Wed Aug 27 2014Membership growth: Provide a shoe that fits
We are all aware that golfing membership numbers have been in a steady decline at most clubs around the country - a trend that is a great worry to the entire industry. I’m concerned this small steady decline will soon become a large “thud” as approximately 60% of all current members nationally are part of an aging population group of 55 years plus (*National Golf Census 2011) that will eventually drop out of the game all together. We need to hurry up and boost our overall membership numbers over the next couple of decades to offset when this “thud” eventually occurs.
What is going on?
Golf clubs traditionally have had products and services targeted to a fairly male dominated (and currently aging) demographic, but now as the demographic ages and needs have considerably changed, most clubs have not adjusted their products to suit the new market.
Clubs used to open their doors each day and members came strolling in. Clubs at that time were providing the product that the consumer wanted and the club could dictate the terms and conditions of the product being sold. A perfect fitting shoe and a seller’s market!
Clubs now open their doors and are hearing the gentle sounds of crickets (chirp’ chirp’) as the products that were once at a high demand are now no longer fitting into what the new consumers (younger, family, female, juniors, etc) want.
Not only are the products not fitting what the general consumer wants, the consumer also has more choices than ever before, golf and non-golf, to decide where they can spend their money and valuable time. This is a wrong-sized shoe situation and a buyer’s market.
Clubs need to have a good look at what they are currently offering and compare that against what the consumer wants. Adjusting and evolving to this new market is crucial for clubs to survive.
The biggest challenge at the moment is getting current members to agree to make the significant changes needed to their club that will allow it to continue in the long term. These significant changes will most likely impact current members the most - so why would they want to vote for a change? This is a bit of a ‘catch 22’ situation and the main challenge in progress.
The culture of any club is at the heart of any problem they may experience and this is also true when it comes to finding a solution. The make-up of members of a Board is very important as they must understand the needs of ALL members of that club and also for the needs of any new members they are looking to attract.
If you are looking to attract women, juniors and families but you do not have any representation or at least some form of consultation with these markets, how are you supposed to know how to attract them?
The market for golf now is made up of more families who have more time availability pressure. Membership products and services must adjust to properly service this growing need.
Facilities that take a proactive approach to welcoming this family market will not just grow their female and junior member bases, but will also increase their male member base at the same time.
All big family decisions, like what club to join, are not just made by a single person in relationships nowadays, but usually by both parties and possibly even by their children. A “family friendly” culture is important if that’s what your club is about. Are you providing activities that will attract family members to the club on a regular basis?
Is your restaurant suited to children and families and do you have child-sized meals, toys and space available for them to play while parents enjoy their meals?
More and more facilities are finding space to build a "kids zone" for this reason. This strategy will pay off in the long run, as it will attract more patronage to your club and especially to the clubhouse facilitates. So have a look at your clubhouse floor plan for any unused area that could easily be converted. A designated area with a few video games and toys is a good starting point. The main goal is to let kids be kids!
The successful transition of junior members to full members is regarded as another key retention outcome. Industry research has found that people who are exposed to the game at a junior level are more likely to take up the game later in life. This is a longer term strategy, but you also have the parents as part of this growth in membership, if you have a product that suits their lifestyle.
If you take a different perspective to this target group, you will also understand that by increasing the pool of juniors you will also increase the pool of parents, grandparents and other family members that will become engaged with your club. Make sure you take advantage of these opportunities every time you are holding junior club events.
Who is talking to these parents, offering to have them try the game, and inviting them out for some other social event being held at the club? The same approach can be taken for beginner golfers who want to learn the game.
Make whatever you do fun and social for your members and don’t bury them in too many club rules.
All of this will send a strong message out to the community that families, women and juniors are all welcome at your club. Do a little research on the target market you are after and design or alter a current membership product that will fit what they really want.
Mike Orloff is a golf marketing and operations specialist with management experience in the golf industry in Australia and United States. He offers marketing and operational advice for golfing facilities in the areas of revenue generation, membership attainment and retention, new player development, staff recruitment, event management and retail management.
Marketing to grow golf businesses is Mike’s main focus these days.
As a current US and Australian PGA Member, Mike has more than 22 years of experience working his way up from pro shop assistant to general manager of two to five-star operations for two of the biggest international golf management companies globally. Now Mike is offering his experience, knowledge and tools to golf clubs and other golf-related businesses in Australia and New Zealand.
Articles by Mike Orloff