What are those clubs at the top doing so well and how you can close the gap.

In my last article, I delved into the various stages of golf club development ranging from the danger stage up to the investment stage.

The article got me thinking about the very clear gap that is currently developing between those clubs who are struggling to make ends meet and those clubs who are thriving and investing in improving their facilities.

What are those clubs at the top doing so well? What can clubs in the danger stage learn from clubs in the investment stage? Most importantly, how can those struggling clubs close the gap?

The struggles of the golf industry in the last decade are no secret, declining participation, the decline in the traditional membership products and not enough demand to sustain the some 2,000 plus golf clubs in the UK. So how is it that some golf clubs and courses have been able to grow and invest in their facilities in such a difficult market place?

Obviously, when looking at these kinds of trends in the industry, there tends to be a number of factors that each play a role in how this gap has developed over time.

I’m going to start by analysing the typical struggling club. Now, of course, there are exceptions when it comes to the type of clubs we are discussing, some private member clubs have developed and adapted and are thriving, whilst some proprietary clubs continue to struggle. But in general terms, from my experiences traveling up and down the UK visiting many different types of golf clubs, the average, traditional private member clubs are the ones that continue to struggle.

As I mentioned earlier, the recent struggles of the golf industry are no secret, yet some clubs as much as a decade on from the start of the decline, continue to operate the exact same way, with the exact same mindset. The recurring theme I see with many of these clubs is that they do not understand they are playing to the same rules as any business in any environment or industry.

Put simply, clubs should be looking to make a profit each year, they should be understanding their market place, identifying new opportunities, keeping up to date with trends in the industry, understanding the competition in their area and most importantly differentiating themselves from that competition. The fact you are a members’ club does not make you immune to closing down if you do not do the basics that any successful business should be doing. The number of clubs and course closures in the past 12 months is a testament to this.

One of the most common and disastrous stories I hear all too often is clubs that have experienced a net loss of membership year on year and yet they have still not reacted to the situation. Clubs have lost a huge percentage of their membership over the last decade or so, yet many are only just getting round to reacting…. how can this be!!

Is it a lack of recognition as to the seriousness of their situation, a lack of knowledge of how to overcome the challenges, lack of funds to invest or maybe just a general complacency as they believe wealthy members will bail them out? My gut feeling, it is a combination of these factors with the last one playing a prominent role.

On the other hand, we have some very forward-thinking, professional and flourishing clubs that have embraced a difficult market place and come out on top. They have been able to tune into the changing demands of not just the modern golfer but modern society. Things such as a family-friendly space, excellent customer service, a variety of memberships and payment options are not new ideas but they continue to elude the struggling clubs.

Furthermore, these clubs are actively promoting themselves and what they have available, putting themselves in front of local golfers on a regular basis. Contrary to popular belief at many private member clubs, this does not make them look “desperate”, it makes them proactive.

Not only are these clubs investing in marketing their facilities and products they have also invested in professional sales staff who can convert the leads generated from their marketing efforts.

Think about the club who struggles to pick up the phone, leave a membership application sat on the desk for days or even weeks. They don’t want to appear desperate despite the fact they have lost 200 members in the last few years…you are desperate.

Then compare that club to those clubs who actively promote their USP’s year-round, encourage golfers to enquire, have a sales team to follow up and the path to membership is seamless without any barriers.

A newsflash for those struggling clubs, this is your competition!

The gap between the two types of clubs is becoming wider and wider as the clubs at the top get better and more professional, while the struggling clubs continue to bury their heads in the sand.

Unfortunately, there is no magic wand for those struggling clubs. Cutting costs will only get them so far before the standards of the facilities and service decline and cause significant damage to the clubs’ reputation. At some point those struggling clubs have to put a solid business plan in place, have a long term vision of how they want the club to develop and most importantly invest in that vision.

Those clubs need to get over the fear of looking “desperate” and invest in sales and marketing so the club can get back to its former glory and close the gap on their competitors.

Any questions?

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James Ktoris

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