If a club needs new members, it should be approached like any other business marketing plan. Figure out how many new members you want and where they are, and employ strategies to get them.
In the go-go days of the 1990s, an average of 300 golf courses were being built each year, waiting lists were long, and everything seemed rosy. We also thought it could go on forever.
Then came 2008. The world changed for everyone—especially the club market. Gone were the waiting lists for membership, courses began to close (which is still going on), and the easy economics of hefty initiation fees disappeared. At first we were confused, which led to scrambling and, for the most part, hoping for the best.
Because initiation fees were critical to a club’s financial health, especially with respect to capital expenditures, this presented a club with a perfect storm of problems: declining demand for membership, a contracting overall market, and disappearing funds for operations.
Clubs have a hard time dealing with the concept of membership marketing, for two reasons. First, they view themselves as somewhat exclusive, which makes actively marketing for new members seem, well, unseemly. Second, they don’t want to spend the money to plan and execute a serious membership marketing program. Most plans are ad hoc at best, and usually involve a push for members to talk to the people they know and to recruit them. This never works, because most people don’t want to impose on their friends, don’t have the discipline to actually make a conscious effort, and don’t want to risk being told “no.” So these “programs” mostly fail, and almost always disappoint.
If a club needs new members, it should be approached like any other business marketing plan. Figure out how many new members you want and where they are, and employ strategies to get them. This could mean trial memberships, reduced initiation fees, members as ambassadors, and the effective use of media.
Media is where most of the costs lie, and most clubs don’t want to spend the money, thinking it’s too expensive and not effective. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today’s media is so segmented and targeted, and relatively inexpensive, that to not use it is to say you don’t have a plan. Mass media used to be just that…for the masses. You would pay a hefty price for a spot on the radio or an ad on TV, it would be communicated to a huge audience, and the hope was that the sheer size of the audience would make the right contact. Not anymore.
Let me give you an example. The owner of a large liquor store lives in my building, and we have gotten to know each other. As I was watching the Super Bowl last year, I saw his ad at halftime, and later asked how he could afford it. The ad—a 15-second spot during the Super Bowl—cost him $55, and it targeted specific zip codes in Chicago that were in his market. I was stunned, but it caused me to look deeper into what the new media is about. And I found, for example, that spots on the Golf Channel aimed at specific zip codes are remarkably cheap, and hugely efficient.
I’m not saying that TV is the answer, or even broad print media. But the fact remains that if you want to attract new members, a few things must be done:
• Decide how many members you want/need in the coming year.
• Figure out your unique selling proposition (USP). If it’s longer than a sentence (two at the most), it won’t translate.
• Decide where you want to solicit new members.
• Figure out what media you want to use to communicate your USP.
• Put one person in charge of the whole program.
• Budget real money to execute your plan.
• Closely monitor your results.
If you aren’t doing all or most of the above—especially the budget—you don’t have a plan.