As the Corona Virus Pandemic intensifies, seasonal clubs are looking at an approaching summer with trepidation.. Club managers, club boards of governors and Directors of Tennis and Fitness are wondering if and when the club may open. Boards of Governors are looking at liability and possible waivers of liability for all members and guests in connection to the virus.
In this age of uncertainty, we believed that most of the national associations and organizations were looking at the year-round clubs and the larger players. But seasonal clubs, largely member-owned with contract labor, are a large part of the industry. Focusing on these clubs, our National Town Hall attracted over 100 industry professionals to ask to join the call.
This call with club managers, club governors, clothing and tennis suppliers, along with Directors of Tennis and Fitness, discusses issues from slow supply chains to schedule changes. Offering ideas from a soft opening event free to members to updating and adding text messaging databases through Google Voice, Ed Shanaphy from beyondthebaselines.com moderates a lively discussion through the issues facing clubs for the 2020 summer.
Communicating with both members and staff in a congenial and regular way is clearly important to these industry leaders. And helping staff and contractors through the maze that is government aid and legislation is another issue covered.
All in all, a thorough conversation from industry leaders discussing how they are dealing with their business, their staff, their members and their clubs through the Covid-19 crisis.
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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.
The politics surrounding governing boards at clubs and homeowner associations are infamous. The tasks facing governing bodies at Clubs or Home Owner Associations are far too numerous to list here, but one of them often is to oversee a tennis or fitness department. In investigating the inherent politics of Boards, we will separate the country club board from the HOA board as there are extreme differences between the two Within the county club sphere, we shall separate even further between an equity or member-owned country club and a non-equity club. That said, all three Boards in question must understand the intricacies involved in the hiring of staff and the supervising of tennis and fitness facilities.
Home Owner and Condominium Associations and their Boards
Home owner or condo association boards are a hotbed of politics and biases. We’ve seen this at every community with which we have worked. From parking to paving, from decor to dandelions, condo boards can find issues to discuss for days. In all honesty, it’s almost imperative that a consultancy such as ours is brought in to work through the inherent biases and misguided owner motivations to find a result that most owners can stomach financially, but that will also allow a tennis or fitness facility to thrive and maintain “best-in-class” service levels within the community.
In most instances, HOA or POA membership is a requirement of living within the community, which is the essential difference from a country club or membership facility in which membership is voluntary. This difference must be taken into consideration when making any decision by the Board and its agents. Condo fees or HOA fees are set by the board or, in some instances the managing agent, and reflect the costs of living within the community. Again, there are differences in regard to types of communities as well. A gated community, such as Ibis or Mirasol in Palm Beach County, Florida or communities created by developer Toll Brothers are geared from the outset as a gated community offering a “country club” lifestyle. Those initial home buyers are fully aware of the lifestyle in to which they are buying. Older condominium associations or gated communities may not have had this club environment in their initial offerings to owners and any additional costs for leisure facilities can be met with indifference or even hostility.
The relationship with property management is essential and often there are long-term issues between property management and owners and members of the board. This is where an advisory consultancy can come in extremely handy to mediate and cut through the politics to the necessary needs of tennis and fitness management!
What we have noted though, for many years, is that any tennis or fitness programming at an HOA adds to property prices. Owners have to be consistently reminded of this fact as any tennis or fitness programming grows. Buyers are much more aware of offerings and have mentioned to us in surveys that they are inclined to purchase upon seeing an “active” community with events and leisure facilities. The small funds required in advance per household to run a “best-in-class” tennis or fitness program are clearly worth the profitability gained in property value after the sale. In the long run, an HOA is far better off having a tennis and/or fitness ingredient than not having one at all.
Equity Country Club Boards of Directors and Governors
The layers of country club boards, we believe from our experience, is almost always excessive. Board of Governors, Tennis and Fitness committees and their chairpersons, Trustees, and the rest of the club officers (or flag officers at Yacht Clubs) all have various sentiments and biases toward club operations. With country clubs, where there is golf offered, the number of committees grows even more numerous: Greens and Golf committees often have the ear of the General Manager far before the tennis or fitness committees.
Due to a cost and revenue basis, golf clubs, and even at times yacht clubs and beach and swim clubs, often overlook tennis as a revenue generator. These clubs more often than not focus more widely on golf (or yachting) and its offerings at the club level. Tennis as the “second fiddle” usually requires more persuasion for budgetary items such as maintenance, upgrades, housing and salaries or stipends for staff professionals. Pushing these items through at committee level, then board level and finally through at management level, takes commitment not usually found within a tennis committee.
