After its experience with other buying groups fell short, Army Navy Country Club found a new partner that has helped it realize widespread savings during a period of significant growth.
Top club managers know that to do their jobs right, they must constantly exceed the expectations of members and guests. And a key to meeting these objectives is finding and working with suppliers that strive to provide products and services that will also earn unexpectedly high satisfaction ratings.
As the Army Navy Country Club (ANCC) in Arlington, Va., began to experience significant growth at the start of this decade, its managers began to explore how to make greater use of buying groups, to better leverage its expanded purchasing power. ANCC, recognized since 2014 as a Platinum Club of America, has grown to a $27 million-plus operation with over 7,000 members, 54 holes of golf and two locations—the club has a campus in Fairfax, Va., as well as Arlington, which now features a showcase, 103,000-sq. ft. clubhouse after a $58 million renovation and expansion project was completed in 2012.
But as ANCC grew bigger, its management team was disappointed to discover that its initial experiences with buying groups weren’t necessarily proving to provide better results than what the club could achieve on its own.
“There are a lot of [buying-group] companies out there, and we’ve tried a lot of them,” says Patrick King, CCM, CCE, who has been at ANCC since 2001 and has served as its General Manager/COO since 2012. “We’re always looking for the best pricing—but we often found that [using buying groups] was too complicated and not clear-cut about the level of service we would—or wouldn’t—receive.
“Too often,” King adds, “once we paid a [buying-group membership] fee, the company wasn’t as engaged, and it ended up being another case of overpromising and underdelivering.”
A Different Approach
In 2011, however, Michael Palamara, CCM, the Director of Clubhouse Operations for ANCC’s Fairfax location, began to have discussions with representatives of the VGM Club, the Waterloo, Iowa-based company that has specialized since 1994 (when it was founded as VGM Golf) in providing clubs with discounted purchasing opportunities, through memberships that allow participation in collective-bargaining agreements negotiated with companies serving the golf and club markets. VGM has grown to now serve over 3,500 clubs in the U.S., offering pricing and service assistance for the full range of club operations.
Despite the less-than-satisfying experiences he and his club had previously had with similar companies, Palamara sensed from the start that something might be different about working with VGM. “We decided to give them a try, because their pricing was reasonable,” he recalls. “We’d been burned so many times, I was prepared for [another situation with] no follow-through. But from day one with VGM, we’ve never had an issue getting a response, even when the people we deal with are in Florida, North Carolina or Iowa.”
After initially working with Glenn Smith (now Director of Membership for VGM’s Resorts & Gaming division), Palamara’s primary contact became James Hockman, Regional Sales Manager for the area that includes ANCC’s locations. “James eased right in, and as a former assistant golf pro, he’s very knowledgeable about what club managers do and how busy we are,” Palamara says. He also gives a special nod to Courtney Donohue, ANCC’s primary customer-service contact at the Iowa home base, for “always making us feel like we’re the only one she deals with.”
From an initial focus on working with VGM to realize savings for products and equipment purchases related to its food-and-beverage operation, ANCC’s connection with the company has expanded to now include everything from fitness machines, to flooring and carpeting, to a variety of brands carried in the golf shop, to course maintenance equipment (the club, with VGM’s assistance, recently transitioned the lease for its entire course-maintenance fleet).
“Our relationship [with VGM] is now club-wide and touches every department to some degree,” says King. Savings earned through ANCC’s use of its membership now approach $35,000 a year, VGM’s Hockman estimates.
Beyond the ongoing overall savings, the relationship has helped the club’s management team fulfill its ultimate goal of helping its own members gain special satisfaction, too. A few years ago, when Palamara was preparing to replace carpeting in part of the Fairfax clubhouse and thinking he would have to use local companies for the project, VGM put him in touch with a Dallas, Texas-based company, Star Flooring, that helped him work out a plan to redo the entire facility with a tasteful, and in many cases more practical, combination of carpeting, wood flooring and luxury vinyl tiling.
“We thought we would just redo only the first floor with carpeting, but we ended up doing the entire clubhouse, including the pro shop, locker rooms, lobby and stairs,” Palamara says. “The tiling was much better for multi-purpose rooms. We spent a little more but it was well worth it, and the members like the new look.
“Overall, it’s been seamless,” Palamara says of how ANCC’s partnership with VGM has evolved. “As soon as you need something bid out, they’re engaged. Within an hour you get their pricing information, and if they can’t beat a price, they let you know. Then you just put your [membership] number on whatever you’re buying. Talk about no fuss, no muss.
“As a club we’ve gone from 0 to 90 overnight, doubling our volume with a lot of new moving parts and vendors,” he adds. “So anything that can be done to lower the hours we have to spend on purchasing is huge. But when you’re growing so quickly, you also have to have trust that service won’t be diluted.
“We certainly haven’t seen that, and I know our CFO thinks VGM is outstanding—and why wouldn’t he like a company that just keeps giving us discounts and sending us checks?”