By Ed Shanaphy A second report in our series: Women in Tennis
Amy Pazahanick always knew she wanted to start a tennis academy. She knew it long before she graduated from college. She knew it with every tennis ball she hit during practice as a kid. She knew it while she played nationals and headed to a Division I school. By the age of 26, she thought.
Pazahanick did it. She didn’t just start an academy, however. Amy now finds herself running one of the fastest growing management firms in the nation. Her firm, Agape Tennis Academy, established in 2012 on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia, was an academy aimed at integrating with the community. Now, as a management firm, Agape maintains its values by remaining truthful to its roots – the numerous communities it serves on the courts.
Just Like Tennis, Business Improves Through Practice and Repetition
A graduate of Coastal Carolina University, Amy learned her trade under a fellow female director of tennis. Under her first director and mentor, Amy remembers that she learned just as much about the “business” side of running a tennis facility as teaching a backswing. Referring to her first boss Amy notes: “She was instrumental in my development,” as Amy reflects on her start in the tennis world which, to her, seems so long ago.
The consistency of branding and putting a message out there that stays true to Amy’s “mission and vision” has brought her success. Alluding to her training as a Division I athlete where she practiced something again and again, Amy cites the parallel with business – business improves with repetition and practice. Amy pounds the pavement and never stops growing and learning through repetitive, yet objective, marketing, planning, and strategizing.
Creating a Team On and Off The Court
With a staff of over 50, Amy has assembled teaching professionals on the court that work as a team with juniors in the academy in the foreground and the community as the backdrop. They all look to take juniors to a new level, she says. Unlike other academies where personalities may get in the way, she stresses the emphasis of teamwork in developing juniors’ games. Amy does rely on her hand-picked team to support her and her company, but realizes that hard work and attention to detail can’t be replaced when you’re a leader.
One of the most Influential Women In The Industry
“If you’re a woman, you are held to a higher standard… men have a little more freedom to make mistakes,” states Pazahanick. But, then she says the industry is fair. “If you’re good, you’re good. The market is not going to care. If you’re good, it doesn’t matter what you look like, if you’re a female or if you look like you’re twelve years old.”
Amy isn’t just good. She’s excellent. She is a perfectionist when it comes to organization and has grown a teenage dream into a large-scale reality. She has been named both Georgia’s Tennis Association and Georgia’s PTR Professional of the Year. Her dream, Agape Tennis Academy, was named Tennis Organization of the Year by the Tennis Media Group, but even more special to Pazahanick, was that the Academy was also named Community Outreach Program of the Year.
Join us as we take a podcast journey to find what makes Amy Pazahanick, well, simply…tick.
Agape Tennis Academy (agapetennisacademy.com) is actively bidding for more facilities, and Pazahanick expects the firm to have up to nine facilities under management by the end of 2020. You can reach Amy by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Consulting for clubs can be educational on both sides of the board table and during a recent search for a Director of Tennis, we heard one of the best answers to a routine question.
It was late in the day and the search committee was interviewing its fourth candidate of the day. There was a pause in the interview room and the search committee members looked at me as we all struggled with just too much information for one day. I usually supply a list of standard questions to the search committee prior to the day of interviews and I glanced at that document and thought about questions I regularly ask. One came to mind, but this time I modified it.
Usually, I ask a candidate something along the lines of: “If a more vocal member came up to you as the Director of Tennis and asked for the umpteenth time about the seeding of next month’s singles club championships, how would you respond? If they pushed for a certain seeding situation, how would you deal with that member?” This situation is one of the most common at a tennis club. It’s right up there with a brand new member of a club asking: “But why can’t I have the most popular fitness trainer from 9am to 11am each day of the week for a private session?”
But this final candidate in the interview room was good and I wanted to let him shine in front of the committee.
So, this time, I made it harder: “A helicopter parent comes up to you and demands that his daughter, who can barely hit a volley and has never used a continental grip, be upgraded from the appropriate court where she now plays. He is demanding you to move her to the 15-year old high school court of juniors, where the boys are serving at, say, 70 miles per hour. If you don’t move her up, he will report you to the Board and say that you are unqualified to be Director since you can’t separate the wheat from the chaff.”
At an elite club, like the one for which we were conducting the search, in most cases the club is an “equity club”. An equity club is one in which each member is a part owner, or shareholder, of the club. The club is owned entirely by the membership. So, this vocal father would be, in this case, the Director’s employer in a sense.
