You can never make the club so inexpensive that the person who should not have joined in the first place can maintain their membership. Yet panic, during stressful economic times, drives misguided clubs to offer the deal of the month, appealing to club-shoppers who quickly calculate then compare your club’s entry fees and dues to their costs at a nearby daily fee course. Where’s the focus on value or the prestige of belonging to a private club? Then, anxious club leaders defer maintenance, slash operating costs and reduce member services. Who will pay when roofs leak, parking lots need repair, and irrigation and HVAC systems falter? Those drawn to bargain initiation fees and reduced dues will bolt at the first sign of a cash call. They’re not invested in your club and may never be. They don’t share your memories of life cycle events celebrated at the club. To them, the club’s just an inexpensive place to play golf. They haven't earned, and may have no interest in, Friend Equity, that elusive bond among veteran members.
Every club has low hanging fruit, ripe for cost-cutting. Just don’t mess with your club’s core values. Shift the focus to driving revenue while maintaining the integrity of the brand and perceived value.
Isn't it the character of your membership that differentiates your club? Club membership, once accessible by invitation only, is now advertised, promoted, and sold by professional marketeers as opposed to current members who usually understand their club’s culture best. The professional’s incentive, based on numbers of memberships sold, may conflict with the member’s motivation to maintain the suitability of the club’s membership.
View membership as an entitlement at your peril. Membership to a fine private club is an earned privilege, an opportunity to spend quality time with people who share your values, interests and morals; a place where prospective spouses meet; where families safely engage in recreational and social activities. When sponsorship of a new member is rubber-stamped; when even superficial background checks are ignored; when dollars trump character, the club’s demise is predictable.
Challenges facing the private club industry today present an ideal opportunity to reaffirm the club’s core values. Does anyone really want their club to be managed for those who can least afford it? If we address members' values instead of becoming the best value in town we may still be able to reverse this industry-killing emphasis on numbers rather than class.
Charles Darwin reportedly said, "It is neither the strongest of the species that survives nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."
Prosper in the face of economic uncertainty: Politicians never waste a good crisis. Neither should we. Let’s focus on the basics of the private club business; drive revenue by listening to our stockholder members then exceed their expectations; concentrate on member retention; revere and foster tradition; cultivate an image of exclusivity while avoiding an exclusionary image; appeal to prospective members who express a high value perception of membership in the club, sufficient to accommodate natural attrition; introduce innovative member programs and events at no or low cost e.g. station pro at the range for free instruction; early morning golf course nature walks; free golf and tennis clinics for those new to the game; a president & manager’s lunch roundtable where members may share ideas; listen to your front line staff for they know best the members’ needs and expectations. If your club's approach to membership marketing is to reach out to bargain hunters with no criterion other than they can write a (small) check then perhaps it's time to reevaluate your own value perception of your club.
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Mark Weiner is a partner in Search America®, international private club management search & consulting, Trusted Advisors Since 1974. www.SearchAmericaNow.com (800) 977-1784 info@SearchAmericaNow.com