How often have you visited someone's home or business and were impressed with the seasonal colors along the sidewalk, the neatly trimmed shrubs, the lights glowing in the windows, and the entrance appointed with fresh flowers and attractive lighting? You feel like someone wants you to feel comfortable and welcomed. It all starts with that first impression.

Fitness facilities are no different. The outside appearance should always appear neat and clean. Even the trash receptacles should make a nice addition to the entrance, as well as the clean glass doors, the freshly vacuumed carpet, the recently planted seasonal color. If the name of the club appears on the front of the building, it should be polished and well lighted, with all light bulbs burning. The driveway of a facility should be cleaned at least twice each month to remove stains caused by dripping oil, skidding tire tracks, and falling leaves and sap from trees.

The front of the building should have high priority. The grass should be cut often and the dead foliage taken away every other day. Trash and other debris should never stay more than a few hours because it says the staff really doesn't care how they feel about your time and money. Often, clubs place welcome mats at the front entrance. These mats should be well maintained with frequent cleaning and replacement if edges are tattered.

Upon entering the club, members and guests should always be greeted and the staff should be willing to point them in the right direction if they don't know where to go. There is nothing worse than guests feeling as if they are in the wrong building or the wrong part of the club. Make sure signs are easy to understand and to follow. Indicate direction with small arrows. If there is a directory of other offices or businesses, keep the information current and easy to read. Check to make sure names are correctly spelled and office suites are correctly numbered. First impressions of a staff member just might entice a guest to learn more about the club and eventually join.

People love to be acknowledged with a smile. Encourage the front desk staff to make eye contact with members as they enter the facility, and to learn how to pronounce their names correctly using titles, if appropriate. Instruct the front desk staff how to interact with individuals by providing role-playing activities whereby some members are discontent, others are just looking for information on facility events and others are seeking membership information. Nothing is worse than placing a new staff person at the front desk who has not been trained in proper etiquette such as shaking hands, speaking directly to the person or responding with “yes sir” or “no sir.”

The front desk should always be clean and attractive. No clutter or personal items should be visible to distract from business as usual. If possible, have an arrangement of fresh flowers. If by the end of the week, the arrangement looks wilted, remove it from the desk.

There should be nothing between the staff at the front desk and the individual seeking information. If a counter exists behind the front desk, keep it clear of articles. If lost and found items are sent to the front desk, place them in a drawer so they won't be distracting. The desk should be the focal point of the entrance to the workout area. Signage should be suitable and attractive and placed away from the eye contact area. Be sure to limit the number of signs.

Staff should be appropriately attired for a good impression. The total picture should represent the standard of the club and complement the membership.

A first impression creates a lasting impression, which in turn retains members and welcomes guests. We cannot always be sure that we are making the right impression with someone, but we can work toward “putting our best foot forward” not only at the front desk, but in the flowerbeds as well.

Bill Smith, Ph.D., is the student intern & quality training coordinator for the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center. He is also an adjunct professor for Richland College in the Human & Academic Development Department. He can be reached at bills@baylorhealth.edu or 214-820-2758.