There was a slight pause in the interview room and then the candidate looked up and gave what was perhaps the best answer I’ve heard in a long time. “Slow him down. Not with gestures, but with well thought-out questions,” he said. I glanced sideways and waited. The candidate continued. “Ask him why he believes his daughter should move up. And what are the techniques that she has recently mastered to warrant such a move up the clinic levels.”
I’ve always striven to be organized and have the junior programming outlined with pre-requisites for each level of junior clinics. Pre-requisite is a word I learned during my college years when I had to change my major after failing calculus, a pre-requisite for being an economics major. In fact, what this candidate asked the parent, was to list the pre-requisites of the higher level clinic in order to slow the parent down from his rant. It was a good strategy, because, as the candidate later said explaining his answer: “Most parents can’t define those pre-requisites on the fly.”
But the most interesting thing that this candidate said was: “I try to slow the member down by listening and calmly asking questions.” It’s what we all should do, but too often we get heated and involved ourselves, whether it’s a conversation about a doubles pairing or the cost of healthcare. The candidate continued: “And, usually, when I slow the member down, they realize that what they are asking for might be a bit too much – not always – but usually.”
The candidate was right, of course. Most evenly-tempered people realize the error in their ways when they revisit a situation with a bit of hindsight. Think of all the decisions U.S. Presidents would have made with a little more time and hindsight. What about decisions you have made? Be your own Monday morning quarterback.
Create hindsight during the conversation by slowing down the conversation. Take a time out. Why not calmly create the bubble and distance that hindsight creates immediately by listening and slowing down the vocal member. Why not ask that member the very questions a mom of another child in the more advanced group would ask, not wanting the more vocal member’s less advanced daughter in a clinic with her junior.
Ed Shanaphy is President of BeyondTheBaselines.com even though he failed Calculus 1 his freshman year at college.
When I started in marketing and advertising at the tender age of 22 in London, England, I kept hearing the term “The Back End.” In the days which will be known as P.A. (Pre-Amazon), the “back end” referred to the fulfillment side of any direct marketing business. Taking or receiving the order, applying that order to the correct advertising outlet, picking and packing the order, slipping in additional up-sells, whether on the telephone or in the outgoing shipment, and then following up the order with great customer service… this was “the back end.” Seems simple, but I spent more than 50 percent of my time working on the back end. I’m a marketing guy – I love the print ads, the outgoing emails and catalogs, the creation of radio and television spots. I didn’t like the back end, but it took most of my time. It does for any excellent Director of Tennis or Fitness too.
How many times have I heard the expression: “You just chase fuzzy yellow balls around the court all day.” This is the viewpoint most have of tennis professionals. I wish it were that easy.
Slowly, the club world is getting smarter. They are realizing they are indeed a business that has to show profit in all divisions, whether it be tennis, fitness, golf or food and beverage. I advise all the clubs we work with to put in a limit to the number of hours a Director of Tennis or Fitness should be on the court or gym floor. Why? Because the back end takes more and more time as you produce a better and better product. Amazon changed the “Back End” to “Cascading Fulfillment” – which was that software would go through the closest warehouses to the customer and assign the pick and pack at the first warehouse that had inventory. Interesting to note that I now see Amazon with its own delivery trucks – they too are always enhancing the back end.
The back end starts with the order. Your marketing strategies have worked and you have a member that wants to book a clinic, a lesson, a personal training hour, or a yoga class. Great! Now make that as easy as possible. Members see different avenues to bookings. Older members like the paper signups on the wall or bulletin board. My age group (40s and 50s) seems to like computer-based software. The younger generation wants to simply text their order and let us deal with it. All are possible and offering many different ways to booking an hour or a group instruction session enhances the ordering experience. Think about this, you can still mail an order to Vineyard Vines, you can call with your order or you can email directly off the website. Three different ways to order. No one way is the best way in tennis or fitness either.
I’ve worked at clubs where all bookings had to go through the front desk. What a slow, sloggy and sloppy way to deal with members. A lot of times, the front desk is too busy to take 100 percent of the bookings in a meaningful way. They are not sure of the intent of the member given they probably only have a few seconds to deal with the booking. Lighten that front desk staff’s load and let members order online or by text. Let the professionals, either on the court or on the floor, have access to the books and use their phones right on the floor or court. When you go to an AT&T store, the advisor walks around with you and books your order right on an IPAD. We should be doing the same at country clubs whether it’s for a tennis lesson, a Pilates class, or even a food order in the restaurant.
