The first impression people have of your health club is based on its exterior. Whether that impression is good or bad, it affects your marketing and sales.
Initially, two variables determine your exterior options. Free-standing buildings that are owned by the club’s owners allow for a wider range of opportunity to optimize the exterior. Buildings that are rented often have restrictions on exterior changes. Whatever your situation, you have ways to improve the first impression of your club.
If you rent your building, start by finding out what the landlord will allow you to change and what city regulations you must follow, especially if your building is older and must maintain historical value.
A wide variety of options are available to create a cost-effective and inspiring exterior. You can create a visual statement by adding architectural accents such as columns, canopies and pediments. Finishes such as wood, metal, stone and tile also can add to your exterior.
Painting the exterior creates a big change for minimal investment. If you have an existing color scheme, you should make the new one different enough that it makes a new impression. To see what your building will look like with different colors, try using an interactive application that allows you to upload a picture of your exterior and apply color to it. Several paint companies, including Sherwin Williams, offer this resource. Remember that when colors are applied on different surfaces, such as stucco, stone or wood, and when direct sunlight shines on it, colors can change considerably from their appearance on a sample chip. So once you have narrowed your choices, paint a 3-foot-by-3-foot sample section of each color on the exterior before investing in your final paint choice.
Lighting can make a dramatic impression. If you are able to, make your building or your entrance glow by using regular or amber directional lighting. Up or down lighting, such as wall sconces, can accent interesting design features and landscaping elements. Functional lighting is important as well. Make sure that the parking lot and walkways are well lit so members feel safe when visiting your club.
Window and exterior wall graphics can add to your exterior as well. These graphics work especially well when the front of your building is mostly windows. Some of these graphics allow members inside the club to see through them but people outside can see the picture. And remember, if you do not put your name on the graphics, town regulations often do not count them as signage, so you are less restricted on their size.
Signage is obvious marketing, so the general rule is the bigger the better. Though size is limited by zoning laws and/or landlord building restrictions, a bigger sign with fewer words is more legible and quickly recognized.
If you have space for landscaping, you should present a healthy green image. Spending the time and money to address landscaping and cleanliness will speak volumes about the attitude club operators have.
You also need to address what people see when looking through your windows into your club. Carefully consider what is visible from the outside. Is it an exciting exercise and lobby environment? Are the exercise equipment and offices messy? The club’s interior as seen from the outside should compliment and add to its exterior.
Call it the “living billboard” concept. If people see other people exercising when walking by the club, it reminds them of their need to exercise, and sooner or later, they are more likely to come in. To achieve this concept, you need a certain type of view into the club. If you can do little because you rent space that has limited possibilities—but you have windows—then make sure the view into the club communicates something exciting and positive. Focus on positioning the equipment so that your members are comfortable and do not feel like they are on display.
All health clubs are selling a solution to improve one’s life. Your exterior should reflect this. By placing attention on a club’s exterior, club operators will maximize their efforts and profits.
Bruce Carter is the president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, a club design firm that has created about $650 million worth of clubs in 45 states and 26 countries.