How you can really floor your members with innovative surfacing design.

Clubs need to get back to their roots. Literally. By concentrating on the latest equipment and hottest fitness trends, operators may be overlooking an important element: the floor.

Flooring can alter the way that members and prospects perceive a fitness facility. Surfacing elements leave a lasting impression on a subconscious level, and club owners must make sure that this impression is a good one.

Picture this, for example: You go to visit your friend's new home in the country. You step up the neatly graveled driveway, past the rows of evenly clipped shrubbery, and open the massive mahogany front door. Once inside, you note all the fine furnishings and technological gadgets. Then you look down, seeing stained, fraying carpet. Suddenly, despite the expensive trappings and spacious rooms, you conclude that the house is cheap.

People can draw similar conclusions about health clubs. A large facility with excellent equipment can't always overshadow dingy flooring.

"A shabby floor in the club gives a shabby feeling to the club," says Edmond Zisook, an associate with the SAS Architects and Planners (Illinois).

While your members may not purposely scope out your floors, they will notice the locker room surfacing beneath their bare feet, the exercise flooring below their sneakers, without even consciously looking. "Many people, when they walk, they look four to six feet in front of them downwards," says Rudy Fabiano of Fabiano Designs International in Montclair, N.J. "[The floors] really become very noticeable."

The Floor Score

The floor is the second, if not the first, most important feature (running neck and neck with walls) in a club, believes Zisook. "It makes all the difference in the world, first impressions especially," he says.

True, diehard exercisers may be perfectly comfortable working out on standard, black rubber floors, but discriminating members and prospects expect a little more particularly when it comes to surfaces.

"[T]he bigger the room, the more the floor and ceiling dominate the room," explains Donald DeMars, the chairman and CEO of Donald DeMars International, a California design and development company. "The ceiling is generally monotone, but the floor is the main area where you concentrate for aesthetics."

Luckily, fitness flooring manufacturers are aware of these aesthetic concerns; they have added more color palettes, fabric textures and surfacing designs than ever before without sacrificing function. Today's flooring can stand up to high-impact environments and wet areas, and look good doing it. Plus, the flooring can accommodate a variety of club demographics with more padding and spring to alleviate joint stress.

"Manufacturers are increasingly trying to provide more flexibility because of the aging of the adult population," DeMars says. "We're seeing more and more seniors in the facilities. So flooring has got to offer a buoyancy or softening of the impact to the body during exercise."

Manufacturers have made other improvements as well. They offer portable floors; water-impermeable sports carpets; resinous floor finishes that are either trowled or poured on; colored rubber and concrete flooring; and richer textures.

All of this may sound expensive, but even clubs with limited budgets can use flooring to win over members and prospects. Subtle color tricks, combined with lighting, can create optical illusions that will leave a favorable impression with your clients, even when using cheaper materials. For example, lighter or cooler colors (cream, sky blue, lavender, pale green) recede spaces, making them seem bigger. Darker or warmer colors (maroon, chocolate brown, tomato orange) collapse the view. So if you want your exercise room to seem more spacious, consider using lighter hues.

On the Right Path

Some clubs rely on flooring designs to make their facilities more user-friendly. For example, Total Woman Elite, a Southern California women-only club, uses flooring to color-code the exercise rooms and create paths. "[The flooring] designates an area and makes it familiar," says Robyn Miller, a co-owner of the club.

Total Woman Elite chose warm, bright tones of amber yellow, cinnamon and sage green to create a homey environment that puts clients at ease. Miller and her partner, David Hill, believe that this color scheme gives their club an advantage over a nearby competitor. Hill points out that the competitor features a very dark, opaque floor which almost seems like a "psychological barrier into the club," while Total Woman Elite's colors welcome people in.

Not only did Hill and Miller pick their colors with care, they chose to forego the traditional rubber exercise flooring for rich carpeting. "Most clubs use rubber flooring, but in my personal opinion, it's a hard look," Miller says. "That's not feasible for us."

