How to make your membership categories more attractive

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 19, 2011 16:31

The popularity of golf is on the increase and a whole new generation of golfers, including women and children, are queuing up to tee off. However, golf clubs are still perceived as expensive and the game as an elitist hobby which could mean the new generation of golfers may find themselves with a club on the pitch and putt course. Therefore, golf clubs should be looking to break down the barriers to encourage new members as well as nurturing their existing members.

Attracting members

Before you start recruiting you must understand what you have to offer in comparison with your competitors which will provide you with a profile of the type of member you will be able to recruit. The fit has to be right. This may include your facilities, your price point, your fee structure and payment plans, the quality of your coaching staff, opening hours, catering or equipment sales and hire.

Conduct some market research to understand why current members joined your club and how they heard about you. The results should help you identify your strengths and plan an effective recruitment campaign that not only focuses on your best selling points but is visible to member targets. For example, if a number of people have joined from a large local company, contact that company and offer preferential rates to other workers to build up a relationship. Members may have joined because of your great teaching facilities for beginners, so publicise these. If you have a growing junior membership, target schools offering taster sessions followed by preferential membership fees.

It is important to make membership fully financially accessible to as many people as possible so that you are not discounting people who might not have enough money to pay for a yearly subscription all in one go. Many golf players cannot afford memberships and opt for a ‘pay and play’ option even though they pay a premium rate.

For example, Tony Roberts from Surrey, aged 26, earns a good salary as a timber frame designer and has been playing golf for two years. He relies on his company’s corporate membership to play golf and will frequently pay and play at other local golf clubs. Tony would ideally like to become a member but cannot afford the yearly membership fee.

Tony is typical of the aspiring 25 to 35 year old age group that are enthusiastic young players who would prosper from a loyalty programme or a plan to spread membership fees. Using a spread payment facility from a financial supplier means that the supplier will pay your club the lump sum when the person joins and then recoups this by monthly direct debit from the member. Not only is this an advantage to new recruits but your organisation benefits from improved cash flow and therefore stronger buying power.

Outsourcing to a financial supplier will make a saving for the golf club in administration time and money.

Incentivise your members as people generally buy from people they either know or like. In a thriving club, if each member recommended one other person, you would double your membership in just 12 months. Membership incentives can take many forms but vouchers for the club shop or bar (if you have one) work well and ensure that the reward is spent onsite which could lead to more reciprocal purchases and add-ons in the future. Incentives need not be costly either by offering something that is already paid for. The smart incentive is free tuition with a club instructor as the better an individual becomes at the activity, the more they will enjoy themselves and talk about their endeavours to their friends thus creating positive word of mouth, the most trusted form of marketing there is. Lastly, a family incentive is an excellent opportunity to swell membership. With families looking for activities they can participate in as a group, you are perfectly placed to attract new practitioners. Parents also aspire for their siblings to take up sport and want them to not only excel but keep active in a world of growing child obesity. Golf presents an ideal opportunity for families to enjoy being outdoors, get fit and to interact with each other.

Be clear about your sales objectives. You are in business to sell your facility and make money. When a prospective member has clearly defined their interest to buy, satisfy that need and remember that if you don’t sell to them your competitors will. Ensure a dedicated person is always on hand to progress the enquiry. Make time for them, give them a tour of the facility and finally go for the close. Learn to overcome objections and offer solutions. Provide the facility to spread joining fees over 12 months to make membership affordable. Offer joining incentives, such as reduced tuition fees, reduced fee vouchers for family and friends or discounts on shop and restaurant products. Ensure this offer has an attractive paper value.

Retaining members

Now you have a new wave of happy and optimistic members, how are you going to retain them? The time, effort and money used for recruiting one new member are guaranteed to be more than retaining just one. Therefore, it makes sense to work just as hard to retain current members and current revenue as you do to recruit new ones.

Attrition is inevitable in any organisation; however, just to idle each year you must attract the same number of new recruits as old ones leaving. Clearly then, the trick is to reduce attrition and increase recruitment. If the first is lower that the latter you will increase your membership base. But how is this achieved?

If retention becomes part of your marketing plan through striving to provide superlative customer service, it is something every staff member can focus on every day. All too often, clubs realise they have a problem when it is too late. Embrace it as inevitable and you can reduce the attrition rate.

Working towards targets is a key issue so be aware of trying to improve or reduce yearly trends. For example, 2005 showed a 20 per cent increase in new membership, but a loss of 15 per cent of existing members. Now you have a target to aim for in the current and subsequent years.

Before you can tackle the issues of retention, it must become clear why members leave. People moving away, retiring or passing away are obvious reasons. Financial difficulties and changes in circumstances are others. Organising an ‘exit interview’ when someone wants to leave is a good opportunity for research and for the member to offer feedback and recommendations based on their club experience. If a staunch member has a change of circumstances and cannot afford membership fees, there may be other options to retain his support, for example reduced fees for more involvement in the club on a time basis.

Remember, it’s the members’ club too. Understand the membership in order to understand their issues. Setting up member committees is a valuable way of understanding the mood of the masses and invite members to participate in steering and think tank committees. This type of empowerment will foster a healthy and positive culture. The result will include raising potentially damaging negative issues and finding solutions for them before they eat away at morale, damaging the reputation of the club.

Manage the expectation of the member. During the recruitment stage you had the chance to find out why an individual joined your organisation and what they were hoping to gain from the experience so meeting these expectations is the key to a renewed membership. During the joining process ask members to complete a questionnaire of their expectations and look for trends. If a great many new members joined to make new friends, organise ‘new members’ socials to ensure they can meet each other. If business contact was the reason, organise a number of business networking opportunities. If the reason was to improve their game, organise group-coaching clinics at greatly reduced rates.

Regular communication with the members by letter, newsletter or email is a sure way of informing them of your intentions to uphold standards as well as improving them. However, this type of communication, whilst proactive, is one sided. Invite a two-way dialog on a regular basis. Ask the question ‘what can we do for you?’ This way you can spot trends and stem group dissatisfaction before they get out of hand. Disgruntled members often vote with their feet before you have an inkling there was ever a problem. Don’t wait until the AGM to find that 25 per cent of the membership left because they didn’t like the range of beer in the bar.

The key to managing member recruitment and retention is to be aware that both exist and that both are as important as each other towards the success or decline of the business. This is the first step on a path to success.


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 19, 2011 16:31
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