I can already hear you saying it…….
“You want me to keep track of the interactions I have with every member?! I just had one of my golf staff call out sick, my cart person never showed up this morning and i’ve got 144 on the tee sheet. Right now all I am worried about is getting these players to the tee and around the course in less than 6 hours without anyone getting hurt.”
Or, maybe that’s just what I was thinking.
When I was asked to come up with a member retention initiative for the fall and winter season, my first thought was, ‘How can I make this work without having to do more work I don’t have time for.’ Now, that’s not to say I didn’t believe it was important. I just knew that if I was able to design the program where I could actually execute it in a way that mattered, I had a chance of making it work.
The key to the success of this program was my manager allowing me to create it based on what I thought would have the biggest impact. He would have to agree with the idea, but I got to come up with it. And that is probably why it worked. It has to make sense to him, but first it had to make sense to me, since I would be running it.
Many mangers make the mistake of doing the opposite. They come up with an idea for retention because the math looks good on the financials, tell the staff what they are supposed to do, and give them a report to fill out to prove they are doing it. This changes the focus of many pros to ‘how to I get this report done?’ Rather than ‘how do I achieve the goal.’
I personally have been in both situations. I have seen this retention program reduce winter member resigns by 25% in one year to record lows. And I have seen that same number yo-yo back up above record highs when minimal support and staffing levels by ownership and management are not maintained.
Who’s most at risk of leaving?
The idea for this program was inspired by a story you may have heard.
The story goes, that at a private club, the golf staff got together and listed the 20 members they thought were most at risk of leaving the club that coming Winter. The Head Professional arranged to play at least 9 holes with each of them before the end of the season. Can you guess how many of those members were still at the club at the end of the winter? All of them.
Now, I have also heard similar case studies that have this number at more like 25% resigning, but even with this more conservative math, the results are still pretty impressive.
Or are they?
Are “at risk” members really that at risk of leaving? Have you ever tried to kick an “at risk” member out of your club? They hang on for dear life like you hold onto that To-Go burger you grabbed from the kitchen 6 hours ago that’s still sitting on your desk. – “Yes, you can use my computer to setup the tournament. BUT DON’T TOUCH MY BURGER!”
And if you know someone well enough to think they are likely to leave the club, haven’t you probably done enough to help keep them already without further pandering to their every whim and demand? What about the other 480 members of your club? Just because they go about their business, paying dues, and not making a fuss, are they not entitled to some attention? I certainly thought it was time to give them some attention. They are 95% of your dues paying members after all.
Our focus became establishing a connection with members where there wasn’t already one. We needed a way to determine who we needed to focus on, rather than just trying to connect with members we already knew well. We needed a benchmark to determine who we hadn’t made a connection, a plan for connecting and with and a system tracking our progress and results.
To start, I went and printed out our entire member roster. I made a column down each page for me and each of may Assistant Professionals. It’s easiest if you can import the members into a spreadsheet to do this. Each of us took a run through the list. If we read a members name and immediately could picture them, then we put a check mark next to their name. (See example. I wish I could find my originals.)
For any member that we all knew, we removed their name from the list (in the example, Rick, Nancy and Sam would be removed). We then printed out the remaining names. So, what we had left was a list of members at least one of us didn’t know well enough to check off. Out of about 500 golf members, I think I had 160 names still left under my name. Overall, there were about 230 members at least one of us didn’t know super well.
Over the next two months, that filtered list lived at the golf shop counter. When each of us would arrive, we would look at the tee sheet and see if there were any members on that list. We would then add a note to notify that staff member when the member arrived.
The goal of the program was to have one personal interaction with every member on that list when they came out. Sometimes the interaction was short because you remembered the member and some things about them the moment you saw them. In that case a handshake and a simple, “Hello, great to see you out playing.” or “Did you get your daughter moved into college OK?” would suffice. Other times you may need to drive out on the course to introduce yourself to a new member you haven’t met yet.
The level of interaction depends on the circumstance of that relationship. It’s not about what was said so much as just connecting. Hopefully, just the gesture of taking the time is enough for them to feel a connection to you and the club. If not, and you don’t remember them a week later, don’t worry. We have a list for that.
We also made if fun by coming up with a leaderboard. We tracked our totals on the whiteboard in the office. The goal was to get the list as small as we could by season end. We tracked the results by the percentage of members you were able to check off your list since staff started with different numbers. I didn’t lose, but I still ended up buying the beers for the team to celebrate.
In those last two months of the season we reduced that list in half from over 200 members to just over 100 members and had missed only one member that was on our list who visited during that time.
It was a short program but that winter our resignations went from 121 the year before to 87 that year. At a club that sells a lot of new membership each year and has a lot of people resign that 34 members was a retention record in the recorded history we had access to. At an average annual dues only value of $5,000 per member that means we started the next year $170k ahead of forecast.
Of course we didn’t get to see everyone in person at the club. Like I said, there were still 100 members or so we didn’t see in those last 2 months of the year. So, our General Manager made sure to organize a handwritten note campaign to go along with our efforts. Each manager took part of the membership to write a handwritten thank you note to members thanking them for being a member.
Learnings and Opportunities
While we did this effort to directly impact retention in the coming winter months. I think that constantly revisiting this process can have a great impact on membership satisfaction and retention year round.
It is always one of my first recommendations to professionals, of all levels taking a job at a new facility. Print out a member roster, or handicap list if you are public, and see how many members you can get to know over your time there. And if you have access to it, compare how those members do in retention and revenue generation compared to others. It could be a great thing to include in your resume if you can show a connection between the two.
