In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell details how our brains evaluate what we encounter, specifically relationships, in a nanosecond. Often, that initial observation is correct. Most of us intuitively understand what we want, like and will enjoy. Because we know the value of first impressions, substantial resources are invested in designing lobbies and front desks. That is all well and good, but the real first impression occurs long before members walk into your facility. It is created when members first see the outside of your building.
Designing the outside of the club to impact the emotional first impression gives us the ability to redefine experiences overlooked and taken for granted. By rethinking the entry to turn it into an adventure filled with anticipation and excitement, we can, according to Gladwell, influence the sale before we even say hello. Creating a strong first impression outside the box helps establish a stronger relationship with our members within.
The next time you drive up to your business, pay attention to what you see and feel. Do this both during the day and at night. How is the lighting? Is it shining at you, in your eyes or showing you something nice? Does the building look like an amazing place you want to enter, or is it just good enough? Does your club excite and entice you to enter? If it looks and feels good enough, it is not. Good enough in a competitive environment is a business killer.
Even if you are leasing your building, you should invest in the outside. After all, you spent a million dollars on the inside of that same building for the build-out. Why wouldn’t spending a small percentage of that on the outside make sense?
A pleasing exterior does not have to cost a lot. The first basic is proper lighting on the building. Up lighting from the perimeter of the building works best. Most public buildings use up lighting because it makes buildings look pleasing and friendly. Many restaurants use the simple tactic of trees filled with a string of white lights—a look many people love. The biggest lighting mistake is using buildings as a lighting post where lights shine down from the building to the parking lot or at the entry down onto guests.
Another important element is a wellarticulated and easy-to-find entrance and pathway to the entrance. Light the path rather than the people. Use nice pavers, colored concrete or sparkly particles in the walkway. Make the pathway your red carpet to the “event.”
Consider the walk-by effect you want. When people look into a club from the outside, they should see something interesting and fun. People like to see what they are getting into before they go inside. Show them the most interesting and fun spaces that you have.
If you have outdoor space, pay for professionally landscaped grounds, especially by the entry. Ensure the lawn and edges are manicured. Put out flowers when in season. No matter what your price point, greenery and landscaping soften buildings and create curb appeal. Although concrete from the curb to the building is maintenance free, it is not hospitable. If you only have a storefront to work with, some potted trees (with white Christmas lights) and plants go a long way. Adding chairs and tables outside the entry creates an outside living room for people to enjoy. When you expand the box and create friendly zones outside, you allow the people who are sitting outside to draw in more people.
One of my favorite design features is using part of the roof for activity space. Even if your weather only allows for this a few months out of the year, the value of having that additional flex space is unmatched. Rooftop spaces often require you to spend money for roof support and a suitable floor to accommodate people, but that cost typically is a fraction of what enclosed second or third floors would cost. From a user point of view, a rooftop area allows members to be outside while still in the safety and boundaries of the building—usually with better views. Owners can get thousands of increased square feet for seasonal programming space, and people approaching the building see other people having fun on the roof. That alone would entice me to come into your club.
These ideas are just a few you should consider investing in to ensure an inviting first impression.
Rudy Fabiano, a registered architect and interior designer, is president of Fabiano Designs, an architectural fi rm for fi tness, wellness, sports and recreation centers and spas that has produced more than 400 projects in 21 years.