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Chatter Central: The need for clubs to reinvent themselves


As regular readers know, Chatter Central periodically looks at discussions related to the private club industry taking place in the online world of blogs, articles and social media. This month's focus is a discussion currently underway on the LinkedIn group, Club Advisory Council Internationale.

The subject of the discussion is: "CHANGE: A private club, like any business, must constantly reinvent itself if it is to remain relevant and competitive." The group's host submitted this premise, offering, "Effective club leaders resist merely managing status quo; they actually drive transformative change. How have you championed change without compromising the club's culture and traditions?"

A group member stated:

"With 264 members there is a temptation to look outside for additional business to keep the staff engaged during slow periods. Focusing on our "narrowly defined audience" has been crucial to our growth. Promoting a vision that we are a "world class club" despite our size, and requiring staff buy-in has been pivotal. We have defined our vision in the context of our members, consequently we remain relevant to our membership and our business has grown exponentially while embracing our culture. We have changed many things about our club, but our culture remains easily recognizable and consistent with our history. Embrace and promote a vision that is member driven."

Another offered:

"The comment about driving transformative change is right on target. In some cases you may also have to look carefully at traditions and culture. There are clubs who no longer know who they are or who serve the needs and wants of the changed market place. Do they have the appropriate Vision, Mission and Brand Position for the current market demand? This speaks to the ever present need for strategic planning."

Meanwhile, another directed his comment to the group leader when he said:

"You got it right on the nail when you said that the club must reinvent itself if it is to remain relevant and competitive.

"Allow me to point a few experiences I had in Asia working on a few clubs with various cultures and diverse memberships. The biggest problem of clubs [is] when they start to become NATIVE. This simply means that they stop doing things right, they neglect the facilities, the same and boring F&B, service is just getting the job done, and repetitive club traditions, just to name a few. I blame management for this, particularly the GM.

"Top management should always be on the guard. They should understand that the club goes through evolution, and changes affects members needs, attitude, outlook and lifestyle requirements. For these reasons, the club must be dynamic, as you said, they have to remain relevant and competitive all times.

"One solution that I will offer in this commentary, management must know what and how their members feel. You can do this by using the old survey campaign and it is free. If you ask your members what they want they will tell you gladly. A simple tool but very effective in helping management plot the direction of the club."

A new contributor noted that his club is "an old building in the middle of an affluent neighborhood" and continued:

"We have little [onsite] parking, but manage to handle the parking of vehicles whenever we have a large party due to a very [astute] group of valets.

"One evening while we were working with a wedding reception for 250, which was pretty much our maximum handle at the time, when I stepped away to watch the party from across the street. That's when the light bulb turned on! What if we were to expand the parking lot to accommodate a large tent?

"That idea turned into reality two years later and now we have a parking area that can accommodate a 66x100 Hocker Tent that can be erected in six hours and taken down inside of four hours. That added 6,600 square feet of covered area! This concept changed our business plan!

"There have been times when the tent stays up for four to six weeks! When not in use, I tell our members that we are fortunate to have 'covered' parking for the 20 spaces under the tent. Go figure, the most expensive parking spots in town now can make money for the Club!"

Another stated:

"I've always found change to be exciting and rewarding. And changing with member influence has always been well received. My DOS at my previous club was outstanding in facilitating this process. While our committees were effective, smaller focus groups proved even more beneficial. Hosting them became a monthly occurrence enabling us to invite top spenders, new members, and members in jeopardy of leaving. A casual dinner with opportunities to discuss targeted club issues proved very valuable. The "one time' setup of a focus group allowed us to invite and involve a large percentage of the membership as well and gave us an outlet for improved communication. We would especially target members not well represented through our existing committees. I found the whole process useful in driving change and will carry it with me to my next club."

