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Liquidity, Availability, and Flexibility – Clubs’ Needs For Reopening and Restructuring

board room accountant meeting

By Ed Shanaphy
B.A. Duke University, M.A. The London School of Economics
President BeyondTheBaselines.com – SBW Associates, Inc

These are unprecedented times, but they will come to an end. Whether this summer, or in early 2021, Covid-19 will finally subside and we as an industry across the nation must be ready. Club managers, owners, and boards of governors should have a short-term and long-range plan for reopening. Reopening requires liquidity, availability and flexibility.

Prior to opening, as a club manager or owner, you have a single opportunity to restructure the tennis and fitness departments. All bets are off as you return and bring staff back to work. Most clubs and businesses are predicting a revenue drop of approximately 30 percent over the next 18 to 24 months and preparations for the change that Covid-19 will bring to bear on the country club and the tennis and fitness industries must be weighed in appropriately before any plans are finalized.

Liquidity

Liquidity is essential. The access to cash and funding is a necessity, whether you are a facility employing a director or “farm out” your tennis or fitness department to a director running a business within your club structure. Many clubs are unable to apply for Small Business Association funding, whether excluded as a 501(c)7 social club or simply red tape. But if by chance your club or facility was successful in its application for SBA loans or grants, that is a great help to retain staff and cover payroll costs during these weeks and months that clubs are not operational.

If you were not able to get through the paperwork for government funding, there are other avenues to liquidity. There are emergency disaster loans from most states. If your club or facility has a long association with a bank, you can often receive bank funding at a low percentage rate using club assets as collateral. Finally, if your facility or club has an excellent credit rating or Dun & Bradstreet report, it should not prove too difficult to gain some more liquidity if required to restart from industry financiers. What we must take away from this as club managers, governing bodies and advisors is that the term “savings for a rainy day” must be now essential business management as we move forward and budget accordingly.

Most clubs run at a fixed cost, whether they are open or closed. Staying closed longer puts more money in the club’s coffers, but members might become impatient and ask for partial or pro-rated refunds of membership dues. It’s a delicate balancing act for any club manager and board of governors.

Depending on refunds to members or clients, clubs remaining closed longer may and should have access to savings and funding bigger than any contractor working within the framework of the club. We have encountered many clubs guaranteeing the independent contractors running their tennis and fitness departments funding for costs incurred, such as overheads, retail purchases for golf, tennis and fitness shops, and payroll. These loans from the clubs in most cases will be paid back over the next season of full service.

As we move forward through this crisis, there is a possibility of assessing a membership for a planned project which could help instill cash into a club as the revenue streams come recover. This could be a somewhat riskier method in that it relies on timing of the recovery and a strong economy coming back to fore in 2021 and beyond.

However you find cash, it’s imperative that the club or facility has enough to remain a viable concern and to be flexible when reopening, something we will look at below.

Availability

One of the top three desires and wants of any membership is availability of staff and management to members. The CoronaVirus era hasn’t changed that. In this era, in-person communication is not truly possible, so communication is left to substitute for availability. Communication should be planned, positive and productive. Communications with staff should be daily, especially with department heads who are planning the minutiae of reopening their departments.

Communication with stakeholders, whether clients or members, should be relevant and frequent. Both the club manager and the department heads should be reaching out often to members or stakeholders. Outlining the plan to reopen, the new regulations that will be in effect at the club, and the overall, continuing finances of the club should be part of weekly updates.

Zoom or Skype meetings with stakeholders should be held at least twice a month, if not more often as the facility moves through the CoronaVirus era and looks to reopen in the coming weeks and months. Newsletters via email, communications via text and letters and cards through the old-fashioned “snail mail” can play a part as people are stuck at home. These communications should focus on how you are looking to safe-guard the facility, the members, players and staff members, along with protecting the stakeholders value.

Both club managers and department heads should be at their home desks with the phone nearby. It’s reassuring for members and staff to know that you are on the other end of the line or email message. And, even though you might not hear from them, they’ll realize and understand that you are there providing a service. It creates value for you, for the club, for the program and club staff.

Positive communication with staff is essential in these times to keep morale high and to lead staff thoughtfully and effectively through a crisis such as Covid-19. Questions to be prepared for are numerous and your plans for restructuring your club’s staff must be solid with a mind to possible future changes given the fluid situation. But we believe in numbers – studying the numbers and reports over the past 12 to 18 months should help you decide how to move forward looking at a possible reduction in revenues up to a possible 30 percentage points in the coming 12 to 18 months.

Flexibility

As a club manager or governor, this is the opportunity you have been waiting for. This is the chance to make that professional who is not at the top of your list a part-time or seasonal employee, saving you 401k matching payments, healthcare and other benefit costs. This is your chance to move up that instructor who has been grinding for you with the 10 and under tennis players on the back courts to a more senior position and to create more club revenues by renegotiating that individual’s contract while at the same time lifting that instructor’s pay scale. Everything can be done and restructured under the “guise” of Covid-19

With all that is said about keeping jobs, we all know what is coming after this unexpected cessation of trade: Restructuring. And for those governing boards, general managers and club managers, this is, however you look at it, your chance to weed the wheat from the chaff.

