Using an integrated system to provide more timely and targeted messages has helped Forest Hills CC ride out the economic storm.
No one welcomes an economic downturn. But when your job is to keep costs under control—as Barbara G. “Bobbe” Wunderlich must do, in her role as Chief Financial Officer of Forest Hills Country Club in Chesterfield, Mo.—tougher conditions can present timely opportunities to push for needed and cost-effective change, and also make it easier to get everyone on board.
Forest Hills, a 45-year-old, 550-member private club in suburban St. Louis, was in good position to ride out the current economic storm. It has built on its strong golf reputation (with an 18-hole championship course designed by Chick Evans, plus a 9-hole executive course) by taking the steps needed to upgrade and expand its facilities (its 45,000-sq. ft. clubhouse can handle banquets for 400) and to carve out a niche as “The Family Club of Choice” (last year it had 280 children on its swim/dive teams, 270 in junior golf, and 180 in junior tennis).
“Our Board has always been forward-thinking in doing things to encourage young families to join,” says Wunderlich. “Yes, we’ve lost some [members] to the current economy, but we were fortunate to have a full waiting list.”
But, she quickly adds, “no one’s immune to a recession.” And when it became clear that Forest Hills, like every club, would have to put a renewed emphasis on belt-tightening this year, Wunderlich saw the chance to implement productive change through a potent new weapon in the club’s administrative arsenal: its website.
That site (www.foresthillscc.net) had recently been upgraded to use the Clubhouse Online product offered by Jonas Software. “We had converted to Jonas’ back-office system in 2002, but were using a different Web provider,” Wunderlich says. “But when the Clubhouse Online product came out, it was a no-brainer to convert to it [in 2007], because the ability to integrate our master files with the site offered a lot of benefits.”
Some of those benefits were not immediately implemented, but the renewed search for cost savings has given Wunderlich the impetus to push for new ways to do things.
For example, the ability to integrate master files with the website meant that Forest Hills could now go exclusively to an online member listing that is both searchable and sortable. “We no longer print a roster with names, addresses and the club bylaws, rules and hours,” Wunderlich reports. “All of that can now be found on the website, saving $3,500 in annual printing costs. Even better, because members can update their own information, or we can do so through daily updates, nothing’s out of date the minute it’s published!”
Similarly, Forest Hills’ 20-page, full-color monthly newsletters are no longer printed and mailed; instead, they’re posted on the website as .PDFs and also e-mailed to members, using the Jonas system’s ClubBroadCast marketing module. This saves close to $10,000 per year, Wunderlich estimates.
Forest Hills is also hoping to realize not only hard cost savings, but improved cash flow, by getting more members to use the online statement delivery and payment capabilities that the integrated system now enables. Currently, about 15% of the membership makes some use of the online statement feature, Wunderlich says, “and it’s growing regularly, every month.”
The system’s greatest potential for helping Forest Hills through both the challenges of the short term and in the long run, Wunderlich believes, will come from how she and her team (Communications Coordinator Carol Murphy and Membership Director Jo Enzmann) can now quickly create customized lists according to member interests, and then send targeted e-mails for specific promotions or communications.
“We plan to do all of our communication this summer for junior programs by blast e-mail, customizing [messages] to reach only the families we need to,” Wunderlich says. “With all the different programs we have, this will be a huge benefit.”
Overall, communications at Forest Hills is now “almost entirely electronic,” she reports. “We send a blast e-mail once a week covering all upcoming events, and design e-mails for particular promotions that can be scheduled to be sent more than once, using the system’s ‘Campaign’ feature.
“With the downturn in the economy, we’ve been able to cut communications costs significantly by making full use of the Clubhouse Online website, in combination with the ClubBroadCast feature.” C&RB
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