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Optimal Cleanliness = Member Satisfaction

Clean fitness centers keep members - it's as simple as that. Paying close attention to cleanliness can raise standards and eliminate hazards and wasteful practices.

All fitness centers are cleaned, to some extent. But the best fitness centers make cleanliness a top priority, and with good reason. "I know there is a big focus on sales, personal training and revenue-based items. But cleanliness is not to be overlooked," says Jim Cianci, vice president, facilities management, for WOW! Work Out World, Brick, N.J. "The cleanliness team is one of the most important in the club. You cannot have sales if you don't have something worthy of selling." Frank Guengerich, executive vice president of WTS International, Rockville, Md., says cleanliness, "speaks to members' expectations." The cleanliness expectations they have at home "translate to wherever they might shower [and] where personal hygiene comes into play." What can optimum cleanliness achieve? Fitness Management and Consulting, Flower Mound, Texas, works with a facility that has been in business for 20 years. A competitor recently opened a fitness center nearby, leeching members away. But they have started to come back. "When asked why they were coming back, they said this club was much cleaner," says President Jim Thomas. "There are few things as impressive as a clean club, no matter what the age." Mary Schrad, franchise support manager for Contours Express, Nicholasville, Ky., agrees that members appreciate cleanliness. "If one was to poll its members, gym cleanliness would rank in the top three concerns," she says. "Gym cleanliness establishes a philosophy of the gym, and reflects how it feels about its members."

The cleaning process

Even in fitness facilities with a good cleaning philosophy, some areas get overlooked. Schrad says the transaction counter at the front desk is one prime example. It is intensively used, so how do you keep it clean? Besides a thorough clean twice a day, it would also be beneficial to have a spray bottle and cloth behind the reception counter for the reception staff to wipe the surfaces down several times a day. Other areas that can get overlooked include door and toilet handles, stretching areas, designated floor exercise areas and closets. There are also hard to reach spaces in between and around the machines, and dust collecting on areas of the equipment, says Schrad. Guengerich says the inside of lockers are often missed, and people don't have rigorous consistency in cleaning drains. "I don't think people disinfect fitness equipment to the level and degree they should," he says. This is the same for countertops and toilets, Guengerich adds. Cleanliness needs to be monitored to ensure standards are upheld. "It starts with management being clear [about] what their expectations are, having a system in place, training people and following up," says Guengerich. "I am amazed at how often people do not have systems in place." WTS International has a checklist and standards document called Basics to Excellence, and fitness centers are inspected according to those standards. Inspection is also a key strategy at WOW! clubs. WOW! has two people who walk the fitness center: the housekeeping manager and a secret shopper. The chain uses a checklist of 150 items, and, once a week, both of these people go into the fitness centers and score them. The housekeeping manager of each club gets a bonus according to how many points is scored per month. Thomas also recommends incentives as part of compensation packages. He further offers an organizational framework that can help with cleanliness. "Some clubs we work with have divided the club up into 'territories,' with different people responsible for each territory," he says. With the addition of management follow-up, fitness centers can establish a robust approach to cleaning. "The clubs that we see doing the best job do the best job of following up," says Thomas.


Cleaning is removing dust, spots and stains. Disinfecting involves killing potentially harmful germs, and is essential in some areas of the facility to provide members and staff with a hygienic and safe environment. "I tell people, anywhere their skin can come into contact with something, the surface needs to be disinfected," says Guengerich. In WOW! clubs, there are wipe-down stations consisting of paper towels and disinfectant, so members can wipe down machines after they have used them. For the housekeeping department, key priorities for disinfection (besides cardio equipment) are locker rooms and showers. Schrad says disinfection is a priority for Contours Express, too. "Anywhere people place their hands - on machines, hand weights, jump ropes, stability balls, bikes, etc. - [is a priority]," she says. "It should be understood that whenever there is human contact, a disinfectant should always be applied." Human contact is the main culprit when it comes to elevating a person's risk of infection. "It is recognized that 80 percent of all infectious disease is caused by contact," Schrad says. "Human sweat is not really a problem. It's primarily the moisture from the sweat that causes problems by helping germs grow. Keeping gyms clean and dry is the No. 1 priority." Members can help. "Management can put responsibilities on its members by providing clear direction as to where they should dispose of their used towels and used water cups," says Schrad. "The more management can communicate direction for this type of cleanliness, [the more it] will take a load off of the maintenance staff to pick up after members." Similarly, Schrad says providing a hand sanitizer on top of the weight machines invites members to protect themselves against germs. "When members use this, they feel better about their germ control, and it cuts down on the maintenance cleaning schedule."

