As we look back on 2020, COVID stood out as the greatest challenge in most of our lifetimes. Yet, it was also a testimony to the resilience of our industry and the creativity of our peers. Club management and staff stepped up big time to send the message that the Club was still that home away from home, that it could be trusted and that safety of members and staff was the top priority. And it paid off in some very interesting ways.
Nearly 60% of clubs suffered little to no significant overall losses to membership or cash flow. With the job losses, business closings and lockdowns, it’s simply amazing these numbers are not worse. While the numbers may not hold as our northern climate clubs go into winter, the summer weather certainly was a factor in allowing all kinds of outdoor activities and dining, despite various levels of restriction.
As the need to be outdoors skyrocketed golf participation and membership sales accelerated at clubs around the country. Whether precipitated by an inability to take the family on vacation, or a pent-up demand to find a safe place outside of the home to be with other people, many clubs have seen significant increase in membership and golf has made a major comeback. What we may have learned is that safety and security of the private club was an easier choice than public facilities.
In the surveys ClubInsights provided during the pandemic, over 92% of members indicated strong confidence in the handling of COVID. 94% indicated strong confidence in how the club was communicating and 93% indicated that the communication process was well timed, informative and trustworthy. So, that’s the Good!
As winter settles in, vaccine distribution anticipated in late Spring and the lock downs continue to diminish the ability to serve members, is there a lingering threat to private clubs? Will members grow tired of full dues for limited usage opportunities. Will they be wary of returning to normal even as we begin to see a semblance of normal? Here are the statistics gained from ClubInsights complimentary COVID related survey administered to clubs around the country.
Clearly, different members will have differing comfort levels in specific dining venues, and, as most clubs have realized, outdoor dining was preferential overall. Likewise, as normalcy emerges there will be varying tolerances for returning to “normal” in various areas of the club.
In ClubInsights’s surveys members were asked specifically about dining venues and their level of comfort with specific meal types during the pandemic and once the restrictions have been lifted. The response was a bit unanticipated and interesting on at least a few of the questions. The percentages below reflect the level of approval indicated.
Most importantly, members clearly raised the issue of safety even after the restrictions have been lifted externally. 13% indicated they would not utilize inside dining. Outside dining, as during COVID, was less threatening and only 7% of members indicated they would not use outside dining after restrictions had been lifted. Size of gathering was also a concern with individual percentage participation dropping the larger the group gathering. That may be the bad… Not only have we lost considerable revenues to banquets and events, that may continue to trend not only in banquets, but dining in general.
For those 40% of clubs that have faced losses of members and cash flow, what will the future hold? Like so many restaurants that have been forced to close their doors, how vulnerable will this segment be? What can they be doing to turn the tide? Clearly, if member losses and cash flow are issues, assessments could become a reality, a dangerous one after all these months of full dues and limited usage. This could be the ugly….
Looking forward, no matter how well you did or didn’t do during COVID, delivering on what has been and is most important to members will be critical to facilitating a new normal. Safety, community and interaction appear to be the things most important in holding our clubs together. After what will be over a year’s lockdown, few will be ready to emerge as if nothing had happened. Having a strategy to ease members back to normal will provide a sequenced pathway to accelerate the process. Create an internal team that identifies what member’s have trusted over the past year and develop a timed communication strategy. Socialization has been a sorely missed commodity and while concerns will still exist, activities that will bring members together safely will be sought after by most members.
Have your team reflect too on Club’s reaction to COVID, driving the safe and creative participation of members despite the most dangerous pandemic in our history. These lessons should become the impetus for even greater member experiences and satisfaction as we rebuild confidence and restore an entire industry.
If you have any specific questions on how best to strategically position your club, I’d be happy to schedule an hour or so to review your situation and offer any advice that I can.
As always, I am at your service,