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3 min read

Adapting to Key Challenges Facing the Private Club Industry

Adapting to Key Challenges Facing the Private Club Industry

America's private clubs are at a crossroads. 

Many saw a boom in membership during, and immediately after, the pandemic. Some, all of a sudden, had an influx of cash. A lot of clubs invested millions of dollars in new amenities designed to attract more families (think daycare facilities, pools, pickleball courts, and more casual dining options).

The First Call nailed the challenge ahead for clubs with its recent blog: "Private clubs enjoy boon, strive not to bust." As economic uncertainties weigh on consumers' minds and influence whether they decide to join a club or not, it seems inevitable that some will bust. The key to avoiding that fate will be how well a club adapts its marketing to reach the next generation of members.

Tell Your Story Through Their Eyes

Joe Kurth, Chief Operating Officer for the Milwaukee Athletic Club (MAC), believes growth is still possible if approached correctly. He points out that coming out of the flu pandemic a century ago we got the Roaring 20s and an entire decade of people living it up and socializing every chance they got. He believes we have a similar pent-up demand for more fun in our lives and clubs can fill that void.

The MAC completed a $65 million renovation in 2022. It's now well-positioned to attract a more diverse membership and that includes more families with young kids. However, MAC is being careful not to fall into the trap that a lot of clubs do when they focus their marketing too much on themselves.

If you love the club you work at it's easy to want to brag about it. Maybe you think a long list of your great amenities is all you should need. This can be good for your ego, but probably not for attracting young families to join a club.

The MAC is focusing its marketing efforts on how people's lives will be better through access to its amenities. This storytelling shift is subtle, but it matters. Consider the framing of these two sentences:

  1. We have the best place for swim lessons in our newly renovated pool.
  2. Your kids will love learning to swim in the newly renovated pool.

In the first sentence, the club is the hero and the reader is left imagining a sterile, empty pool. In the second sentence, the parent is the hero and they're left thinking about their smiling child. Creating that feeling is what inspires someone to want to come take a tour of your club. Joining a club is an emotion-driven decision.

Resource: Essential Guide to Digital Marketing for Private Clubs

Be Seen with Video

If you're not using video to tell the story of your club and its members you are not tapping into the best form of storytelling we have today. A good video transports a person in their mind to a place they want to be (your club).

Video is so ubiquitous today that consumers expect it whether they're comparing sunglasses on Amazon or deciding whether to spend tens of thousands of dollars to join a country club. The gold standard is to use video of your members talking about their lives at the club so prospective members can see themselves in their shoes.

Be Transparent and Authentic

Clubs can't afford to hide their fees anymore. People searching to join a club aren't dumb and they don't want to waste their time. If they can't find your initiation fees and dues either on your website or in a membership guide they're significantly less likely to contact you to take a tour.

You may be saying to yourself that providing those numbers will stop too many people from deciding to take a tour in the first place. Maybe you're opting for a strategy of: get them in, wow them with the place, and then hit them with the numbers when its time to talk membership. This old approach doesn’t match today’s families. This is how to sell timeshares, not a club experience.

You want to develop an authentic connection with your leads, not one built on deception and hiding information from them. The odds are you have a premium product that commands a price and your audience knows that. You're only wasting their time and yours if you dance around money until the last minute. The more informed your prpscet is before they meet with you the faster the sales process will be. 

Be Smart with Technology

Is your club's website stellar? A refresh doesn't have to ruin your marketing budget, but if you avoid the issue don't expect to attract new online leads.
Do you have both a lead tracking and lead nurturing system in place for membership? Each of the strategies listed in this blog can help your club with SEO and being found organically online. But this only matters if you can capture the contact information of your leads and nurture them down the sales funnel with information they want (this is why including pricing information in your membership guide is a good idea).

If your sales tools don't do things like email workflows and lead scoring you're well behind the game.

The good years of growth don't have to come to an end, but they won't continue without an intentional plan to reach a new generation of members who see the world in a new way.

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