Periodic cleaning

Some tasks do not need daily cleaning, but are still vital on a periodic basis. Periodic cleaning tasks can include things such as windows and all high cleaning. WOW! does high-level dusting at least twice per year. "Above eye-level areas, such as duct work and lighting, often get overlooked," says Cianci. Guengerich says he often meets people who have never even heard of high cleaning. "Most of our facilities close annually for cleaning windows inside and out. Then there are ongoing cleaning tasks, such as moving cardio equipment around and cleaning under it, and cleaning the mechanics of the equipment. If you fail to do that, static electricity can build up and damage the electrical components." He adds pest control and spraying for bugs as another periodic requirement. Contours Express says shampooing carpets and cleaning air ducts and air filters are carried out twice per year. "Depending on your ceiling type, if it is open, those heating and air duct passageways collect dust," says Schrad. Similarly, ceiling fans should be dusted so they don't circulate dust. Thomas adds other periodic cleaning tasks: "With heat of the most recent summer, many club owners were reminded of the importance of regular checks on the air conditioner filters." Steam cleaning carpets, sweeping parking lots and painting walls are other examples of periodic tasks. Further, cleaning grout in showers and washing down walls can be monthly, or perhaps annual, cleaning tasks.

When to clean

Determining the best times of day to clean needs careful attention. Guengerich says that there are two different philosophies. One is to never get in the way of the customer. The second is to clean in a seamless way, cleaning around the customer as much as you can. Generally, there are three key times to clean: after the morning rush, after the lunch rush and before the evening rush. And then a full clean in the evening. He adds that busier facilities may want to constantly clean around their users. "The slower times of day and 'off' hours will be best for heavy cleaning, such as wet areas and the like," says Thomas. "However, many of our client clubs will want to bring attention to the fact [that] the club is being cleaned, and have a porter on duty, in full uniform, cleaning the club throughout the day. It creates great awareness and lets the members see the effort being made."

Zone Cleaning

CMS International, Helena, Mont., teaches its clients a three-step process - called Zone Cleaning - to keep their fitness centers clean while keeping costs down. Step 1: Divide your facility into zones Begin by visualizing your fitness center as if you were looking down at it through a grid. The number of departments and staff you have will determine the size and number of zones. Here is an example of how one facility divided itself into cleaning zones:
Zone 1: Front desk manager (front desk, waiting and lobby area, tanning room, break room)
Zone 2: Daycare manager (daycare)
Zone 3: Group fitness manager (group exercise areas, including main group exercise room, group cycling room and swimming pool)
Zone 4: General manager/front desk manager (men's and women's locker rooms)
Zone 5: Day spa manager (day spa)
Zone 6: Fitness director (main fitness area)
Zone 7: Education director (education room)
Zone 8: Janitor (maintenance rooms)
Zone 9: Administrative staff (administrative offices)
Zone 10: Group fitness manager (group fitness office)
Step 2: Assign cleaning duties Once you've decided on the zones, as well as the people responsible for overseeing them, the next step is to have the responsible parties make a list of all cleaning duties required to keep that particular area clean every day. Start by having each zone manager hold a meeting with their staff. Staff members should be encouraged to contribute ideas and suggestions toward creating the list. This will help to create team unity and buy-in. Step 3: Provide checklists The final step is to create an entire list of all cleaning duties associated with that area, create checklists for the employees within each department and assign cleaning duties to people within the zone. The list should include the area to be cleaned, who is responsible, frequency, space for initialing once completed and which cleaning products to use. The general manager should walk through the facility every morning with a checklist for the entire fitness center. This way, the manager can hold the appropriate staff person accountable on a daily basis before it gets out of hand.
Most Contours Express clubs use a maintenance log to assign cleaning responsibilities; however, Schrad says cleaning is an ongoing responsibility throughout the day. Vacuuming the carpet is done after the members leave. Because most Contours location are closed from 1 to 3 p.m. for community-based marketing, she says that this is the ideal time to complete this task. "Members appreciate seeing the obvious cleaning completed while they are getting their workout in," Schrad says. "These areas would be the hand grips of each machine, bike handles, core stability balls, jump ropes and hand weights. Especially in the cold and flu seasons, members are consciously aware of the spread of germs and welcome the Contours staff [making] the extra effort for their protection." "One can never clean enough," Schrad says. "It is safe to say that key areas should be cleaned minimally one time per day. These key areas are stretching areas, floor exercise areas, etc. Restrooms should be cleaned twice per day and periodically checked for any emergencies. General high traffic areas should be checked hourly."

