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Communication, Communication, Communication

Baileys Beach Club Chit

From Phone Books to Contacts and Club Chits. Communication Is Vital.

Baileys Beach Club Chit
Bailey’s Beach Newport Club Chit

We’ve asked each and every club and home owner association with which we have worked what would be their number one criterion for a new Director of Tennis or Fitness. It wasn’t that they were once ranked top 500 on the ATP Tour or that they competed at Crossfit Nationals. It was simply: communication, communication, communication.

Not to sound like a real estate agent emphasizing location, but it’s so true. In this day and age where we spend more time looking at our phones than speaking to other humans, it’s essential that we communicate through each medium presented to us. This holds true in the world of tennis and fitness.

 

Tradition versus Modernity

As I continue to work in the industry after a career in marketing and advertising, I realize that the speed of communication changes really from generation to generation. In my grandparents’ day, we had to wait for the Telegram, the fastest mode of communication. Then along came my parents’ generation and the telephone. I can still vividly see the cream colored, wall-mounted, long spiral-cabled phone in my childhood home in the early 70s. And we used to call the exchanges by letters rather numbers – my grandmother lived in Scarsdale, NY so it was SC3 (723 in today’s world). I grew up in South Salem, SO3 (763) and so on. Along came my adulthood and email where we had our Blackberrys logged into our our AOL (remember how it was capitalized?) account. But today, it’s text or IM (we need instant in everything from our coffee to messaging). So quick that my daughter calls it snapchat – oh, that’s the application? Oh, ok.

Phone Book White Pages

So as a boy, I flipped through what was known as the White Pages. I don’t think my daughter, who turns 11 in a few weeks, has ever heard that expression. “Dad, were there yellow pages?” Yes there were for commercial phone listings and pink pages for government and official listings. Now we just have “Contacts” in the grasp of our hands. How clutch is that? No pun intended!

One of my board members asks at the annual budget meeting about the cost and need of the yearly “Club Handbook”. It’s a private club tradition. A printed, bound club handbook with each member’s address, phone, email, place of work and the club’s by-laws written in the early decades of the past century. Every club has one. Years ago, one of the clubs where I served as Head Pro disbanded this and put it all on the protected member-only accessed website. What a great idea. Print it out at home if you’d like, or just type in and search for the member. My grandmother would opt for the printout, my daughter for the search bar.

Long gone are the days where the pro would call a home and leave a message to play in a doubles game hoping to hear back by the end of the day. Now, by sharing a text database with membership, members themselves put out a text say to 8 players and get a court of 4 back in a matter of minutes. Long gone are the Men’s and Ladies Days – they just exist in a different world: textual rather than virtual. In fact, Duxbury Yacht Club simply disbanded their formal Men’s and Ladies’ Days and left it to the members to text each other and updated the “sub” list with a text database update! No more bulletin board substitute lists that never get read because by the time you are the club it’s too late to get a substitute.

We stress the importance of the front desk having a fully up-to-date text database on either Google Voice or some other platform in order to communicate with each and every member instantly. No worrying if the member received the voicemail – it’s a text! Breaking down that database by level of player, whether they participate in clinics, or if they have children to whom you can market junior events – this is all helpful. Does it matter if they take clinics? Sure, how are you going to fill that last minute spot in the 9am clinic? With a text banged out to 27 members who love that clinic at 8.34am that same morning! You can do this for Pilates and Yoga classes too, although those members might be doing deep-breathing exercises before they type in their now 6-digit security code on their iPhone.

You can post on Twitter and on Instagram openings in clinics, or new programming ideas and events. Maybe a few people will stop their scrolling to see what their best-friend did last night, look and sign up. On Twitter, you can actually link usually right to your signup software. Tougher to do on Instagram. But Facebook allows direct links too.  Many private, elite, member-owned clubs frown on social media. I say, just control your viewership. Easy to do on most social media platforms. By the way, those old, printed club handbooks have a lot of information lying around people’s homes who may no longer be members if we are talking about viewership and confidential information.

The strength of your database is the foundation to your customer and member service. A weak database most likely means poor service. A wonderfully clean and efficient database means better billing, more on-court sales, filled yoga classes, and simply put, better member service. If you’re still using paper chits and not printing member receipts from a POS system, your behind the times in member services.

Don’t Forget To Dot your I’s and Cross Your T’s: Formal Writing

Strunk and White

My copy of Strunk and White is never far from my desk. I know, those two names show my age. I just looked – first published in 1959. But, like a classic book, there is still the opportunity for formal writing. A thank you email or, even, a posted letter to thank a member for attending a special event or the summer’s signature event, like a member-guest is always welcomed. Or, a thank you for a gratuity card receipt from an employee or a thank you for a contribution to the staff Christmas fund. A welcome letter at the beginning of the season or a new year is always suggested. And how often does your Director reach out with a letter, either emailed or posted, to all the new members feeling a bit “out-in-the-cold” after the rosé of the initial cocktail party fades? These touches bring members to your facility and growth to club revenues.

