At a country club, a Director of Tennis sees the members that come to the club on that day. At a Home Owner’s Association, every member sees when the Director arrives in the morning, when he teaches, whom she teaches, and when the Director leaves for the day.
Tim Clay, Director of Tennis at Stillwater Tennis in Naperville, IL, takes us through a normal day at the his home owner’s association. Tim is a great pro, but a true business man. Tim runs a business. “I’m neither an employee nor an independent contractor,” pronounces Tim. He’s right. As a full corporation with various interests, he is simply a corporation with a franchise at an HOA. Fortunately he has his M.S. in Management. “But, I’m always learning.” He has built a program that has over 90 percent prepayment and preregistration all through credit card usage.
Tim has been coaching tennis for over 20 years. Illinois PTR named Tim their Member of the Year for 2 consecutive years in 2019 and 2020. His program at Stillwater is one of the bright lights in the region.
HOA Politics and Resale Values
Whether dealing directly with residents or through a Community Association Manager or management firm, Tim has found the right method of navigating through a situation that is rife with politics. How can it not be where each member is on property all the time and each decision Tim makes could affect property values? Tim discusses how he has grown into the job and learned the differences between being a country club professional and a Director at a large HOA.
Being a Director of Tennis combines many skills, including being an information officer for your membership. Andy Zodin regards his seasonal summer job as a year-round gig in which he services and caters to his membership, providing information throughout the year.
Zodin, President of the USPTA Inter-Mountain Division, is our guest during one of the hardest-hitting weeks on our country and our club industry during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Andy calls himself a Director of Information. He works with his members throughout the year facilitating league play and winter instruction even though his position is really a seasonal one. Although the members only see him five months a year, his position, as he believes most seasonal jobs are, is a year-round position with a 12-month informational and member services role.
Andy has been a teaching professional for over 30 years and is currently the Director of Tennis at Columbine Country Club. His views on the club and facility business and how the USPTA and USTA are moving forward in the industry are truly well-rounded and insightful. Relying on his many experiences in our industry, Andy paints a picture of an industry which plays second fiddle to golf at most clubs, but is growing and maturing in its own right.
Why ATP Tour Pros Often Fail as Directors of Tennis
Andy has seen ATP and WTA Tour professionals both succeed and fail as Directors of Tennis. He points out why some of the greatest players in our game are unable to become a good teacher, instructor, Head Professional or Director of Tennis and outlines for us the reasons why many great players simply never make the transition to teaching professional.
We receive a behind-the-scenes view of how Andy runs a program with 200 juniors across seven outdoor courts in Colorado. Learn how he keeps his eye on the adults by not only providing a wonderful on-court program, but also a complete tennis experience with trips to Indian Wells and other tennis events for his membership.
Andy is a wonderful radio personality himself. At kickserveradio.com he has built a solid audience of listeners. He has interviewed some of the greats of the game on both the playing and teaching side. Andy’s ability to touch on the topic of the day facing the industry is pointed and he maintains a vibrant energy both on the radio and in the industry.
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.
Ladies Teams can run a club. They can also ruin a club. They shouldn’t do either, but they do at times and at some clubs. Men’s teams, although not as numerous, can also throw a wrench into the cog. But Ladies Teams tend to be one of the top 5 reasons for Directors of Tennis being shown the door. Here’s the low-down on how to avoid the politics that are inherent in any competitive league.
Document, and then Document Again
As a Director, Club Manager or Facility Owner, it is essential that you avoid the pitfalls that competitive teams can so quickly present. By documenting all conversations and reiterating that conversation with a team player, either by text or by email, after the fact, you are creating a protective backup throughout the team environment. However, first and foremost in our play book, is this: Avoid as much discussion with team players as possible. We advocate a “hands-off” approach to competitive teams. There really is no reason why, beyond practices and strategies, that a Director or Owner should be involved in day-to-day decisions for teams. Competitive teams are there as an additional offering to members – a small percentage of members in most cases at the facility – and should be treated as just that. Teams are just another opportunity for competitive play.
