Membership Green


It’s crazy how compartmentalized and specialized clubs have become.  Going Green!  For sure it’s a great concept and long overdue.  It’s also one that requires science, commitment, investment, and teamwork. Every department is touched in one way or another.  In California, Governor Brown announced a mandatory 25% reduction in water usage more or less forcing that “going green” issue on the general population.  This affects everything from watering the grass to offering water only upon request in the dining room.

Over the years, when I think of membership, I’ve always seen green ($$$) too.  Initiation fees, dues, ancillary spending referrals of new members, and event and activity participation, are all made possible because we have members.

As the late Robert Dedman, Sr. often remarked, “With members everything is possible. Without members nothing is possible.”

The club industry moves slowly and cautiously.  We’ve had to be that way because clubs are highly traditional.  But, has that traditionalist mentality been too extreme and selective?

At a recent workshop for the Professional Club Marketing Association I asked the attending General Managers, “Is food a science?”  Not surprisingly, they universally agreed that it was.  My next question was “How many books have been written about food service?”  Again, the universal response was “thousands”. Pushing the envelope a little I continued, “How much time are you spending daily in food and beverage?“  While mixed, most admitted they spend a lot of time in getting food service right.  Finally, I asked “How much money are you making in food service?”  Sensing a rat, they sheepishly replied, “not much.”

I then turned to membership marketing questions and asked, “Do you think marketing is a science?”  After some deliberation most agreed that it was.  I then asked, “How many books have been written about marketing?”  Thousands, they replied.  “How much time do you spend in membership marketing?”  Glancing at one another the answer was “not much”.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not indicting General Managers for spending time to get the food and beverage service right.  It is a science and to most members it is one of the top reasons they join and retain their membership.  My advice? Keep spending time and keep your members happy.  That too is part of the marketing equation, retention.

Just as “going green” and food service are science, membership marketing and market positioning are every bit as scientific.  What’s more they are the primary source of the Club’s capital and revenue.

Let’s draw some parallels. Would any food service or club management professional create a menu that was not in keeping with know member want’s and needs?  How do know the answer?  Because we take the time to know our members and what they want and it would be suicidal not to know.

Here’s the parallel reason that membership marketing and market positioning need to be considered a science.  Clubs serve two communities.  First and foremost is the existing member community.  We do surveys, focus groups and we talk to members to understand their needs.  It’s complicated because we have three and four different generations in our clubs, cultures have changed and families have different needs.

The second community your club serves is the prospective member community.  Depending on the type of club, your market may be slightly different but it is surely infinitely definable and predictable.  Sustainability means remaining viable and relevant to your next generation of members.  As I’ve said so many times before, it you are not offering what the potential members wants, it doesn’t matter how much you charge.  Conversely, if you do the research and let hard data drive your marketing strategy, your band relevance will vastly improve your market share of potential members.

BTW, this has nothing to do with finding out what the club down the street is doing.  It’s about looking at cultural trending, market demographics, knowing the profile of the member joining over the past five years.  How old are they.  Do they have kids at home? When you do a survey how does this new demographic respond to what they like or need?  Once you know what new members look like and what they want, setting yourself up to be better positioned is science, not guesswork.

Using the same principals of data and discovery, you can likewise solve the issue of membership categories most appropriate to your market, pricing and any number of other questions you face as marketing decisions every day.

If you haven’t joined the “membership as a science” revolution yet, you’re falling behind.  If you’re falling behind you might be running out of time.

Historically, misinformed decisions could be tolerated and overcome.  Bad decisions in today’s competitive environment can be terminal.  Do the research and see more “green” in your membership returns.