Would you go to a Chinese restaurant for a good steak? At the same time, the Chinese restaurant wouldn't feature steaks in any of its marketing efforts. This is the basic marketing principle called “Stick to what you know.” Market to what you do best, stay in your element, and don't try to be all things to all people.
Stop for a minute and take an inventory of your mission statement, which is from what all operational and marketing policies, procedures and programs originate.
I bet when you locate it and dust it off you'll find, that in many cases, your operation is something quite different today than it was when that statement was written. For some of you, the zeal and excitement was so strong at the time of the club opening that you didn't need to write down what your club was about, it was obvious.
Just a few years ago, few had heard of Pilates and you wouldn't have touched Yoga with a 10-foot pole. Indoor cycling looked too rigorous for your average member and not worth the investment or the dedication of space. You remember laughing at the rock climber when you saw it at the Club Industry show. The “20-something” membership wasn't having kids and didn't need childcare or kids programs. On the other side of this issue there was no need for Masters Swimming and other programs targeted to seniors. The market is always changing. Are you still using the same marketing plan, the same mailing lists aimed at the same demographics? Are you measuring its effectiveness or just comfortable carrying out a plan you've executed before?
Every new fiscal year you should formulate a new budget and a new marketing plan focused to maximize capture of your target market. Because you can't be all things to all people you must identify what your club is. Update your mission statement and adjust your marketing efforts to focus on the potential members whose preferences match up with your facilities and programs.
About 10 years ago I was working in North Carolina and I visited a club that had equipment that dated back to the 1960s. When we approached the owner about his need to update his club, he told us there wasn't a need even though a new club was opening soon. “These members are my friends and neighbors,” the owner told us. Within a year most of those friends and neighbors left to join the new club that better met their needs. The outdated club closed a year later. The effects of ignoring a changing marketplace are not felt overnight; they are almost invisible unless you are aggressive in canvassing your members and your potential market for their likes and dislikes and adjust your marketing plan to attract new members, while adjusting your operations to maximize the retention of your existing members. Your biggest asset is not your building or equipment package, it is your membership base.
This is where member committees are of value by giving you feedback on your operation. If members are selected and managed properly, these groups can provide an excellent picture of how the club is doing and where it should be going. Before you discard any notion of member input remember that your first and most inexpensive source of new members is member referral. Marketing efforts should be updated to best address the profile of the member that your operation best suits.
So dust off your mission statement. Be committed to what you are as a club, listen to what your members have to say and focus your marketing efforts on the profile of the member that is most likely to join the kind of club you operate and adjust your operation to best meet the needs of your members for high member retention.
Frank J. Margarella is president of Premier Club Consultants Inc. in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at 813-244-5762 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.