By Dale Petrie
Real estate prices are soaring. Americans are migrating South to find the outdoors, stay healthy, and avoid higher state taxes. There’s a low supply of houses on the market everywhere in this great nation. And, the media is calling our era “The Great Resignation”. These are just a few of the trends since March 2020 when Covid hit American shores, or at least when the country realized it might be dealing with a Pandemic. One can argue that these trends were already in the books, and that Covid was just a catalyst. Whether you believe that or not, life has changed. But, the urge to keep up with others in terms of material possessions has not.
Private members clubs have seen a rebirth. Dues are rising at an average of 6 to 8 percent in 2022 across rural and suburban country and yacht clubs, as well as at city and eating clubs. With dues rising, so do initiation fees and capital expense charges on members’ monthly statements. People might be resigning their jobs, but they are joining clubs.
Americans are a tough and resilient people. They are finding money long stashed away for a cousin’s education or doing that side hustle they always dreamed of to stay afloat. They are working the stock market and investing in new places, like the aforementioned real estate. How Americans are finding new sources of wealth and income is truly mind-boggling.
And in this rush to make life good again, clubs are pitting themselves against each other in a newly competitive marketplace. Private members clubs once provided the hallways of leisure and relaxation. Now they create capital expenses as if they were going out of style. “How high can an initiation fee go to offset the cost of a new cap expense?” “Shall we hire year-round to serve a growing, migratory but semi-permanent membership here in the Southern states?” “How do we get our legacy families back to their Northern club earlier this Spring?” These and many more questions are being asked of boards and club managers across the nation by a membership enthralled in the nature of competition and keeping up with Joneses at the country club next door.
What Makes A Club Special Is Not Always A Capital Expense
But in this mire of 2022, we must remember that each club has its own ethos – it’s own salient qualities to which the initial membership was first attracted. A club next door might install a new beach bar or offer surfing lessons through the winter season. That doesn’t mean it’s right for your own club which might have fewer members, or fewer “doors” if within a gated-community and club.
In the industry we see this everyday. An eating club, or city club, might hire a pastry chef and add to its dessert trolley. A member might bring this idea to her small, suburban golf club and sooner, rather than later, that trolley is making its way across the flagstones of the golf terrace. But is that the right feel for a summer club where hands are grimy from gripping putters in the summer sweat and raking bunkers after a wayward drive? The desserts might wilt under the summer sun.
In so many instances, club boards look to their neighbours as the example – as the apotheosis of luxury. But the grass is not always greener, whether its the grass on the putting surfaces or the clay on the tennis courts. Memberships are distinct for a reason and those factors can hark back to the club’s founding. Members and staff make a club special – capital expense projects should simply, and hopefully, merely update the facility to attract a similar membership within the club’s existing environment.
As boards and club managers, we must remember, in this age of growth and evolution in our industry, the deep-rooted characteristics and traditions which make each club special. Rather than trying to match the club across town, we must constantly reinvestigate what makes a club special to its members. It may be something intangible and far different from what the Joneses order for lunch or decide to build for their club down the beach just a couple of miles.
Dale Petrie is a renowned marketer in the private members club industry. A graduate of The Sorbonne in Paris, France, Dale has worked with both European and American clubs in connection with marketing, member retention and membership drives. Presently in New York, he is presently contracted with two leading New England clubs looking at their membership offerings from food and beverage through to junior camp offerings for Summer 2022.