However you communicate, keep it professional, informative, to the point and often. Only two times has someone told me I email too often. Countless are the times I’ve heard: “If I had only known…”

 

Ed Shanaphy once wrote for a well-known magazine with offices in Murray Hill on 35th Street in Manhattan at which he learned that criteria is the plural to criterion.  He now muses on the country club industry while consulting for clubs and home-owner associations. His copy of The Elements of Style is so well-thumbed and brittle, MOMA is considering putting it in a glass case.

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Retaining Your 1099 Independent Contractors

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.

Incentivization Programs

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.

Conclusions

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.

 

 

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

by Ed Shanaphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Programming The Future Of Country Club Tennis & Fitness

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

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

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

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

Don’t Let A Member Go Home Disgruntled

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

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

Small Changes Lead To Big Cross Sells!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Continuing Education For Your Fitness and Tennis Professional Staff

The gym and tennis court can be a microcosm of life. Issues that we see in life are dealt with by making firm decisions. To be your personal best in the gym, one must be disciplined and make a clear decision to “stay the course” and improve. Same holds true on the tennis court. And same holds true for the professionals in the gym and on the court.

As a professional in the gym or on the court, these environments can become claustrophobic and lonely. A professional can find themselves almost hermit-like at a club or facility. The fitness center or tennis court fencing can be a cave where a professional hides every day from the real world… the horizon… and expansion through education.

Slowly, clubs and facilities are moving toward the idea of offering continuing education funds within departmental budgets. This has been a long time coming. Most contracts throughout the tennis and fitness industry do not cover the costs for employees or contractors to further education in their respective fields. Sometimes, the Director of Tennis or Fitness does have a line item in the budget for departmental continuing education, but far too often does this line item go back year after year used only for the Director or even completely untouched as budgetary constraints get tighter and tighter.

But continuing education really should be a requirement, if only to expose your facility’s professionals to new ideas, programming, and possible new hires.

In terms of fitness, we have found that Sara Kooperman is a leader in continuing education. Back when we were just starting Beyond The Baselines, a local personal trainer mentioned that SCWfit.com was a great source for fitness education. We looked and we liked. We’ve recommended their personal trainer certification for those new to the industry along with their Mania, a conference that tours the nation with fitness industry experts sharing their knowledge and experience, and sometimes selling the newest fad.

TRX TrainingTRX was just such a fad about a dozen years ago when it first arrived on the scene at SCW’s Mania… but now it’s a household and gym staple. We’ve worked closely with TRX (https://www.trxtraining.com) to enrich the country club fitness industry with their suspension training. TRX offers its own certification and education programming as well, rich in programming ideas.

Michele Krause, creator and owner of Cardio Tennis (http://www.cardiotennis.com), brought TRX on to the Cardio Tennis scene years ago and we have recommended that TRX be a part of this cross pollination at several clubs. It brings the fitness center to the tennis court and we’ve seen tennis players hit the gym for the first time after such a class on the court. We’ve added a fitness pro to tennis clinics across many clubs and found that this cross-fertilization is a fantastic way to boost club revenues. Michele is a leading proponent of continuing education and tours the globe providing teaching and instructional experience in tennis and fitness.

Tennis has so much in the way of further education for its professionals. From the United States Professional Tennis Association (https://uspta.com) and the Professional Tennis Registry (https://www.ptrtennis.org) through to the USTA, there are thousands of ways to gain credits while expanding a professional’s links within the industry. Just a simple “Drill Share” session on a court at one of the annual conferences can lead to a major change for a club’s membership on the courts the next summer.

For decades, industry professionals have been on both sides of the continuing education argument. Some say that the cost to them personally to belong to the National Academy of Sports Medicine or other such certifying association and to carry their insurance and to attend continuing education events is just too much for them to bear. We’ve heard it on the tennis side too: The cost of the USPTA or PTR (which provides liability insurance with its yearly dues) and then the cost of the conference just adds up to too much. Recently, the USPTA, like many of the fitness organizations, has added a continuing education requirement in order to retain professional certification from them. The moans from professionals across the industry were heard, but after the initial storm, it appears that the requirement has been met by the vast majority of their professionals. And there are strong reasons to maintain this requirement.

Jason Gilbert, who is USTA Florida’s Director of Competitive Tennis, also works with the USPTA on furthering the education of those professionals new to the industry with the Under 30 Initiative and liaises closely with the USPTA. He cites the number of young pros who leave the industry too soon and believes, rightly, that the lack of support and education after certification is a leading cause. The pros are hollowed out and lonely teaching hour after hour “caged” on a court and don’t find the support or education needed to “stay the course.”

As a community, it is our belief at Beyond The Baselines to help educate boards and committees so that they believe that continuing education of their professionals should not only be a requirement, but a favorable development for their staff at every level in the gym and on the court. If that education helps to expand programming and participation at the club or facility, it’s a valuable and inexpensive method of adding both member satisfaction and club revenue.