It is imperative that a tennis or fitness department fund itself at the appropriate level in order to maintain a service level equal to that of the rest of the club’s offerings. Frequently, this does not happen. We’ve seen this across the nation from country clubs to beach and swim clubs and yacht clubs.
Most boards will break down the tennis or fitness department within a budgetary constraint that does not allow these departments to show a profit. Time and time again we have heard from Directors of Tennis and Fitness that the club has earmarked an annual loss for their department, and therefore, are loathe to spend more on these departments which are “losing” money.
There are many ways to allocate membership dues and initiation fees across various departments and once this is done appropriately, we often have shown the club officers that tennis and fitness are indeed profitable. Usually, initiation fees are budgeted for capital expenses, and a prudent Board would look at percentages across club departments when allocating new membership fees. It’s imperative that a matrix which considers club usage by hour and member is used to create this percentage basis. Also, experience shows us that tennis or fitness can “drive” members to high profit areas of the club, such as food and beverage. A tennis event ending with a luncheon must be taken into account when looking at the tennis department’s profitability. We literally can affix a number to such events: ” The salon day special brought 42 ladies to the restaurant for lunch” Some of that food and beverage profit should be allocated to the fitness department at month end.
Non Equity Clubs
Firstly, it’s imperative that we note there are major differences between equity (member-owned and usually a 501C non-profit organization)and non-equity clubs which are usually corporations. It’s interesting to note that non-equity clubs tend to be more receptive to staffing professionals and creating the right work environment and benefit packages for their employees and staff. Overall, non equity clubs understand better the need for quality instruction and management in their tennis and fitness departments as they see the profit related from these departments. Again, there are fewer committees and, in some cases, just a Managing Director rather than a Board of Governors who is clearly focused on making a profit and keeping a healthy club and bank account.
A recent general manager once said to me: “It’s much easier for a member to leave a non-equity club, in that they are leaving a company in which they do not own stock.” It’s also easier for a member to leave a non-equity club and turn to their own gated community club (usually member-owned) as well if the member is looking to make cuts in their payables. So, non-equity clubs are forced to focus even more on member retention. Because of this, many non-equity clubs treat their members better than equity clubs. However, members still have an innate stigma about leaving a club in which they own a stake in and maintain a membership at an equity club longer on average than a non-equity club. With an equity-owned club, members are in fact shareholders in their club, whereas, they feel less connected to a non-equity club which is a corportation for profit.
In conclusion, each and every club has inherent biases and outward motivations. With various departments competing for budgetary requirements along with membership usage, all Board of Directors are inherently flawed, and in many ways, clearly ill-educated in regard to tennis and fitness management. Club Managers are often too removed to deal with the daily managment and budget items. Tennis and Fitness Committees have different objectives than the Directors of Tennis and Fitness who are running the program. Educating all of the above groups is part of the Director’s task and often times, the Director does not have enough time off the gym floor or off the teaching courts and excellent programming and best business practices are never achieved nor measured.
Ed Shanaphy has served as Managing Director to three global advertising and marketing firms and was a finalist in the Ernst and Young (UK) Entrepreneur Of The Year Award. He is now President of BeyondTheBaselines.com, a consultancy aimed at advising country clubs and homeowner associations in marketing and profitability.
I’m always asked how I retain such good professionals over several years, especially when they are independent contractors. It’s not easy – keeping 1099 workers at your facility is a tough task. But it’s possible and as the saying goes: paying your instructors handsomely for hours on the tennis court or gym floor speaks volumes.
So, with independent contractors (and you can do this with employees too) I create an inventive program for each professional, based on their strengths and weaknesses. It’s a pinpoint method of keeping staff happy and therefore keeping them coming back year after year. A returning staff ensures continuity with the membership as well as a better return on investment. If your professionals are strong and come back year after year, their lesson books get more and more filled as they are trusted by the membership and loyal to the club or facility.
Incentivize them to “hang” around. We all know that independent contractors set their own schedules and are not on “the clock”. They can come and go as they desire. But I like to have them hanging around, especially if they have three or four years under their belts and the membership trusts them. I create an incentive to keep them around. Commissions on racquet and clothing sales. If you have a busy shop, they can help and earn a bit while even off the court. Why not pass on a 3% commission on all racquet and clothing sales and build that into your pricing at the beginning of the year. They have a sliding scale based on the number of racquets they string – the more they string, the higher the rate goes, say, every 5 to 10 racquets.