Because the club's clientele is female, and the average age is 45, Miller wanted to soften the club's image. “Carpet is less intimidating,” she explains. "With women, it's more if it's pretty. It invites women into the free weight area, whereas with black rubber, it's like, 'Ooh, I'm not going in there.'"

Zisook sees plenty of benefit in carpeting, a classic, yet good-lucking material. And, he adds, carpets are reasonably priced, even for the more expensive fabrics. "But over a lifetime, they are expensive to maintain because they have to be replaced reasonably often," he adds.

Carpets should be updated, depending on the volume of the traffic, anywhere from every two to three years (in a busy club) or five to eight years (in a less busy club). "Peel and stick" carpet tiles are now available, though, so if you have a worn spot on the floor, you could cut out that section and fill it with a new tile.

Zisook is also a fan of ceramic tile, another classic material. While more expensive than carpet, it is easier to clean. "It's a wetable, mopable material," Zisook says.

There are disadvantages, though. The grout associated with ceramic tile does require heavy maintenance to keep from mildewing. The initial groundwork for tile is also time-consuming, as the floor surface has to be completely even. Another consideration: Larger tiles are easier to clean because there's less grout to work with, but smaller tile pieces (with more grout) offer more slip resistance for bare feet.

Don't Burn Rubber

While ceramic tile and carpeting in the weight room may not be practical alternatives for many clubs (“Our clientele is not going to be dropping free weights onto the floors,” Miller says, explaining the carpet choice), the ideas do go to show evolving aesthetics. Even rubber flooring has gotten a new look. Black may be passé, but rubber floors have been updated and come in a wide variety of colors.

"We've got all kinds of wonderful options on rubber flooring," comments DeMars. "There are more colors than we've ever had before."

This is good news for clubs that want to give their facilities a welcoming touch.

"I've been doing this a long time, and in the old days people just laid down black rubber," says Mike McNeese, the managing partner of the upscale World Gym Downtown Executive Club in Colorado Springs, Colo. "We want to have people walk in the club with the feeling that this [flooring] is something that they have in their homes. We want you to feel at home.

“If you're going to put in nice colors and nice equipment…, and then you just lay down black rubber on the floor, it kind of defeats the purpose."

Naturally, colorful rubber flooring provides resiliency, while adding to a facility's look. However, club owners should be aware that the lighter the color in rubber flooring, the more susceptible it will be to “grabbing” dirt.

Rubber flooring isn't the only surface that offers a variety of hues. Concrete can also be colorful and practical. Unfortunately, it can also be very costly. “It's very difficult to find proper technicians to install it properly,” says Fabiano.

Since concrete can be expensive, Fabiano has opted to use terrazzo over concrete for many projects. "Terrazzo is a man-made, poured, cementuous, granite product," Fabiano explains. "It looks like granite and can get an incredible range of colors. It really will last forever."

The Word on Wood

Wood is another wonderful surface material, commonly found in group exercise areas. As an added bonus, this flooring looks good even when cheaper wood grains are used. Fabiano says his firm is moving toward burnished mahogany and walnut color tones over the more traditional wood hues.

Whatever material you use in wet areas, Fabiano recommends including a clause in the architect's contract mandating that the construction workers flood the wet room floors upon completion. Why? To prove that the water will drain properly.

Flooring can be an expensive endeavor, but over the long run, most operators realize that they get what they pay for. "Flooring has come a long way," McNeese says. "People are budgeting more for flooring today than they ever had in the past."

Perhaps this has something to do with the industry's maturity. As the industry ages, club owners have acquired a better sense of their business. "What I've noticed, actually, is a trend and part of this is the increasing intelligence of the ownership to have a willingness to spend more money up front for more durable flooring," Fabiano says. "I think they are understanding the life-cycle cost is pretty competitive plus the added benefits of that killer aesthetics."