The best method to avoid confrontation is through communication. If members of a team understand how the season is going to work from the outset in terms of pairings, which team at the club they will play for, and how they can move up to a new team, or move up within a team, then half the battle is won. Do remember to communicate that with the chance to move up to a new team or within a team, so also exists the opportunity to move down. We advocate a full “Team Member Rule Book” which should outline all possibilities from the first team meeting. For a BeyondTheBaselines.com “Ladies Team Rule Book” Cheat Sheet, please visit our Patron Page and become a Gold member at https://www.patreon.com/BeyondTheBaselines
Control vs Delegation of Team Play
Therefore, delegate as much as possible to elected team captains. We believe, particularly at a member-owned club, that delegation to captains wins hands down over control over the teams. Far too often we have seen the backs of dismissed Directors of Tennis over Ladies Teams. In most cases, this can be avoided by upfront communication with the teams and delegating to team captains, fellow members, of pairings and placings. With our experience with Ladies Teams ranging from New England and the Dorothy Bruno Hills Indoor Tennis League (DBH) to South Florida and The Palm Beach County Women’s Tennis Association (PBCWTA), we have found that we advocate an “advise and consent” position by the Director. They can listen to the captain and maybe help with some additional ideas or advice, but leave the major and final decisions to the team captains.
Certainly, as a recently employed Director of Tennis at a club, it is essential to mind your communication with team players. Just like a first day of school, trust no one. But do know that those who want their say are going to find you and believe that you will have a sympathetic ear to their woes, unlike your predecessor in their view. That’s why you’ve been hired, right? Wrong. Directors are hired to run a complete program – aimed at all demographics, juniors and adults, through offering programming and event planning. Too often we see certain demographics of membership left unattended while a Director is literally consumed by Ladies Teams and their issues. Ignoring a demographic of membership can be as fatal as not dealing with a vocal ladies team.
Remember, most players and lesson-takers are not team players. And if teams start to dominate a Director’s time, or even court time at peak times, the tenure of the Director might be shorter than he or she would like at the Club. We have heard it so many times from a member: “Why must ladies teams play at 10am on a weekday? Thats a peak time and we are allowing 12 non-members on our courts every Tuesday morning with ladies league matches. What am I paying for when I can’t get a court!” They’re right of course – when else would a club let guests show up weekly and take up 12 or more playing spots on club courts. Most clubs hold fast to a particular guest showing up more than once a month!
One of the best lessons in life, I learned at ATP Chair Umpire School while travelling with Jerry Armstrong, one of the highest qualified chair umpires in the world and assistant Wimbledon referee. It was one of the last days of training in Dublin, and of course, how to handle players disagreeing with line calls had been a recurring theme in our discussions. “We all remember when I defaulted McEnroe at the Australian Open,” remarked Jerry. “But, do you remember who was on the other side?” I couldn’t recall. Since then, I’ve asked numerous “tennis know-it-alls” the same question and no one has been able to answer. “Always remember, there’s a player, waiting to play on the other side of the net while you discuss the call. That player is ready to play.” said Jerry.
The same holds true for Ladies Teams. They are just one player among a plethora of players at a club or facility. It is too easy to be consumed by a particular group or demographic of a club and forget or neglect all the other groups. Keep a distance, like a good chair umpire, and realize the entire setting while gently advising the Ladies Teams.\
Ed Shanaphy worked for the ATP Tour across the globe and had several run-ins with players. He never forgot that Byron Black was waiting to play as Jim Courier shouted about an overrule at the Lipton Championships on set point. Neither has Ed forgotten the spectator with the bellowing voice and whipped up towel in the top row of the stadium that saw the call better! By the way, it was Mikael Pernfors, now Ed’s neighbor, who walked away a winner after McEnroe was defaulted. Small world.
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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.
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 email@example.com 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.
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.