As the health club industry evolves and faces growing competition, interior design and décor have become more important than ever to a club's success.

The visual environment that creates the emotional experience people have when they are in a club has become as important for a club's success as any other element, including good equipment, location and a strong sales staff.

Décor creates an experience for everyone who enters your doors. That experience can be boring and bland or beautiful and exciting. Most people hate exercise and need all the help they can get to motivate them to become a member and continue as a member. Enjoying how a club looks and feels can be the factor that hooks some people into returning to your club despite their distaste for exercising.

Recently, while sitting in a 30,000-square-foot club that was going through a badly needed renovation, I witnessed a long-standing member confront the owner about why the renovation was taking place. The member quickly scoffed at the idea of “wasting” money on flooring, lighting and a new front desk. Instead, he said the owner should purchase more equipment (despite the club being packed with equipment).

The owner immediately questioned his decision to do such a significant makeover until I reminded him that the club was losing existing members (especially women and deconditioned individuals) to newer, much more attractive competitors.

In another situation, two women toured the locker room of a new club that recently opened in New Jersey. They were so moved and surprised by how the locker rooms looked that they called their girlfriends during the tour to tell them that they had to come see the locker room. It was not the equipment, location or smiling faces that prompted this call; it was the beauty and upscale ambiance that they had not expected in a health club.

Of course, any interior renovation should be done while controlling expenses. Spending more money does not automatically make an environment more appealing. If, for example, a new club can be built for $45 per square foot and can generate the same number of members and price levels as a club costing $75 per square foot, then obviously the less expensive build-out would result in increased profits.

Interestingly, many new club owners and operators of existing clubs undergoing renovations believe they do not need a strong interior, so they spend as little as possible in this area. This old-fashioned thinking only weakens a club's competitive position and ability to attract new members.

This points to the increasing need for clubs to do what other industries do — get professional help to create the desired result with their club's interior. There is an art and science to working with shapes, colors, lighting, finishes and budgets. It is similar to personal training. Individuals who want to lose weight and get in shape will have more success working with an experienced trainer with a strong reputation than trying to do it on their own.

Clubs can no longer afford to be average and uninviting. A good sales staff, a good location and a lot of equipment are no longer enough. Smart club owners should consider some type of renovation every three to five years. Individuals building new clubs must ensure the building's design and décor immediately stand out in the marketplace.

Clubs sell a product that promises to improve the appearance of an individual. It only makes sense that a club follows suit by looking its absolute best.

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.