How we secured a massive surplus

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir November 15, 2011 17:48

How we secured a massive surplus

Bob Williams, manager of Chipping Sodbury Golf Club in Gloucestershire, has explained how he turned a large deficit at his club into an even bigger surplus in just two years, to delegates at the GCMA conference.

As a result of the economic downturn, the club achieved a deficit of £26,000 in 2008 and one of £22,000 in 2009. However by 2010 this was transformed into a surplus of £26,000 and the club is on course to make a substantial net profit for 2011.

The improvements are due to a series of changes the club introduced.

“For example,” said Bob, “in 2008 we had four membership categories: full, five-day, student and junior. We looked at this and found that we could get more members if we had categories that suited their needs.”

As a result, the club temporarily withdrew its joining fee and introduced a ‘Flexi-play’ category that costs £350 to join (full membership is £905) and members can then pay £10 per round thereafter, or £7.50 for nine holes. “About 90 members joined as a result,” said Bob, “mostly aged 30 to 50 and they have full voting rights. Nineteen did leave the full membership category to join this, but 24 former members who had resigned came back as a result of it. On average, a Flexi-play member plays 15 rounds per year, at an average cost of £33 per round.”

Bob introduced a ‘Family’ membership category, which provides a 33 per cent discount to members whose partner joins and allows their children under 14 to join for free. “We’ve had some success with this,” said Bob, “but it’s been limited.”

The club introduced a ‘First’ membership category for people who had never been a member of a golf club before, which includes 25 rounds of golf and six lessons for one year. “It’s not been massive but it has worked,” said Bob, “40 memberships have been sold since 2009 and 39 of them took up another membership category when the year was up.”

The final new membership categories the club introduced were different prices tiered for under 12-year-olds up to people aged 30. This, especially the 18 to 30 age range, was marketed with its own brochure to schools and sports’ clubs, with prices ranging from under £200 for 18-year-olds to over £600 for 30-year-olds. “Nearly 100 members joined due to this,” said Bob, “and many of them move on to another category afterwards. It’s also helped us offer competitions between members of the rugby club, cricket club and so on, and the clubhouse is buzzing after these events.”

Aside from membership categories, Chipping Sodbury examined online tee times and brought this in for weekends, when previously the club used paper-based time sheets for Saturdays and Sundays. “This worked,” said Bob, “we had so much interest, especially in Saturday golf. We even had to limit members’ booking, to prevent block booking. Demand is very high in the summer and it has meant that tee times cannot be guaranteed.”

Another major change was that Bob spearheaded reciprocal relationships with other clubs in the county. The ‘Bristol RAG’ scheme was introduced in which 11 clubs are signed up and members of all of them can play at any of the other clubs that are part of the scheme for £10. “This adds extra value to being a member of my club,” said Bob. “So it’s good for member retention. But it also brings in additional income. The other day 36 members of another club played here, spending £720, including on the bar and restaurant. It was cheap for the amount of people involved, but that was money we would not have otherwise received. The member clubs generally aren’t competitors and each club can control when the tee times can and cannot be used.”

In addition, Chipping Sodbury teamed up with two tourist boards to offer golfing breaks including hotel trips for people wishing to visit the area. The Cotswold Golf Breaks, which now turns over scores of thousands of pounds every year, involves three golf clubs, while Bristol Golf Breaks, involving 11 clubs (“11 I think is too many,” said Bob, “it gives too much choice,”) saw the Bristol tourist board make a professional DVD promoting the scheme and all the clubs and hotels involved, which was put on the Destination Bristol website, ensuring thousands of hits.

In addition, Bob increased visitor income from £40,000 per year to £100,000, partly because each full member has been given three £10 green fee introductions for visitors followed by three free introductions, which also led to two people joining. “This has been excellent for member retention,” said Bob, “as was giving members free bar spend up to a certain amount.”

Other measures the club brought in included a complete revamp of the website, “the welcoming experience starts with it,” said Bob, and he uses Google Analytics to measure the success of the site. He also surveys every visitor to find out why they came to the club – “generally 40 per cent return, 39 per cent are recommended and 19 per cent come because they’d been on the website, and it’s that percentage which is the growing one.” The club has also set up a wedding brochure and markets itself at wedding fairs, which is leading to bookings. “It’s superb business on a Saturday evening when it would otherwise be quiet,” said Bob.

In terms of reducing costs, the golf club was also proactive. “We looked at golf course expenditure,” said Bob. “We were spending too much on our greenkeepers, particularly as our greens were closed for at least two months of the year. So we engaged with them and consulted with them, explaining what our issues were. We reduced the staff from eight course workers and one part-timer to six full-timers and one part-timer, and increased their working hours in the summer, and reducing them in winter, while significantly reducing weekend overtime, which is now incorporated into their wages. This saved more than £43,000 per year and, thanks to the passion of my staff and some investment in course machinery, the greens are open 12 months a year.

“We stopped striping the fairways and now only block cut them, saving more than £4,000 in red diesel per year without affecting the quality of the course.”

Bob concluded: “Not everything we tried worked and not everything we tried that did work would work at every other club, but these should give you an idea of what can be done. The most important lesson I found when embarking on this change is about communication. You can achieve so much more if you keep your members and staff fully informed throughout.”

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir November 15, 2011 17:48
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