As we all look forward to a new trading opportunity after being shutdown through lockdowns, the realization that a club could possibly save more money closed than as a going concern came as a surprise to many. With or without member refunds, driving down the costs of personnel, letting those instructors go who are on higher salaries or stipends, and perhaps looking at cross-training some positions, is all something each and every club and facility should not just be planning, but doing.

Payroll Folder
Liquidity will retain instructors

In the short term, any club or facility must maintain its staff. Do remember, in addition, that there is basically a stoppage of all legal immigration through at least June 23rd, which means that any H-1B visas and foreign temporary workers are not going to be here through the summer season. Summer will be affected for those seasonal clubs, but this too is a chance to restructure looking toward Summer 2021. Being flexible with staff is key.

With those foreign, temporary workers requiring replacement, the PPP loan or EIDL and Small Business Administration grants, can be used as a short-term method to keep the department or facility in line and ready. The upward revenue curve following the height of the crisis will be slow and proportional, and in line with CDC guidelines. This extended, slow rebuild is a club’s opportunity to effectively restructure. This period should give us some clues as to the long term cash flow and revenues over the next 12 to 18 months. We outline below some ideas that should be discussed as reopening starts to occur.

  • Restructuring Staff
    • Flow Charts – this is your chance to reset reporting structures. Ensure, for example, that the holdover pro who has remained outside of management and supervision for the last 10 years shall now report to the new Director of Junior Development. And enforce that new structure upon opening.
    • Reporting structures should be updated and formulated to new needs. Weekly reports should be required from all instructors and directors to club management detailing new membership drives, communication with non-active members, new and possible revenue streams and conflicts between staff and members. These reports should follow the organizational flow chart: i.e. junior instructors report to Junior Director who in turn reports to Director of Tennis who then reports to the General Manager.
    • Seasonal Positioning and pushing year-round staff members to a seasonal contract could be highly useful. Not sure where and when CoronaVirus will leave us, and where there are seasonal differences in revenue streams, it’s essential we look at those revenue curves weekly in terms of staffing. Shortening the season for the summer might save clubs over-paying for staff when members might not be present due to local rentals being curtailed. It’s also an opportunity to make year-round staff seasonal aimed at the peaks of member usage, saving on 401k and healthcare costs.

  • Restructuring 1099 Contractors
    • We have long been advocating a revision in straight hourly rates for 1099 instructors. As we work with clubs, we look to create incentives for your instructors.
      • Rentals versus Hourly Rates: With fixed income from club departments becoming essential in recovery, why not charge fixed rentals (as do corporate gyms with their personal trainers who are 1099 contractors) and split that rental revenue between the club (75% and the Director 25%). Once the rental is reached, 100% of revenues could go to the 1099 instructor. This model creates massive incentive for instructors to teach both private sessions and groups as well as club-based programs. But more importantly, it guarantees a fixed revenue from all instructors to the club.
    • Create incentives for directors and instructors favoring group and clinic teaching over private lessons on the courts or sessions on the gym floor. This will help rebuild the group teaching ethos as we are forced to social distance. But more importantly, it will grow revenue for the club immediately upon reopening. Remember, private lessons and sessions conducted by junior staff don’t really add to club or director revenues in a major way.

  • Cuts to compensation and reduction of staff
    • We all know that staff will not look exactly the same as we come out of the pandemic work stoppage. This is not a time to worry about personal relationships with staff. Staff are looking to safeguard their career and might make a move before your plan is initiated. A staff member, who may have been at the club for a very long period, might be forced to have a salary reduction in order to retain his or her position. Given that we will see an estimated 30% drop to most, if not all club and facility revenue streams, cutting salaries and related costs are essential. Perhaps set goals for these long-serving staff members in order to regain their salary over a two to three-year period to show that the club values their work. At the same time, communicate that many staff are being forced to accept a pay cut or have fewer scheduled hours as we rebuild slowly.

Moving Forward

This is a time to make wise business and economic decisions. Study past revenue streams and pro-rate those streams accordingly as we rebuild. Budget conservatively and study the economic comeback locally and nationally as the virus is not uniformly affecting the nation. Use this opportunity to shed non productive staff while creating incentives for valued staff. No one is expecting staff to look exactly the same after the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Use that belief to bring back your club with better staff, leaner departments, and a higher value to member services.

Ed Shanaphy is President of BeyondTheBaselines.com, a subsidiary of SBW Associates, Inc. He served for 17 years as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Haysbridge (UK) Ltd, a marketing and advertising international conglomerate, operating in 16 countries with offices in Dublin, Ireland and Sydney, Australia with head offices in London, England. BeyondTheBaselines.com is a US-based consultancy which aims to bring additional resources to governing bodies and general managers and has some of the most elite country clubs in the nation as clients.