Detailed Planning And Public Participation

By Brooke Peterson
Photos Courtesy Of Brooke Peterson

Running a successful fitness center within a community recreation facility is no easy feat. It’s difficult to know which fitness craze is here to stay and which is on its way out. There are however, six tactics any recreation center can employ to ensure the facility endures the tests of time.


1. Solicit input from the public.
2. Research and create a business plan.
3. Maintain equipment; replace it when necessary and keep it clean.
4. Establish a fee structure.
5. Find a balance in the classes offered.
6. Market the services.

The Tumbleweed Recreation Center (TRC) in Chandler, Ariz., is a dynamic facility that offers a unique blend of fitness and recreational classes. The center opened its doors to the public slightly more than 5 years ago, and has served nearly 2 million people during this time. The 62,000-square-foot facility features a fitness center, locker rooms, indoor track, gymnasium, two racquetball courts, exercise room, dance and art studios, classrooms, lounges, computer lab, child watch, and free Wi-Fi.

1. Solicit input from the public.
Without community feedback and buy-in, it is nearly impossible to be successful. Several years of careful planning and research laid the foundation for what the TRC has become. In the late 1990s, Chandler was growing exponentially, and there was a great need to provide additional services to residents. In the spring of 2000, things began to take shape for what became the TRC, with voter approval of a bond election.

In 2002, the city hired an independent research firm to conduct an extensive phone survey so residents could assist in developing and planning the center and its programming. The information received from these phone calls was invaluable.

2. Research and create a business plan.
By 2006, a staff management team was formed to develop an overall action, or business plan. The team turned to similar facilities in the surrounding communities to understand their processes. Information was gathered on pricing, programming, hours of operation, policies and procedures, financial reports, and promotions. Once a solid foundation of research and understanding was established, the team was able to develop a strategic business plan. One key component of any plan is to set a budget with targeted expenditures and revenues. From the research conducted, a pro-forma plan was developed that projected the expenses and revenues for the first 5 years of the TRC. This approach was particularly important in successfully completing management’s goal to offset 50 percent of the direct operating costs by the fourth full year of operation. Due to careful budgeting and planning years before opening, this goal was met during the first year of operation and every year since.

3. Maintain equipment; replace it when necessary and keep it clean.
The TRC implemented a 5-year replacement plan for all cardio machines earlier this year. Instead of asking city council for approval of large sums of money, it has been determined that requesting smaller incremental purchases is the best course of action. Planning by this method allows for fitness equipment to be replaced in phases, so there will always be a handful of machines under manufacturer warranty.

Whenever possible, purchase the extended warranty for high-use machines. Extended warranties will save more than average repair costs during the life of the warranty.

Preventive work will spare the facility staff the headache of broken machines and upset customers. This approach is done quarterly at TRC. Small issues such as lubrication and worn belts can be resolved before they break or shut down the machines unexpectedly. If possible, have a staff member trained on minor maintenance needs; this will ensure issues are addressed in a timely manner.

Every year, technology and machines improve, requiring additional bandwidth. Make sure the facility is equipped to handle these by having sufficient coaxial cables and WiFi available.

Additionally, make the cleanliness of each machine on a daily basis a priority. Disposable gym wipes should be available for guests to clean machines before and after use.

4. Establish a fee structure.
Before establishing a fee structure, officials surveyed the fees of similar facilities within a 5-mile radius. It is recommended that facility operators decide up front if the facility is going to charge residents and non-residents the same amount. In Chandler, for example, the non-resident rate is 35 percent higher than the resident rate for all fee-based programs. Decide if there will be start-up fees or a pass structure for guests.

Unlike many of those facilities surveyed, the TRC does not have start-up fees to join or contracts to sign. At the TRC, anyone can purchase daily, monthly, or annual passes for individuals, families, or corporations. For those who aren’t quite ready to commit to a monthly pass, a 10-visit punch card is offered at a discounted rate, and punches never expire.

Another opportunity to consider is allowing those interested in the facility to take it for a test drive. The TRC offers a 1-week free trial that includes access to all facility amenities.

5. Find a balance in the classes offered.
How do you decide what classes to offer the community? This year alone, there has been an increased interest in everything from Barre to hula hooping and an introduction to Prancercise!

The TRC works to find a balance between classics, community favorites, and the hottest trends. The class range will provide variety to passholders as the audience’s needs are determined. Where appropriate, incorporate the latest trends. The TRC recently added a Beyond Barre class that replaced an underutilized Pilates class and has doubled attendance rates.

Securing quality instructors is essential to the success of group-exercise classes. After meeting with potential instructors, check references. Be sure they are certified or licensed through reputable organizations, as well as insured. Effective instructors have a following, and may bring additional guests and revenue to the facility.

6. Market programs and services through multiple platforms.
The TRC utilizes several media to engage and educate current passholders while attracting new customers. Take advantage of free media, including community bulletin boards at local businesses by posting class schedules and upcoming events.

Hosting workshops and certification classes at the facility will bring professional growth opportunities to instructors and new formats to guests.

Social media are the most effective tools. Pictures and videos are taken of classes and used on You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Instructors are asked to ”like” and ”follow: the center on social media as well as “check-in” to the facility when teaching. The instructor’s social-media posts bring additional awareness of the facility.

Parting Thoughts
Don’t forget to pay attention to the passholders you already have by offering them opportunities to interact with fitness-center staff through fitness challenges, classes, and contests. For example, in every quarter Chandler hosts fitness challenges with a theme; this year, it’s a race across Arizona. For every group-exercise class that a participant takes or mile he or she finishes on the treadmill, elliptical, or bike, the individual receives points towards the challenge. Those who finish the challenge receive a small fitness-related prize. Providing retention programs such as these keeps passholders engaged and interested, and gives them a reason to return to the facility.

Quality customer service is vital to the success of any organization. It’s the simplest forms of customer service—remembering a birthday, asking about a recent trip, or knowing a person’s fitness goals—that builds lasting relationships.

One final thought: Allow time for planning each week. Consider where the facility is at the moment and where it’s headed. A business plan should be a living document and adapt to the needs of the city, facility, customers, and potential passholders.

Brooke Peterson is the Marketing and Communication Coordinator for the City of Chandler, Arizona. Reach her at