When Ed Steele received a letter from his utility company notifying him of a 38 percent hike in electricity prices, he was glad he had already found one way to save money — low-maintenance flooring. A few years ago, administrators at The Cecil F. Gilkerson Community Activities Center in Harrisonburg, VA, invested $50,000 in a new gym floor, says Steele, the community center director of the Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation Department, which includes the 30-year-old Cecil F. Gilkerson Community Activities Center.

Unlike some types of flooring materials, the layered polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material doesn't need to be sanded, resurfaced or waxed, and it can be maintained with a daily dust mopping and a periodic deep cleaning with a $4,500 scrubbing machine.

Over the years, flooring manufacturers have introduced high-performance, low-maintenance flooring options for every area of a fitness facility. By selecting the right type of flooring during new construction or a renovation project, fitness facility operators have been able to lessen the amount of labor and supplies required to keep floors in top condition, which translates to money savings.

Before installing the new gym floor at the 40,000-square-foot Cecil F. Gilkerson Community Activities Center, administrators considered different types of flooring, including snap-together tiles and traditional hardwood. They decided to go with the vinyl sports flooring because it required less maintenance on an annual and daily basis, says Steele. The new flooring covers 800 square feet in a dance studio and 8,000 square feet in the gym, which is used for gymnastics, basketball, volleyball and children's recreation programs.

Mike Revere, executive director of Sentara Center for Health and Fitness in Hampton, VA, considered ease of maintenance, durability and high performance when selecting flooring materials for his 34,000-square-foot club, which opened in January.

Rather than using small ceramic tiles, Revere selected lower-maintenance larger tiles with fewer grout lines in the lobby, café and wet areas of the locker rooms. Carpet squares, rather than rolled carpet, were installed in the offices, locker rooms and children's area, so damaged or stained carpet tiles could be quickly replaced. Revere also selected rolled vinyl flooring for the indoor track and group fitness rooms because the initial installation cost and ongoing maintenance costs are less than a traditional suspended wooden system for his club, he says. Selecting the proper flooring was important in maximizing profitability and minimizing expenses, Revere says.

“I believe that good decisions on the front end allow for fewer maintenance problems in the future,” he says.

The Southside Family YMCA in Farmville, VA, also looked for flooring that was durable and easily maintained, says Keith Scott, partner of Rosney Co. Architects, Charlottesville, VA. He specified ceramic tile for the Y's lobby, carpet in the offices and multipurpose rooms, and synthetic flooring in the main wellness center, corridors and group fitness rooms.

“Long-term and day-to-day maintenance were some of the big factors for us,” Scott says. “Also, because of all of the sports activities that happen at the Y, durability and performance were important.”

On the Floor

When trying to decide on which flooring material to invest in for their facilities, club owners now have more choices than ever. They can choose from two organic flooring materials — wood or stone — or opt for synthetic flooring materials, says Stan Hulin, president and CEO of Future Flooring Technology, a Portland, OR-based flooring consulting firm.

Hulin says more health club owners are investing in rubber flooring for their weight rooms, due to its impact resistance, and hardwood flooring and carpet in other areas of the club. Hard, easily cleaned material, such as ceramic tiles, are also becoming popular, as are engineered wood floors and rolled vinyl.

Club owners also can invest in modular tiles that snap together. These tiles are less expensive than a traditional wood floor option, but they don't have the same aesthetic appeal of a real wood floor, says a representative from one flooring manufacturer. The vendor also carries some vinyl flooring material but doesn't sell much of it, except in high-abuse areas, such as community recreation and school fitness centers.

The latest technology in flooring allows architects to accommodate both the functional and aesthetic needs of a fitness facility, Revere says.

Despite differing opinions on the type of hardwood options to use, many club owners still invest in hardwood flooring in some area of their facility, whether it's in their basketball gym, aerobics studio or racquetball court.

Traditional hardwood flooring requires minimal daily maintenance, but it must be periodically sanded, sealed and refinished, which simply isn't possible at some fitness facilities, such as the Gilkerson recreation center.

“We run a year-round child care center for school-aged children, and we don't have the luxury of closing down our gym,” Steele says. “We also can't operate with the fumes from refinishing the floors.”

