Posted on Leave a comment

League Play Doesn’t Always Add To Lifetime Member Value

Ladies USTA Team

How Users Can Be Abusers and Team Players May Lower the Value of Your Membership and Club

From a management viewpoint, clubs are businesses. In these uncertain times, this is an even more crucial viewpoint. Clubs need to show positive cash flow, year-in, year-out. Each event should show a positive cash flow.

Pricing, supply and demand, and life-time value of customers/members all enter into the equation. Several market-based rules apply. One is: You can always lower a price; you can’t easily raise one. Associated with this is one adage usually held in even higher regard by some marketers: A customer garnered through a low-priced offer will always have a lower life-time value.

This adage alone recommends keeping initiations and dues at the higher limit that demand allows. You may lose a few member prospects due to higher joining costs along the way, but members that do join are almost always better “customers” of the club with a higher life-time value across a longer membership.

Customer life-time value is the profit margin a company expects to earn over the entirety of their business relationship with the average customer. Let’s change the wording: Members’ lifetime- value is the profit margin a club expects to earn over the entirety of membership with the club. Let’s break this down a little.

To calculate on a large scale, an average member’s value to the club can be estimated for each newly acquired member taking into account the acquisition costs (marketing and operating expenses) and the cost of the services provided (professional fees, balls, training aids, etc). This gives us an average value for each member. This average fluctuates on the variables of how often a member purchases, the value of those purchases and how long that member retains membership. Or simply as a mathematical equation, to look at each member individually:

Member Lifetime-Value = Average Value of Sale × Number of Transactions × Retention Time Period × Profit Margin

Does League Play Add to Your Facility’s Bottom Line?

We all know the delicate balancing act that Directors of Tennis face when it comes to teams and league play. Interclub teams, USTA team offerings and other organized play are rife with politics. If allowed, teams and leagues can dominate a director’s and his staff’s time.

Leagues do serve a purpose. They create competitive and regular play at little or no cost to players. And here lies the dilemma. With play organized at little or no cost, how can a club and director keep a perceived and real value to the club and the program? Here a delicate balance must be struck: free and low-cost play versus the perceived membership value (intangible) and real life-time value of membership (tangible).

A question always asked is whether to charge for team practices to raise the value and spending of team members. Should the charge be weekly by attendee, where some team members may show up, or should each member be charged in advance, leveling the playing field? Another option is this: those who show up for practice get first dibs on that week’s match.

All three variations have benefits but all three also have issues. In terms of revenues and life-time values, the upfront charge (maybe including a fee for a uniform and match balls as well) can really add to life-time value. If team practices are mandatory and paid for in full, the average life-time value of a member goes up. If not, more often than not, the average life-time value of a member goes down, significantly.

Over the years there have been two methods of dealing with such league play. The avenues taken vary between clubs, and are dependent on a number of factors. Some of these factors include the level of control (aka micro management) a director desires over his or her program. Another factor is how the club operates on a revenue basis in relation to the ideals and ethos of the club. These two factors usually dictate a hands-on or a hands-off approach to teams and leagues, and the politics they create. They also play a large role in the perceived and real value of membership.

Leagues or Bust? Well, No. Look at Life-Time Value

Number of transactions and average value of sale is what always sticks in my mind as I watch a 9.0 mixed doubles league team take up 3 courts at peak time under the lights on a Thursday night. Teams take courts. courts that could be creating revenue. Teams also gobble up the time and attention of staff, from front desk up through to the director. These are costs, and yet, more often than not, revenues from teams do not cover the operating costs of the offer. Your cost of goods is higher than your retained prices.

If one takes into account membership initiation fees and membership dues, perhaps a slightly prettier picture is painted. However, those fixed revenue streams should really be saved for capital expenditures and facility improvements.

Often, a ladies’ or men’s team, if unhappy at a facility, will threaten their memberships collectively. Club managers and directors get wrapped up in the “heat of the moment” and think of massive losses if a team walks away. In reality, more often than not, these teams are not adding to members’ lifetime-values. Statistical data show that team members rarely take private lessons or jump in a clinic. but rely on inexpensive team practices for their instruction. Aside from uniforms, usually purchased after negotiating a discount for the team members, there are few purchases in general from team members. Team members travel as a pack and save money as a pack.

Another cost factor is an intangible. Every time a club team takes to the courts, half the players are non-members. Clubs are so particular about guest fees and how often guests may play per month or annually, but here, every weeknight or 10am on weekdays in Palm Beach County, most club courts are filled with 50 per cent non-members who are playing for free. Do the leagues pay guest fees? No. Maybe that is a bridge too far. Leagues do serve to provide competitive play. But the intangible, and often heard, perception is always there: who are all these non-members at peak times. creating another balancing act for director and manager? Even more importantly, league play preempts member use at peak times, creating another balancing act for director and manager. There is a cost to the club or facility that cannot be measured, but can be very high in member morale, non-usage and lost revenues and perception.

Teams and Covid-19 Are Opportunities

League play is an opportunity for profitability and adding life-time value, but one that has to be created correctly really from the outset with new ownership or a new director. And when that opportunity is taken, management and staff have to be on the same wavelength. As we resume play and leagues come back from the Pandemic, that opportunity appears once again.

Once a team is allowed to operate on a low-cost basis, it will be difficult to raise that revenue stream. However, a change in director, management, ownership or an elongated pause from play created by a pandemic allows for a resumption of league play under new guidelines. As league play commences, create a perception of value by charging adequate prices for all team practices, offer a warm up, and charge for uniforms and balls in full. If the team bucks and objects, well that is unfortunate. That team might leave and find a new club to call home, which often happens. But on the bright side, your membership life-time value just went up.

Ed Shanaphy is President of BeyondTheBaselines.com, a subsidiary of SBW Associates, Inc. He is a graduate of Duke University and The London School of Economics.

