First off, let's establish the fact that most country clubs in the U.S. are in financial difficulty. The recession has been particularly bad for this industry because, for the most part, membership in a club is discretionary spending. We don't NEED country clubs.
But our club is now in very serious trouble because it's losing members at an alarming rate and, IMNSHO, probably won't last in its current form for much longer.
The problem actually began about four years ago when the "leadership" decided we needed to drastically change our membership structure. Up until then we were like most country clubs — your membership was forever. You couldn't walk away from it when you pleased. You owned a share of the club and if you wanted to leave, you had to find someone who would take over your share. Back in the hey-day of private clubs, shares could be very expensive (some clubs initiation fees rose into the six figures) and there might have been a waiting list of eager prospects to take your place.
No longer. The waiting list is gone and initiation fees have plummeted. Many clubs, mine included, had waiting lists to LEAVE the club.
Then four years ago, my club's leadership (listening to a vocal, whining minority) decided to change the membership structure. For a $2500 fee, we stopped the "lifetime ownership" policy and became a "give us four months notice" membership. (BTW, my wife and I voted AGAINST that change.)
It didn't take a rocket scientist to see this change in membership also required a change in business model, strategy, and marketing. Unfortunately, there were no rocket scientists in our club leadership, so they simply stayed the course."We'll be fine. We're in the private club business!"
It was clear to me our club needed to develop an aggressive marketing strategy. I offered my services as a marketing guy with some modicum of success in both running my own businesses, as well as consulting for a few teeny, tiny Fortune 100 corporations. In addition, I recruited a few other entrepreneurs in the club to help.
Why? Because we knew that our club wasn't in the private club business. It was in the MARKETING of a private club business. In fact, it always WAS in the marketing business. And guess what? YOU are in the marketing business! You are NOT in the manufacturing technology business. You are in the MARKETING of your manufacturing technology. You are not in the framed art business. You are in the MARKETING of your framed art business. You are not in the utility truck business. You are in the MARKETING of your utility trucks business.
It's easy to forget this when business is good. We focus on operations, stay really busy, and just take orders. But when times get a bit lean, we freak out and scream, "WE NEED TO CUT COSTS!" And that's what my club is doing now. For several months we've been getting detailed updates from the board about how they're cutting more costs. No more free peanuts in the bar. Fewer staff on duty. Employees get their paychecks slashed by 10%. And now they've let the GM go.
The problem is you can never cut costs to zero. There will always be costs.
I started getting steamed four years ago when the club leadership ignored the warnings from the entrepreneurs. "Marketing is Job 1," we said. "Marketing is more important than ANY other function or department in the club," we said. But we were ignored. We're STILL being ignored and it's probably too late. My wife and I gave our four month notice.
What about you? Are you ignoring the importance of marketing in your business? No? Then tell me, how much time did YOU spend marketing your business today? What was the #1 item on your To-Do list today? What about #2? #3?