Youth: Driver of the Private Club Industry


“Because I’m in charge,” was the explanation my daughter exclaimed when I asked why I had to wear the tiara. Without argument (and because I was behind closed doors), I placed Cinderella’s crown on my head and sat cross-legged allowing her to continue using me as a prop in her fantasy. I quickly realized how this little blond princess has completely changed my perception on “being cool” and life, in general. My typical day, outside of work, completely revolves around the little ones in my life; limiting the amount of time I have to spend at the club. And I’m not alone.

Private club industry professionals continually contemplate the future of the industry and where we should focus our marketing efforts. Believe it or not, the present and future of the private club industry revolves around today’s youth. As most of us know, children occupy nearly all the free time of the majority of our members. Successful private club programming must engage and entertain the youth of the club in order to reinforce the value of the membership to on-the-go families. If the children are happy, the family is happy. And happy parents are your biggest advocates when it comes to recruiting new families to your club.

A large number of new private club members were exposed, or touched, at one point in their lives by the private club industry. Perhaps they were on the club’s swim team, or they met their best friends there, or it’s where they celebrated their wedding. As a former Director of Marketing and Membership Sales, I experienced and understand first-hand the incredible significance Youth Programming has on a club’s membership recruitment…and retention.

As I consult with clubs across the nation, one question commonly addressed is, “What are the most successful youth programs implemented by clubs?” I could simply provide specific youth programs proven successful by other private clubs; however, my role as a marketing consultant is to empower club executives with the knowledge and strategies required to generate successful youth programs based on the needs of their club’s membership. Here are ideas you can reference when building or growing your club’s youth culture.

Developing Private Club Youth Programming

Many club executives, with completely good intentions, try to be innovative and develop programs they think the children would enjoy, but often find it’s not really what they want. So how do you determine and create these preferred programs that’s a win-win for all involved?

Ask the youth. Put together a focus group of current members’ children and simply ask what programs they wish to see at the club. Include youth of all ages and genders to ensure you’re encompassing a variety of interest levels. Be prepared with a list of possible programs to present to the kids as you may need to kick start the conversation and brainstorming.

Survey all your members. Although receiving the word directly from the horse’s mouth provides ample ideas, don’t forget to gather input from the parents too. Parents could have a different perspective on successful programs from non-private club associations.

Check out the competition. Determine what your direct competition is and is not providing. Check out their website, or use search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing. If you can’t find what they provide on the internet, neither can potential members which is good. If your competitors show a large number of attendees for Movie on the Range night, consider implementing a variation of that same program.

Adjust your scheduling. With the increase of dual-income households, less parents are available to drop off and pick up their children at the club for weekday programs. Many club activities will see more involvement if some are scheduled on weekday evenings or weekends versus Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m. If you’re not sure the best times for your membership, just ask, or implement A/B testing and try multiple times in order to evaluate and determine which schedule receives the most interest and participation.

Marketing Youth Programs

Educate the Public. Awareness is the only way to inform the public about existing programs and benefits of membership at your club. Opening youth events to non-member’s children allows the club to showcase the fun and exciting club activities. These events can be set up as invitations from current members only, or the club can personally extend an invitation by using their own database of potential members.

Exposing the club’s culture off property is an effective approach to generating awareness. One specific event I know of personally that generated incredible traction in club recruitment is a partnership between an upscale fitness center and one of the club’s golf professionals. The golf pro generously provided a few golf classes at the fitness center for area kids, which led to parents inquiring about membership for the entire family at the club.

Be Virtually Visible. A few club officials and board members continue to believe the “build it and they will come” marketing techniques are successful in the private club industry. Unfortunately this tactic has not been effective for quite some time, thus the predicament the industry is experiencing today. The Major Purchase Shopper Study shows more than 80% of consumers research online before purchasing offline. This includes private clubs. Most modern-day families in search of a private club to join will seek information about your club online prior to contacting the club. If you want to recruit families, you must promote your youth programming on the club’s website and social media pages.

Although we wish to keep the club as “private” as possible, without public knowledge of your club’s existence and lifestyle, recruitment will inevitably suffer. The club who opens its virtual doors and provides the most exposure and relevant information of their programming will recruit more new members when a member is ready to purchase.

Expand your team. Many clubs in the industry are realizing the importance of youth programming and how time consuming these responsibilities can be, and are quickly hiring a full- or part-time Youth Director/Coordinator. Some clubs are even turning to outside firms who specialize in children’s events to facilitate “kid’s camps” throughout the year, particularly during the summer.

We regularly read articles and hear club members imploring club executives and board members to “think outside the box.” Sometimes we just need to allow a different panel of “experts” to do the thinking for us. If you want to rejuvenate the tradition of energy and excitement that once embraced your club’s environment, try reaching out to today’s youth.