Make sure patrons are not turned off by your facility before they even enter it.

Many athletics, fitness and recreation facility operators focus on the way their buildings look, the quality of equipment and the qualifications of employees. But how do people feel when they come into your space? How do you create a truly inviting atmosphere? And why is it so important? Follow these tips to ensure you are creating a welcoming environment:

Make patrons feel at home the minute they arrive. What is the first thing visitors to your facility see when they enter the parking lot? Are there ample parking spaces available? Is the lighting adequate? Simple fixes can make a big difference: Employees should be instructed to park toward the back of the lot, allowing open spaces closer to the entrance for patrons. Overhead lighting should be bright and provide a sense of safety, and directional signage should be clear and easy to understand. Also, trace patrons' routes from the parking lot to the front entrance to ensure hazard-free access around steps or curbs.

Connect with people once they enter your facility. Again, what is the first thing patrons see when they walk through your building's doors? Perhaps the entryway is too small or crowded. Hallways and lobby areas need to be warm and inviting, free of clutter and simple to navigate. Also, is it obvious where to find the front desk? Is a friendly staff member available to greet each customer? The first-time visitor should be able to find his or her way with easy-to-follow signage and a friendly face. Instruct your staff to greet each customer, and arm employees with the knowledge they need to assist all patrons. From the second a customer walks through the door, he or she should feel acknowledged and valued.

Control your public image. Many people enter facilities before ever stepping through the door. They do so via web sites, telephone and advertisements. How do those entry points stack up? Is your web site easy to find and navigate? By simplifying your web site, you help people unfamiliar with your programs and facilities understand what you have to offer. A potential customer can be turned off by a complicated phone system. Does a caller have to know how to spell someone's last name just to navigate the answering system? Departments should be accessible and easy to reach by phone and on the web.

Remember, people who feel comfortable in a facility are more likely to renew their memberships and tell others about their satisfaction. While a clean and attractive facility, state-of-the-art equipment, and certified and knowledgeable staff members are important, if patrons do not feel comfortable in your facility, they're not likely to return.