Have you ever wondered where Apple might have gone if it weren’t for IPhones or IPads or Apple Watches? What if they’d stopped at IPod? Was it by accident that they always seemed to have the next product, or the next iteration of the same product handy when sales began to slow on any of their innovative technology? Not likely, right?
Clubs are slower to react!
While the private club industry has begun to realize “it might need new iterations”, private clubs seem to move a bit more like super tankers than “speed boats”. Perhaps a primary difference between Apple and private clubs is that one is highly dependent upon innovation while the other has created its brand image through tradition and exclusivity. Is it possible the traditions of country clubs may have inadvertently preempted the necessity for vision and innovation in a world of change? As importantly, must innovation be conflicted with tradition? Here’s some examples of “maybe not”!
Combining tradition with innovation.
From Jon McCabes’ decades old shockwave of a petting zoo at the Union League Club of Chicago to the game saving strategy and tactics that Jeff McFadden has instituted at the Union League Club of Philadelphia, tradition rages on in spite of fairly dramatic changes in operational direction. While many University Clubs struggle, the University Club of Chicago is killing it by staying vibrant and meaningful across culture and generation, most recently with the addition of an amazing rooftop bar.
Robert Sereci, at Medinah Country Club in Chicago, continues to find creative ways to drive innovation while respecting tradition including music on the driving range, food trucks and portable living arrangements at the BMW Classic. Joe Kren, at Farmington Country Club, has completely transformed the Club with collaborative vision, facility development and programming. John Schultz at Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, pioneered innovation by developing an approximate $5MM pool renovation complete with kids water features, cabanas and an adult bar, leading to membership growth, capital investment and a winning long range outlook.
The fact is, clubs that drive what is significant to their members and potential members rarely fail. While some clubs appear to be rapidly migrating toward culturally relevant and technologically savvy innovation, many clubs still lag in both understanding the necessity of change nor the benefits of embracing technology.
Member centric, needs driven opportunities don’t have to be major expenditures!
Let’s fast forward to today in what may be the age innovation for private clubs. Here are just a few examples. City clubs adding country clubs and sports clubs to the mix, even restaurants in the beach communities in which members summer. Country clubs adding music and short game leagues to the driving range, farm to table organic gardens, bocce ball leagues with 400 or more league members, “pickle ball”, augmenting tennis for a faster pace and less strenuous game, and fitness, outdoor dining, and “cheers” type bars taking the social spectrum of offerings by storm. But, it’s not all “sticks and bricks”. It’s also about programming.
As the demographics of members change, so too must the event and programming. Women see the club different from men and families with children clearly have needs that are different from the empty nester. While challenging to react to the myriad of age, family and gender based needs, clubs recognizing this need are reacting with an entirely new and exciting lifestyle experience. All geared toward growth, retention, increased utilization and increased satisfaction. Moving satisfied members to loyal members! Members who can’t wait to share their experiences with friends.
Meeting and exceeding member expectations starts with listening!
While many of these amazing changes are positively affecting clubs and the private club landscape, some still lag behind for a myriad of reasons including the lack of vision. Finding ways in which to get members and volunteer decision makers to a more reality based thought process requires ongoing opportunities to listen to your members, by demographic. Surveys, needs and preference polling and developing a database of member’s lifestyle requirements is a start. Then it takes action to deliver on the experience we know they want, continually seeking and acting on their input. Think of the customer relation power in that process.
Finally, to manage change requires courage. Managing assets and programs to meet the needs of the next generation does not mean negating or abandoning the more mature and tenured members. It does however, require a willingness to understand that a healthy membership must both attract and retain members. What attracted the tenured members is vastly different than what is attracting today’s next generation. Knowing the difference and having the courage to change is the first step in the right direction.