Posted on Leave a comment

Liquidity, Availability, and Flexibility – Clubs’ Needs For Reopening and Restructuring

board room accountant meeting

By Ed Shanaphy
B.A. Duke University, M.A. The London School of Economics
President BeyondTheBaselines.com – SBW Associates, Inc

These are unprecedented times, but they will come to an end. Whether this summer, or in early 2021, Covid-19 will finally subside and we as an industry across the nation must be ready. Club managers, owners, and boards of governors should have a short-term and long-range plan for reopening. Reopening requires liquidity, availability and flexibility.

Prior to opening, as a club manager or owner, you have a single opportunity to restructure the tennis and fitness departments. All bets are off as you return and bring staff back to work. Most clubs and businesses are predicting a revenue drop of approximately 30 percent over the next 18 to 24 months and preparations for the change that Covid-19 will bring to bear on the country club and the tennis and fitness industries must be weighed in appropriately before any plans are finalized.

Liquidity

Liquidity is essential. The access to cash and funding is a necessity, whether you are a facility employing a director or “farm out” your tennis or fitness department to a director running a business within your club structure. Many clubs are unable to apply for Small Business Association funding, whether excluded as a 501(c)7 social club or simply red tape. But if by chance your club or facility was successful in its application for SBA loans or grants, that is a great help to retain staff and cover payroll costs during these weeks and months that clubs are not operational.

If you were not able to get through the paperwork for government funding, there are other avenues to liquidity. There are emergency disaster loans from most states. If your club or facility has a long association with a bank, you can often receive bank funding at a low percentage rate using club assets as collateral. Finally, if your facility or club has an excellent credit rating or Dun & Bradstreet report, it should not prove too difficult to gain some more liquidity if required to restart from industry financiers. What we must take away from this as club managers, governing bodies and advisors is that the term “savings for a rainy day” must be now essential business management as we move forward and budget accordingly.

Most clubs run at a fixed cost, whether they are open or closed. Staying closed longer puts more money in the club’s coffers, but members might become impatient and ask for partial or pro-rated refunds of membership dues. It’s a delicate balancing act for any club manager and board of governors.

Depending on refunds to members or clients, clubs remaining closed longer may and should have access to savings and funding bigger than any contractor working within the framework of the club. We have encountered many clubs guaranteeing the independent contractors running their tennis and fitness departments funding for costs incurred, such as overheads, retail purchases for golf, tennis and fitness shops, and payroll. These loans from the clubs in most cases will be paid back over the next season of full service.

As we move forward through this crisis, there is a possibility of assessing a membership for a planned project which could help instill cash into a club as the revenue streams come recover. This could be a somewhat riskier method in that it relies on timing of the recovery and a strong economy coming back to fore in 2021 and beyond.

However you find cash, it’s imperative that the club or facility has enough to remain a viable concern and to be flexible when reopening, something we will look at below.

Availability

One of the top three desires and wants of any membership is availability of staff and management to members. The CoronaVirus era hasn’t changed that. In this era, in-person communication is not truly possible, so communication is left to substitute for availability. Communication should be planned, positive and productive. Communications with staff should be daily, especially with department heads who are planning the minutiae of reopening their departments.

Communication with stakeholders, whether clients or members, should be relevant and frequent. Both the club manager and the department heads should be reaching out often to members or stakeholders. Outlining the plan to reopen, the new regulations that will be in effect at the club, and the overall, continuing finances of the club should be part of weekly updates.

Zoom or Skype meetings with stakeholders should be held at least twice a month, if not more often as the facility moves through the CoronaVirus era and looks to reopen in the coming weeks and months. Newsletters via email, communications via text and letters and cards through the old-fashioned “snail mail” can play a part as people are stuck at home. These communications should focus on how you are looking to safe-guard the facility, the members, players and staff members, along with protecting the stakeholders value.

Both club managers and department heads should be at their home desks with the phone nearby. It’s reassuring for members and staff to know that you are on the other end of the line or email message. And, even though you might not hear from them, they’ll realize and understand that you are there providing a service. It creates value for you, for the club, for the program and club staff.

Positive communication with staff is essential in these times to keep morale high and to lead staff thoughtfully and effectively through a crisis such as Covid-19. Questions to be prepared for are numerous and your plans for restructuring your club’s staff must be solid with a mind to possible future changes given the fluid situation. But we believe in numbers – studying the numbers and reports over the past 12 to 18 months should help you decide how to move forward looking at a possible reduction in revenues up to a possible 30 percentage points in the coming 12 to 18 months.

Flexibility

As a club manager or governor, this is the opportunity you have been waiting for. This is the chance to make that professional who is not at the top of your list a part-time or seasonal employee, saving you 401k matching payments, healthcare and other benefit costs. This is your chance to move up that instructor who has been grinding for you with the 10 and under tennis players on the back courts to a more senior position and to create more club revenues by renegotiating that individual’s contract while at the same time lifting that instructor’s pay scale. Everything can be done and restructured under the “guise” of Covid-19

With all that is said about keeping jobs, we all know what is coming after this unexpected cessation of trade: Restructuring. And for those governing boards, general managers and club managers, this is, however you look at it, your chance to weed the wheat from the chaff.

As we all look forward to a new trading opportunity after being shutdown through lockdowns, the realization that a club could possibly save more money closed than as a going concern came as a surprise to many. With or without member refunds, driving down the costs of personnel, letting those instructors go who are on higher salaries or stipends, and perhaps looking at cross-training some positions, is all something each and every club and facility should not just be planning, but doing.

Payroll Folder
Liquidity will retain instructors

In the short term, any club or facility must maintain its staff. Do remember, in addition, that there is basically a stoppage of all legal immigration through at least June 23rd, which means that any H-1B visas and foreign temporary workers are not going to be here through the summer season. Summer will be affected for those seasonal clubs, but this too is a chance to restructure looking toward Summer 2021. Being flexible with staff is key.

With those foreign, temporary workers requiring replacement, the PPP loan or EIDL and Small Business Administration grants, can be used as a short-term method to keep the department or facility in line and ready. The upward revenue curve following the height of the crisis will be slow and proportional, and in line with CDC guidelines. This extended, slow rebuild is a club’s opportunity to effectively restructure. This period should give us some clues as to the long term cash flow and revenues over the next 12 to 18 months. We outline below some ideas that should be discussed as reopening starts to occur.

