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Mark Bado and Josh Paris on 2018 and Beyond

Posted On: December 4, 2017 by VGM Club in: Clubhouse

Looking into 2018 and beyond: What the Golf Inc. Show Taught Us

In September, more than 300 industry professionals gathered at the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, Georgia to attend the 2017 Golf Inc. Strategies Summit. Along with being a sponsor ourselves, we also sent a few delegates to the show, including Dawn Prebula, Carla Boss, and Amy McClean-Ragsdale.

The Golf Inc. Strategies Summit is a gathering of golf industry business leaders who come together annually to network, learn, and share their expertise with each other. The event is designed to allow this to happen in an intimate, relaxed environment. Whether you are an industry veteran or new to the business, there is value for all attending the event.

Three overarching themes were present at the event:

  1. Offering lifestyle differentiators

From Golf Inc’s Blog Post “Golf Might be the Driver, but Lifestyle is the Differentiator”:

Today’s private club members are looking for far more than golf and a nice meal out of their membership.  People are making decisions daily on how they want to spend their time and dollars. When selecting the right club, they are looking much closer at the non-golf amenities and leisure programming.  Offering your membership a well thought-out and creative lifestyle program will infuse a social connection and commitment to the club that will pay dividends in retention and driving new membership sales.

While golf is still the driver, lifestyle has become the differentiator... Today’s competitors are offering sophisticated facilities with unique spaces that embrace the latest and greatest in the spa, fitness, and recreation industries.

  1.  Hiring and retaining great staff

Three years ago, CMAA members were surveyed, and one significant finding was that the number one thing that keeps club managers up at night is hiring, training, and retaining outstanding staff. Hiring the right people, training them, and retaining your staff goes beyond offering a place to work and collect a paycheck. Clubs must adapt to this changing environment.

  1.  Mobile technology, social media and reaching members

Social media is playing a much bigger role in members’ lives. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are all fields a club can benefit from. Is it time to rethink email-based communication? As it currently stands, 97% of push notifications are read within two minutes vs. 24% read rate on emails with only a 4.19% click through rate. Consistent contact is vital to becoming a part of members lives, and your strategy to reach them must constantly adapt.

To expand on these themes and look forward to 2018, we interviewed Mark Bado, General Manager at Myers Park Country Club, Charlotte, N.C., and Josh Paris, General Manager at Old Town Club, Winston-Salem, N.C..

Offering Lifestyle Differentiators

Mark Bado (MB): About five or six years ago, we put a strategic plan in place where we identified that as a club we needed to grow and expand our offerings to be more attractive to a wider range of members. We needed to continue to be relevant to our membership. We had to hold on to our traditions and history but at the same time be dynamic enough to offer innovative, fresh ideas to attract and retain our new demographics.

Josh Paris (JP): We want to be a part of every stage of our members lives. That is our big mantra right now, we are in the process of changing our mission to reflect that statement. Clubs have found themselves competing with lifestyle choices and sometimes find they are on the outside looking in. We have shifted our focus to be more accessible and family friendly so that we offer something to everyone in the household. 

Family and Youth:

MB: We focused strongly on our pool facility and significantly increased the size and offerings of our pool area. In our expanded baby pool area, we included a place for adults to order food to enable them to stay within close proximity to their small children.

We also added a pool bar, which is a great community place where they can watch games or have cocktails and develop great relationships. That area is open early in the spring once the weather dictates and we keep it open later in the fall. It’s a great gathering place. Finally, we added a teen/youth area so that there are places for that age group to hang out throughout the day.

JP: The pool experience is something the clubs have neglected. They have treated it as a “have-to” and not a “want-to”. This past summer with a little capital investment of $2,000 our pool area and snack bar turned into a social and active environment with sales and usage at an all-time high. This was all in part to a few simple upgrades:

  • Digital menu
  • TV’s around the pool
  • Upgraded our sound system to offer music throughout the entire area

Kids Programming:

MB: Our youth committee used to just focus on a 2-3 month period with a swim team and pool use, but we have about a thousand kids under the age of 18. That limited scope wasn’t meeting the needs and expectations of that group. In order to address this, we added an Activities Director, who really helped guide us through programming that lasts all 12 months. Ideas we put into practice include:

  • “Kid’s in the Kitchen”  that entails kitchen demonstrations from our Executive Chef, Jason Hall. (Dirk Troop, executive chef at Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio, TX shared with us a similar idea in episode 17 of Club Cents. Listen here.)
  • “Skill Development” including proper etiquette lessons.
  • “Sledding Day”, where we bring in an ice machine and a snow blower and have a sledding day. 400-500 attended last year.

We wanted to make sure we had activities throughout the 12 months of the year. We try to get as many activities into the club as possible so the parents have a chance to bring their kids and have a touchpoint.

