Building the Membership Models of the Future
- January 27, 2022
- Latest News, Insight, Private Clubs, Featured, Membership
Pandemic-driven changes to member usage has thrown off the balance of membership numbers and access privileges at private clubs around the world. What trends are being observed, and more importantly, what does the new normal look like for re-balancing membership capacities and usage patterns?
The impact that the pandemic era has had on private club member usage has not been subtle. Usage rates across private clubs for golf and racquet sports observed double digit usage growth. Among GGA clients, a 25-30% increase in total rounds played from 2019 to 2020 was not uncommon. On a per member basis, the average private club member increased their annual number of rounds played by 5-9 rounds. And while we predict there will likely be a slow regression in the years to come as other leisure alternatives become available, we still expect that the new ‘norm’ for private club member usage levels will be elevated from pre-pandemic experiences.
Why is that?
The flexible work-from-home trend brought on by public health measures brings with it two key benefits. Firstly, the saved time from commuting can now be dedicated to leisure pursuits and more time spent at the Club. The second is the flexibility of leisure usage. Traditional tee-sheet compaction on weekends is partly a function of this being the only time that many members can play, for those with rigid weekly work schedules and/or long commutes from the office. Flexible work hours offer members the option to use the Club at unconventional times, especially on weekday afternoons/evenings. If we think of the end result in terms of ‘occupancy rates’ for amenities at the Club, we expect higher levels as a function of more balanced demand.
As you plan for the upcoming season and work to identify the optimal structure for balancing members and access, consider the following practices that we have observed to be successful for managing a changing membership model:
Ensure member capacities are based on current usage patterns – This may seem obvious at first glance, but we continue to observe clubs focusing on their existing by-law capacity for members, a capacity that may have been calculated decades ago. Usage patterns may not always change as drastically as they have in the past two years, but there will never be a time where they are not evolving in one way or another. Member capacities should be calculated based on an ongoing monitoring of utilization levels, even if that means adjusting internal capacities annually.
Waitlists with Flexible Usage – As more and more clubs approach waitlists as a result of the demand increase over the past two seasons, consider a ‘soft’ waitlist category that still provides limited usage of the Club, at the discretion of the Board of Directors. This typically involves a deposit that can be applied to the entrance fee, and dues/access that likely resembles a sports/social category. The goal would be to steer all access towards non-peak times while still allowing new members to experience the Club and keep them ‘hooked’ until room opens up for a full membership.
Avoid the temptation to restrict the young member pipeline – Five years ago, many clubs were clamoring for members under the age of 40 and rolling out incentive programs to capture the new millennial generation of private club members. Naturally, when a club approaches capacity, it makes sense, in the short-term view, to cap the number of young members joining the club because they often receive discounted dues and/or joining fees. However, it is important to remember that the demand surge from this audience is likely to dry up again in the future, and the long-term value of a strong pipeline of millennial members (with the potential to pay dues at the Club for the next 40+ years) should be a higher strategic priority than the small incremental gain in dues revenue in the short-term. Due to the flexible nature of working from home, under 40’s have been playing considerably more golf, on average, and as a result, there may be an opportunity to reduce the intermediate discount (rather than turn them away) to match usage and their improved perception of value received.
Looking ahead, clubs must get comfortable with ‘change’, and the ability to monitor and react on a continuous basis. Do not assume that members will revert to the same patterns and preferences as they exhibited pre-Covid. Those who can react and adapt to the ever-evolving member trends will be positioned for success
How our Membership Strategy and Planning professionals can help
GGA Partners specializes in developing the most appropriate membership, lifestyle and amenity solutions that will position a club or project for long-term success in the context of its financial circumstances and competitive landscape. We invest heavily in tracking and understanding global trends and best practices specific to club membership.