  • Restructuring Staff
    • Flow Charts – this is your chance to reset reporting structures. Ensure, for example, that the holdover pro who has remained outside of management and supervision for the last 10 years shall now report to the new Director of Junior Development. And enforce that new structure upon opening.
    • Reporting structures should be updated and formulated to new needs. Weekly reports should be required from all instructors and directors to club management detailing new membership drives, communication with non-active members, new and possible revenue streams and conflicts between staff and members. These reports should follow the organizational flow chart: i.e. junior instructors report to Junior Director who in turn reports to Director of Tennis who then reports to the General Manager.
    • Seasonal Positioning and pushing year-round staff members to a seasonal contract could be highly useful. Not sure where and when CoronaVirus will leave us, and where there are seasonal differences in revenue streams, it’s essential we look at those revenue curves weekly in terms of staffing. Shortening the season for the summer might save clubs over-paying for staff when members might not be present due to local rentals being curtailed. It’s also an opportunity to make year-round staff seasonal aimed at the peaks of member usage, saving on 401k and healthcare costs.

  • Restructuring 1099 Contractors
    • We have long been advocating a revision in straight hourly rates for 1099 instructors. As we work with clubs, we look to create incentives for your instructors.
      • Rentals versus Hourly Rates: With fixed income from club departments becoming essential in recovery, why not charge fixed rentals (as do corporate gyms with their personal trainers who are 1099 contractors) and split that rental revenue between the club (75% and the Director 25%). Once the rental is reached, 100% of revenues could go to the 1099 instructor. This model creates massive incentive for instructors to teach both private sessions and groups as well as club-based programs. But more importantly, it guarantees a fixed revenue from all instructors to the club.
    • Create incentives for directors and instructors favoring group and clinic teaching over private lessons on the courts or sessions on the gym floor. This will help rebuild the group teaching ethos as we are forced to social distance. But more importantly, it will grow revenue for the club immediately upon reopening. Remember, private lessons and sessions conducted by junior staff don’t really add to club or director revenues in a major way.

  • Cuts to compensation and reduction of staff
    • We all know that staff will not look exactly the same as we come out of the pandemic work stoppage. This is not a time to worry about personal relationships with staff. Staff are looking to safeguard their career and might make a move before your plan is initiated. A staff member, who may have been at the club for a very long period, might be forced to have a salary reduction in order to retain his or her position. Given that we will see an estimated 30% drop to most, if not all club and facility revenue streams, cutting salaries and related costs are essential. Perhaps set goals for these long-serving staff members in order to regain their salary over a two to three-year period to show that the club values their work. At the same time, communicate that many staff are being forced to accept a pay cut or have fewer scheduled hours as we rebuild slowly.

Moving Forward

This is a time to make wise business and economic decisions. Study past revenue streams and pro-rate those streams accordingly as we rebuild. Budget conservatively and study the economic comeback locally and nationally as the virus is not uniformly affecting the nation. Use this opportunity to shed non productive staff while creating incentives for valued staff. No one is expecting staff to look exactly the same after the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Use that belief to bring back your club with better staff, leaner departments, and a higher value to member services.

Ed Shanaphy is President of BeyondTheBaselines.com, a subsidiary of SBW Associates, Inc. He served for 17 years as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Haysbridge (UK) Ltd, a marketing and advertising international conglomerate, operating in 16 countries with offices in Dublin, Ireland and Sydney, Australia with head offices in London, England. BeyondTheBaselines.com is a US-based consultancy which aims to bring additional resources to governing bodies and general managers and has some of the most elite country clubs in the nation as clients.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Home Owners Association: Where The Members Are Residents

Stillwater HOA Clubhouse

At a country club, a Director of Tennis sees the members that come to the club on that day. At a Home Owner’s Association, every member sees when the Director arrives in the morning, when he teaches, whom she teaches, and when the Director leaves for the day.

The 4 new courts at Stillwater HOA

Tim Clay, Director of Tennis at Stillwater Tennis in Naperville, IL, takes us through a normal day at the his home owner’s association. Tim is a great pro, but a true business man. Tim runs a business. “I’m neither an employee nor an independent contractor,” pronounces Tim. He’s right. As a full corporation with various interests, he is simply a corporation with a franchise at an HOA. Fortunately he has his M.S. in Management. “But, I’m always learning.” He has built a program that has over 90 percent prepayment and preregistration all through credit card usage.

Tim Clay has been the Director of Tennis at Stillwater for 10 years and has worked at the HOA for the past 15 years.

Tim has been coaching tennis for over 20 years. Illinois PTR named Tim their Member of the Year for 2 consecutive years in 2019 and 2020. His program at Stillwater is one of the bright lights in the region.

HOA Politics and Resale Values

Whether dealing directly with residents or through a Community Association Manager or management firm, Tim has found the right method of navigating through a situation that is rife with politics. How can it not be where each member is on property all the time and each decision Tim makes could affect property values? Tim discusses how he has grown into the job and learned the differences between being a country club professional and a Director at a large HOA.

You can reach Tim with any and all of your questions about working at HOA’s by email: tim@stillwatertennis.com

Posted on Leave a comment

Federer’s Tweet Did Just What The Doctor Ordered

practice wall

by Ed Shanaphy, USPTA Director of Tennis

A group of us were pondered last week on a zoom call which was clearly monitored through the zoom security issue due to the nature and importance of the call. The question that had been posed: “Why has it been so long since an American man has won a Grand Slam.” The women have had Serena for years competing at the top. Although born in Russia, Sofia Kenin has adopted the USA as we have adopted her. Over the years, we’ve had Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams. But the men? Nothing since Andy Roddick lifted the US Open in 2003 – 17 years ago this summer.

In the group chatting on zoom was a renowned former Ivy League head tennis coach. And he said four words: “Bring Back The Wall. Well, guess what? Roger Federer did just that this week.