Eye on costs

Selecting the wrong cleaning product or application technique, and overdosing, can damage floors, fittings and equipment. "I've seen wood floors ruined, carpets ruined, equipment upholstery ruined ... even wrong lubricants on the equipment," says Thomas. "An over-application of chemicals of any sort increases costs," Schrad says. "For example, when wiping down the upholstery of machines, if you use a product that has alcohol in it, in time, this could weaken the material and [it can] begin to tear. The alcohol tends to dry this material." She also warns against using polish on the upholstery, as it can make the surface slippery and endanger a member. Slippery floor waxes can also increase injury risk. Cleaning expenses can be reduced in other ways, too. WOW! has a budget handed down by the franchise owners. Supplies are purchased from one company, and shipped to one central place. They are disbursed by the housekeeping manager, on the basis of orders placed by each housekeeping supervisor once per week. Centralized control can cut down on waste, and centralized bulk purchasing can secure cheaper prices. Measurement, rather than "guesstimation," can have a surprising impact on the effectiveness of cleaning efforts, and dramatically cut costs. Says Thomas, "Read the label. If you don't know [how much to use], ask. Have a system of tracking." Thomas says some fitness centers over-apply chemicals, needlessly increasing costs. "We had a client club recently discover they were using three times the necessary ingredients to wash towels. Substantial savings have been realized since changing the method of measuring." However, Guengerich warns not to cut corners in trying to reduce cleaning costs: "Cleanliness is not an area we want to be scrimping in." In the long run, you save time and money with thorough cleaning. For instance, not allowing mold to build up in shower areas can avoid the process of stripping out and replacing the tile. Look at cleaning as preventive maintenance.

Clean design

A proportion of cleaning costs can be designed out. "Building materials should be used that show a clear expression of cleanliness, but are low cost and easily maintained," says Thomas. "We find the biggest mistake is usually made in the locker rooms." Cianci sits in on the design of WOW! clubs and is project manager in building the clubs. WOW! uses rubber flooring instead of carpet, as carpet has to be replaced every three years, gets dirty and harbors bacteria. "We put in materials that are what we call 'bulletproof,'" he explains. "This includes sheet metal on walls, which always looks clean and can be washed off. Ceramic [tile] is used in locker room areas and [are] a 12-by-12-inch size, which means less grout to clean and maintain," Cianci says. Another example of cutting down on cleaning requirements is WOW!'s shower units, which are constructed with one piece of fiberglass, thereby eliminating grout completely. Schrad also offers some designed-in savings. "A good club design will have wide open doors entering bathrooms so people don't have to open doors and have a chance to spread germs," she says. "Restrooms will have hand dryers to take away paper towel issues that could increase paper towel costs and maintenance. Signage of proper tampon disposal will keep the plumber away." Guengerich says that some approaches to designing for cleanliness don't create an aesthetically appealing environment. "Design definitely affects the simplicity of cleaning a facility," he says. "But there is an aesthetic balance to achieve. For instance, in a locker room, do you use carpet or not? Some say they need to have carpet because it creates a home environment, but carpet brings cleanliness issues, as opposed to tile, which is more durable." Making cleanliness a priority can help raise standards in your fitness center. It can also eliminate waste. "Cleanliness, or lack of cleanliness, is the No. 1 complaint we hear in health clubs," says Thomas. "So, we would be mindful to put it at the top of our to-do list."
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