Golf and Fitness Facility:

MB: The second phase really went into our golf and fitness facility. Our previously undersized golf shop was expanded to over 4,000 square feet, allowing us to meet the needs of our growing golf membership. The golf shop is no longer just a place where you might get some shoes, a glove, and a bag. It’s much more of a lifestyle store than a golf shop. In addition to the golf products, we sell: 

  • Pure sport coats
  • Casual footwear
  • Collared non-golf shirts
  • Casual non-golf pants

Our fitness facility really turned out well, too. It’s not just a fitness center; it’s a fitness and wellness center. Classes we offer include:

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Stretching
  • TRX

We have personal trainers, massage therapists, a nutritionist, and a physical therapist on staff. Every three or four years we update the cardio equipment. Our four massage therapists provide different levels of services. This is more than just a spare room with a couple of ellipticals in it. It is a lifestyle center focused on the physical and mental aspects of wellness.

Learn more about setting up a fitness facility at your club by listening to episodes 6-9 of Club Cents, where famed golf fitness gurus Lance Gill and Nick Chertock tackle the process from start to finish. Listen here.

Back-Of-The-House Updates:

MB: In the next phase we updated all of our kitchens. We addressed the need to provide more casual dining options by adding an outdoor dining area – a popular gathering spot throughout the year. In this area we added a fire pit where people can go out and have cocktails, relax, and build friendships.

Learn more about back-of-the-house updates by reading our blog post, “During Renovations, Don’t Neglect Back-of-the-House”.

Hiring and Retaining Great Staff

Internship Program:

MB: We try to find college students who are interested in the hospitality, turf management, or culinary fields. We are very fortunate to have a house in which we are able to house our interns, a significant benefit to those seeking seasonal internships. A quality internship program builds the starting block for exceptional future employees. 

More Than Just a Workplace:

MB: We also felt that it was important to provide more than just a workplace. We want to be a place where employees work, but also have social events to promote friendships and teamwork within our staff. These events include paintball outings, a day at the pool, or playing golf.

For the older employees, we go to a local brewery, and the only charge we have to pay is a gratituity to the staff of the brewery. Because we do so much business with the brewery, they comp our event with some of their product in exchange for our continued business. All of these events scheduled outside of the work day are done so in an effort to provide an environment where we are the employer of choice as opposed to just another place where you put your time in.

Employee Assistance Program:

MB: We also have an employee assistance program, just in case an employee needs some help in any variety of areas, and I think it’s important that we constantly challenge ourselves to provide a positive work environment.

Workplace Culture:

JP: I think a lot has to do with the environment and the culture that we provide. At Old Town, you are part of the group and you are part of the family. This means you are treated with respect, listened to, and rewarded for a job well done. When we’re recruiting, we look for individuals who share the personality of our group, but more importantly, we sell the lifestyle and balance. We are very mindful of that here at Old Town. Training is part of it, but we don’t overcomplicate it. What we are providing is not brain science. We are trying to impart a little bit of personality and create a memorable experience for our members with personalized service.

Mobile Technology, Social Media and Reaching Members

Updating Systems:

MB: We are in the process of updating our back-of-the-house and website to accomodate our new app. This will allow us to be, instead of reactive, proactive and start pushing information out. We’re also adding beacons on the property so we know who is on the property and where they are so we have a better idea of what we need to address and how we need to address it. It gives us as much information as possible so we are able to provide a better membership experience.

JP: We are in the process of upgrading our website to offer more mobile services, one of them being push notifications. At my previous club, we implemented push notifications, such as mobile ordering, and the ability to retrieve your car valet via text message. In those areas, we were still able to deliver on a touchpoint, but it made the process a little more convenient, and that’s where I see clubs going. We live by our phones, and that’s where we have to make that transition, and transaction, a little easier for everybody.

Exploring New Avenues of Communication:

MB: In order to really communicate with our members, it is imperative we use new forms of communication, because they are getting their information through places like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. We are being more relevant to our membership. That’s how they are getting their news, that’s how they are getting their information, and that’s how they are communicating. Our communication needs to reflect that.

JP: How many more ways can we communicate with members? The ultimate goal is to get as much information in front of them so they can see all that is offered through the membership.

We take snapshots of our daily specials and new menu items, because in my opinion you should eat with your eyes before you do anything else. We then upload the photos to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Our golf pro shop, clubhouse and grounds all have Instagram accounts. Each account has a pretty good following within the membership. This creates more personalized, direct marketing to our membership within amenities they have an interest in.

How clubs navigate these challenges in 2018 and beyond will be integral to the success and well being of facilities across the country. To learn more about VGM Club’s purchasing solutions, give us a call at 800-363-5480 or visit www.vgmclub.com.

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