Since I wanted to keep this solution “low-tech”, I left out the opportunity to scale this interaction online. By using online platforms and social media, I could have connected with many more of the members who didn’t make it out to the club in the those last couple months and through the winter.
Ever since I started coming up with ideas for how PGA Golf Professionals can use social media to make an impact on their business, I always asked myself the question, “Am I trying to reach young Golf Professionals with this or Older Golf Professionals?”
The reason I couldn’t figure out the answer, was because neither one by itself was right. Just like my age of 41, I too, like my idea, was right down the middle (ok… let’s just call it the high middle). My responsibility wasn’t to cater the content to either group over the other. It was to create bridge between their two unique skillsets.
Sure, younger pros know how to use the platforms because they grew up with them. But so far they may have only figured out how to use them for things that are important to a 18-30 year old. Things like….. you know…. things that are important to an 18-30 year old…..
And of course any time you bring up social media to a 56 year old Head Golf Professional they are going to roll their eyes at you. Why? Because every damn time we run out of range balls I see an outside service person on their damn phone, doing whatever it is important to 18-30 year olds, instead of picking the damn range like I asked you 3 times! (Ok…. yea….. maybe I’m more in the lower end of the old pro classification.)
But for the more traditional set to dismiss new media platforms as a complete time waster, and just shut it down as a potential business solution is a mistake too. Almost as big of a mistake as that DM (Direct Message, for the older folks in the room) your outside service person is about to send…..
Let’s just say I could come up with a platform where 30-70% of your membership shared photos and updates about their lives when they weren’t at the club. And what if you could see all this and even talk to them about it? Like, “Hey, I didn’t know you went to school there. We are going to have the game on the big screen at the club Saturday if you want to swing by? Bring a few friends and first round is on me.” That would be useful right? Well that’s Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
A lot of Golf Pros don’t start on these platforms because they get caught up on feeling like they need to share about themselves. And that’s hard for good Golf Professionals to get passed. Because, as a golf professional there is a sense of selflessness and service you need to have to be truly great at your job. But it doesn’t have to be about you, it can be about you connecting with your members wherever they (and you) are. Because neither of you need to be at the club to make a connection that convinces them to stay a member another year, or to finally come see you for that golf lesson.
For the younger Golf Professionals it takes time to develop that seemingly magical ability to connect with people in every conversation. And one of the fastest ways to develop that skill is to have a conversation with more members. If you only have 40 members on the sheet today, wouldn’t it be great if you could say hello to 40 more that aren’t at the club today and wish them good luck on their bowling league, or their kids recital.
Not only can young and old pros engaging with their members on social help members feel more connected to the club and the staff, it can help connect the older and younger staff. Starting a club page together is a great chance for Head Professionals to set the tone for the way they want their staff to communicate with members. And in turn, a great chance for the younger pros to show the older pros just what buttons to press, on their phone, to do that.
When I first started doing a lot of these videos I tried to script the whole thing out. That didn’t work because it wasn’t natural and……. because I never quite progressed passed my crippling fear of reading out loud that developed somewhere around, as long as I can remember.
Then I decided, “Let’s just wing the whole thing and I will edit out what I don’t want.” The problem is, I have a pretty amazing talent for being able to talk for minutes on end often without making a single cohesive point. The challenge in editing down content that is 90% garbage, is that you never end up with the 10% that is left making any sense.
So, for this episode I decided to break things up into points I wanted to make, so I would be sure to finish them before moving onto the next. This allowed me the freedom to make a mistake, and just start that section over without having to start at the beginning again. It also helped keep my diversions and ramblings very small. And when you only need to cut out 10% of each section, the structure doesn’t collapse.
It’s a long way from perfect, but this was a great step forward for me.
So please keep the feedback coming. It’s really helpful in not just giving me new ideas but in helping me talk though ideas with the very people I am trying to reach and impact.
I should have the episode up in the next few days so please let me know what you think. And if you like these updates from the blog, please consider signing up to get updates.
48 hours ago I was pretty sure I was not going to post my most recent podcast episode titled, “Why Golf Professionals Hate Social Media”. After some encouragement I decided I would post it. That ended up being a good decision.
For years, I have been creating content with no real agenda other than to educate myself on new media landscape and then report back to whatever portion of the golf professional community that would listen.
It wasn’t until recently that this journey took on a semi-crystalized, let’s call it sparkly goo, form of an idea.
It happened when I made the connection between being a golf instructor and trying to teach someone how to use new media for business or personal growth. I realized that to make an impact, you have to know what is important to each given golf professional you work with. You have to know the type of facility they work at, the type of pro they are, the ambitions they have personally and professional, and general strengths and talents that they possess.
With this new perspective, I hope to teach. I hope that given my experiences as a PGA Director of Golf, Instructor, Merchandiser and many other roles I have had over my nearly 30 golf professional journey, I am able to communicate the opportunities for golf professionals to use new tools at their disposal without having to learn too many new things and keep focusing being a golf professional.
Just like the game of golf, new media and technology should make our lives easier. So whether you are trying to get that first assistants job out of school, or tying to land that GM spot at a top 100 facility, this is for you.
To stay up to date on the latest, be sure to drop your email into this website for exclusive content, subscribe to my youtube channel and follow me on IG and Snap @PGAjay.
Hey Everyone. Sorry I have been neglecting the website over the last couple of weeks. It’s really not that hard to do, I just always feel like I need to write something special here an that is why I usually don’t do it. Most other places I post this like YouTube and Facebook I just post it and maybe add a sentence but here I feel like I need to do more.
Well I guess I will stop thinking that way and just start posting. I am not a great writer in the first place and that is why I do video. So there!
Thanks for all the support!
Well by the standards of me talking I would say this is close to no talking.