I’m not always the biggest Roger Federer fan, but this video, which has gone viral, done with Roger’s usual aplomb, has brought some humor and class to tennis during a pandemic. But it’s also brought back a tool that we often overlook. “Choose your hat wisely.” He threw out a challenge and the world of tennis and beyond has taken him up on it.

Fed’s twitter roll is now full of his fans – and fans of the game – doing the challenge in all kinds of hats. From Mexican sombreros to Irish caps, from sun hats to winter wool hats, people are finding a wall and volleying against a wall – any wall. From Rennae Stubbs to Lindsey Vonn, from Brad Gilbert to celebrities from the world of music, Roger’s fans and the fans of the game have taken him up on his #tennisathome challenge.

And that’s the beauty of the wall. As the college coach wisely said in the zoom call, “You can find a wall anywhere and you can do it by yourself.” In this day and age, that’s a recipe for greatness.

The Wall Is One Of Our Best Tools

The practice wall has always been around. With a line either curved to simulate a net, or a straight line marking 3 feet straight across, it’s been usually at the back of a club or facility, often with cracks in its facade and weeds growing at its base. Most practice walls remain largely forgotten and neglected. But in these times of self-quarantine and self-isolation, the wall has come back to the top of the charts. And now, Federer with his challenge, has made any wall a practice tool.

As a kid, I used the wall a lot. I grew up on clay courts, and the wall was on Court Six. It faced the back of the court, behind the baseline, on the South side. On the other side of the wall was a paved portion over grass in the shade. I used to like to test my skill on the hard surface in the Spring before high school practice started and then as the summer season started, I would spend more time on the clay side.

When I interviewed for a new summer position in 2016 and visited the club, I was struck by the size of the practice wall. I had never seen a bigger wall. Pavement on both sides, it rose above the clubhouse at the back to 18 feet in height. I thought it was an eyesore.

But the wall is a central meeting point for the juniors. Thanks to my predecessor who believed in the importance of practice on the wall, the juniors congregate and hit among each other on the wall, both before and after their scheduled clinic times. A morning ritual is a few of the juniors come down as the sun rises and the court maintenance folks are out preparing the clay for the day’s play. The juniors jump on the wall waiting for the grooming to finish.

This past week, with social distancing a part of our lives, I had several questions as to if members could use the wall. No one asked when the courts were being resurfaced – but because members are self-isolating – “Is the wall open?”

The Wall Can Free Up A Valuable Court

With court usage at its peak at 8am on weekdays – during our Tiny Tots and Little Little Tennis junior clinics – we often take the 2 to 6 year-olds onto the wall area to free up another court. We set up targets and obstacle courses focusing on the wall and using the wall to roll balls against or stop back swings for volleys. The wall also is a contained space, so ball pickup is that much quicker – a big factor to keeping both juniors and parents happy. And now with Roger showing off his skills at the wall, perhaps it will be more acceptable to the high-schoolers to drill on it during their clinic times.

The wall is really a two-fold drill sergeant. It allows the player to groove a swing, or in Roger’s challenge, groove a volley. But to hit against a wall, a player has to master control so that the bounce off the wall is manageable and playable. Time with the ball on the strings. The wall requires a player to create more time with the ball in contact with the strings which, in turn, creates the control needed to manage the shot so that the return off the wall is playable.

With all the pros and celebrities answering Roger’s challenge, the wall has become just what one college coach was hoping for – a training tool which had really been missing in the arsenal of American tennis at the grass roots level.

Ed Shanaphy is Director of Tennis at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, Massachusetts, which has an enormous wall at the back of the clubhouse. It’s green just like Roger’s wall.

Posted on Leave a comment

Politics In Play – Ladies Teams

DBH Ladies Team Website

Ladies Teams can run a club. They can also ruin a club. They shouldn’t do either, but they do at times and at some clubs. Men’s teams, although not as numerous, can also throw a wrench into the cog. But Ladies Teams tend to be one of the top 5 reasons for Directors of Tennis being shown the door.  Here’s the low-down on how to avoid the politics that are inherent in any competitive league.

Document, and then Document Again

As a Director, Club Manager or Facility Owner, it is essential that you avoid the pitfalls that competitive teams can so quickly present. By documenting all conversations and reiterating that conversation with a team player, either by text or by email, after the fact, you are creating a protective backup throughout the team environment. However, first and foremost in our play book, is this: Avoid as much discussion with team players as possible. We advocate a “hands-off” approach to competitive teams. There really is no reason why, beyond practices and strategies, that a Director or Owner should be involved in day-to-day decisions for teams. Competitive teams are there as an additional offering to members – a small percentage of members in most cases at the facility – and should be treated as just that. Teams are just another opportunity for competitive play.

The best method to avoid confrontation is through communication. If members of a team understand how the season is going to work from the outset in terms of pairings, which team at the club they will play for, and how they can move up to a new team, or move up within a team, then half the battle is won. Do remember to communicate that with the chance to move up to a new team or within a team, so also exists the opportunity to move down. We advocate a full “Team Member Rule Book” which should outline all possibilities from the first team meeting. For a BeyondTheBaselines.com “Ladies Team Rule Book” Cheat Sheet, please visit our Patron Page and become a Gold member at https://www.patreon.com/BeyondTheBaselines

Control vs Delegation of Team Play

Therefore, delegate as much as possible to elected team captains. We believe, particularly at a member-owned club, that delegation to captains wins hands down over control over the teams. Far too often we have seen the backs of dismissed Directors of Tennis over Ladies Teams. In most cases, this can be avoided by upfront communication with the teams and delegating to team captains, fellow members, of pairings and placings. With our experience with Ladies Teams ranging from New England and the Dorothy Bruno Hills Indoor Tennis League (DBH) to South Florida and The Palm Beach County Women’s Tennis Association (PBCWTA), we have found that we advocate an “advise and consent” position by the Director. They can listen to the captain and maybe help with some additional ideas or advice, but leave the major and final decisions to the team captains.

