The country club has long been a place of exclusivity and value. It was a place where people worked hard to get a membership and were willing to pay dues to stay there year after year. However, most clubs are currently struggling to get members to join who are under the age of 40. Let’s take a look at why Associations in Buffalo are struggling and what solutions exist to bring in the younger crowd.
Part 1: Why are Country Clubs Struggling to Get New Members?
It is no secret that most country clubs in Buffalo and around the country are struggling with membership. Clubs that were once elite places with coveted spots are now finding their numbers dropping with no sign of rising. So, what has changed so drastically for the clubs?
Relying on Word of Mouth Marketing
Back in the golden days of country clubs, members would bring in other members to fill vacant spots by recommendation. It wasn’t hard to find people who wanted to become paying members and benefit as an exclusive member. Country clubs acted as places of exclusivity, where business deals were struck and connections were made. But fewer and fewer of these members are bringing in friends that want to join.
An Aging Membership
With the Baby Boomer generation, thing were good. There were so many new members flowing in, few clubs thought about marketing plans or worried about their expansion plans. Now, the Baby Boomer crowd is starting to age out and clubs aren’t bringing in enough of the next generation. Clubs have been doing things the same way for a long time, but those methods are no longer working well.
Old Facilities and High Debt
Many clubs didn’t see the writing on the wall and have been making upgrades or building new locations in the last several years. These are the clubs that are struggling most with debt they can’t afford. Older clubs are struggling with facilities that aren’t up to expectations of newer generations or are in need of repairs. These aging clubhouses don’t have the membership to support rebuilds, but the worn out facilities make it hard to recruit young members.
Shifting Member Needs
Newer members have changing needs that clubs aren’t adapting to meet. With the work-life balance that many younger professionals try to maintain, using phones, tablets and other devices are essential so they can stay connected. Millennials and younger generations are typically in a rush and looking for convenience and connectivity over exclusivity.
Part 2: Attracting the Next Generation
Country Clubs in Buffalo that want to survive and thrive need to focus their efforts on bringing in the new generations. While the Baby Boomer and Generation X crowds are still filling the clubs, it is an essential time for the clubs to shift their direction. Not only do club facilities need to change, but marketing and advertising strategies need to be put in place.
Marketing to a Younger Crowd
Clubs have to start by addressing the target audience they’ve mainly been ignoring. Marketing to a new generation is about more than ads—interest is only going to occur if the direction for the club is different and appealing to that crowd. Without those ads, it is going to be very hard to get the word out. To address the younger generations, you need to start by shifting the club’s focus and then make your change clear by planning ad campaigns designed to appeal to those prospects. These ads can be placed across social media, search engines and websites, focusing on only a younger local audience. By setting your ads to target specific crowds and including your ads on a website where your target audience spends their time, you will be able to get the word out to people who will respond to your content.
You need to make the country club a place where young adults want to go because it is convenient and fits their lifestyle. Clubs need to build daycares, playgrounds and conference centers if they want to make their clubs more of a place where families and business professionals want to spend their time. Wi-Fi should be readily available to support social sharing and work done on the premises by members. You want to make the club a convenient place where people can continue the work life balance they value. Most of the younger crowd is rushed and not ready to stop everything to play golf for hours on end. Many clubs are changing rules to accommodate devices at the table for this very reason. Make the club relevant to the younger members with the ability to multitask.
Part 3: Upgrading Club Atmosphere
Even when clubs don’t have a lot of excess money to spend on repairs and improvements, they need to consider upgrades. The right changes will help make the club a place where new members are excited to be.
Most places now offer free Wi-Fi with easy access. Your members will want to be able to work and access online content with your network. Many members have limited (or no) access to data on their devices, so Wi-Fi is an important feature. People may also want to work over lunch or while using your facilities, so you will want laptops to access the internet easily. You want to make sure your Wi-Fi is secure, but has an excellent reach for members throughout the club and course. With network reach, you will enable your members to do more and share more while at your club.
Play for Free Programs
Bringing in new faces and friends can help bolster the club’s atmosphere. Some clubs are gaining positive growth by offering a play for free program. When a member brings in multiple friends at the discounted guest rate, the guest gets to play for free or gets significant discounts at the club. Not only does this help increase those visiting the club, but it also helps get newer members excited about bringing in all their friends to check things out for themselves.
Changing Club Dining
A different menu is going to help bring in new members. Focus on bringing in local ingredients and craft products over your flagship items. Have a wide variety of healthy options with high-quality ingredients. Update your information at the table and on your website to give more details about the dishes you are serving (calorie count, ingredient origins, etc.). Offering new tech to speed dining, like iPad menus and mobile POS systems will also enable a higher level of service and appeal to your younger, tech-savvy crowd.
Part 4: Promoting Club Events and Activities
How are members and non-members joining in at the club if they don’t know things are happening? You need a way to get the word out. An essential part of clubs adapting to the times is going to be in using the available marketing tools to advertise their events. You can use a calendar on your website to list events, make flyers available and even allow people to sign up. By putting events on your website, your members will be able to share events they care about on their social pages and with their friends.
Member for the Day
Sometimes giving someone a taste makes them hungry for more. If you are sure your club is set to appeal to a younger crowd, provide them with a feeling in hopes that they will choose to continue as a member. Allow guests to try out the club for a day (or even a month). By offering a very short-time opportunity, you leave the prospect wanting more of the VIP treatment. Private golf is great because it can be more efficient and less crowded than a public course, but it still has to be affordable and prove value. Make sure your staff knows to treat these guests as VIP members to show them the full experience. The club experience is very alluring to the younger crowd if it is exclusive, convenient and a luxury experience.
To bring in new locals to try out your club and sign up for memberships, you need to make your website appealing and clear. A great website will draw in new leads and help them move toward signing up with the club. Websites need to be quick at loading, easy to navigate and updated regularly. Keep your event calendar current and utilize images to keep visitors engaged. You can use your website to accept monthly member payments, show off the club amenities, clarify facility hours and make your menus available. Your website can even enable your members to rent out the rooms or facilities if they have a special event coming up. Most importantly, make it very clear on your website that is for members, what is available for the public, what rates exist and how the hours work for each part of the club. Clubs are exclusive and any vagueness can be daunting to someone looking to join in for the first time.
Social Media Promotion
Social media is how many brands are sharing their content and getting it into the hands of locals. On most social platforms, content is shared and increases your reach. Every person that Retweets, shares or even interacts with your post will expose your content to their followers. You can reach thousands of new people just by keeping your profiles updated regularly with valuable content. Posting tips, tricks, events, updates and local news that is relevant to your members is a great way to keep people engaged in what you do. Social media doesn’t work unless you stay consistent and post regularly. A neglected profile can be damaging by giving followers outdated information and making the club look behind the times. You want to display a wide variety of content that is interesting to your audience and consistent with your brand as a club.
Ratings and Reviews
Encourage your members to review your club on sites like Google, Yelp and others. Higher ratings for your dining, golfing, bar and club will get people interested in trying out your facilities. Asking existing members to rate your club well will help build a solid rating for your club that pops up when people are searching for the amenities you offer.
In your efforts to change, know that today’s golfer has lest time to spend and is all about the convenience and speed of the places they belong. People still like to have their space—especially if it feels local and personal. Work toward solutions that update the environment and then appeal to new members with targeted ads.