Who could have predicted the opportunities created by the Covid disaster? Most clubs have reported higher than normal membership growth, despite the limited usage restrictions imposed. Most have also noted that “new” member growth was from first time members, without any past experience in a private club. While the phenomenon has provoked considerable dialogue as to the reasons, it’s clear that many factors played a role.
- A need for socialization and out of the restrictive sequestering process
- Pent-up demand for freedom of movement and interactions
- A needed pursuit to replace lost travel and vacation opportunities with the family
- The need for a safe environment for the family
- The safest alternatives for family participation
The list goes on…. But the natural question we should all be asking is, “will this good fortune last?” It’s amazing to me observing these incidences of good fortune and opportunity and watching so many club professionals reacting as if this is a natural progression leading to the new normal. Certainly, optimism is refreshing after all of this, but an interjection of caution would likewise be prudent.
As the club industry has seen repeatedly, trends can be cyclical. The high growth and participation in the 90’s leading to overbuilding and oversupply, then decline in the 2000’s. This is a classic of cyclical fortune. For some, that cycle spelled disaster. For others, it created a foundation to build sustainable prosperity. The difference between outcomes was perspective. If you used the momentum to build a stronger member experience and loyalty, success likely followed even through the downturns. If you took the good fortune of growth and misinterpreted it as a forever market condition, you likely felt the pain as the good times receded. Opportunity lost!
The clubs that did better during Covid, to some degree had already established a brand experience that attracted new members and kept them. Members already felt safe and knew they could trust the club. Clubs continued to be creative and meet the new demands members had over a difficult period. Happy, trusting members shared their experience with potential members. Clubs putting the member experience first did far better during the declines of 2003 and also during Covid.
For clubs not faring as well over the Covid and recovery period, limited trust in a club’s brand may have marginalized the success of clubs. Still, most country clubs seem to have seen some semblance of growth. Yacht clubs and city clubs, with mostly restrictive dining venues fared somewhat worse, not necessarily because of brand image, but more on the basis of limited to no usage opportunities.
So, here we are today. What is your brand strategy and how do your members describe their experience? What are you doing to ensure it’s the right brand strategy and you are delivering consistently exceptional experiences? What are you doing to either build on your good fortune or to sustain that which you have gained over the past eighteen months? As importantly, how can you be sure you are gaining or securing the goodwill we have been provided?
Since the earliest clubs, social interaction, camaraderie and relationships are the fiber that has attracted and retained solid members. Amenities and activities are likewise important, but it is social interaction, emotional connectivity and demographically relevant programming that drives a club’s brand, trust and member pride. As the industry has experienced, member interactions have changed significantly and often over the past hundred and twenty years. It is likely that change will be the only constant as we forge ahead as well. Are you ready?
Look at recent year’s top activity contenders. Bocce, pickle ball and fitness have become cornerstones of social interaction and activities. Ranges have opened into enormous opportunities to drive new players to the game, aka, TopGolf, performance centers and target golf leagues. Sports bars, al fresco dining and adult pools have become almost common place. Amenities to be sure, but more importantly, these are areas for social interaction and emotional connectivity, entertaining guests and providing lifestyle, value, growth and retention.
So, you might be saying to yourself, okay Captain Obvious, what’s your point? The answer is that while club professionals may see the future very clearly, it will never completely matter what you see until and unless the volunteer leadership and members see the same things. Making that happen is foundational to consistent readiness, to come to the same conclusions about what lies ahead, and staying ahead of the trends that surely will come again.
There is no substitute for data driving your vision, strategy and brand process. Market data, member profiles, usage profiles, member EXPERIENCE surveys and open, two way lines of communications, competitive overviews and comparisons, a regular overview of industry trends and best practices are absolute necessities to ensuring your club’s prosperity into the future. Watch for trends before they become crises.
The private club industry not only dodged the Covid bullet by responding creatively to a crisis, it reversed a significant downward trend in golf and, in many cases membership. Now is not the time to feel complacent. It is a time to double down on due diligence. It is a time to ask your members what they need and want. It is a time to develop a strategy around member engagement, satisfaction and increased utilization. It is a time to make the Club an integral part of each member’s DNA.
Members have always been the lifeblood of the private club. Without them, we simply cease to exist. Membership is everyone’s business. Each department should be tasked specifically around growth and retention. Strategies should be built around sustainable membership interactions, amenities and driving organic membership growth.
Crises like Covid come along periodically. Let them be a constant reminder that market strength, sustainability and brand attractiveness are all tied to the relationships we build with our members, the interactions they enjoy and the amenities that make them proud.
One of the things I am most proud of over the fifty plus years in the industry is the consistency of my message and intent to align with a team that creates amazing tools to assist you and your staff in developing the processes to drive sustainability. I’d love to discuss it with you. It’s not about selling anything. It’s about knowing what tools are available to you and recognizing how important they are to your ongoing success.
In the interim, the future will not make itself. It will be guided by skillful professionals who see clearly the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Make it a great journey….
If you are interested in discussing tools that are available, please contact Rick Coyne 214-679-8496 or Peter McCarty 517-420-5457.