DBH Ladies Team Website

Certainly, as a recently employed Director of Tennis at a club, it is essential to mind your communication with team players. Just like a first day of school, trust no one. But do know that those who want their say are going to find you and believe that you will have a sympathetic ear to their woes, unlike your predecessor in their view. That’s why you’ve been hired, right? Wrong. Directors are hired to run a complete program – aimed at all demographics, juniors and adults, through offering programming and event planning. Too often we see certain demographics of membership left unattended while a Director is literally consumed by Ladies Teams and their issues. Ignoring a demographic of membership can be as fatal as not dealing with a vocal ladies team.

Remember, most players and lesson-takers are not team players. And if teams start to dominate a Director’s time, or even court time at peak times, the tenure of the Director might be shorter than he or she would like at the Club. We have heard it so many times from a member:  “Why must ladies teams play at 10am on a weekday? Thats a peak time and we are allowing 12 non-members on our courts every Tuesday morning with ladies league matches. What am I paying for when I can’t get a court!” They’re right of course – when else would a club let guests show up weekly and take up 12 or more playing spots on club courts. Most clubs hold fast to a particular guest showing up more than once a month!

Personal Conclusion

One of the best lessons in life, I learned at ATP Chair Umpire School while travelling with Jerry Armstrong, one of the highest qualified chair umpires in the world and assistant Wimbledon referee. It was one of the last days of training in Dublin, and of course, how to handle players disagreeing with line calls had been a recurring theme in our discussions. “We all remember when I defaulted McEnroe at the Australian Open,” remarked Jerry. “But, do you remember who was on the other side?” I couldn’t recall. Since then, I’ve asked numerous “tennis know-it-alls” the same question and no one has been able to answer. “Always remember, there’s a player, waiting to play on the other side of the net while you discuss the call.  That player is ready to play.” said Jerry.

The same holds true for Ladies Teams. They are just one player among a plethora of players at a club or facility. It is too easy to be consumed by a particular group or demographic of a club and forget or neglect all the other groups. Keep a distance, like a good chair umpire, and realize the entire setting while gently advising the Ladies Teams.\

 

Ed Shanaphy worked for the ATP Tour across the globe and had several run-ins with players. He never forgot that Byron Black was waiting to play as Jim Courier shouted about an overrule at the Lipton Championships on set point. Neither has Ed forgotten the spectator with the bellowing voice and whipped up towel in the top row of the stadium that saw the call better! By the way, it was Mikael Pernfors, now Ed’s neighbor, who walked away a winner after McEnroe was defaulted. Small world.

More Information Available on our Patreon Page!

We offer even more helpful hints to those of you who are struggling on our Patron page – at https://www.patreon.com/BeyondTheBaselines – this month join for just $5 our Yellow Ball Tier and receive ideas on how to delegate to your Head Pro and even more!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Off Peak Hours: How To Make Them More Inviting and Attractive

We all know about crunch time. At university it’s the 24 hours before that final exam. In business, it’s making sure that presentation is glistening and vibrant the night before meeting that new business acquisition possibility. In fitness, it’s your personal training hours between 7 and 10am. And in tennis, it’s the crunch on courts from 8am to about 10 or 10.30am on weekdays.

Crunch time is basically the same everywhere – those morning hours where each demographic of member wants to play. The older generation that gets up early might start it off with a 7 or 7.30am doubles game that has been in existence for the past 20 years. Next to arrive are the working parents at 7.30 or 8am who want to get a game and some exercise in before heading to the office for the morning. Young family parents usually arrive around 8.30 after dropping the kids off at camp or school and participate in a clinic or have their game. If you’re going to run out of courts, it’s going to be in these weekday morning hours. How do we motivate members to play at other times?

There are numerous methods in which to push member play to off-peak hours. We will investigate smaller methods and ideas before we look at a bigger, club-wide picture later in the article.

Waive Guest Fees For Off-Peak Play

This is a fantastic, quick way to kill two birds with one stone. Members get irritated seeing non-members playing at peak times. Countless times I’ve had members ask me how many times a certain guest has played in a month or across a summer or year. Invariably, this is asked when the guest is playing at a peak time. When I was Director of Tennis in the Palm Beach county the biggest complaint I received was that the women’s teams played by league rule at 10am. Members would come up and say: “Mr. Pro, half of each court are non-members and we can’t get a court at 10!” This is something to keep in mind in looking at guest fees. Remember that team or leauge play does not add guest fee revenue to the club and members dislike that, especially if at peak times.

That being said, if you waive guest fees after 10.30 or 11am, this certainly pushes non-member play to later hours in the morning, which not only increases off-peak play, but also reduces the number of non-members playing during peak times thereby reducing member complaints.

Discount Private Lessons at Off-Peak Times

I have always been an advocate of early bird lesson discounts. Most teaching professionals advocate early morning hours to get two or three hours in before the “regular” rush. We usually advise offering 15 to 20 percent off lessons taken at 6am or 7am. This also alleviates the private lesson crunch professionals get for lessons at 9 through 11am – hours which are inevitably booked. If a teaching professional can teach non-stop from 6 to 12 noon, he or she already has 6 hours under their belts by the middle of the day.

You can take this even further. If you have a over-subscribed clinic (cardio in many cases at 8am) why not discount a 7am cardio clinic a few dollars and see if you can alleviate some of the pressure by not only adding a second class but one at an off-peak time.

For indoor courts, moving just one clinic or one game 60 minutes later in the morning to 11am or to 2pm before school lets out and junior clinics start is a massive help, not only to court usage, but to defraying heating and lighting costs. Having play throughout the day adds revenue to an indoor facility while defraying costs across more hours of play.

row of empty tennis courts
Having empty courts at an indoor facility is not cost-effective.

On A Bigger Scale – Membership

My fellow director Christophe Delavaut, who is creating one of the leading tennis clubs at The Boulevard in Vero Beach FL, brought up with me the idea of non-team memberships for off-peak hours. Oftentimes, leauge play is at those peak hours and men and women simply join a club to play on a team. However, if you offer non-team packages, you can make these packages for off-peak hours only without leauge play. Or, you can offer league play but open play at only off-peak times. There are many ways you can affect court usage through different membership types.