Perhaps the best opportunity to upsell another session is right after that member has enjoyed the session and wants more. In fact, if your trainers or pros are independent contractors, they really have to control their own books 100 percent of the time. So they should have access to the booking software system at all times, from anywhere. Yes from anywhere, because a member may text that pro while the pro is at dinner asking for a lesson the next day. Don’t miss that revenue stream.
Software is only as good as the people using it. Ensure that all staff understand the club’s booking and billing software thoroughly. There is no longer a position known as just a “teaching pro”. All teaching pros and fitness instructors are actually club ambassadors, always looking to enhance the member experience. Most teaching pros are independent contractors, and under that status, have to indeed complete their own billing at all times. If the Club does the billing for the pro or fitness instructor, the classification of that worker just became an employee.
Software can be progressive. If the database in your tennis software is up to date with cell phones, why not download that member database to a google voice account and add texting as one of your communication streams. We advise to confirm every lesson, every clinic and every tournament via text. Great way to limit any questions later on about billing.
Reserving courts was often a rush to the phone at 7am the day before where a member of staff was taking the calls on one line. With software, 16 courts can be booked within 30 seconds and members can see the courts being populated as they put in their own reservation. How truly transparent is that? No one can complain they didn’t have an opportunity or were a victim of favoritism by the front desk staff. It is, in fact, “Cascading Fulfillment” which seeks the next available stock item – in this case, a tennis court. If you have your software right and you know which professionals are available, you can cascade fulfill your instructors as well! “Joe is not available for a lesson, but Joanne is if that would work for you…”
Upsells and Customer Service
In the marketing industry, this is when we have the customer on the phone line and say: Would you like a second item and receive free shipping and handling? Why don’t we do more of this in the tennis and fitness industry? Why not, after a clinic try this: “Did you like your clinic? Well book the next three clinics for 20% off right now on court.” Or, would you like to combine a healthy lunch at the Clubhouse with your personal training session today? The revenue streams and combinations are endless – but we seem content to sit back and let the members come to us. This isn’t helping the member and it isn’t helping the bottom line, either.
Excellent customer service comes with follow-ups. Follow up emails to the member perhaps outlining the exercises they completed during their personal training session that day, or reviewing the grip change you made halfway through the tennis lesson on their volley. Reinforcement creates progression and change, and it’s not an easy battle to get a western grip volley to a continental grip! But during this follow-up process, you’ll be amazed at how many bookings you might take during a follow up phone call or email.
Thank your member for taking the clinic or the lesson and then thank them again at the end of the year or season. Take the time to introduce them to the new staff and watch the bookings come in. It’s all about the back end. No matter how well you can hit a ball or how fast you can run a mile, you’ll find that the back end brings in more revenue than any other factor within a club’s department.
Ed Shanaphy is Director of Tennis at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA and a USPTA teaching professional who constantly realizes that his marketing is better than his backhand. He is President of SBW Associates, a leading consulting service in the country club industry.
Time and time again I have been asked: “Ed, how do you get your courts so good.” My usual answer to a member is simple: “Hard work.”
I started maintaining clay courts in 1985 at the tender age of 14. I rode my 10-speed, with those ram-horned handles, to the local country club in the early morning mists of New York State and started preparing the courts as the sun rose above the tree line. Since those days, even with vandals at times digging holes or animals ripping at the wind screens, I have never looked back in terms of maintenance. I enjoy the beauty of a perfectly swept court with a firm base and a clay court topping that allows a perfect slide for the player. There is something therapeutic about making courts great.
But so much has been modernized not only in equipment but also in thinking as to how best to keep clay courts at their prime. Since that day in 1985 I have made my fair share of mistakes, but this has helped me personally to improve courts at all my facilities. There are some tricks in the trade besides than just spending an inordinate amount time working on the court surface. Below, I outline three of the biggest factors that have helped me.
Secret Number One: From Brooms to Mats – Sweeping Has Changed!
From a big broom to an Aussie mat. I am so surprised that so many clubs do not use the Aussie broom or mat when appropriate. With the advent of Hydro courts – courts that are watered from below the surface – there is definitely a method to sweeping.
What the Aussie mat doesn’t let you get away with is raised lines. There are two ways to use the Aussie mat – one if you use the teeth “up” which gives you a more striped and granular sweep. But the other way, with the teeth “down” gives you an even, beautiful spread of the granules on the top of the base. However, if your lines are raised at all, the plastic mat will catch and pull up the line further. This is a test of “how good” your lines are and if you are catching the Aussie mat with the teeth down it’s time to roll.