Mood Ring

If you see a red door and want to paint it black, you should probably delegate your club's color design to the architect. Find out how color choices affect your, and your clients', moods and perceptions of the club.

Humans are visually sensitive. While we do, in fact, have five senses, many people rely primarily on their sense of sight when taking in their impression of a person or environment. Other stimuli (touch, smell, etc.) come into consideration only after this initial assessment an assessment in which colors play no small part.

In nature, colors are used to convey a wide array of psychological associations. Yellow and black, for example, are color combinations often found on venomous creatures (wasps, snakes, certain frog species) to warn away other animals. In our human world, we've incorporated these colors to alert people of possible dangers (many hazardous symbols use this striking color scheme, for example).

On a more subtle level, colors and color combinations can affect a person's mood. In addition to the hue selected, the intensity of the hue, or the percentage of the color used in combination with other colors, can drastically alter its subsequent associations. For example, while a room painted entirely in bright yellow may cause anxiety, pale yellow is considered cheerful, and can boost both mood and energy.

How important are colors in a building's design? "Oh, they're everything," answers Edmond Zisook, an associate with SAS Architects and Planners out of Northbrook, Ill. "Color can state an elegance or color can state a formality or color can state an informality. [The room] can be a lighter, brighter, more active place or it can be more sedate."

In general, Zisook says that darker colors are more elegant - although, in some cases the building may need brightening up. "Dull colors sometimes make a dull club, and by dark I don't mean dull," he adds. "A navy blue carpeted floor, for example, is a very elegant look."

Rudy Fabiano, of the New Jersey-based Fabiano Designs International, says he has noticed a correlation between the use of color and a club's budget. "In the past, I used to find the less money we tended to spend on materials, the more colorful we tended to be because we had to attract attention somehow," he says. "If we have a much higher budget, we can use it on richer materials, which will tone down the palette somewhat."

Likewise, the clubs that can usually afford to spend more on design costs tend to be the ones that are offering higher-priced memberships. The people who can afford these memberships are often older and more sophisticated in their color preferences. Primary colors, in other words, will not be their first choice in interior design.

"Children gravitate toward primary colors, but older ages, and higher incomes, tend to like sophisticated colors that are grayed down a little bit [e.g., kelly green becomes hunter green when gray is added]," says Donald DeMars, the chairman and CEO of California's Donald DeMars International. "You really design the environment…to serve the clientele or the user base that you are attracting."

If you want to go for overall popularity, then you may end up feeling a little blue. According to The Roper/Pantone Consumer Color Preference Study (pantone.com/allaboutcolor/allaboutcolor.asp?ID=34), the most popular color for men (particularly among 18-to-29-year-olds) is spectrum blue, while women prefer the airier sky blue. In total, 34 percent of those polled earmarked blue as their favorite hue. A total of 16 percent went gaga for green, while purple nudged out red from the No. 3 spot by 1 percent.

But before you jump on the color bandwagon, you should take note: In the Pantone study, the youth market's favorite color was "slime green."

For more information on the use of color and interior design or color and mood, visit colorvoodoo.com, weprintcolor.com/moodofcolour.htm, colormatters.com, pantone.com, easyinteriors.com/perfect/color, paintquality.com/deco/mood.asp, and myth.com/color/snake.html.


Colors by Mood

The following is a list of colors and the individual moods or feelings they promote, according to weprintcolor.com.

PINK soothes, promotes affection
YELLOW cheers, increases energy, expands the size of a room
WHITE purifies, unifies, enlivens other colors
BLACK authoritative, shows discipline, encourages independence
ORANGE cheers, stimulates appetite and conversation
RED empowering
GREEN balances, refreshes
PURPLE comforts, creates mystery
BLUE relaxes, cools, appetite suppressant


Floor Us

Got a really cool floor? Send us a picture and tell us all about it. Mail us at: Letters to the Editor, Club Industry, One Plymouth Meeting, Suite 501, Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462. E-mail: jjanda@primediabusiness.com Fax: (610) 238-0992