why your staff or an outside maintenance company should keep track of when things are cleaned, checked and/or repaired. “You want to be very proactive in maintaining your equipment,” warns Crunch's Vice President of Operations Rick Bouza. “You should be keeping records of all maintenance performed on the equipment.”

    That way, in the event of a lawsuit, if you have records that show you properly maintained the equipment, you are less likely to be held accountable.

  • Get your staff involved. During the day, have your employees clean up messes and wipe down equipment. Do it yourself if necessary. “No one is above that,” Dosse stresses.

    Foster City Athletic Center utilizes “spot checkers” to make a round of the club once an hour to make sure all areas are clean and there are no obstacles or wet floors to trip over or slip on.

    In addition to picking up dropped towels or replacing the paper towel supply in the bathrooms, your staff also has to be aware of equipment being improperly used. Members “can hurt themselves, but they can tweak the machine as well,” Dosse says. She advises that your personal trainers correct people as needed.

  • Don't put off fixing the small stuff. Even little things add up. “The smallest things are the most annoying,” says Dosse. “The squeaky machine, the lights being out, the dispensers not working properly…. The smallest things like that, it seems people notice the most.”

  • Have the right tools on hand to do the job. A club obviously has hygiene issues to contend with. There's a lot of opportunity for unpleasant bacteria and molds to breed. Disinfectant is your best friend. Don't skimp on it.

    You'll need heavy-duty concentrated stores of the stuff for mop downs (plus, naturally, a mop). You'll also need spray bottles and paper towel dispensers on the workout floor for your clients and staff to wipe down equipment after use.

  • Be aware of your most likely maintenance problems and keep an eye on them. According to Bouza, treadmills are the No. 1 maintenance problem. “This is one of the most potentially dangerous pieces of equipment in the club,” Bouza says. “It's probably the one named in most incidences of accidents in a club.”

    What to look out for? Worn belts, imperfect welds and vibration cracks.

    Group cycling equipment, or any cardio machine in general, has many of the same concerns as treadmills. Since these machines tend to have high usage, it's only natural they have the highest incidences of either member misuse or general wear and tear. “In the end, it'll cost you more to have that piece of equipment if you're not maintaining it properly,” Bouza says.

    In addition, check on any equipment that requires lubrication or oiling, or requires cables.

  • If feasible, seek outside help. Dosse hires a maintenance company to come in to check all of her club's equipment. “[I]t's good to have a preventative maintenance crew because they keep accurate records and a good history,” she explains. “They are so important and I would encourage anyone to have someone come in, even if it's once a month. It's a great investment.” You should also consider janitorial and other professional cleaning services.