I do find the Aussie Mat doesn’t dry out the courts as much. A broom raises the granules and separates the granules from the base. The Aussie Mat simply rearranges the granules and does not fluff them up. The closer your granules are to the base, the longer they will remain damp and not dusty. So, if your courts are clumpy and watered from below the surface, look at using a full broom. If they are drying out too quickly, look at the Aussie mat.
Secret Number Two: Roll More Then You Think You Have To!
We all get lazy as the summer takes a toll or the long, bleak winter in Florida or Texas seems never-ending as the ladies teams move through a season that is longer than the NBA Basketball season. But you need to roll – especially immediately after it rains. Members and players will want to be on the courts as soon as they dry, but educating them as to the importance of rolling, flattening and firming the courts is part of the job.
I can’t recommend more the metal brush/broom that really scarifies the rain-matted clay and dries out the court faster so one can roll within an hour or so of the rain stopping. Once rolled, use the Aussie mat and line and they are good to go within a couple of hours.
3. Water Water Everywhere, But Not A Drop To Drink! Don’t Water Too Long!
Don’t Flood Your Courts. Flooding the courts, if you have overground sprinkler heads, creating lakes is not a good thing. Even if the courts are sandy at midday, you need not flood the courts at night or during your 12 Noon watering. Flooding courts leads to the top dressing moving as the water pools and moves. If continually flooding, even the base can move. Let the water just start to get that matted look on the clay and shut it off during the day. At night, I water the courts three times for about 4 to 8 minutes each time. Let water percolate through and then hit the water again about an hour or two later. I water at 10pm, 2am, and then, depending on how early I have play, 3 or 4am. I like to have the courts drying from the matted look at those wettest spots just as we are about to go on so they stay damp during the heavy morning play.
My last tip isn’t so much a tip as it is a question. I hear a lot about “dead material” when discussing the top dressing and Har-Tru courts. Is there such a thing as dead material?
I note that a busy club gets a build up of material at the net – hence my featured image for this article which shows no buildup of material on my courts. I take this material and use it to a degree to replace missing material at the baselines where footwork grinds the court. I started doing this after I cared for grass courts. Grass courts basically take a beating at the baseline and it’s easy to see this wear and tear. It’s not as evident with clay courts, but it still happens. The clay gets pushed to the side, the back and toward the net – and finally to the net with the brushing and lining also pushing material toward the net. I take the material from the net, spread it over the baseline area and then sweep and Aussie broom it and it looks beautiful. If it’s dead material, it’s light and gets caught up in the sweeping and grooming. What’s left is great stuff!
Have a look at my video here too: Ed’s Sweeping Video on how to maintain and adhere to the correct protocols based on your courts and what they are telling you!
If you have any questions, I love talking courts – always have since my days riding that 10-Speed bike to my first job. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!
Ed is Director of Tennis at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA, He relaxes on the roller and gets his cardio dragging courts every day.
Tennis has changed. From the lawns of Wimbledon in the early 1900s and prior to the “Open” Era, through to the advent of the “Open” to the present day, tennis, as with many other sports, has been brought into the 21st Century with professionals representing the sport at the highest levels. It wasn’t always like this. The “grass roots” – no pun intended – still remain in many areas, both nationally and internationally. By grass roots, we mean the country club tennis programs where member participation is strong and those members follow the US Open and other ATP events. They love Federer… Nadal… they talk about the semi-finals and how Halep came through. But largely, these club programs have not much to do with tennis as a professional sport, or even tennis for the masses.
The professionals-to-be come more from the middle class and attend academies such as IMG, Saddlebrook, Rick Macci and others. The process of gaining and improving a UTR ranking is a full-time job and is not a part of the country club experience. So, we need to realize there is a divide between competitive and professional tennis and the country club.
At the country club level, pressures are being put on staff and programming for member use. A constant re-evaluation of member services and club usage is required. Behind all this is the need for clubs to consistently find new and active members. It’s all well and good to have a large and diverse membership, but members who are not actively supporting the club are not profitable to the club, nor do they really add to the sustainability of the club. Dues alone are just not enough to sustain a club facility. The members have to be active or the club will struggle.
The Legacy Error – Costing Country Clubs Financially
A few decades ago, clubs, which had always thrived on tradition and legacy, in general made legacies extremely inviting. Due to a national trend, country club membership began to wane. The accepting of children of long-time family members at a reduced “legacy” initiation rate or at lower annual dues in reality has come back to haunt club coffers in the 21st Century. A large percentage of dues-paying members came in at a lower rate, and much like Social Security, the funds are now running low, making it hard to maintain the club finances.
Because of these issues, the drive for new memberships to maintain member-service levels and the facility is crucial and constant.
