by Ed Shanaphy, CMAA
Life is never still. It never just stops. Even in a year with a Pandemic challenging the globe, life moves forward. We watch the news to see if our political leaders have a plan to battle an invisible enemy. We tune in to see if our planet can survive perhaps one of the worst plagues it’s ever experienced. But life moves forward and we, as a species, need to move forward with life.
And how does your club look toward the future? Does it have a long-term plan? Are members generally adverse or in favor of change? These are questions at the heart of longevity. Generational change forces clubs to change, and yet, change can bring financial ruin to a club if not researched, planned, and implemented correctly.
Membership Versus New Membership
As the economy is burgeoning and families look to change lifestyles, club membership is growing. Many clubs are facing capacity issues, creating wait lists, and looking to fill their coffers as families look to increase leisure time in their lives. But this brings out a generational issue. Interestingly enough, in a recent study, almost 60 percent of members at a club use the club less than once a year. And yet, they are paying the annual dues. One might say that it’s great that they are paying their dues and their fair share, but their monetary value to the club is low – and their connectivity between the club and community is close to nil.
New members are a club’s ticket to financial longevity and soundness. These new members, in most instances, want to get involved in activities at their new club, meet other members, and educate and participate in club traditions. But often, the older members look at disdain toward these new members – new, unknown or unfamiliar families taking up tee times, restaurant covers, and courts that were once (well, at least in their personal memories) not always so popular and rarely filled. How does a club work through this dichotomy?
The answer lies in programming and dues. Programming, both on the course and on the courts and in the restaurants, creates a more welcoming atmosphere at a club, pushing through and making any social mores and barriers that longer-established members may push on any new members quite secondary. Programming allows the staff, if trained and mentored correctly, to show off the club and give new members reasons for joining. Staff is also a conduit for new members to meet existing members.
Staff members should be offered mentoring along with continuing education through the golf and tennis industry bodies. This allows for a staff not only at the cutting edge of teaching and instruction, but also at the top end of member services. We should, as managers and governors of clubs, look to expand the service mentality throughout all staff and instructors.
With that said, dues should not only be viewed as a vehicle to raise funds to cover expenses, but they should also be used as a tool to push out members not using the club’s facilities or using the club in such a way that adds to their lifetime membership value. By increasing dues annually to a level which sees “the back end” of a membership not using the club letting their memberships go, the club opens more spots for new members. And new members mean initiation fees. But a new member also means introducing the club to a new, larger community of people – a different universe, as we call it in the advertising industry.
Initiation fees should be raised in respect to not only weeding out financially strong members, but also in respect to anticipated capital expenditure and future expenses. A strong waiting list of possible members can also help raise initiation fees – simply through the economic law of supply and demand. Remember, the more new members either accepted or on the wait list, the greater the sense of a club community within a greater community.
A waiting list, coupled with higher initiation fees, also guarantees a sinking fund for those unforeseen capital expenditures – irrigation, roofing, legal issues. Any business, clubs included, never knows from where a new capital expense might emanate. But that business should be prepared with a slush fund for emergencies or unexpected capital costs.
Guest Events And Outings And The American Express Ethos
So often we hear from clubs that they cannot host that extra interclub match or that business outing due to member resistance. Why not? It might be one day out of the year where are regular membership foursome may not be able to tee off, but it could garner two new memberships for 40 years. Which is more valuable to the longevity of the club? We believe that most opportunities to host a wider community should be taken. Any club, or business for that matter, is only as good as its outreach and marketing to the community. A business outing, a member-guest tournament, an open charity tournament – any event a non-member is allowed to grace the hallowed grounds of a club, is an opportunity to show a non-member the advantages of membership.
We like to think of American Express. A green card…. elevates to a Platinum Card. Then one belongs to the Black Card. And only a few ever get to the Centurion Card. But all who do, at each level, feel like they are a member – that they belong. Strong marketing for a bank and a credit card. It’s amazing how we each try and look at the date under “Member Since” on not only our own cards, but our friends’ cards too. Everyone wants to look at the date on their It’s an exclusive club and people do want to get in. How can you make your club so desired? By keeping programming cutting edge, raising initiations and dues, and by creating a club that people really want to join through a sense of community.
Ed Shanaphy is Director of Tennis and Assistant Club Manager at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA. He is also President of BeyondTheBaselines.com, one of the nation’s leading consulting firms with clubs both under management and consultancy.