*This article was written in May 2011 and is more relevant now than it was back then.
Member retention is always a hot topic in the golf industry as we were seeing a continued reduction in total members annually, along with a drop in the frequency of member play. This is due to a variety of reasons, some of which you can easily control.
The current crisis we are in is interesting as we have heard many clubs have seen a spike in new membership and an increase in competition rounds. Much of this may be due to many other sports not being accessible under COVID restrictions, but that is about to change as restrictions are being eased.
Will the new members stay with us in the future or lost to other sports once again. What are you doing now to keep as many as we can in what may be one of the most “safe” environment to play any sport.
If a new member doesn’t feel fully ‘connected’ to their new club within the first 12 months of joining, you run the risk of losing them when the time comes for them to renew their membership the following year. This is the time when they analyse the value for what they paid against what they were expecting to receive.
So what does it mean to have your member ‘connected’ to your club?
Members need and want a ‘sense of belonging’, to feel valued and appreciated, and to be recognised when they are at your club. Even more important nowadays, they need to feel the same way even when they are not at the club. Wouldn’t we all appreciate some simple good-will gestures and personalised thoughts from our club from time-to-time? Something like a nice letter or card sent to their home or office that shows them that you really do care.
In his book King of Clubs, the international golf management company ClubCorp’s Founder Robert Dedman Sr said: “We are in the repeat-business business. The club members we have, we want to keep, and mainly through them, get others. The members we have are our best source for getting new ones. We have to look after the members we have, and the new ones we get, well enough so they’ll want to help us get more members.”
Unfortunately, there are many external factors your club has no control over that could be influencing members to leave, for instance:
- People are increasingly time-poor and spending more time with family, on other recreational activities, or working longer hours each week.
- Members move away from your area and no longer need their membership.
- New facilities in your local market give incredible offers to join or are better at providing greater value with their products and services.
- There are more options available to social golfers, so traditional memberships are not as highly valued as before. Why belong to just one club when you can play a variety of clubs for about the same cost?
- Families have less money to spend on ‘non-essentials’ such as golf, due to interest rate increases and increasing prices of petrol, food, schooling and other living costs.
However, there are also many internal factors your club does have control over that could be causing members to leave your club, like:
- Raised expectations of what services members are receiving in return for what they pay – i.e. ‘The Value Equation’. We are all happy to pay a fee for something as long as we feel like we have received good value.
- Poor course conditions due to recurring budget cuts, lack of staff training, or lack of management accountability. The golf course is the number one asset for any golf facility and the main reason why people choose your facility over another.
- Slow play as a result of too many members on the course at one time and poor management of the process. Many people are time-poor and don’t like to be delayed during their round as they may have other important places to be.
- Access to the course being limited during peak periods because of over-demand or traditional booking patterns. Wouldn’t you hate to pay good money to join a club, and then couldn’t access play on certain days?
- Members don’t feel part of the club or feel it is not family-oriented enough for them. This shows that management is disconnected from who the members are and what the members really want and appreciate.
- Not enough events for members who don’t want to participate in serious competitions. Take the pressure off and offer some alternative events for everyone to enjoy together. We all like to compete and have fun at the same time.
Here are 10 simple and cost-effective strategies your club can use to combat these factors and connect your members to stay longer:
- Focus on your inactive members, not just on members who are at the club all the time. Make an effort to involve them in the club more. Do you keep track of who they really are, what they do outside of golf, and what is important to them? This can easily be done in simple spreadsheets or with the modern computer software programs available nowadays.
- Improve communication through weekly, or at least monthly, newsletters that can be sent via email. It is a best practice to also distribute printed copies to any members that don’t regularly utilise a computer.
- Offer an annual dues payment plan through the club (with a small interest fee), or via an outside agency. Members may leave due to personal cash flow issues and it’s a great way to show you care.
- Give no-cost or low-cost ‘add ons’ – like free coffee or fruit at the first tee. Perhaps free massage or yoga classes on designated days.
- Improve social golf activities for family-golfers and non-golfers – like theme nights, 9-hole competitions, family tees, etc. Turn a wasted area in your clubhouse or course into a kids’ area.
- Build relationships by sending birthday and anniversary cards to members and remembering their favourite drinks. The General Manager and department heads should make personal contact with every new member soon after they join.
- Connect new members with other members or you risk losing them. Members usually leave their club, not their friends. Conduct a member profile to learn more about your members’ personal interests. From your findings, try to pair like-minded members together for a round of golf or cup of coffee.
- Happy members are referring members. Check your guest sheet to see who plays often at your club, but who is not already a member. Ask your member if you can call their guest and ask them to join.
- Recognise your members for achievements that are golf-related and non-golf related. Perhaps they won a business award or their son had a personal best in swimming. Get to know what they do away from the club.
- Use your members’ names whenever possible as the basis of good service standards at your club. It’s a personalised touch that makes members feel good.
These are all examples of “intangible” services that are very hard to put an actual dollar value on. When you add them all up though, they may make the difference for a member deciding to leave or not. Also remember what the true financial value of a member will be in future and ongoing revenue for the club, not just the first year they join. They will also introduce new members, purchase products, and hold weddings or events at their club. A good member can be worth thousands to hundreds-of-thousands of dollars over the lifetime of their membership.
Members visit your club to get away from work, to socialise and relax, so make them feel at home. Go out of your way to personalise their experience each time they visit. They are your members – so get to know them! Connecting your members will not guarantee they won’t leave, but it will make the decision much, much tougher for them.
Written by Mike Orloff- Club Marketing Specialist Golf Industry Central ©2011
If you may want to discuss your specific marketing needs or to receive a free ’11 Critical Steps to Connecting New Members’ task list, email Mike Orloff at email@example.com.