One of my favorite methods of increasing off-peak usage is by scheduling practices or open play in conjunction with lunch.  If you schedule a team practice for your ladies at 9am, you are fighting for courts at which you and your team of pros would almost certainly have privates. In many cases team practices are mandatory or pre-charged. Why make them at peak times? If you schedule a team practice at 10.30 to finish at 12 noon, you have made an enormous difference to court usage freeing up 2 to 4 courts from 9 to 10.30am. And, the food and beverage director will thank you as many tennis team members will invariably filter over to lunch at that time of day following practice.

Be A “Club” Team Player

You can make your general manager even happier by combining incentives across club departments or working schedules with the Directors of Golf and Fitness.

For example, why not offer a discount on the club lunch menu for all court reservations made between 11 and 12.30 on weekdays? In this way, you incentivize members to play at an off-peak time while at the same time pushing them toward using another club department. If you have facilities such as a pool or lake, why not offer free guest passes for non-member tennis play after 11am so that the guest can use the pool or lake after their tennis game, again usually adding to the food and beverage department’s revenue.

You can work with the Director of Golf as well. Usually practice facilities, which can vary between a driving range, putting green or chipping areas, are not prone to such crunch times as a limited number of tennis courts. Why not offer a weekly dual clinic – golf from 9.15 to 10.15am with tennis following from 10.30 to 11.30am? Or create a TRX/Cardio Tennis Clinicio to start in a TRX studio at 10am for 45 minutes and moves to the tennis courts at 10.45 for cardio tennis? Using two club facilities in one clinic also cross-polinates club department usage.

Here at BeyondTheBaselines.com we have many other ideas as to how to build play and member usage during off-peak times. The above is just a smattering of incentives and programming possibilities to enhance your member experience and create more play on the courts and usage of the club as a whole throughout the day.

 

Ed Shanaphy is Director of Tennis at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA and President of BeyondTheBaselines.com. Ed has been a finalist in the Ernst & Young’s Entreprenuer of the Year for Europe.

Posted on Leave a comment

Fitness Classes & Tennis Clinics: Do They Help or Hurt Personal Training or Private Lessons?

This age old question rears its head everytime a Director of Fitness creates a new group class or a Director of Tennis adds a new clinic. Group teaching is a big revenue earner for the director and the club, but it really doesn’t mean much to the instructor. An incentive program can help boost revenues for the actual instructor, but that is a separate issue.

Either way, usually the group instructor hopes that a clinic or fitness class will garner more hours for their lesson books… but do classes and clinics necessarily do that? How can we ensure, as Directors, that our staff’s lesson books are full and that your team members gain clients from group teaching?

As a fitness or tennis program establishes itself at a club, the ethos of instruction and learning should grow. There are several ways to create a “teaching environment.”  Group fitness classes and tennis clinics through to personal training sessions in the gym and private lessons on the courts should all add to the ethos of teaching at the club.  Viewership is important. Teaching courts and personal training should be done in high traffic areas and instructors need to realize that they are always “selling” and “marketing” themselves in a positive way.

Directors who have been at fitness facilities for many years have grown revenues in the gym. This comes from exemplary knowledge and teaching, both in group and private situations with an educated team of instructors. The same holds true on the courts – good directors who have established a teaching arena at the club, usually have their assistants’ books rather solidly booked.

At beyondthebaselines.com we have worked with directors of tennis and fitness who have been at their respective clubs for lengthy periods of time. Some clubs, after years retaining a long-term director, feature an instructional ethos as outlined above. Members are happy to call for personal training or a private tennis lesson or just hitting sessions or sign up for the latest TRX class. Whether a seasonal or year round club, this is a membership’s state of mind. This is part of the “culture” of the club. However, we have visited and consulted for clubs where this is not the case and yet they have had a director at the helm for years.

Why Are Some Clubs Teaching Clubs?

Why are these clubs not as vibrant in terms of teaching? Is it a case of members not being able to afford private instruction? But why are group fitness classes not well attended or clinics lacking volumes on the courts if at a lower cost to members?

We tend to believe it is not financial. Members will open their wallets if they feel they are getting quality instruction and service.  Service being at least 50 percent of the reason they are happy to subscribe. When the service levels are lacking, we find that lessons and sessions are not booked as much and classes are all not as well attended.

Classes and clinics are an opportunity to show your talents and those talents of your assistants. It is also a chance for members to sample the level of servicing or, as we call it in the industry concierging. 

With service levels at a good level, most decent instructors on the team should have a relatively filled lesson planner. But, there are those Directors that hog all the hours. We’ve seen it time and time again – and it’s one of the biggest shortcomings of a good Director. It’s a shortcoming because it’s shortsighted. We look at sharing the wealth which increases overall wealth over the long haul. Therefore, the director should be promoting time with his or her staff rather than taking privates.

Mornings are always a crunch time in the gym and on the courts. Rather than have a dissatisfied member taking a private at 3pm with the only time a director might have an open hour, a director should hand the dissatisfied member to an assistant at 10am if that is the time first asked for. If a great program, there is absolutely no way a director can placate all the times needed by members – grow the private lesson ethos through passing off and having your assistants show their talents to attract other members.

full teaching professional lesson scheduleSpeaking of crunch times, mornings are always the busiest. So why have the same instructor stuck teaching that same class on that Tuesday at 9am every week? Rotate instructors and let the members meet various staff members, which increases member awareness of all your team members. And allow that group instructor to teach a private at 9am – people on the gym floor will see that instructor doing privates. If that instructor had been labelled a group instructor – no longer. Now he or she is a personal trainer too! The director just doubled the personal trainer’s role.

By rotating instructors from class to class, instruction never gets stale and members don’t get bored. You will never dash their expectations either by having a regular instructor not there – they are used to a rotation. Just ensure each instructor is a valued asset to the team and is of the same expertise and experience. And group instruction should add to your privates.

Ed Shanaphy is currently Director of Tennis at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA and has taught at Jupiter Island Club in Hobe Sound, FL, Greenwich Country Club and Round Hill Country Club in Greenwich, CT and Edgartown Yacht Club on Martha’s Vineyard.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Should I Have an “End of Season” Tennis Shop Sale?

by Ed Shanaphy

For those of us in tennis or fitness who “own” our merchandise shop and do all the buying and selling within our own company, August is a perplexing month where we are always left asking: Should I have a sale before I close up shop?