By investing in vinyl flooring, Steele's facility now has year-round operability, he says. He also can raise the building's temperature by a few degrees without worrying that the vinyl flooring might warp, as is the case with types of flooring that need a constant temperature and controlled humidity.

Maintenance Matters

Temperature and humidity control are just two aspects of proper floor maintenance. All too often, Hulin says, health club owners don't invest the proper resources into taking care of their flooring.

“If clubs hire the high school kid down the street to mop their floors, it will cost them more money in the long run,” says Hulin, who started his training, consulting and education firm four years ago. “Flooring maintenance is a known craft, and it takes training and education.”

Although many health club owners and managers are familiar with how to maintain carpet, many times, they simply don't know how to take care of hard flooring surfaces, he says. For that reason, some club owners view maintenance as a cost they want to reduce, and as a result, they end up turning off customers with dirty and worn flooring.

One vendor explains it this way: “Clearly, if you're not maintaining your flooring, it's going to look bad, it's going to perform poorly, and it is going to need repair earlier than it should.”

In contrast, proper floor maintenance can help club owners improve retention, according to one vendor.

“When members come in and there's a nice clean surface on the floors, it makes the members feel good,” she says. “If it looks as clean as when the owner installed it, then it was taken care of the right way. The maintenance of the floor, if done properly, will give the owner a surface that will last a long time.”

Well-maintained floors are a key to retaining Sentara's 3,500 members, who pay premium dues to belong to the facility, Revere says. They also can drive sales because prospects look for cleanliness when they step foot into a club.

“The center must look in tip-top condition at all times, as prospects visit during all hours,” Revere says. “Our employees take an extreme amount of pride in the cleanliness and appearance of our facility. It takes a commitment from all of the team members to keep the floors in top condition.”

Danger Zone

By properly maintaining their floors, club owners not only can improve retention, but they also can prevent accidents. Slips and falls are some of the most common sources of litigation for club owners, Revere says.

“When a floor is not properly maintained, its performance will be compromised,” he says. “Slips and falls are more likely to occur when moisture or oils are on the surface of the floors.”

Falls were a cause of concern for Steele, who says children used to slip on his facility's old asbestos tile floor when they were running relay races in the gym. By investing in the new floor, the community center has had fewer injuries to children and adults.

Protecting members was a key selling point of the new flooring for the Southside Family Y, Scott says. The director was concerned with the safety of patrons first, and the ease-of-maintenance was a side benefit of the product, he says.

Another potential danger is the transmission of fungus, bacteria, mold or other microorganisms from poorly cleaned floors to members and employees, Revere says.

One flooring manufacturer says that selecting the right flooring is one way to guard against the spread of infection. Some flooring has a permanent treatment that prevents growth of many microorganisms, and others have a coating that needs to be reapplied periodically.

By investing in low-maintenance, high-performance flooring, club owners are safeguarding their members, cutting energy costs, and reducing daily and long-term maintenance expenses. To gain a competitive edge in today's fitness market, club owners don't need to look any further than the ground they're standing on.

Five Strategies to Maximize the Life of Your Flooring

Your club may not be fortunate enough to have the budget, personnel and other resources to invest in new low-maintenance, high-performance flooring. If not, use these strategies to get the most out of your facility's existing flooring:

  1. Focus on preventive maintenance

    Flooring typically has four maintenance periods: initial installation, daily routine, periodic maintenance and restorative maintenance. In many cases, club owners focus so heavily on the most expensive stage — the restorative — that they aren't keeping the soil off the floor on a daily basis, says consultant Stan Hulin. As a result, it costs more for periodic and restorative maintenance, he says.

  2. Follow manufacturers' recommendations

    Make sure you adhere to the cleaning protocol of the flooring material. For example, Hulin says the integrity of the floor is ruined if cleaning crews overwet the surface with a soaking mop.

  3. Have quality-control measures in place

    Club owners should hire a lead team member with an eye for detail and a strong team of service professionals who take pride in their work, says Mike Revere of Sentara Center for Health and Fitness in Hampton, VA.

  4. Set high expectations

    Club owners should conduct ongoing maintenance inspections and offer hands-on training, Revere says.

  5. Get help

    In many cases, outsourcing the maintenance of flooring may be a good decision, depending on the size of a center and the center's staffing model, Revere says. Hulin advises club owners to look for cleaning professionals who are certified and trained to clean hard floors.

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