Writing Your Private Club Membership Marketing Plan

The club industry is has experienced what could be the toughest two years in recent memory. We can't fix the economy, we can't significantly impact the number of golfers coming into the game and we can't change the over-supply of country clubs, golf clubs and semi-private/public golf courses, but we can minimize the negatives and accentuate the positives. To do this you will need a Membership Marketing Plan. These are not the times to be spending tens of thousands on exhaustive, comprehensive, professionally done studies and plans (although there is nothing wrong with that if you can afford it), but there are many things you can do to develop an effective membership marketing tool that will give structure, direction, measurement and a much needed boost to your membership efforts next year. Here are some planning tips:

1. Gather Membership Information - Create a spreadsheet and line up your membership historical data (i.e. numbers of members in each category, dues charged, number new members per year, initiation fee amounts, list the various promotions and drives, numbers of resignations, etc.)

2. Gather Comparative Club Information - Typically, someone among the clubs in your region has done a study and you have participated. If not, then you do one. Create a spreadsheet and plot your club in position to the others.

3. Demographics - You can order a demographic study from Claritas or any one of a number of companies. Determine if there is growth and where. Stay inside of a 20 mile radius. Also, drive around and locate growth pockets where homes are priced in a range that would support membership in a private club.

4. Use 2009 Data - If you have it, use data from a recent survey, guest usage, spending trends, rounds of golf. If you lack data in certain areas, then plan to obtain that data in 2010 for use next year.

5. Don't Overlook the Social, Sports and Dining Membership Opportunities. Selling Golf Memberships is likely to be rough sledding next year, so adding peripheral memberships, even annual memberships might be suitable for your club's bottom line while also adding activity and life to the social part of the club.

6. Save Your Members' Money - Arrange services and activities that save members on their bottom line. Help them rationalize their monthly dues. If you have not ventured into "Parents' Night Out" or "child care," or off-site activities: such as members' bowling league; nature hikes; BYO BBQ's; Factory Outlet shopping trips, etc., perhaps you might think about it. One club in California actually offered enough "Concierge" services on the menu that if a member were to take advantage of half of them, they would break even on their monthly dues. One popular idea was a dry cleaning service: The club negotiated a deep discount on dry cleaning and acted as the pick up and drop off point. Same for weekly on-site car detailing.

7. Get Member Input - Obtain input from your members, committees and your Board as to what the membership goals should be for the club. You can bet that "Member Retention" and "Reduce the Selling List" will be on most people's minds.

8. Set Appropriate Goals - Nothing will frustrate the club's leadership, management and staff more next year than unrealistic goals. It is going to be a tough year for most clubs in nearly every market area.

9. Develop Action Items - Set between 5 and 10 very specific goals. Write down your methodology, timetable, who will be involved and what you expect the outcome to be. These do not have to be all financial in their nature. Just a few ideas: Introduce yourself to 10 members or family members each week; someone you have not gotten to know yet. Invite them to lunch or to have coffee, just to get to know them. Concentrate on Member Referrals and make it easier than ever for your members to show off their club and to sponsor. Get your Head Professionals (Golf and Tennis) actively involved in membership growth efforts. Develop a new and improved New Member Orientation Program.

10. Plan on Intermittent Polling - Poll Your Members throughout the year on the specific "Action Items" using mini-surveys, web surveys, tabletop surveys, or even walk-around polls to see if your Membership Goals and Action Items are making a difference. Use the information to adjust and to prepare for your 2011 Membership Marketing Plan.

Next year promises to offer significant challenges, however, the club industry has been here many times before. Over the past 20 years in consulting, I have experienced at least three down-cycles. Does anyone remember the "Tax Reform Act of 1986"? General Managers and Membership Directors thought the sky was going to fall right down on the fairways. We are still here and so are those fairways. The saying: "It is what it is" is becoming a mantra. Be realistic with planning and be proactive with the things you can affect. If you need encouragement or assistance, give me a call or shoot me an email.