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Season Proofing Your Club

For clubs facing seasonal challenges, maintaining member engagement year-round can be challenging. GGA’s Stephen Johnston provides insights on how to keep members connected to your club – whatever the weather.

Risk. This is the first word that comes to mind for clubs poorly positioned to appeal to existing or prospective members during the off-season.

Increasingly, we are witnessing a changing demand landscape. Prospective members are looking for a club to engage with year-round, one that provides and prioritizes the amenities and programs to support this desire. At the same time, existing members are assessing the value of their membership in the context of how often they visit or engage with their club. If their relationship is closely associated with seasonality, leading to them becoming disconnected during the inclement months, Mother Nature is likely to play too big a part in this value assessment.

Crucially, developing amenities which enhance year-round use of the facility not only helps to attract new members, it also increases engagement and satisfaction among existing members. But how do you realize this opportunity and secure this much needed season-proof longevity for your club?

Where to start

Assuming funding available for new amenities, the first port of call should be to obtain input from both members and non-members. This will provide robust, evidence-based support to develop the case for additional amenity provision.

Naturally, the market will dictate the type of amenity you are looking to add or develop, but – to offer an insight into recent trends – clubs facing seasonal challenges are focusing their investments on additional food and beverage outlets (family dining, more diverse dining options); fitness and wellness (indoor and/or outdoor pools); dedicated areas for children or adults, and high definition simulators or teaching studios.

A number of clubs have taken a different approach to the same challenge, choosing to focus on the corporate side of their business by developing dedicated business centers or expanded banquet areas for special events.

Making it work

Developing a new amenity from scratch is no small undertaking, but the objective, ultimately, is for it to become a meaningful addition which resonates with both existing and prospective members.

From surveying members and non-members, you will have a clear idea of which amenity is most highly prized among members. While this is a solid platform from which to move forward, you are likely to lack the critical detail of how much members and prospects would engage with this new product or service.

My advice is to ask members what their anticipated utilization is before proceeding with additions. Any new addition should be scrutinized from a financial perspective and compared with existing assets. A picture will then begin to emerge, one that determines whether the new amenity is viable, both in isolation and in the context of other, existing assets.

Secondly, complete a market study and invite potential members and existing members to participate in focus groups. This will help to establish whether the additional amenities would make the club more relevant to them year-round. Don’t underestimate the power of taking the time to ask other’s opinions; by showing that you put your members’ opinions first, you may well find the non-members who participate actually decide to join the club themselves, something we have witnessed on numerous occasions.

In any case, research mitigates risk. Be shrewd with your research efforts and focus these on the period before any development takes place. This avoids unforeseen challenges once the work has commenced.

Futureproofing

Embarking on new amenities or developing existing assets should be done with the future in mind. A season-proof club is one which keeps its members continually engaged throughout the year, year-on-year, promoting sustained high levels of satisfaction and an increased propensity for members to recommend the club to their friends.

However, additional amenities alone are not enough to achieve this harmony. To meaningfully realize the benefits of such addition(s), the club should focus on maintaining its standards of excellence and promoting events or programs which encourage use of the club and interaction with other members on a regular basis.

The proactive approach

When you set out to confront the seasonality issue, do so on the front foot; be proactive through seeking guidance from members and non-members. You and your board may well have instincts on how to tackle the issue of seasonality, but these alone are not enough when making pivotal decisions with a lasting impact in shaping your club’s future. Develop a plan, own the process and seize the opportunity that the off-season presents rather than fear the time it comes around.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Stephen Johnston.

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