Another noted:

"Change is always difficult. Change vs. tradition can be disastrous. I think mostly, [it's] about style of management. I believe management must constantly engage membership and be tuned into ever-changing member expectation. [Today's] General Manager must lead by example and know the boundaries between management and governance. However, I have developed a guerilla style of management able to adapt quickly and deal with today's complex business issues. I believe in using different products, different technologies and much different strategies in selling memberships and managing operations. It is here that the traditional ways fail. I have developed an unconventional, aggressive attitude toward the marketplace, while maintaining a respectful, traditional relationship with members."

Yet another commented:

"Since the time of the Chocolate houses of London, and Francisco Bianco (Francis White), clubs have changed, driven by the times that they operated in. This is especially noted in clubs who played an important part in their community and who had important people as Members. So change in clubs is as natural as attrition and matriculation. But with all that change the basic concept of a club, its core and its roots has never changed. Because Clubs are not physical, not tangible but intangible. Forced changes or changes that are driven by impulse never work. Now being creative, is another story, long before his passing I admired Steve Jobs, he did not invent the computer but re invented it, he did not invent the mp3 player but re invented it, and so on, he took a complicated, high tech, scary too some, computer Industry and made it simple and most importantly he made it humanistic. clubs need to be kept simple, user friendly (a term you hear with computers a lot that to this day at my age have a problem with, unlike my 7 year old) but most important humanistic. Clubs are not about the business they are about like minded human beings coming together to enjoy each [other's] camaraderie why would you ever change a thing of beauty like that. But please, do get rid of these catch phrases used by hotels, restaurants and clubs, such as "we exceed your expectations'…sounds so nice, but do they really? No, because most places don't know what my expectations are in the first place and everyone has different expectations. Personal service and attention versus mass catch phrases will be the most important change we can make. With today's technology we can really get to know each Member personally and give him/her that personal focus every-time they come to the club. Get rid of terms like receptionist, and waiters, get rid of your linear organizational charts that prohibits interaction with Members by every employee partner (that's what we call our employees, no titles given, non asked) including back of house. Get rid of your fancy mission statements that are too complicated and replace them with a simple ones like "Make the Member Happy.' In our caddie evaluation box (we don't call them caddies) our Members vote Not Happy, Happy and Very Happy, simple but to the point. We threw out the reception desk and made it into a "Members desk' like a smart desk. We threw out the linear organizational chart along with all titles and replaced it with a circular chart and no titles. Not easy to do, but it will be the future, because the current system does not fit [today's] clubs, its members and [today's] people that work in these clubs. Anyway I did not want to write this much, and my apologies for being so winded wishing all of you inspiration that will make your Members Happy."

Finally, another contributed these comments:

"A club isn't different to any business or organization: it is supposed to be a living organism and change or adaption to a changing environment is a natural thing to embrace.

"To comment on the subject raised allow me this:

"A club has to make sure all, members and club leaders, fully understand the culture/reason for the club as well the well established traditions/rules within the club is what made the club of what it is today. The understandings of culture and traditions have to be well documented thus eliminating any individual interpretation before any discussion on changes

"Whenever introducing or proposing changes or w.o.w. "reinvent itself if it is to remain relevant and competitive' start with making a statement how this proposal will [affect] the current culture as well as traditions most members are fond of.

"From our experience helps to build a broader platform within the club and easier for changes to be accepted."

It is evident that many in the industry have struggled with how change can be reconciled with staying true to an identity. As has been offered in many presentations and articles from the McGladrey team, clubs are in the business of delivering a lifestyle experience to their members. Members come together to share a common interest or interests. The mission of a club sets a premise for the lifetime of the organization. While the specific methods employed to fulfill that mission might change overtime, the mission will remain the same or a new organization might emerge.

Often the changes that are most feared are ultimately trivial when viewed in light of fulfilling a club's mission. If members prefer a more casual dining setting than once upon a time or if they are embracing new means of communication with the club, consider whether these are modifications in routines and common practices are truly worthy of being labeled as change.