Tennis RetailEvery year, starting in May, I hear it from a summer member: “I’ll wait until August when you put everything at half price.” It’s part of the seasonal gossip at any club: When is the shop sale starting?

Running a retail operation at any time is a tough job. Stores come and stores go in malls, on high streets, and online. But, year after year, Directors of Tennis and Fitness are expected to have a wonderful shop, offering all that every member could possibly need or desire, and then in four months if at a seasonal club, break down the shop, close the club and go into hibernation for 8 months. All while maintaining cash flow and, hopefully, showing a profit.

Well, it’s mid August and I am debating whether I should have a sale or not. Almost every other pro I know says: “By all means get rid of your inventory and start afresh next year.” I say: “Not so fast!”

There are several factors that any retail operation has to look at when conducting any sale, and having worked in the entertainment, marketing and distribution worlds, I’m well aquainted with carrying inventory. I pulled out the 1998 financials from my entertainment company this week to look at how I handled inventory and retail twenty years ago. Inventory was $1.7 million in a warehouse at a fulfilment center. What did I do twenty years ago that might affect how I look at a “Sale” at my tennis shop in 2018?

In trying to summarize I find myself thinking of four distinct questions.

  1. What Is My Reason For Having A Sale?
  2. What’s Is My Inventory Level Compared To Years Past?
  3. Can I Incentivize Usage or Traffic With A Sale?
  4. What’s My Cash Flow and Profitability?

Am I having a sale just because it’s August? Do my members expect a sale? Perhaps. And sometimes, I would think, that understanding and acceding to member expectations is a good thing. However, to have a sale every year, would mean that many members might wait until the sale to make their purchases – purchases you would have made more profit on had they made them earlier in the summer. But if I have a sale every year, members do expect it and will wait.

We are lucky in some respects, as retail operators in a tennis or fitness facility, that we don’t have to carry overheads like utilities and therefore can really look at the profit margin per item as a true profit margin. Or can we? Have you added in the payroll cost of your front desk staff if they are on your payroll, selling merchandise? How about freight? Have you added that cost to your bottom line in your books and singled it out against retail sales? Are you depreciating the costs of fixed items like racks and hangers and Point of Sale software if you require that?

I also like to look at my inventory levels versus the previous year. In a growing environment, it’s natural in a positive and growing business cycle to have a larger inventory. I need to look at what I carried the last year on my financials while also looking at freeing some space in storage and in the shop with older items going on sale. If you have monogrammed or embrodiered inventory, I find it’s not worth giving a big discount as one has to consider that the shop is really the only point of sale for such personalized goods. Also, sneakers and trainers don’t really change in fashion year to year and can be held over 8 months and look new the following Spring.

What I did in marketing was use a discount or sale to bring traffic to my website or phone ordering lines and mailbox so I could get a second mailing or insert back to the customer with their sale order. Perhaps creating traffic for further full-price sales is my favorite reason for offering a sale. But how can I do that at a country club?

Well, there are several things you can do. Let’s take for example a tournament coming up on the weekend. Most Directors of Tennis get a percentage of the tournament fee – if you’re not you need to renegotiate your package! I tend to offer discounts on sale merchandise to tournament players that weekend and market that. Incentivize them to play in the tournament and the higher turnout covers the discount of my stock through collected tournament fees. But there’s more…

I do the same thing early in the season to help cash flow. I hold an early Adult Camp where all campers get 15% off merchandise if they do two or more days of the four day camp. Use the merchandise discount to gain more members per court and per professional to lower your on-court cost percentage. I usually sell about 40 percent of my held inventory which shows me what is going to sell early in the season and usually pays for my initial purchases in regards to the shop.

Profit also has an affect on how I view my inventory.  If I am showing a larger profit than expected for for the summer or year – a year with little rain or no staff issues – I might sit on my stock and write some of it down. If I am showing a small gain or a loss, I will help my cash flow and sell off as much of my merchandise I can late in the summer.

It’s a four-pronged attack when looking at inventory and retail sales, and each year is a different story. So, take all of the above issues into account and do what is best for you given your situation.

 

 

 

 

Posted on 1 Comment

Wellness & Tennis: Partnership Within The Lines

A Three Part Series From Beyond The Baselines – Part One
By Christine Murphy

Christine Murphy Foltz hitting a forehand on a tennis court
Christine Murphy-Foltz hitting serving up a health and wellness on the tennis court.

I admit, I’m a tennis ‘Boomer’, introduced by my Dad to the sport at the tender age of 8. As a fireman and tennis pro, he created a wonderful family tennis lifestyle full of lessons, tournaments, and practice sessions that he and other area pros taught. Fully immersed in hosting tournaments, playing in them, and playing together as a family has been a nourishing part of my life in different degrees ever since.

But, I’m a babyboomer. I boomed onto the court in the 70s. Generation Z, born after 2000, is considered the first generation predicted to live shorter lives than their parents.  As of 2016, the American Medical Association has predicted 27% of children in the United States are currently living with chronic health conditions that were only experienced by adults. High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, obesity, allergies, cancers, autism, chronic inflammation, and even autoimmune diseases are showing up in children, especially those exposed to the Standard American Diet.  In 2010, a study published in The J.A.M.A., stated chronic illness in children had doubled from 12.8% in 1994 to 26.6% in 2006.

Can Tennis Help Change Health Outcomes?

In the middle of this healthcare crisis, tennis may bring more hope now than ever before, as a potential to transcend our health crisis.  Tennis is being enjoyed as early as 3 and older than 100!  It’s been proven to provide many positive benefits and been named the “sport for a lifetime” by the American College of Sports Medicine.  It provides very important life enhancing tools for balancing our physical and well-being. So, how can we bring tennis to a society that looks for shortcuts in fitness and sport?

