Member Engagement: From the Honeymoon ‘Til Death Do Us Part

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Wedding Rings - Member Engagement

What a fantasy for any club executive, having a member engaged from matriculation to death. Although it might not be realistic to have all of your members this long, what a great pinnacle to aspire. Let’s look at the different stages and tactics you could employ.


The Honeymoon: In the 1980’s, Club Corp identified the first 90 days as prime time to make that great first impression. Members are the most excited in enjoying for themselves as well as showing off their new club to their friends. Tactics to use:

  • The Orientation: This sets the tone. Besides reviewing rules, which will save your neophytes from embarrassment, this can be a fun-filled hour in which your Membership Director can have the new members meet staff and ask questions. This could be done over a meal - club’s treat.

  • Play with a Pro:  This is a great icebreaker. It can be with the Head Professional or one of the Assistants. Once again this is not a playing lesson, but it gives your professionals an opportunity to size up the new member’s game for future instruction. This is not just for golf, but could be for tennis, paddle tennis or squash as well.

  • Dinner with your Sponsors:  At Park Country Club, our incentive reward for sponsoring a new member is that the Club picks up a dinner for the new member and the sponsor. We want the sponsor to be active in introducing the new member to other members.

  • New Member Receptions: Depending on how quickly and at what volume you are matriculating in members, you can host these monthly, quarterly or annually. Usually the club picks up the tab for appetizers and drinks. Invite new members (obviously), sponsors, membership committee members and even the Board. At Park Country Club, we invite all members to this affair. Nothing like a good mixer to get them engaged.

  • Newsletter Recognition:  In case we forget, this is an egocentric business. A picture along with a bio if not already in the matriculation vetting process, reinforces the new member’s introduction to the club.


The Nitty-Gritty:  Here are tactics and stratagems that various clubs employ to help set the intangible bond.

  • The McDonalds Approach:  McDonalds in the 1970’s and 1980’s excelled in marketing to the children to hook the parents. One of the most powerful instincts in nature is the parental instinct. Have fun and creative children’s programming and the parents will follow them to the club. Some examples are: Camp outs, paintball/lasertron, visits from the zoo with exotic animals and American Girl fashion shows. The sky is the limit.

  • Travel Sports Programs:  This takes the swim teams and the interclub tennis to a whole new level. As an example when my son played competitive volleyball, we would see teams at national tournaments from the Outrigger Canoe Club from Hawaii. The New York Athletic Club is known for their various travel sports teams.

  • Today’s Your Birthday: Member’s special days, can be your special days. At Park Country Club, we send out a letter each month to the members or their spouses when they are celebrating their birthday. In that letter is a certificate for a free dinner at Park Club. Usually people celebrating birthdays do not dine by themselves. Now connect the dots. The Buffalo Club gives their members a complimentary bottle of wine when they dine at the club in celebration of their birthday. Other club’s utilize a similar promotion for anniversaries.

  • Club’s Within Club’s: At Park Country Club, the monthly Ladies Book Club meets. Each month they chose a book to read. Then they don’t read it, but have cocktails, appetizers and dinner to discuss it. What a scam to gather and socialize. The Buffalo Club features it First Monday Club, where on a monthly basis they engage renowned speakers to pontificate on different subjects. Other clubs within clubs examples are investment club and garden clubs.

  • Communications, Communications, Communications:  How do members stay engaged if they do not know what is happening at their club?  Clubs should have communication plans. Usually this strategy works off of the “Pasta Theory.” The “Pasta Theory” revolves around that if you throw enough pasta against the wall, some of it is bound to stick. Club Corp emphasized newsletters to have a plethora of pictures of members enjoying their club. Remember this is an egocentric business. At Park Country Club we have a video promotion monitor which shows upcoming events as well as most recent events. Members coming and going will stand at the monitor looking for their pictures. Also do not forget to employ posters (old school) as well as targeted e-mail blasts.

  • Commit to a Committee: Encourage members to serve. It opens many eyes for member to see what a sophisticated business their club truly is. This helps dispel the negativity which pervades our nation regarding distrust for governance. Who wants to leave a club with integrity?


Thank You Mr. Obvious: Now this area deals with the obvious, however if not satisfied this could lead to attrition.

  • Great Food and Beverage: This concept is easier said than done. Almost all clubs feature this amenity. A few observations on this are:

    • Do not have the chef dictate what the members should eat. Ego is not a driver. Member satisfaction is.

    • Let them tell you what they like. At Park Country Club we use member survey, comment cards and managers “touching” tables.

    • Provide variety: clubs cater to a variety of tastes. If you keep your menu narrow you will appeal to a narrow market. Variety can be promoted through: daily specials, frequent menu changes and larger selection of menu items.

    • Value:  Remember value is a function of price to quality. In sophisticated clubs great value is driven by great quality.

    • Have a great sense of urgency. Complacency will lead to member dissatisfaction.

  • Know Thy Members. This is a twofold concept.

    • Call a member by name at least three times every time they are in the club. Robert Dedman, founder of Club Corp, emphasized this behavior. 20 years later, his has a multi-billion dollar company.

    • As referenced above research your members frequently. This does not necessarily require an annual survey each year, however frequent mini surveys on key areas can shed light. These surveys should be no longer than five minutes. There are several national companies which provide this service. This research information is priceless.

  • Great Services Drives Facilities: Just like software in a computer drives the hardware buying decision, so do the services drive your facilities. As an example if your club requires an outstanding year-round tennis program, you are not going to have asphalt hard courts with lights. You would probably have har-tru courts with some domed/bubbled courts or indoor courts. You might even have junior sized courts to promote younger play.

  • When the Honeymoon is Over:  Service failures happen. You dread them. However, the proper service recovery can make a skeptic a lifelong fan. Be careful what you say because it will be used against you. Empathize with the member. Reflect back so they know you understand. Do not make any promises you cannot keep. Research the problem and respond back expediently so the member knows that you have a sense of urgency. Remember, it is better to lose a battle and not the war.


The Stages of Life: As our members age, different membership classifications are needed to meet their needs.


Senior Memberships: The company line is “we want to reward loyalty and longevity.” The real answer is “that we want to maintain a revenue stream as they move to fix incomes.” The problem was many clubs gave too deep of a discount and as members age out the dues line shrank. Today 20 percent to 30 percent discount (not 50 percent) will suffice.


Non-Resident Memberships: This is the first cousin to the Senior Membership. In other words, when people retire and move away, how do we still keep them engaged (paying dues)? The “snowbirds” who are away at least 6 months will be looking for value. The key limits for eligibility are out of state driver’s license and limited rounds of golf for the dues. Extra rounds may be traded out for greens fees.


Legacies: If a son or daughter joins, there further develops the bond. Legacies are the easiest prospective members to matriculate to your club. Discounts for legacies are viewed as an amenity and solute to the parents for their longevity. A trend today is that grandparents move to be near their grandchildren.


When Death Do Us Part:  Surviving Spouse membership once again helps maintain engagement to the club. In most cases dues are discounted in relation to club amenities. At Sycamore Creek Country Club, if the surviving spouse died then the child was offered the opportunity to inherit the membership. The pluses are this maintains the family’s engagement to the club. You also preserve that dues stream from the family. The downside is it compromises the ability to collect initiation fees. This is a very provocative concept.


In summary, member engagement is not rocket science. However, brainstorming with your Management Team and/or your Membership Committee may be productive. As with your body, any exercise will have its benefits.  


Brad Pollak, CCM, CCE is the General Manager of Park Country Club of Buffalo, in Buffalo, NY.

Posted by Will Flourance at 12/20/2016 10:06:34 AM | 


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