by Ed Shanaphy, USPTA Director of Tennis and Assistant General Manager
It’s that time of year as we look back on the year just gone and hope, with our prayers, that this coming year will be a better one for not just us, but for the world. As we look forward to coping with changes in our industry, it is once again the winter season in which summer seasonal program directors start to ask staff if they are returning or look to fill empty roles with new faces. But during any interview process, for seasonal clubs, comes the question from the candidate: “What about housing?” Every director of tennis I know, including myself, and even seasoned general managers, groan at the word. Housing. It’s the bane of our existence as recruiters and managers.
Countless times, both at clubs for whom we consult and at clubs we manage, we have heard board members say: “Oh, I am sure we will find a spot over a member’s garage for the new hire.” This is just simply a mistake on two levels and can lead to hiring the wrong professional for the job and a waste of an opportunity. But why is this sentiment so wrong? It seems so simple. But now, going forward into 2021, it’s even more of an epidemic amidst a pandemic. Here’s why.
Retaining A True Professional
As seasonal positions are becoming contractually longer and longer, a governing board must realize that in order to attract a true professional, housing must not only be offered as part of the contractual obligation by the club or facility, but that housing also has to be of a level to retain that professional for years to come, creating continuity at the club. Too often, housing is one of the last items on the budget. And, unfortunately, too often is the task of finding housing left too late. In a rush in April for the summer season or August for the winter season, the club settles on a poor level of housing to just find a bed for incoming staff. With millennials more demanding of a home/work balance than the previous generation, the demands on housing and the level of such are ever increasing.
Boards of governors must understand that directors, department heads and, in fact, all club staff are not just staff members, but are also, simply put, professionals. They have risen to the top of their industry, just like any other worker, and have been hired by a leading club or facility. Whether they have a family or not and if that family travels with the worker or not, professionals require a level of housing in order to retain their services. Clubs quite often forget that the professional is giving up, say three to five or even six months of their time at home to be at the club, servicing members on an average of 60 hours a week. Oftentimes, these professionals are giving up their time with family as well.
Covid Collateral Damage
This winter has seen general managers across the country scratching their heads. Housing food and beverage staff and fitness, tennis and golf instructors in close quarters is no longer possible. Many institutions have constructed purpose-built dormitories or housing where staff can lay their hats for the period they are at the club. Now, those double occupancy rooms are down to single occupancy in most cases, and shared bathrooms just seem, well, plain dangerous. General managers are left hoping that staff members don’t socialize outside of work hours, with outsiders or even among themselves. This has always been an issue, but with Covid, it’s become a dominant one.
“It can be just one party fest” said a General Manager recently here in Florida. “Now, that late night game of quarters at the dorm can have consequences far beyond the staff members who might come to work the next morning with a self-induced headache.” The mounting pressure on finding additional housing is evident at the managerial level. And now, that housing has been forced to expand, it will remain expanded with professionals asking for single occupancy in the long term.
Don’t Count Your Chickens With Members’ Property
It’s true. Most members don’t think about all that goes into creating a member-centric facility, whether at a year-round club such as Windsor Club in Vero Beach, Florida, or seasonal clubs like Nantucket Yacht Club in Massachusetts. Members see the finished product, not the leases between the club and landlords for housing or contracts in which housing is guaranteed to a professional.
It’s also rare that a member volunteers that space over the two-car garage or the converted out-building for employee housing. Members, who have those empty spaces tend to have empty nests. They view their property as a way to attract their now older children to come and spend some time in the season with them, just like the “old times” when the kids spent the whole summer at the house. Housing club staff is not a priority for members. Housing male members of staff at members’ property is even tougher. “We do tend to prefer housing female members of staff a bit more,” said a club member from an elite club in Maine to one of our consultants recently.
Even, if a member offers space, it comes at a premium. Members may see a rental back to the club as a way to recoup some of their dues. But in most cases, if the property can be legally tenanted, in the open market members can earn seasonal rentals of far greater revenue than a club can offer. So why give their club a special rate for a staff member?
It comes down to the board, the club governors, the committees and the general manager better understanding how important housing is, and to educate their club and its members as to this importance. With the above two sentiments, quite often we hear “Let’s hire locally.” Well, that is simply a mistake when it comes to replacing a Director of Tennis or Fitness or a Food and Beverage Director, or even a lead instructor. It limits the talent pool, it makes the candidate list quite short, and it makes for a missed opportunity to improve the club, the department, and the program.
An escape to a local hire hurts the club in so many ways. But even further down the line, poor housing or the instance of no housing, can ruin any attempt at retaining the professional. This can lead to a high turnover of staff, which damages revenue streams, levels of member service, and continuity of growth in programming, and in turn, membership.
I know what I’ll be doing this January: Asking my board for more on the housing budget. I do it every January without fail, long before I even look at the cost of practice balls or negotiate the on-court percentages with a new instructor. The secret of that negotiation lies with housing, not the percentage on court, for all concerned parties.
Ed Shanaphy serves as Director of Tennis and Assistant General Manager at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA. Previously he was Director of Tennis and Fitness at Ocean Trail Racquet Club in Jupiter, FL. He served as Head Professional at Edgartown Yacht Club and Quail Valley Golf Club in Vero Beach, FL. As President of BeyondTheBaselines.com Shanaphy consults for leading clubs across the nation.