I recently had the honor of being one of three faculty members selected to participate in The Club Foundation’s faculty internship program. The purpose of the internship to is provide faculty members with a comprehensive view of the industry in order to better serve students who are studying private clubs.
After attending a three-day orientation and the Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) National Student Education Conference in Washington, D.C., I returned to Rhode Island, where I spent 50 hours this past spring interacting with 16 different club managers and touring more than ten clubs in the New England and mid-Atlantic region. In addition, I organized a private club professional panel at the Johnson & Wales University campus in Providence. I want to thank The Club Foundation for providing me with the opportunity to explore, observe, and learn about the private club industry as a faculty intern.
What I Learned
As I began the internship, I actually thought I knew a lot about the private club industry. Surely a decade of food and beverage operations experience, time spent as a banquet manager and university professor, years of advising students for the student chapter of the CMAA, and three years of industry conferences should have prepared me for understanding the roles, responsibilities, and challenges faced by today’s club managers.
But as I began to immerse myself in the internship, the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” began to take on new meaning. For me, I didn’t realize the wide breadth of the club community and the extraordinary ability for managers to reach out to one another for help. Another thing that took me by surprise was the assumption that others in the industry already knew about the little golden nuggets of information that were, somehow, viewed as being common knowledge.
Through this experience, I was graciously provided with the opportunity to observe and interact with many managers from a wide variety of club types, sizes, and memberships, and I found that there were six major topics that seemed to be of interest across the industry: technology, governance, member services, food and beverage programming, multi-generational memberships, and the shrinking employee talent pool.
Although these ideas were certainly not new to me—as they were addressed in depth at recent conferences I attended—I found that the perceived value and application of each topic can vary at individual clubs.
Here are three of the main topics I studied and my takeaways:
The use of technology in the club industry has been a hot topic for several years, especially in regards to the generational perception of value it provides and acceptable uses for it. In almost all of the clubs I observed, the line for which types of technology provide value has been moved to include tech that is used as a tool to manage member expectations of service and the services themselves. For example, many clubs now offer their own mobile app which allows members to access services and retrieve the information that they desire.
Takeaway: In order for this type of technology to be successfully used by members, the key is introduction and training. Managers should not miss the obvious opportunity to create this experience as a multigenerational educational event for members—think grandparents and grandchildren. Also, managing service-level expectations for managers and staff is based on current and easily-accessible member information. Member names, extended family, important dates, and consumption preferences are critical. Any technology which leverages and integrates data into daily operational planning should be strongly considered.
The governance models I observed varied due to the roles assumed or assigned by members and management. When roles are ill-defined between advisement and action, friction is more evident. On many occasions, I have read about how board presidents can have a dramatic effect on long-term job security. Because of this, seasoned and new managers alike suggest that building genuine relationships early on with leaders and treating all members equally is prudent to success. Ongoing obstacles that prevent clear communication and effective working relationships between managers and club boards could be directly related to fundamental assumptions. When a club’s shared value system is weakly defined, outdated, or forgotten, disagreements can occur more often. As a result, a club manager must know why a club is the way it is and who has an impact on its culture.
Takeaway: When these shared values are easily identified and communicated in organizations, they can be used to solve business-related problems like attraction and retention of members and employees. The members and employees’ shared values of safety, civility, and pride of ownership, as examples, were observed and expressed multiple times in the locations I studied. Members and employees want to be valued, be recognized, feel safe, contribute, and be proud to be associated with the club. So leaders should focus on building attraction and retention programs around shared values in order to be successful.
On several occasions, managers stated that the club is an extension of the member’s home. If this is true, then are there other services a club can offer that members routinely use outside of the club? When surveying members, managers should evaluate what types of services members use, like:
- Health and fitness services, like haircuts, salon and nail services, and massages
- Dry cleaning and laundry services
- Tailoring services
- Community-related things like Good Will and blood drives
- Notary or document shredding services
Takeaway: By including these types of services within the grounds of the club, management can ensure that members spend more time or visit the facility more often, thus prompting a greater perceived value of membership to the club.
In my next post, I will address the remaining three topics I studied during my internship: food and beverage programming, multi-generational memberships, and the shrinking employee talent pool.
This article also appeared in the July 2018 issue of the NECMA newsletter.