My fitness and wellness background led me to look at my assignment from a different perspective. I began to discover all there was to know about the state of tennis for the recreational novice as well as the seasoned senior player and how I could look at fitness as a way of attracting players who had given up the sport or newcomers who had never tried tennis. I attended and presented at national and state tennis, recreational, and senior conferences. I polled people at the Miami Open, and asked pros and directors for feedback at tennis industry conferences. I wanted to find out what the national and state industries and missions were for health and wellness that applied to various demographics.

What I found was disturbing. There was a clear disconnect between tennis providers and players.  Players felt frustration when returning to tennis when recovering from injuries, surgery, or returning after being pulled away due to family or work responsibilities. This time away from tennis decreased their athletic abilities, and tennis for them became lumped into the “weekend warrior” syndrome:  give it your all because you don’t know when you’ll be back.  New injuries and disappointment in their body’s performance level began fail their expectations. They forgot their bodies weren’t in the same shape as they thought. Their balance and timing was off, their muscles were weaker and joints were stiff, so injuries occurred.  Their doctor told them to rest.  The weight added on, fitness capacity decreased, and frustration set in.

Millennials have even a more warped sense of long-term health. Just this week I saw a study that showed that smoking in USA is once again on the rise and that the number of millennials using sunscreen is down along the same numbers as twenty years ago. And I believe health is viewed in the same way. As a wellness provider and consultant, I view it as my job to educate and inform my younger peers, colleagues and world citizens.

As industry professionals we need to remind our players and students that tennis, at any level, is a great form of exercise, easier than most on joints and free from contact injuries. On average, an hour of intermediate tennis on the doubles court will burn close to 250 calories for someone 150lbs. Singles or rallying could burn up and over 500 calories. Depending on your diet, this could help you lose safely, and wisely, up to a pound a week, which is what a smart goal at weight loss would be.

While at the same time, tennis is hugely beneficial to balance, agility and movement. Working almost every major muscle group in the body, tennis is a fantastic sport for athletic motion.

Christine Murphy-Foltz is a former USTA Florida Masters Tennis Ambassador as well as an owner/operator of her own health coaching business which specializes in balancing sport, health and fitness.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Programming The Future Of Country Club Tennis & Fitness

The Future of American Club Tennis & Fitness is Fresh, Appropriate Programming

How do you reinvent the wheel? How many ways can one create a tennis program that is fitting for a country club while instilling the true desire to play tennis and increase play in our community as a whole?

We have seen programming that we have instituted at various clubs take off on both the adult and junior levels and we believe that this is the future of tennis and fitness programming. The country club serves up several challenges. What are the demographics of the membership? Older retirees or youthful families with juniors? Or both? Are the members mainly seasonal or year-round? How exclusive is the club? Is it an elite club or a club looking to add members and add cash to its balance sheet?

All of these questions affect programming at a club. But the other issue at hand is to build tennis and fitness into life-long activities for members. The short-term goal is to keep the club active and busy, but the long-term goal is to maintain a members’ interest in the activities so that the sport and fitness are part of the members’ lives for years to come and to prolong a legacy at the club, and in fact, in the community.

Don’t Let A Member Go Home Disgruntled

A General Manager once said: “Make sure, as best you can, that each and every member leaves your club happy.” It’s a rule that should never be forgotten. It comes into play when planning and programming each and every clinic or group instruction class. An unwise clinic marketed to the wrong segment of a membership or an individual signing up for a far too advance spinning class can make or break a member’s experience for days or weeks or even years to come. And it damages the reputation of the department and its Director. The first thing to do is clear the air with the member and make it right. But, that’s reactionary. Proactively, a good Director of Tennis or Fitness can create programming and market that programming in such a way as to avoid many of the pitfalls that can damage a member’s experience.

A dissatisfied member is like a small cancer cell. The member talks to another member, and so on. Soon enough, there is a group of members that have taken up the cause and now there is a faction on the Board. Guess who takes the hit? The Department Head… the Director of Tennis or Fitness.

Small Changes Lead To Big Cross Sells!

Making a change such as separating a Cardio Tennis class into advanced and beginners, which can actually double participants across two courts, can lead to additional revenue while also catering to various levels. Why can’t a Pilates studio bring in a “pop-up” store for Soul Cycle in the back warehouse and enhance business offerings while bringing in new clients to your Pilates business. It’s called cross-selling, and every other industry does it. Why do tennis and fitness stay so isolated?

We see the same issue in regards to pickleball. So many tennis directors are against it. Why? Have they scientifically looked at the numbers and who actually plays pickleball? Have they considered the upsurge in traffic through the tennis shop? In our vast experience, we have found that only a small cross-section of tennis players enjoy pickleball. Pickleball is played by a different club segment: mainly golfers. Tennis players, in the end, find pickleball lacking. But golfers, who tend to be more stationary on a court, enjoy this new sport and have flocked to the courts being built at clubs and gated communities across the country.

Perhaps there is an anti-social ethos or environment presently at your tennis club. Clubs are really to foster not only sport, but also lasting friendships. Why not create a drill group and bring in a social aspect? to another level where we make it “social” with members and offer a social gathering with food afterward in the evening has made an enormous difference in turnout across various clubs. On the junior side, we’ve added barbeques to Triples or Touch The Fence events, making it an evening for juniors while the parents have dinner on the porch.

On the junior side, we have offered Cardio Tennis with TRX Training along with personal training – in this way we can work with juniors at a high intensity having them hit hundreds of balls while also really working on their focus and fitness levels.

Cross-selling is what Amazon does so well and why it’s one of the leading companies in the world. In our own small way, tennis and fitness should be cross-selling every hour of every day. Beyond that, we should be looking at generating revenues for our food and beverage department and other club departments. Beyond that, we should be looking at increasing tennis and fitness in the community. Community awareness brings more applications for membership and club growth or more home sales in a gated community. Job done.

Beyond The Baselines is a consultancy aimed at educating both industry professionals and club boards while recruiting and retaining “best-in-class” professionals and maintaining benchmark levels of service at clubs and home owner associations. Please email us at beyondthebaselines@gmail.com or call us at (508) 538-1288.