Use Tournament Fees To Cover Lost Teaching Hours
Round robins and mixers, along with tournaments, are a great way for new pros and contractors to meet members, assess levels of play or fitness, and become part of the fabric of the club. Too often, independent contractors see tournaments or mixers as a barrier to their success: They take up too much court time away from teaching and they just take up a weekend where members who are playing in a tournament could be taking a lesson or two. That could be how your independent professional sees it. But tournament fees (also known at some clubs as prize fees) should be aimed at serving those losses due to lack of court time. The industry standard is that the Director takes 40% of tournament fees/prize fees. Those fees should be distributed, in part, to contractors who are running say the other side of the round robin, or can even be offered as a replacement for lost revenue due to a lack of courts. Either way, I would rather have the professional be on club property and helping to run a tournament or supporting the program than at another club and finding work elsewhere.
When negotiating your own Director’s contract, look at how you could work with yearly prize fees. I find these easier to administer. A prize fee is fixed for a whole year – say $100 per member household – and that allows all family members to sign up for each and every tournament. The more the household plays, the more this cost is dissipated in their minds across each tournament. This is a vital additional income and if the Director takes a 40% cut leaving 60% for the club and prizes, it can prove very lucrative and easy to pass on to cover lost revenues for your pros. I always advocate a yearly fee rather than a nickel and dime approach where the club charges per tournament. I feel this dissuades members from playing, thinking that each time there is an additional cost to play.
To take this further, why not add an incentive to your pros in growing club championship or member-guest draws? If you budget this into your tournament prize fee revenue, you can offer your pros additional income per member they sign up or if, say, the draw reaches 32 or 64. Communicate your goals and reward the work. I have, in the past, given bonuses to pros who have brought a guest to the club and in time that guest has joined as a member – set that up in your initial contract with your club as Director. Most clubs that I know want new members!
Private Instruction Sliding Scale
I’ve always cringed when a Director told me that my hourly rate will be, say, $45 per hour on court across all clinics and lessons. That is such a door-closer for me to a new job. It’s just not interesting to most instructors.
Let’s say, for arguments sake and ease of math, that an hour private lesson with one of your contractors is charged out to the member at $100. Industry standard is that 10% of that fee is either a commission, if an employee on court, or a court rental fee if an independent contractor. Remember, that independent contractors cannot receive a percentage deducted from their full rate by federal law and continue safely as an independent contractor. So, after the commission or court rental, the $90 then goes back to the Director. Usually, depending on your instructor’s experience, the cut between Director and instructor hovers around 50%. So, say, the instructor receives $45 per hour and the Director received $45 for that one lesson. Now, let’s look at how to incentivize your instructor. Say you go out at $110 for a semi-private, two-person lesson. Now a 50-50 cut would be $50/$50. Both Director and instructor make more if you incentivize your instructor. If your instructor does a three and me, which would go out at $120, that would be $108 back to the shop and a $54/$54 split. All too often, Directors take all the additional revenues, leaving the instructor at the original $45/hour cut. But, if you offered more for three and me lessons, you’ll have more members taking lessons as it costs a single member only $40 compared to $100 and yet they are still receiving personal instruction. More participation on court means happier members, an energized program, and more hours for your pros on court.
There are other ways of incentivizing your 1099 workers with “Playing In With The Pros” special rates and discounts. But starting with the private lessons and adding revenue and passing those additional revenues is an enormous and positive factor affecting your contracted professionals.
Bonus Structure For Clinic and Tournament Programming
Adult and junior clinic programming is by far the most profitable part of any tennis and fitness departments. With classes, revenues are higher with costs of instructions being lower. Again, you can energize your instructors through creating a bonus, or “profit-sharing” structure within your programming.
If your instructor is out there getting additional people on court, give that instructor a share of the profit. They will be on the phone drumming up business. You can either have a “fee” per person added to the clinic through the phone or email or text marketing completed by the instructor, or you can have a simple formula where each additional court or group of spin bikes is a set fee to the lead instructor of that clinic. For established clubs, this is harder as classes are usually already known, but for a new Director, this is a great help to get members out on the courts with one-to-one personal marketing.
To summarize the above, think outside the box. Within a tennis or fitness department -and whether it be employees or independent contractors – there are so many ways to enrich your staff’s tie at work and to allow them to feel to be a part of a club or facility and membership. The world is your oyster and each year you can try different approaches within your fee and payroll structure.
By Ed Shanaphy, USPTA Director of Tennis and President of Beyond The Baselines, a consultancy aimed at assisting boards and committees to bringing “Best-In-Class” programming to their clubs and facilities.
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 email@example.com or call us at (508) 538-1288.