One of the best ways of attracting new members is by “showing off “the club or facility, but how can we do this? How can we bring potential, active members in large numbers to the club and let them see the club without looking like we are “selling” the club, to both the perspective members and the current members who might not be all that supportive of new memberships and change?
A Community or Charity Cup
Quail Valley Golf Club in Vero Beach, Florida might be the best example of such an idea creating an environment for new membership applications, while creating an atmosphere of giving to the less privileged in the community. The Charity Cup, as Kevin Given and Steve Mulvey called it back almost 19 years ago, has grown into a club-wide tournament which garners close to $800,000 per year in charitable giving. We hear members across the country bemoan that they can’t get a member-guest tournament to last more than an extended morning. Imagine a three-day tennis tournament just like those old Member-Guest days, a two-day golf tournament, charity fast walk and run, a “cook-a-thon” from the best local chefs, a duplicate bridge competition, a Saturday night gala at the main clubhouse…. the list goes on, expanded greatly from the first year in which it was just a small golf tournament.
What really gives The Charity Cup its austere feeling is that the diverse charities selected by the Quail Valley Charities Committee are all represented in so many ways on tournament days. From throngs of volunteers from each of the numerous children’s and local charities earmarked for funding, to the notice boards laced with supporters and charitable organizations alike, The Charity Cup is an inclusive event. The week-long celebration of giving literally puts Quail Valley on the cover of every “culture” insert and at the top of many web-page blogs, if not the front page of Vero Beach Magazine and all the local papers.
Quail Valley also realizes the importance of non-member play over the weekend. A majority of the golf and tennis pairings have at least one non-member playing and the tournament is viewed as the Member-Guest to play in the area. Pairings of non-members are also allowed so it is truly an Open tournament, simply using the club facility – opening the club to the public is attractive to non members.
What better way is there to “show off” a club to perspective members? The club, and its members, not only giving back financially to the community, but also producing the services at a greatly reduced cost. It proves that the club possesses the breadth and knowledge to host such an imposing, community-wide event. Reaching out to the community adds a wonderful perspective to both members and non-members alike.
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.
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.
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.
Speaking 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.
Just recently an esteemed colleague of mine has had to choose between two seasonal jobs. At this time of year, this is a regular occurence for us professionals who service club members in the Northern part of the USA and then head South to warmer climes for the winter months. We follow the sun – and we follow our members.
My colleague has been calling me daily, frustrated that he hasn’t received anything in writing from either club involved. This, unfortunately, is far too often the case. With this particular example, one of the Directors of Tennis is of the age when nothing had to be written and a handshake was all that was needed to agree to an 8-month placement. The opposing Director of Tennis is brand new in the position, and is hesitant to push for more information with a General Manager who is revered by her membership at one of the more elite clubs in America. He lacks any real information in regard to the new club.
I cringe when I hear some of the stories behind new placements and hires and the lack of information or formality.
I looked back at my original offer to work away from my home when I had a few opportunities ahead of me almost a decade ago. The Director who made the offer of the job I took is a businessman – he owns three companies in fact and his email to me was succint and to the point and I have edited the initial letter to show themes of the offer:
Stipend for a 10 week Period
Who pays the salary. What duties are required as part of the stipend.
Base hour rate per hour
Noted average hours of 40-50 hours a week and how busy it is for those 10 weeks
Noted Bonus is based on a percentage of gross clinic revenue when it is paid and what the average has been over the past three to five years.
Clinics names, hours guaranteed of clinics, and if able to add clinics
Housing type, cost to the professional, and if cable/internet is covered.
General outline of the summer
Clinics vs lessons by week and how many members expected to take lessons/clinics.
But what was most interesting in the letter for this particular job, which I ended up taking and loving for many years, was that the Director discussed how he treated past employees fairly and honorably, and as he checked my references, he offered references as an employee. He mentioned the costs that the club sustained on my behalf and broke down why the Club clawed back some of those costs from my on-court revenues.
Timely communication is important too. Once you, as a Director, have decided upon a candidate, getting these details to your candidate after you’ve offered the job initially or with the initial offer, is an integral part of hiring. Offers need to be made in full with as much information as soon as possible to the candidate.
So, in summary, open, honest, and timely communication with a possible new hire is just simply irreplaceable and honorable. We should all take note that whether our new fitness or tennis instructor is an employee or a 1099 independent contractor, they are putting their livelihoods in our hands as Directors for at least a few months, if not for a few years or more. Something to keep in mind as you work toward a new hire.