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.
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.
Clubs are far and wide across our nation. Established country clubs in the Northeast with golf courses and old stone swimming pools are quite different from a yacht club in Florida which offers yachting, tennis and social amenities set in a gated community. Again, a tennis-only club is different from a golf club. Average ages of membership and length of memberships held vary widely from club to club.
How do each of these clubs fall into a general hiring process? They don’t. Plain and simple.
Having worked with so many clubs, the term “Director” or “Department Head” has various meanings – all defined by the particular club and its management structure. For demonstration purposes, and to keep it general and not even club specific, a Director of Sailing is quite different from a Director of Tennis. Sailing Directors are rarely seen instructing adults or offering much in the way of any adult programming. Programming and instruction for yacht clubs mainly focuses on juniors. The Sailing Director is asked to hire young, college-age instructors, find and organize those instructors’ housing for the summer, and run a program that aims at getting juniors age 8 to about 17 (they have to be over the age of 8 to be insured on the water) on the water and learning to sail.
With that in mind, many clubs place a major focus on their junior programs, sometimes with good motives, but oftentimes, with monetary gains in the mind of the present Director of Tennis or Golf. Junior programs, by far, outweigh adult programming in terms of revenue to most Directors of Tennis across our country. An industry standard that we have seen is something in the region of a 75/25 ration in favor of junior programming. Sometimes, this is how the club over years has structured itself. At other times, it is that the Director sees the junior program as his or her main revenue stream. Often, the adult program is left behind – ragged and uninspiring. We see it far too often.
That’s why the first item in any process of finding a new Director of Tennis (or Sailing or Golf for those clubs that offer those sports) is to create a Club Profile. This profiling is imperative in understanding the ethos of the club. Sometimes we call it the “vibe” of the club, but both words help to describe how we unearth the actual essence of the club.
Through meetings with the board, committees and active members, we can glean the strengths and weaknesses of the Club. Without a bias and a truly objective eye, we focus on where the club is failing, where it should be more even-handed, and where it should be in the next five to ten years.
The Club Profile is divided into two parts, one statistical and one part motivational.
Club Profile Part A: Statistical
These figures we glean easily enough from club management. Below are some of the statistics we look at – but we would also look quite intensely at usage and revenues which are clearly club specific.
Total Number of Present Members
Total Number of Members 5 Years ago, 10 Years Ago, and 20 Years Ago
Number of Member Categories and Change In Those Categories By Year Over Past 10 Years
Waitlist Numbers Growth and/or Decline
Ages of Members, Spouses and Children
Ages of New Members, Spouses and Children
Length of Membership Held
Projection of Membership Numbers and Age of Members: 5, 10, and 20 Years.
Tennis Court/Golf Course – Usage by Member Category, Age and Season
Tennis/Golf Revenues – Broken down between Instruction, Tournament Play, Guest Fees, Special Events, Socials, Fees, etc.
These questions and more will help to understand the type of Director of Professional that is required. The average age of a Director of Tennis in the United States is 48 – is that the right age for a club that is based in New York City and focuses on squash with a membership mainly of young people working on Wall Street? Probably not. But perhaps it is if that Director then hires two strong, younger professionals who are great players and teachers.
Club Profile Part B: Motivational, Change and Club Environment
Part Two of any Club Profile is a written survey and subsequent meetings with active members, the board and committee. Our “Club Profile Request” which we offer to all board and committee members helps to discover and uncover hidden ideas and agendas. Through this 25 to 50 question document created specifically for each club we work with, we discover the present programming and currently held ideas and opinions of members and the club’s governing bodies. We find where boards, committees and active members feel their club is failing and where it is strong and why they believe they require (or in some cases do not require) a new tennis or golf professional. And, more importantly, we uncover the various board and committee’s factions, so we better understand the entire situation prior to starting any recruitment process. This entire process aids us and allows us to better educate and work with the club’s governing bodies as we progress through any changes of employment or management structures.
Questions such as: Is there a teaching ethos at the club or do most members just use the club for their doubles games? Are tournaments catering to the same small group of members or do tournaments receive club-wide participation? Does the tennis committee represent all the various groups and demographics using the tennis courts? Does the Greens Committee overstep its job description and squash the Golf Committee? In this gated community, have house prices gone up or down and how has that affected the membership? These are simple enough questions, but we need to know the answers to these general questions before forging ahead.
The Club Profile is perhaps one of the most important documents and processes in any situation where a club believes it might be time for a new Director of Tennis or Golf… or Sailing. It is an investigation into the club itself, the board and the committees and why there is an apparent disconnect with present employee. Sometimes, communication and lack of oversight can create a hot-bed of resentment toward present employees. Sometimes, present employees are not fulfilling the clearly stated job description. Reasons for a disconnect are many.
However, the reasoning behind the disconnect, the apparent or non-apparent need to address issues, the desire for change, and ideas for the future all dictate why the present management structure may or may not be working. How to find a better-suited Director or professional in the future, if that is indeed required, is the responsibility of the governing bodies of the club. Understanding those bodies’ motivations and goals will help find and retain the right professional for the present and future.