There are simple things owners and managers can do to avoid problems and keep equipment running.

MOST FITNESS CENTER operators do a great job when buying equipment. They compare brands and research the market. However, once they get the product, they put down the literature. They throw the owner's manual in a drawer, and they don't think for one minute about keeping the product operating until, of course, it breaks.

Worse still, some owners create situations that lead to the early demise of their equipment. Examples abound: an improper power supply for equipment; using spray bottles that contain cleaning agents that corrode paint and induce rusting; or allowing salt-covered shoes or boots on equipment. Following are some ways to help keep your equipment in good shape.

Common mistakes

There are simple things owners can do to avoid problems and keep equipment running.

Provide more power. A proper power supply is a must. You need proper power outlets in place before the equipment arrives. For treadmills, each outlet should be a 20 amp, dedicated circuit. That means one circuit per product. Otherwise, one unit will rob power from the next, damaging drive boards. Have an electrician do the wiring before products arrive.

Kill the germ killers. Another common problem comes from good intentions. Some managers have spray bottles of disinfectant, along with signs that say, "As a courtesy to the next user, please spray this anti-bacterial agent on the product." This creates two unfortunate scenarios. First, members squirt or even pour liquid all over the cardio display panel. It drips down under the plastic, possibly shorting out the electronics. Second, chemicals in the bottles combine with sweat, creating a potent pool of corrosive material. Ammonia, a chemical in many cleaning products, is particularly corrosive. Never give out products with ammonia. Other products, including disposable towels without ammonia, work better for the equipment.

Make and enforce rules. Have rules that help you maintain your equipment. One of these, especially in areas with snow and ice, is not to allow street shoes or boots onto your fitness floor. Sand and salt is very corrosive. It follows people into the facility and onto the equipment, where it gets into moving parts and causes unnecessary wear and tear. Even in warm places, similar problems occur: Beach sand gouges out grooves in treadmill decks. And food is a bad ingredient everywhere. Try a little soda or juice on a product to make things sticky and dirty.

Design properly. Product placement can make a different on equipment life. Keep anything with electronics away from water and humidity. Equipment near the aquatics area is bad in terms of product life.

Send a message

Besides designing a facility to work practically, some fitness center owners design their facility to convey a message. In the long run, this message helps them keep the facility running smoothly. Brant Wacker, owner of Gold's Gym in Everett, Wash., says that in designing his facility, he had a conscious intent to set a high standard of behavior through classy décor. He has private changing rooms, granite countertops, good hand soap and wave hand dryers. He says it's all part of instilling proper "gym etiquette."

Wacker and his staff follow up the good first impression with good examples. They make three inspection runs every day, putting things into place, checking cables on strength equipment, inspecting cardio equipment for trouble. He says people see their attentiveness, and get the hint to keep things orderly. Even the weightlifters take note. "The last thing you want is a weightlifter not putting 150-pound dumbbells away," he says.

Wacker's desk staff also cleans. "We have a rotating cleaning list," he says. The only thing the night janitors clean are the locker rooms. Even Wacker, the owner, gets into the act. "I go grab a mop, mop the floor, use touch up paint, whatever," he says. "When people see that, they see pride of ownership, so their expectation is higher.The quality level is higher."

Stop inefficient cleaning habits

Part of the problem is in the way fitness centers are cleaned. When equipment is cleaned, people clean around the parts that are most important. They'll wipe down the display, the pedestal and landing strips. But they often don't touch the most important areas. The walk deck (under the walk belt) should be wiped down thoroughly. And the motor compartment should be vacuumed; underneath that dust and hair are components toiling away in the heat.

Every facility owner should either sign a maintenance contract with an outside company, or hire someone on staff to make sure that someone who knows about the products inspects and cleans them. This sort of technician should inspect for loose or damaged parts before the wear damages the machine or endangers members.

Taking the time to care for the equipment in your fitness center can protect an expensive investment. It makes sense -- and cents -- to maintain your equipment.