After putting years into getting the financing for a club, designing it, building it, hiring staff and everything else that is involved, you don't want to mess up the grand opening. After all, this is the first time your club will get to shine for new members and potential members.

Allstar Fitness, Seattle, WA, and Life Time Fitness, Eden Prairie, MN, have been putting together grand openings for many years. The two companies have differing philosophies on some of the details of grand openings, but they agree on one thing: a grand opening is an opportunity to show off your club to members and potential members, as well as an opportunity to make members feel comfortable in what you hope will be a regular destination for them.

Following are some suggestions from the two companies about how to ensure that your club's grand opening is as grand as it can be.

  • Determine an appropriate time and duration for your grand opening

    While Allstar Fitness prefers an all-day (8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) affair on a Saturday, Life Time Fitness has determined that Friday evenings for a 2-hour to 2 ½-hour span are the best grand opening times for them.

    “On Friday evenings, many people are taking it easy, looking for entertainment options,” says Jason Thunstrom, director of corporate communications at Life Time Fitness.

  • Consider having a pre-grand opening party

    Thirty days prior to the grand opening, Allstar Fitness hosts a construction preview party so club members and corporate guests can tour the facility (in hard hats, per prior arrangements with the fire marshal and developer). The pre-grand opening is a smaller party than the grand opening, but it can still get results.

    “It provided a great buzz in town and generated a lot of family add-on and corporate business,” says Tom Duggan, executive director of Allstar Fitness. “It also served the purpose of lead generation and jump-starting the momentum for the final days leading up to the grand opening.”

  • Process members prior to the grand opening

    Ten days prior to the grand opening, Allstar Fitness opens the club to members by appointment only. The club fills appointments back to back in 20-minute intervals, three people at a time, each with their own counselor, allowing members to pick up their new membership card, schedule their assessment and orientation, receive a list and explanation of the group exercise classes and register to participate in free workshops and clinics the club offers. It also allows registration of children in the kids clubs.

    By pre-processing members, the club offers one-on-one time that helps ensure their members' success with their fitness routine and their comfort level in the new club, Duggan says.

    The visits also allow the club to gather leads, do family add-ons, personal training and buddy referrals.

  • Send out invitations

    Life Time Fitness mails invitations to all the charter members (and invites them to bring family and friends) and to city officials, who often have been working closely with the company on the planning and permitting of the club. The city officials take part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony as a way to recognize the work of those officials.

    The club also posts signs about the grand opening near the entrances and works with the local media to promote the club opening. Life Time Fitness plans for 3,000 to 6,000 people at each grand opening.

    In addition, Life Time Fitness invites to the opening a charity that the club wants to become involved with as a way to show the club's commitment to the community and to introduce itself to the charity. Even if the club has been involved with the charity at its other locations, the charity is invited to the ribbon cutting ceremony where the club presents it with a donation.

  • Be fully staffed and ready to go

    It's important that the heads of all departments and their staff attend the grand opening so members and potential members can ask questions about fitness, the facility and the equipment. All the rooms at the club should be open and the equipment should be in place so members can see where they will go the next day when they come in to work out.

    “All of our facility is up and operating to give our members a firsthand opportunity to experience everything we have to offer,” says Thunstrom. That includes the café where members can sample smoothies and the pro shop where they can check out nutritional products and workout wear.

    “The grand opening model is presenting a living and breathing club so they know what to expect,” says Thunstrom.

  • Show and tell

    During the grand opening, Life Time Fitness doesn't actually hold classes or allow members to work out on the equipment (although they can try out equipment), but it does hold demonstrations of the group exercise classes and the personal training program. The department leads and their teams are available to answer questions.

    “The goal is to allow them to see and experience all that Life Time Fitness has to offer,” says Thunstrom.

  • Have a process in place

    Plan ahead how you are going to move people through the facility in an orderly manner, particularly since you could see 3,000 to 6,000 people in your facility that day.

    At the Allstar Fitness grand opening, individuals register on a separate sign-in sheet depending on whether they are a member or a guest. They are given a packet of information and price sheet. They are then directed to a decorated studio to wait for the next tour to begin. While waiting, they enjoy food and beverages while spinning a wheel of fitness on which they each win a prize (at the last grand opening, the club also gave away two major vacations). After a tour of the club, they are directed to the closing area. Members who bring a friend receive a free T-shirt and the guest has a chance to enroll at presale rates.

    Thunstrom cautions to go low-key on the signups. Staff selling memberships takes away from the overall experience for members and potential members and takes staff away from answering member questions, he says.

    “You have to allow people to experience [the club] without any preconceived notions of commitment,” says Thunstrom.

  • Dedicate staff to the opening

    Putting together a grand opening is a lot of work. The planning begins 60 to 90 days prior to the opening with the peak work occurring in the 30 days prior to the club opening, says Thunstrom, whose department is in charge of grand openings for his company's clubs. Work includes getting signage ready, printing invitations, getting decorations ordered, working with the media (a local radio station may want to do a remote at the opening), coordinating with the charity and making sure all departments are ready to go on the day of the opening.

  • Budget

    The budget for a grand opening can be large. Because Life Time Fitness is a private company, Thunstrom can't divulge the exact cost of a grand opening for his club, but he did say it was in the multiple of tens of thousands of dollars. However, the budgets vary depending on the size of the facility — smaller facilities have smaller openings. Costs include invitations and postage, signage, balloons, flowers, staff time (staff is paid to be at the opening) and prizes. Still, the cost is worth it, says Thunstrom. Exposing people to all the unique programs and services at your facility has been proven to increase the usage of the programs and facilities, he says.

  • Keep going

    The grand opening may last for two short hours or a long full day, but the club can continue with the celebration through other types of events. Life Time Fitness holds an open house a week after the grand opening. While the grand opening is more about showing off the facility, the open house is about letting individuals come in to work out for free that day. Life Time Fitness doesn't stop there. Two to three weeks later, the facility offers a family fun day, with the emphasis on building sports leagues.

  • The opening of a club is less about one day and more about multiple opportunities for the community to see and experience the facility, says Thunstrom.