(Pictured: Mountain City Club)
Both the Mountain City Club and The Walden Club are finding ways to stay relevant in an age when younger business people are questioning the need for membership, by changing their facilities, membership rules and approaches.
Michael Jinks of the Mountain City Club in downtown Chattanooga, Tenn. cites the American Express catch phrase that “membership has its privileges” when talking about his club, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.
“It’s a home away from home,” Jinks said about the club, which was originally chartered in 1889. “When you come in here, the staff is extended family.”
Private clubs such as the Mountain City Club, The Walden Club and others in Chattanooga are fighting to stay relevant in an age when some younger business people question the need for membership, the Times Free Press reported.
Tracy Jarvis, Director of Services at The Walden Club, told the Times Free Press that he now has to focus on showing the reasons for taking part in a private club setting to a new demographic.
“Chattanooga is a progressive town,” Jarvis said. “Each club needs to be progressive [with] the events they do [and] the staff they present.”
The need is still there for business people who are looking for a place to conduct meetings and take part in social gatherings, said Jinks, the Mountain City Club’s interim general manager.
While some people like doing business at the golf course, others prefer holding meetings over lunch in one of the Mountain City Club’s several dining rooms, Jinks noted.
The clubs are changing their approaches, membership rules and facilities to attract more people, the Times Free Press reported.
The Mountain City Club, once an exclusive club where only men were allowed in one of the dining rooms, is now open for all types of people and users, the Times Free Press reported. And while the club was once members-only, now spouses are welcome, and the club holds events such as wedding and baby showers and receptions, Jinks said.
“There used to be no cell phone use,” Jinks recalled. But the club re-did its second-story business center and now many people bring in their laptops and work at the club, and don’t just dine or entertain there, the Times Free Press reported.
The club is targeting young professionals, including businesswomen, Jinks said. The use of social media such as Facebook is key, officials at both clubs told the Times Free Press.
“The older generation is not as much into it, but the younger generation is,” said Jarvis. “You have stay on top of what they’re looking for in social media.”
The Walden Club seeks out young professionals who have a need, such as a place for a business meeting and a quiet location to bring clients, Jarvis added, Also, he says, the club is a place to celebrate special occasions.
In addition, he noted, the location of the Walden Club, on the 21st floor of the Republic Centre, is “unparalleled by anything in town.”
“That sets us apart from anything else in the city,” Jarvis said.
The Mountain City Club offers a variety of rooms that members can use for private meetings, training, and receptions, Jinks told the Times Free Press, Also, it offers a billiard room where members and guests can unwind after work, and there’s an outdoor patio and 185 adjacent parking spaces.
In addition to social media, the Mountain City Club does e-mail blasts and is looking at putting up billboards and other advertising, Jinks said.
“The club is trying to get younger,” he adds. “If you don’t change, you get left behind.”
Dining at The Walden Club is much more casual than in prior years, Jarvis noted. The younger generation “doesn’t want the formality,” he added.
The Mountain City Club currently has about 330 members, Jinks told the Times Free Press, and has a goal to hit 600. “At one time, it was 800 plus,” he said.
Last September, the Times Free Press reported, the Mountain City Club weighed an offer for the purchase of substantially all of its assets from the owner of the nearby Westin Hotel, after which it would have moved to another location.
Dan Saieed, the club’s President at the time, said in a letter to members that because it had experienced significant and continuing challenges relating to its financial status, the Board was examining the potential sale to Chattanooga businessman Byron DeFoor, the Times Free Press reported
Saieed cited the loss of membership, from approximately 700 members to just above 300, while expenses increased, as the impetus for exploring the possibility of a sale, the Times Free Press reported.
But In November 2019, the club decided against selling its three-level clubhouse, noting that it had raised “significant funds” to help ensure its viability, the Times Free Press reported. Additionally, the club said it was working to improve member and guest services through the added appeal of menu changes and expanding its evening hours.
The Walden Club, which is owned by the family of the late Republic Parking founder Jim Berry, currently has “around 1,000 to 1,100 members,” Jarvis told the Times Free Press.
“That’s good for us,” he said, adding that the club doesn’t have a sales office, but instead relies on member referrals.