By Dale Petrie
We’ve long talked about the battle between clubs wanting year-round golf, tennis, fitness and food and beverage staff while attempting to hire employees that have more of a desire to remain seasonal. But with “The Great Resignation” comes a new power to the worker, and seasonal employment appears to be winning out in terms of numbers and talent.
In the North, clubs and facilities used platform tennis and mats on the golf ranges to hopefully keep, or in some instances, force staff to stick around the winter. But the South has a whole new challenge facing it as staffing in a post-pandemic economy is a major challenge.
Resale value rather than a retirement home is the new focus of the younger generation as they move out of Northern cities to homes in the South, mid-West and Southwest. As this migratory trend continues, residential clubs are attempting to hire year-round staff more often to bolster real estate sales and maintain high resale values of the homes within the community rather than to create better member services. The one problem: Quality year-round staff is tough to find. Seasonal staff tend to be more experienced within the industry and can earn more money migrating North and South and prefer remaining seasonal.
As the migration to southern climes continues to grow, so too does the number of homes in residential clubs in the Southern States. With the Wall Street Journal’s article on March 23 citing that demand for office space in Manhattan is lower than ever – even lower now than after the attacks of 9/11 – there seems to be no end in site to the migration of the middle-aged out of the cities, and in part, to residential country clubs.
What caught my eye in that Wall Street Journal article was that the the workforce in Manhattan was once greater than the population of Houston. Now, middle-aged and mid-level management is moving to cities, and more often to the suburbs and countryside surrounding cities just like Houston, across what real estate developers and agents are calling the SEC and ACC regions. The NCAA and March Madness come to real estate! Although Manhattan condos and apartment sales are up, the migration to homes in the South continues for those of Generation X.
Numbers of homes within gated country clubs, popular in the Carolinas through to Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Arizona, are growing steadily. New builds and resales of these types of residences gated, club communities, have never been more popular. But, here’s what’s different about this migration. These middle aged buyers are looking at resale values of these non-city homes – they are not retirement homes, but a home for a stage of life in which remote working will be more available to mid-level managers and work-based travel will be trimmed by corporate budgets and moved to zoom or google meets. Access to airport hubs like New York and Boston won’t be as crucial.
Resale Values Change Residential Club Demands
Golfweek noted in late 2021 that this trend was started during the pandemic. But we are now seeing that progression continuing, even as Covid appears to be subsiding. Pre-Covid, 58 percent of people desired to live outside the gates of the community where they might play golf in Florida. That seemingly high number had led to issues for clubs in relation to attracting members to buy property inside the gates. But today, that number is down almost 20 percent, meaning that almost 60 percent of buyers want to live on the golf course and inside the gates of their club.
With these increasing numbers, comes an increase in the number of staff residential clubs are carrying and the desire for year-round service. According to Ibis Statistics, employment in the country club industry is up slightly in 2022, but significantly in the past five years, marking the trend of rising membership at clubs had started well before Covid. What that statistic leaves out is what that Golf Week article mentions – that in Southwest Florida, for example, almost 70 percent of the younger buyers – the age of buyers is down to an average of 55 across this migration – are seasonal. This younger buyer has homes elsewhere and is constantly watching the resale value of his or her property, unlike their predecessors who were slowly moving to their retirement homes in the South at a later stage in their lives.
Focus on Resale Values Realigns Year-Round Staffing Requirements
Many residential country clubs, where the real estate office is connected to the club, are now finding it difficult to find year-round staff, which is desired by members to keep their homes’ resale values high. It’s not that wonderful a selling point to walk into the fitness studios or golf pro shop to find that the majority of staff has travelled North for the summer while a prospective home buyer and member is walking the club’s grounds. It puts at odds the seasonal staff with residential club management.
The talent pool for year-round staff is weaker. One, because these seasonal staff members grow in experience through two jobs. But two, and more importantly, they can double their year-round income by performing seasonal work.
In fact, we know of two major search firms in the private members club industry that have recommended just recently keeping a major position at several Florida clubs seasonal. In one instance, one executive search firm advocated changing the role from a year-round one to a seasonal position. The consultant in many instances has argued that not only is a year-round position almost fifty percent more costly than a seasonal role to the club, but that the talent pool for year-round, due to the desire for more work-life balance, is diminishing and weakening. The shoulder season can comprise up to four months of vacation for many seasonal workers, and those “in-demand” seasonal workers are taking even longer breaks in the Spring and Autumn, creating a role known as “the slot” professional – but more on that in next month’s newsletter.
We can say that almost always, the club has followed the advice of the leading executive search firms and has decided to go seasonal once seeing the numbers laid out in front of them or having a poor candidate pool after advertising the position.
Safety In Numbers
Residential clubs are hoping to have their staffs on property, year-round. With the hope to show prospective home buyers and possible new members that the club, no matter the time of year, has the number of staff members to serve them. However, the more experienced and higher-paid staff tend to be seasonal, and clubs are struggling to find that perfect candidate for a director of food and beverage, golf or tennis given this smaller talent pool.
Migratory and seasonal department heads look at the Southern migration as the icing on the cake compared to their earnings from the shorter, Northern season. “What I make in just three months in Maine is equal to what I earn over the six or seven months in Florida, why would I go year round when I can do two jobs and make 40% more?” asks one of my contacts in food and beverage who is getting ready to make the migration to the northern-most state in New England.
In fact, just this week, I spoke with several members of clubs on both Florida coasts who are preparing their trip North. :”I’m going a little earlier this year… Covid is allowing my members here in Florida to move North earlier. They’ve been here for two years,” said a member of the food and beverage staff who leaves annually from his club in Hobe Sound to Nantucket. He remains excited to travel. “It’s like I go home twice a year to each club… it’e invigorating for me and my work.”
In fact, these migratory “birds” are looking at cash flow from their Northern and Southern clubs respectively, especially if they are serving those clubs as seasonal independent contractors. A recent trend is seeing elongated stipends for longer seasons as well as stipends to cover those months of pre-planning for a season on the rocky coast lines or lakes in the North or for the season on the beaches and under the palms in the winter.
However you cut it, the pie of talent for the private members clubs is only so big. And, if the better candidates remain seasonal, shouldn’t clubs that don’t require full-time coverage but hope to only keep resale values high, follow suit? We think so. Property prices in Florida will still rise if the Director of Fitness is not on property on a day in July.
Dale Petrie, whom through his writing for Beyond The Baselines, has gained national fame as a leading contributor to the private members club industry, is a graduate of the Universite Sorbonne in Paris. He gained his Masters in Marketing from the same University’s program in Abu Dhabi. A leader in the industry, Dale sees trends long before they are accepted practices and we are honored to have him as our exclusive writer.